Discontent with singleness

My alma mater’s student newspaper published an “honest round-table discussion” on singleness, particularly as it pertains to Christian folk, and all I can do is roll my eyes so far into my head that they hurt. There were no perspectives from single men, and noticeably missing from the discussion is the viewpoint of single Christian women who really freaking hate being single.

My viewpoint.

Evangelical Christianity presents single persons, especially women, with conflicting teachings:

  1. Marriage (the covenantal union of a man and woman before God)–and, by extension, sex–is the greatest physical/material gift humanity can enjoy. It is a gift given by God for the mutual edification and pleasure of men and women. (Yes, edification is the official term.) Men and women should desire to marry (and raise children).
  2. Single persons, particularly women, who desire marriage are vaguely and unhelpfully told to “wait on the Lord” and “be content.” They are told that singleness is “a gift” and should be cherished. Desiring marriage and sex is a dirty thing, indicating the young woman does not prioritize God.

Whether purposefully or neglectfully, Christian women like me are plagued by these teachings from a young age, especially growing up in evangelical/Southern Baptist circles. If you feel confused, sad, angry, dirty, or some combination of the above, and not at all encouraged or discipled, then congratulations! You understand how it feels to be a product of evangelicalism’s Purity Cult, as I call it.

It’s such a bizarre thing. I am expected to present myself as this asexual being of “godliness” who wants nothing to do with boys until one day, somehow, I manage to find and marry one, at which point I am expected to be wholly enthusiastic about sex. But in the meantime, if I express a desire to date and marry, it’s because I’m not focused enough on God. Huh?

Look, I believe fully that God holds all things. He makes everything beautiful in its time and gives good gifts to his children. But he also gives us desires and dreams for a reason. To some of us, he gives the unrelenting desire for marriage because that is what we are meant to have. For others, he takes away that desire, because a life of celibacy is what they are meant to have. And I swear, if I hear one more person intone “Be content!” as if they have a single damn clue what it feels like to be hungry for the companionship of a mate while having no dating prospects, I will scream.

Because they keep saying be content with singleness. I am not.

They need to say be content in singleness. I am.

I am content in singleness because I am confident in my identity as a person. I do not rely on any human, friend or romantic partner, to give me meaning. My value and identity come from Christ and from exploring the unique traits and personality he has given me to bring diversity and beauty to his kingdom just by existing.

I am content in singleness because going to a restaurant or movie alone doesn’t scare me; in fact, I quite enjoy the time with my thoughts. I am content in singleness because I enjoy a great deal of flexibility in my schedule and activities.

But singleness as a noun, an object, rather than a descriptor of my romantic life? No. I am not content with that. I am not content with singleness because I know there is more for my life than just me.

I am not content with singleness because I have begged God to rip the desire for a husband out of me, and he has not, because it is a desire he gave me. I do not want a celibate life. I want a life partner, a companion, a mate. I want someone to make a home with so we can open our home to others in the way that a single woman finds it more difficult to do, such as hosting those without a home.

I am not content with singleness because I desire the joy of the marriage relationship–not merely sex, but singing songs in the car, going to church together, sitting on the porch during a rainstorm. I am happy to do those things alone or with friends, but there is something special and desperately desirable about sharing one’s life with a mate.

Genesis tells us that when God made Adam, Adam was lonely. He desired a companion. Having a pet from among the animals didn’t cut it. Having a best friend wasn’t going to cut it. “It is not good for the man to be alone,” said God, and he made Eve. The soul-deep ache for opposite-sex companionship that Adam experienced is exactly the pain that I know so well, too. Adam is recorded as delighting over Eve, exclaiming, “Now at last this is flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone!” He might as well be saying, “Yes! This is what I was looking for! Another person to share my life’s adventures with!”

That’s all I want. As yet, God has not granted the desire he gave me, though not because I sat around on my hands doing nothing. I’ve tried dating apps and websites. I’ve tried getting out and meeting people at church and other social opportunities. So far, nothing. I have screamed at him and begged and sobbed more than I can count. And then I see articles like the one I mentioned earlier that essentially blame me for being single because I guess I don’t trust God enough? “It’ll happen when you stop looking for it!” they all say. “Be content!”

Oh, I can be content in singleness, because I belong to a God who is faithful and good and molds our desires to his when we ask. He sees my grief at having no mate, and he knows the bitter pain of my untethered heart. And even though I don’t know when or where, the good man I’ve prayed for almost daily for ten years has to be out there, or else God would have taken this longing by now if it didn’t come from him.

