I bet if you took a poll and asked Christians why there are so many singles in the church who want to get married, you might be horrified at telling them it is because they are not good enough. And yet, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that tends to be the overarching description regarding singleness in the church. No, we don’t say that so directly but in other ways. We’ve created endless lists on the attributes that keep people from marriage. A recent example is this post on Reformation21. Rick Phillips cites these reasons;
1. Immaturity and Sin among Men: Phillips contends that men in their 20s and 30s lack the maturity to even want, let alone be properly prepared for marriage and therefore aren’t prioritizing it. Applicable here are men who do not have the gift of singleness but for whatever reason, do not feel the need to get married leaving lovelorn ladies without potential partners.
2. The Widespread Brokenness of our Society: Because people have been hurt or not had good role models, I suppose this means that they are incapable of being loved or loving others. He does not say this directly only that these situations exist so I can only conclude that the pervasive residue of brokenness precludes those from seeking or prepared for marriage.
3. Worldly Demands and Priorities among Christians: Christians just aren’t prioritizing marriage, which actually seems a bit contradictory to the premise that many are heartbroken for not being married. Nonetheless, Phillips hones in the women here indicating that women who don’t adopt what may be deemed as typical feminine traits preclude their own marriage because men won’t want them.
4. God’s Sovereign Will: I actually breathed a sigh of relief by the time I got to this last point, until he suggested the problem probably lies within the first 3 points.
Ok, obviously I put my own spin on it. It fits with other lists I’ve seen that have included things such as being too bossy, too shy, too demanding, too picky, etc. Basically, you are single because you are not good enough marriage material.
Not mature enough
Not committed enough
Not healed enough
Not role conscience enough
Not character shaped enough
Just not enough of whatever you need to be
Like me, if you are single, have desired marriage but for whatever reason (and the reasons can be many) it has alluded you, these endless prescriptions might have the impact of telling us if we just do [fill in prescription to make us good enough for marriage] then maybe that which we hoped for would happen.
I have this growing concern that in our quest to alleviate the pains and uncertainty of singleness along with all the mysteries of its persistent state, that we just can’t help but create attributes that should be attained. However, by doing this, I am increasingly convinced that we are adding on to the requirements of what makes for a good and godly marriage. It’s not enough to demonstrate a committed love towards one another regarding the marriage covenant as reflective of the kind of love Christ demonstrated to his church (cf. Eph. 5:21-33). No, we have to create additional requirements just to make sure that the marriage is attainable and looks like a shiny example of Christian health because both parties have exhibited the required traits.
I’ve been married. It was not a healthy marriage nor was it an equally yoked marriage. I’ve been widowed now for 10 1/2 years of which the past 6 have been wrought with a deep desire for marriage, especially one that would exemplify the gospel-centered nature to grow together in the Lord. At the same time I’ve had to confront a lot of brokenness in my life, some of which I basked in oblivion for years. Juxtaposed to the desire for marriage also came the clarity of how events in my life shaped my distorted reality of relationship unhealthiness that I accepted for a long time. This confrontation came while going through a ThM program at a conservative evangelical seminary where people seemed to mate like rabbits. Needless, to say it made for a very challenging seminary experience.
With the exposure, came an even deeper desire to have that loving, godly marriage that in some ways would be restorative. I’ve even written my own list here in Why I Don’t Want a Good Man in which I ascribe that desired good marriage. (Note: I pretty much just “spiritualized” perfection.)
So, I do appreciate the recommendation to evaluate maturity and character, especially where abusive tendencies or relationship dysfunction may exist. So I’m not discounting this need. But at the same time, I do wonder if we are undermining the redemptive nature of a Christ-centered love that should exist in a godly marriage. A consistent theme I’ve heard from married couples who I think have strong marriages is this – marriage is sanctifying, exposing and life altering.
So as I read Phillips list, and also thinking of other lists I’ve seen, I couldn’t help but wonder how many married people avoided the traits and flaws exhibited here? My guess is none. People enter marriage immature, selfish, with fears and hurts that have been shaped by their past. People have inescapable histories. But those who are willing to engage in Christ-like love learn to release the grip on self and focus on the other. It is the commitment that matters.
A few years back, a spoken word artist named Janette McGhee produced this piece that went viral called I Will Wait for You. The piece is loaded with wisdom for singles. But it still smacks of the idealistic characteristics that must exist so that two people can come together whole, healed and free of all these pesky elements that preclude us from marriage. I recently encountered her wedding video, which of course meant that her wait was over. Now you would that the reason she finally got married was because all the faults or transgressions that we promote as hindrances were abated. But listen to her vows.
One of my Facebook friends said it well, “There are no words to adequately describe the emotional, lyrical, theological depth and poignancy of this.” Theological, yes and amen! Why? Because the facade is dropped that marriage happens because we have it all together or are in some ways preventing our own blessing. This demonstrates the same vulnerability with which we come to Christ and are washed by His sufficient grace, the same grace that sustains both parties in marriage.
The truth is we really don’t know why those who desire marriage are still single. The reasons are many and ultimately only the Lord knows.
