I get frustrated reading Christian perspectives on being single. There’s certainly a market for the literature, and some platitudes are supported by experiences. But I am nearing my 30th birthday. I’ve followed God for 18 years, and I am a virgin. I’ve been called “a walking testimony to kissing dating goodbye”. I’ve listened to sermons on dating and applied their principles (still left heartbroken). And I’ve mentally catalogued love stories for years, looking for patterns on what a godly romance looks like, trying to figure out what I needed to do to position myself for the blessing of a marriage partnership.
Yesterday my boyfriend had The Talk with my father, and my father gave his blessing. So I’m nearing the end of this period of my life, and while a few clichés could apply to our story (“see, he came along when all you wanted was Jesus and you really weren’t looking for someone!”), I’d like to add my voice to the discussion based on how my heart processed the years.
Before I begin, please hear my heart. I have lived many wonderful adventures as a single person. I have fulfilled multiple childhood dreams, had several careers, traveled extensively, and experienced things that delight my heart. I have lived the past few years in particular saying daily, truthfully, “a year ago today I never could have imagined this would be my life!” I’ve grown in relationship with my family and been established in my identity both as a part of them and as an individual. I’ve been satisfied with singleness. I’ve put time and energy into ministry and service. I “sowed where I want to go”, received many, many prophetic words about my spouse. I kept faith, fought to keep my heart alive, fought to experience emotions rather than suppress them. And life was good. I wasn’t moping, wasn’t waiting around to be rescued. I loved the independence, the ability to make powerful decisions, the lack of responsibility. I truly loved being single, and I completely validate and honor those who want it.
But in the course of all the joy, there was the agony of an unmet longing. As a teenager I was told that God would meet my every longing for love with Himself and to “fast from the desire to date”. This brought a sense of failure and shame. Try as I might, the desire to be married (and precede marriage with dating) never died. So while that advice was motivated by a truth, over time I came to the conclusion that God designed our desires, and as the Bible is in full support of marriage, it seems it is a desire He is interested in fulfilling. My desire for God and my desire to be married are two separate things, just as my hunger for food cannot be satisfied by water or my thirst cannot be quenched with pizza. So faith is believing God is good and kind, willing and able to satisfy both.
And yet we all know people who are single for life, though they’d prefer otherwise. We read statistics on marriage and divorce. We try our hardest not to let the culture’s focus on youth and marriage age influence our emotions. There is opportunity to doubt that God will meet our desires for a spouse, and that doubt is rational based on the evidence of people’s experiences. So in writing my thoughts, I offer no guarantees. There is no formula, no absolute, no password or vending machine or series of steps. There’s just a Person.
In the fight to keep my heart open, the fight to understand, the fight to have faith and believe God wasn’t dangling carrots in the form of handsome, godly crushes, I had an “ongoing discussion” with God. Journals filled with lists. Lists about specific guys. Incidents and implications and interpretations. Tears and frustration upon frustration. Screaming at the top of my lungs. But in the midst of those experiences, and now as I come to a chapter change, I have two conclusions.
1) Being single is an injustice.
2) All pain belongs to Jesus.
The impact Point 1 has had on me is tremendous. The logic goes like this: in Genesis, God made man. Man hung out with God and animals, but eventually God determined that it’s not good for man to be on his own, so He created woman. Eve didn’t have one-on-one time with God. Her existence was in context of her husband and God. There has never been a woman in the history of humanity that has known what it is like to be the only person on the planet. Therefore, for a woman to be alone, she is living outside her original design. Or put another way, woman was made to be in relationship with her husband and God. And that idea opens up a whole theological discussion – when things happen which are outside God’s will, and is He sovereign or not, and why doesn’t He intervene, etc. – because it implies that there are circumstances in our lives that are not God’s perfect plan for our lives. And I’m not just talking about women, either. The Bible is clear that God doesn’t think it’s best for men to be single, either. So the injustice is rooted in the idea that, whatever the reasons behind it, when someone with a God-given desire to marry is prevented from doing so, that circumstance is counter to God’s original, good design.