But do not ask me to be content with singleness, because I desire something else. Not more. Other. Do not shame my desire to marry by suggesting I haven’t trusted God enough. Do not insult my fellow discontent sisters by elevating marriage as something to be desired and then tut-tutting us for wanting it. Don’t break our hearts by insinuating our singleness is our own fault based on assumptions about our spiritual journeys. Do not ask us to sit on our hands and do nothing to meet men or learn how to date well and healthfully.

My current status quo is not my status always. Do not ask me to be content.

Per aspera ad astra,

Steph

Behold Your King

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Desiring God posted the above image on their Instagram a couple days ago. (This is my crappy screenshot version.) You could have heard me screeching from the rooftops with agreement. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, because I am exhausted by the efforts of “women’s ministry” to pump me up and inflate me with my own self-worth.

Insisting to me in the name of Jesus that I am a jewel or a princess does not assuage the nagging sense that I am not. I am human. I know my weaknesses and my sins. Lifting me up to say “Look at yourself, you’re amazing and beautiful and so capable” does not address the emptiness of the human soul.

How can you say I am amazing when I refused to help the poor, or I was unkind to the cashier, or I said something hateful to a friend, or I had cruel thoughts about that homeless person?

Women are hard on themselves, often unfairly. We know this. But we, like all humans, also know in our deepest cores that we are not good and wonderful and amazing if left to our own devices. We are exactly like all humans, as selfish and wicked as everyone else, tempered only by social mores and childhood instruction of right vs. wrong.

So when I hear one of the dime-a-dozen Lifeway-brand women teachers tell me how incredible I am, I respond with disbelief, if not outright mockery and scorn. Do not lie to me. I know what I am.

This is the way the world encourages its women. Christian teaching should not sound like a Dove ad campaign. It should not denigrate the females of the church, but it should also not inflate self-worth past the level of healthy self-respect (love thy neighbor as thyself, after all) into self-worship.

Christian women should leave a conference not thinking “I am amazing” but rather “Jesus is amazing.”

The church has forgotten the meaning of the gospel, especially when it comes to the instruction of its women. The gospel is not solely personal salvation. It is not fire insurance to keep yourself from the pits of hell. It is not limited to a nebulous “me and Jesus” spirituality that disavows the community of the local church congregation.

The gospel of Jesus Christ, as presented in the New Testament, is the announcement of the King of Kings establishing his reign and forever changing the order of the world.

It is the story of how God promised to redeem humanity from our wickedness and create a new kingdom, a kingdom that operates not according to human whims but according to divine justice.

Is is the story of the King of Heaven, capable of repaying humanity for its rebellion with infinite wrath, setting aside that wrath to personally come down and say “I will give my life to make you part of my family.”

This is not a story that should be met with “Girl, you are a precious jewel in the crown of God!” No. This is a story that should be met with awe and worship, with falling to our knees in adoration of the goodness and mercy of God, rather than sitting back in our pews with smug self-righteousness.

Because here’s the deal. Without the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you and I are trash. We are sinful creatures, predisposed to pursue our own cravings no matter what. Wouldn’t you behave selfishly and wickedly if you could–if you had nothing else telling you not to? Don’t lie to yourself. Because I do not lie to myself–I know what I am outside the grace of Christ–I do not need a Beth Moore or a Lysa TerKeurst or anybody else telling me how pure and precious and valued I am. Because I am not.

Apart from Christ.

It is only through the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary that I have any worth at all. I have been redeemed into the family–the kingdom–of King Jesus by his work and his righteousness, not by mine. I am valued by God because he values Christ his Son, and I have accepted the salvation he has offered me.

But like I said, the gospel is not solely a personal salvation narrative. No, the kingdom of heaven upends everything humanity knows as “normal.” There is no “Blessed are the rich, the famous, and the powerful.” It is “Blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the mourners.” The world says “Hoard everything you can and protect you and yours.” The kingdom of heaven demands “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “Give all you have to the poor.” The world says “Save yourself.” The gospel says “Whoever loses his life for the sake of the gospel will find it.”

And at the end of the story? Oh, man. At the end, Jesus returns with his angelic armies and remakes the world into the kingdom of heaven on earth, where justice flows like rivers and there is true peace on earth. He brings his glory from above to rescue his creation.

My only response to that is worship, to fall on my face and cry “Holy, holy, holy.” You cannot tell me that the most important lesson for me as a Christian woman is to hear about how beautiful and precious I am. No! If not for Christ, I would burn in hell and miss the glory and beauty of the Savior. I would not know the tender love steering my heart toward him. I would not know the eternity-bridging mystery of partaking in the Eucharist. I would still be broken and helpless to save myself.

But my self-esteem would be great.

May I never worship myself, and may we as Christian women learn to sit in worshipful awe of our King, without whom we are nothing.

Per aspera ad astra,
Stephanie

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