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.