What this idea did to my heart was validate years of pain. It wasn’t wrong for me to long for a husband, it wasn’t an indication of the sin in my life, the lack of discipline, the places I needed to grow and improve and strive to overcome. It wasn’t faithlessness. No, with the term “injustice” came the gut-wrenching revelation that I was not to blame. The pain I experienced wasn’t my fault, and its origins were on a DNA level. As such, I didn’t bring it on myself. I had no control. No, a loving Father God did not design me to be the victim of loneliness.
I don’t like the term “victim”. I don’t particularly like letting emotions get out of control. But to deny the pain of singleness was to deny the way I’m made. Half the frustration was rooted in powerlessness. What is a virgin girl to do? I was committed to holiness (still am) and am aware of the immense amount of grace I’ve received to maintain purity through various relationships, but dang if my body hasn’t told me for years when it wanted to get pregnant! Spirituality aside, every month there’s a fight against God-given desires, influenced by healthy hormones and eggs ready to be fertilized. Thirty years’ of virginity waiting for a godly husband to have the good sense to chase me down is a rough road, and there’s an injustice in that, too. My body was made for my husband to enjoy! I want him to have the best years of my life! And as a woman pursuing Jesus, I was taught time and time again to let the man pursue, God will bring my husband into my life when it’s time, just as God brought Eve to Adam. So another month would pass, and my body would mourn another baby that never was. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and all that. Injustice.
I say all this because I haven’t seen where it’s been said so bluntly, and I want to do my sisters a favor by validating their pain, anger, powerlessness, and frustration. As I said earlier, there is no easy solution, no guarantee, no answer.
But there is a Person.
If I know anything, it’s this: the best place for your pain is with Jesus. Someone once said, “Press your pain into the heart of God.” Whatever that looks like, whatever that means, the phrase has resonated with me since I heard it a decade ago, and it seems to fit most situations. This means the pain of not understanding. This means the pain of delay. This means the pain of loneliness. Injustice. Broken-heartedness. Emotional abuse. Manipulation. Physical abuse, sexual abuse. The Bible says there is coming a day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy and carrying a harvest with them. And I am struck by the tenderness expressed in these ideas. As any parent knows, babies aren’t babies for long. There is something precious and profound about holding your child through her pain. God can only comfort us while we have need of comfort. We are only His babies for so long, and come eternity, we will never again have opportunity to experience His tender comfort. Or if we do, it won’t be through wiping away tears.
I’ve asked God “why” on several occasions in the heat of emotional breakdowns and gut-busting pain, why is He allowing it. Infuriating as it is at the time, His answer has been, “Because I want you to know I’m here for you in this moment.” I’ll never have another opportunity for God to demonstrate His character and nature for me in that particular pain than in that particular moment. And one experience of love and tenderness makes it easier to come back to Him on the next occasion. And pretty soon we have this history together, where I am learning He is safe, He really is kind, He really is the best Dad, He really cares. I can trust Him, even if it still hurts, even if I don’t understand.
We know theologically that Jesus who knew no sin became sin on our behalf. We know that by His stripes we are healed. He took all our pain and sickness upon Himself. He took responsibility for sin, and that includes its consequences. Injustice is a consequence of broken relationship with God, so in Jesus’s sacrifice, He paid for my pain. He bought it from me, and it’s not mine anymore. But just as the Kingdom of God is here and is advancing, just as the Israelites both took the land all at once and also one town at a time, there is a journey of giving Jesus what belongs to Him.
And you know what? He’s waiting for His wedding day, too. He doesn’t know when, but in the meantime, He holds us in our pain, because truly, truly He understands.
It is an honor to choose Him in the face of many options. I have the privilege of stoking those flames of love by my response to Him. He longs to be one with us even as we long to be one with our spouses. Words fail me attempting to describe the feeling you get when the object of your unrequited love suddenly has a change of heart, calls you by name, and says, “I choose you.” To know that I have the capacity to move God’s heart by choosing Him like that is tremendous beyond words. Would I wish anyone else have my journey, with all its pain and heartbreak? I’d like to think I’d hope better for others. But the intensity and intimacy I have with Jesus now, coming as a result of all those chapters – well, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Any good thing I’m able to give or impart to you, reader, I do so now. Fly higher, eagle-eyed soul-searcher. You were made to live on the heights.