By Heather Judd
I have married friends who waited year after year through the silent sorrow of infertility. It is a deeply proper sorrow, for it mourns the loss of that fruitfulness which God deemed good. These friends are able to turn to the poignant comfort of the many sisters who have cried to the Lord in such distress: of Sarah and Rachel and Hannah and Elizabeth.
There is also a sorrow in waiting year after year for marriage. This sorrow, too, mourns the brokenness of the very good creation. But for those wracked by this sorrow, there is no Biblical precedent or encouragement. No pious women of yore, virtuous maidens awaiting their bridegrooms unto the verge of spinsterhood, are recorded in the Scriptures.
We could call for a reinstatement of arranged marriages, relying on wise relatives or friends to assign us a spouse. We could steadfastly remain in our parents’ homes until a suitable mate arrives to court and claim us. We could make lists of all the marginally eligible people we know and then begin writing pointed letters of marital interest. We could . . . but it becomes ridiculous. In some circles, in some places, schemes such as these might prove beneficial, but in most of this tired, broken, twenty-first century world, such solutions are neither practical nor advisable.
So it falls out that single Christians wait and wonder in their solitude. Am I supposed to get married? Am I doing something wrong? How long, O Lord, how long?
A few will be called to celibate life, and God will mightily bless this gift of His (I Corinthians 7), but there is a reason that the Lutheran church does not build monasteries or call for monks and nuns. Long singleness into adulthood is not inherently a good thing. Man and woman were created for each other, and each marriage is a little portrait of the eternity for which we long: the Church everlastingly joined with her bridegroom Christ. God brought together the man and woman in Paradise, and in Eve, Adam recognized his own nature and hers. She was the suitable helper absent before in all creation, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” so marvelously suited that this man without earthly parents proclaimed, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23-24). The desire for marriage is etched into our souls. Underneath all the distortion of sin, we still feel in our very core that we were created for it. As we very much were.
The longtime single who has discerned this truth cannot help seeking an explanation for her unnatural state. It must be my fault. I am too picky. I am too shy. I am too naïve. I am not flirtatious enough. I am not looking hard enough. In other words, the devil has a heyday. My kneejerk reaction is to look inside myself for answers and to blame myself for my condition, which means, of course, that I will also be ready to take the credit if it changes. It is the sadistic scurvy of the sinful nature: I curve inward upon myself. All blame for bane and all credit for blessing I ascribe to myself. I make myself my own god.
Then again, sometimes I shun this self-idolatry and piously ascribe everything about my unmarried state to God. Since I am not married, that must mean that God does not desire for me to be married, at least not now. God must want to teach me contentment and patience, and that is why He hasn’t given me a spouse. God must be restraining me from mediocre matches until the perfect man crosses my path. God is directing my life; ergo, I should stop thinking about marriage until He makes it happen.
So, which is it? Is it my fault that I am not married (in which case I should spend more time hunting down potential mates) or is it God’s perfect plan (in which case I should remain quietly passive until Prince Charming arrives)?
It is neither.
In this matter, as in so many others, Christ Himself echoes the gracious and prophetic words that Joseph spoke to his brothers: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). The lack of marriage is meant by the devil for evil. He wishes to create loneliness and despair, cynicism and selfishness. But in His grace, God uses this unnatural state of singlehood for good. Because I do not have the vocation of wife, I can stay after school to talk with the student whose family is in crisis. I can drop everything and pick up my friend whose car broke down. I can make a meal for the family weathering medical problems. I can babysit my friend’s children and volunteer at my church and stay up late making that crazy slideshow for the farewell potluck. In fact, I can hardly turn anywhere without seeing how God is using me in my state of singlehood to accomplish His good purposes.
So I may go out searching or I may wait quietly, knowing that no matter what I do, “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Was I too shy with Gentleman X so many years ago? Then God used my bashfulness to prevent a relationship that was not best for me, and perhaps He was also preparing me to be more confident when Gentleman Y comes along. Are my fine-toothed searches resulting in frustratingly few potential husbands? Then God is guarding me for other purposes and better plans than I can know right now. In itself, it is not good for me to remain unmarried while I long for marriage, but my God, Who is goodness itself, thwarts Satan’s malevolent plans and works even this for good.
More than all this, I have the assurance that God knows the desires of my heart (Psalms 37:4) and “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). And should it be God’s will that I remain unmarried in life, there yet remains this great joy: I, along with all the Church, am Christ’s bride, and at the Last Day I will be presented to Him, holy and spotless to enjoy the wedding feast forever. To Him be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. Amen!
Title Image: From "The Arrival of the French Girls at Quebec, 1667" by Charles William Jefferys