One of the things that is likely lurking in the back of your mind is the prospect or possibility of never getting married. I say “prospect,” but perhaps a better word for it is anxiety or worry. The what ifs start to crowd into your mind, and you don’t know what to do with them quite.
Making matters worse, you also have some older friends at church who are still not married, and you cannot fathom why they are not married. They are lovely, accomplished, intelligent, and would make marvelous wives and mothers. You don’t know what to say to them when they open up to you about it, and they probably don’t realize the extent to which some of their distress gets internalized by you and gathered up into your emotional weather.
Obviously, you can’t fix the problem by charging off and proposing to some guy, and so all you can do is sit there and lament the ways things are done. Why do the girls have to wait?
So you can’t fix the problem of being unmarried, because that takes two. But you can fix the problem of how you are thinking about it—that only takes one. For a little background on all this, I have written on this general subject before, both here and here.
A big part of our problem in the church today is the prevalent teaching that singleness “is a gift.” The difficulty here is that in the vast majority of cases, this is just not true. Because we believe in the sovereignty of God, we know that everything that happens to us in our lives occurs as the outworking of His decretal will. He determined everything that comes to pass, and He did this before the foundation of the world. God freely and unalterably ordains whatever comes to pass, as all good Calvinists affirm.
But what this apparently soft and encouraging sentiment is doing—I am referring to the teaching that singleness is a gift—is to actually adopt and implement the harshest expressions of the most hardshell Tishbite we might be able to find.
What would you say if you asked a friend to go with you to the hospital to comfort a friend who had just received a cancer diagnosis, and he said he would be happy to because in circumstances like this it is important to remind people that cancer is a gift? Is amputation a gift? Is bankruptcy a gift? Is the loss of a loved one a gift? In the sense that they all proceed from the decretal will of God, sure. But that is not how we usually handle the word gift.
The doctrine of God’s foreordination of all things is an unspeakable comfort, and it particularly enables God’s people to navigate hard providences. “This too has a purpose in God’s larger plan, no matter how it hurts.” That’s good. But to argue that anything that comes from the hand of God must therefore be counted as a walk in the park, and you are an ingrate if you don’t count it as a walk in the park, is a form of the most thoughtless, rude, insensitive, fatalistic, and hard-bitten Calvinism on the planet. And it goes without saying that it is not a biblical form of Calvinism either.
Getting your mind around this is truly liberating. It is difficult and hard to accept, but it is much easier to believe that God will strengthen and equip you to handle a most difficult circumstance than it will be to believe that God wants you to pretend that the loneliness isn’t lonesome. With God’s help you can climb a mountain. But you cannot—not even with God’s help—pretend that mountain climbing is actually deep sea diving.
Telling the unmarried people in the church that their singleness is a gift and that they should be rejoicing in it is simply cruel. They should be rejoicing—because the Bible says to—but they are rejoicing in an affliction. And when you rejoice in an affliction, you are trusting God. You are not kidding yourself. When you think that your duty is to rename your bed of thorns, calling it a feather bed, and that you must do this because your pastor told you to, you are actually getting gas lit.
When the what ifs crowd in, don’t try to answer them. We don’t know the future, and shouldn’t pretend to know the future. What if I never get married? You should respond to this with something like, “If such is to be the case, Almighty Father, I give you thanks.” You do this because we are commanded to—“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). This is a command to thank God for all things, including hard things. It is not a command to pretend that hard things are soft things.
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
1 Thess. 5:18 (KJV)
But if I could misapply a scriptural line from Hebrews, “we are confident of better things concerning you . . . though we speak in this manner” (Heb. 6:9). I am in the highest degree confident that you are going to be married at some point, and I might even hint at having some insider information. If you are very polite in your next letter, I might even tell you more. I mean, the young men of today do have many problems, but they are not blind.
That said, you do have friends who may not be in that same position at all. They really might not get married, and no romcom ending. What I have written is hard, true enough. But we can trust God with the hard, we can rest in Him when it is hard. But we cannot trust in Him if we are being delusional. These friends of yours should do a Bible study on the goodness of God’s sovereignty, and trust in Him to help them deal with the world as it actually is.
A plain woman never marries. A beautiful woman marries three skunks in a row. A young wife gets cancer and dies. Another woman marries but is unable to have children. This is not said in the spirit of Stoicism, but things are tough all over.
“The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.”
Proverbs 14:10 (ESV)
So as you rest in God’s sovereign choices now, this makes it easier to trust in Him concerning all your tomorrows. He has planned good works for you to walk in (Eph. 2:10), and all of those good works are in the palm of His hand. Contentment now prepares you for contentment later. Obedience now prepares you for obedience later.
Enough for now.