On Mondays, we fast and pray for God to raise up men and women who increasingly trust Him with their hearts, lives and relationships, and for marriage to be given to those who desire it.
[Luke 9:57-58]: As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
One of my habitual gripes with singleness is its frequent relational transitions. I have wonderful friends, yet no one individual has met my church family, my college friends, my grad school friends, my coworkers and my family. If I made photo Christmas cards, there would be different people on the card every year and the address would change every other year. My furnishings are a hodgepodge of whatever my current roommates and I have brought together. In short, it often feels like there aren’t many anchors in my life, relational or otherwise.
I tend to affix this feeling of not being anchored to not being married. I tell myself: “If I were married, there would be at least one person who would be in all of these chapters. The same person would be in vacation pictures and on Christmas cards. I’d have a travel buddy, plans for NYE and someone to sit with at church.” In short, I assume that marriage would provide a relational anchor. I would know where home is, and all my “stuff” would finally be in that place called home.
Some bits of this are true. We long to know and to be known, and that’s good. It’s true that we need others through life. We are created in God’s image which includes His constant communal nature inside the trinity. God says it isn’t good for us to be alone (Gen 2:18). We are unique beings with particular stories, and it is in line with our God-given design to long to share ourselves with others. And marriage is a God-designed pattern for that to happen in many people’s lives, including many of the currently single folks reading this blog (yes, we’re praying for you!).
However, extrapolating that good longing to mean that I must be married in order to experience God’s design, or that marriage will absolutely provide those things are equally problematic.
We don’t have to be married to experience God’s good design. Jesus and Paul both make it quite clear that being married is not any kind of prerequisite to being loved by God or living His good design for kingdom life. Much to the contrary (see 1 Corinthians 7). Also key fact: Jesus and Paul were unmarried. Why does no one ever talk about this from the pulpit? (Ok, sorry. Pet peeve.)
Jesus elevates his spiritual family above his biological family, which is a call he issues to anyone who would follow Him (Matt. 12:48). In the verse above, He notes that if you want a cushy life where you always feel at home, following Jesus probably isn’t your best bet. But He also promises abundant life and the aid of His Spirit to transform individual believers into a body (the church) that shows the world what love really means (Romans 12:5). And key fact: one of the characteristics of this body is caring for those who end up outside of the traditional familial social structures (James 1:27).
Marriage won’t necessarily or fully provide the stability or the sense of being known that we truly crave. Marriage is a good gift but it’s still two fallen people trying to love each other – which pretty much guarantees things will go awry. Even the best marriages can’t provide permanent-enough or deep-enough anchors to quiet our infinite longings. And sometimes this relational anchor suddenly comes apart with an unforeseen addiction or affair or accident. Sometimes inhabiting the same space feels more like a prison cell than a cozy home. Sometimes the problem is my own heart and its selfishness which damages the bond that marriage should have been.
And above individual circumstances, the New Testament writers make it clear that all of life on this side of eternity is characterized by waiting, by groaning and by hoping for that which we can’t yet see. Paul compares earthly life to a race, a fight and an upward call. As believers, we are all sojourners in a land which is not our true home. Feeling homeless is part of the deal.
Unmet longing is a (strange) gift (that I’d like to return sometimes). The longings inherent in our good design (for relational stability, for a godly man to walk with, for a sense of belonging) do have a purpose – to drive us to the only One who has what it takes to be our home, our unmovable anchor, and our certain future. He has seen all the chapters past: He knows all the angry journaling, hopeful journaling and ugly breakdown crying journaling. He’s seen every disappointing date (or lack thereof) and frustrating conversation with a condescending person in another stage of life. He knows how painful bachelorette parties and bad wedding homilies can be (I remind myself of this as necessary). He doesn’t despise our longing but asks us to trust Him with them.
My prayer on Monday: that His sufficiency would be our refuge and our joy. That His presence and His care would prompt both deeper honesty and deeper faith. That we can see the unmet longings as signposts pointing to Him.
By His Grace,
PS: I feel like I’ve been writing roughly the same post for the past six months, and so I apologize if it’s getting boring. I’m simply struck by the heavy cultural (secular and church) expectations for marriage. I’m convinced that these expectations both suffocate people who are married, and dishearten people who aren’t married. That is not helping anyone – which is why I keep writing about it.