I think that Dr. Phillips’ response is what he mentioned at the outset: “general answers.” It seems that this problem, the growing number of single Christians who would like to be married but have been unable to find a spouse, is rather acute in many churches. I take his response as pointing out various areas of sin that some may be involved in or be affected by, or at least various areas of unawareness of how the Biblical worldview applies to the issue, which hinders singles’ opportunities for marriage.
One of the key things he mentioned, I think, is this:
“So Christians need to be befriending singles in order to get to know them as people and to minister to their lives. Adult singleness is often terribly lonely, so married believers need to befriend them and churches will often need to arrange fellowship ministries for single adults.”
I think that this type of Christ-like love that reaches out to singles and their needs is missing from many churches, much like you wrote about in your post “What’s A Single Mom to Do?: The Church, Singles and the Fatherless.” Not only that, I think that there is a major problem with a lack of love in general for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in many churches: those who are married not loving other married couples, those who are single not loving other singles, those of various ethnic groups not loving those of other ethnicities, etc. I can say as a single man that I often don’t feel accepted at the Reformed church I currently attend, or any of the others that I have attended in nearby areas. God is sovereign but I think the lack of love is a major factor in why many singles have been unable to find not only a spouse but supportive relationships in general.
Thanks for your interest in my other writings on singleness. I want to hone in on something you said here,
“Not only that, I think that there is a major problem with a lack of love in general for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in many churches: those who are married not loving other married couples, those who are single not loving other singles, those of various ethnic groups not loving those of other ethnicities, etc. I can say as a single man that I often don’t feel accepted at the Reformed church I currently attend, or any of the others that I have attended in nearby areas. God is sovereign but I think the lack of love is a major factor in why many singles have been unable to find not only a spouse but supportive relationships in general.”
I hate to say this but I think this falls into the trap of my point – attributing deficiencies to people, which preclude them from finding acceptable partnerships. They are not loved or loving enough. I hate to bust this bubble but I know plenty of singles who are well loved, have wonderful friendships and still remain single though they desire otherwise. I don’t know why we are so compelled to carry on this blame game. Also, I don’t think the love received through friendship and fellow congregants takes away the sting of singleness or makes one more ripe for marriage. I hate to hear when people don’t feel love or accepted in their congregations. I’m so sorry that you experience that. I’ve been there myself. Thankfully, I am very fortunate now to belong to a very welcoming and loving PCA congregation, that despite being very much a minority on a few different levels (African-american, single, single mom). I am the only single person in my small group and guess what? We bear one another burdens. They don’t treat me as “the other” because I am single and I don’t treat them as the enemy because they are married.
I’ll give you an example. When we pray for one another during our group, one family shares their request and the person next to them prays. On this one particular meeting, I was acutely aware of my singleness because I realized that I was the only female voice praying. And of course, the pangs of my singleness pricked at my heart. When it came to my turn, I shared this with the group not to beleaguer them any complaints about singleness, but just to share on that day, at that moment, it was really getting to me. Do you know what happened then? The next time we met, most of the wives prayed instead of their husbands so I wouldn’t feel alone.
Do you think that the growing number of single adults in both the world (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/09/15/for-the-first-time-there-are-more-single-american-adults-than-married-ones-and-heres-where-they-live/) and the church is a problem or is it something that we should not be concerned about?
Also, you note:
“Also, I don’t think the love received through friendship and fellow congregants takes away the sting of singleness or makes one more ripe for marriage.”
Are you are saying that one who is receiving love through fellowship with the saints (along with teaching and discipleship) is not affected by that love, or if there is an effect it does not help while living as a single and nothing is learned/experienced that can help later on in marriage? If so, then why write:
“We bear one another burdens. They don’t treat me as “the other” because I am single and I don’t treat them as the enemy because they are married.”
“Do you know what happened then? The next time we met, most of the wives prayed instead of their husbands so I wouldn’t feel alone.”
If the love you experience from your fellow congregants (perhaps compared to your previous congregation) doesn’t help then why would you mention it in your response?
“Are you are saying that one who is receiving love through fellowship with the saints (along with teaching and discipleship) is not affected by that love,”
Of course they are affected but it doesn’t guarantee that one is more likely to get married. And this is my point about coming up with reasons people are still single. In the end, I think we just have to say “I don’t know” and leave it at that.
It doesn’t guarantee but I think that those singles who are part of a loving fellowship, (it seems many are not) who are experiencing Christ-like love and who are being taught the true nature of the Gospel are better able to see what marriage represents and are able to make better judgements concerning who is a reasonable marriage partner and who is not.
Dr. Phillips’ “general answers” point out various areas of sin and unawareness that some may be involved in or be effected by. For some people, what he has said may not apply to their lives at all. But as he says:
“We are all in a marital relationship as the Bride of Christ! But Christians who desire marriage and sorrow in singleness should prayerfully reflect on their maturity and character, together with the priorities revealed in their lives, and then prayerfully seek the Lord’s grace in providing exactly what his wisdom declares that we need.”
It’s just my opinion, but rather than say we don’t know, I think singles and marrieds would do well to consider his answers and with The Lord’s help apply solutions as appropriate.
In the post, “So, I do appreciate the recommendation to evaluate maturity and character…So I’m not discounting this need.”
I wanted to apologize for being confrontational.
Oh, how I needed this! I almost cried after finding this article (good tears). Thank you!
Reblogged this on The Justified Sinner.