I'm waitingAnd so I pray this series has been an encouragement. If you've just joined in, please go back and read from the beginning, share your thoughts and pass it along to others who might find it helpful. I suspect an epilogue will soon be in order as the Lord directs me into a new season of life; and hopefully, I will remember the lessons learned in this season of singleness, because contentment and trust are always applicable, no matter our season or stage of life.
I'm waiting on You, Lord
And I am peaceful
I'm waiting on You, Lord
Though it's not easy
But faithfully, I will wait
Yes, I will wait
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve You while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting
I will serve you while I'm waiting
I will worship while I'm waiting on You, Lord
Monday, September 24, 2012
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:17, in the context instructions regarding marriage and singleness, “Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.” In other words, are you single? If so, then walk faithfully in your singleness and honor God. Are you married? If so, then walk faithfully in your marriage and honor God. By learning contentment and battling against worry in our season of singleness, we learn skills that will serve us in all the Christian life and we grow in our sanctification. “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
John Waller expresses it well in his song, While I’m Waiting and this has become a prayer of mine:
Friday, September 21, 2012
Is it wrong to seek a husband? And if it isn’t wrong then what is the appropriate way to go about it? If I’m not meeting anyone at my church should I find a new church? These are big questions and truly could be a chapter, if not a book, all of their own. It raises all kinds of questions about men, the roles of men and women, and the subjects of dating and courtship in the church. There has been a lot written about this in recent years, especially directed to single men and essentially exhorting them to get serious about making the commitment to marriage, the local church, etc. (i.e. Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something and a variety of articles by Al Mohler). Women have tended, and at least in some part perhaps rightful, to respond by saying “it’s not our fault, we want to get married but the guys aren’t asking.” If they [the men] are supposed to be the pursuers, the initiators, then what are we supposed to do?
First of all, no, it isn’t wrong for women to be proactive in seeking a husband; yet, there are some principles which should guide us. While, from my admittedly biased perspective, more of the responsibility is necessarily placed on the shoulders of the men, I do think there are things we as women can and even should be doing, if we desire to pursue marriage. Here are just a few things to consider:
- Be honest about your desire to be married—both with other single people and the married couples in your life.
- Consider your future husband and children in the career and financial decisions you make today. Higher education, for example, may be an appropriate and worth-while endeavor, but how much debt are you accumulating in pursuit of that degree and how are you planning to pay it off?
- Don’t be afraid of building appropriate friendships with single guys, in particular those in your church family. And don’t over-think it if you have an opportunity to get to know one of them better. I’ve heard far too many real life stories of girls who “blew” an opportunity to “go to coffee” with a brother in Christ because he hadn’t clearly declared his intentions. Ladies, he doesn’t have a basis upon which to have intentions until he gets to know you a little bit. As Jen Smidt shared in a post entitled, For the Gals: Eight Principles for Dating at the Resurgence:
It is entirely possible to honor God, yourself, and a brother in Christ on a date. Don’t elevate him or the relationship to the place that God alone should hold in your heart. Enjoy, don’t idolize . . . and for goodness sake, relax! A cup of coffee does not necessarily mean a diamond ring is soon to follow.
- On the other hand, don’t overlook guys because they are “just friends.” If they have the qualities of a good and godly friend, perhaps they would also make a good husband. Candace Watters has some great articles on this topic at Boundless and wrote a book titled, Get Married: What Women Can do to Help it Happen which addresses some of these questions.
One of the related questions that often comes up is what do I do if there are no men at my church? That question can be interpreted a lot of ways, it could mean there are no single men at all, none my age, none I am interested in. At various times over the past 10-15 years I probably have made that statement and depending upon the season of my life it carried a different underlying meaning each time. Is this a reason to leave my church? Really this is a much bigger question that involves our view of the church and the purpose of the church in God’s plan for redemption. My exhortation would be to carefully consider your motives, as I’ve identified, it is easy for marriage to become an idolatrous desire. If that is the driving factor in wanting to leave your church or relocate, it could be indicative of a right desire that has become controlling in a sinful way.
Live in the Psalms and in song. The Psalms are the prayer book that God has provided to us and whether we are rejoicing or weeping, we will find Psalms that will express our heart before the Lord. There have been seasons, especially seasons of grief, where I have lived in the Psalms finding comfort and encouragement. As my pastor has often said, there is a reason God gave us 150 of them! Read them often. I also think there is a reason that the book which so ministers to us in our emotion is a song book. Ephesians 5:19 says, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” God designed us to express emotion through music and songs, compile a list of hymns and songs which encourage you when you are downcast and have them available. I have a playlist of those songs on my ipod and when I am feeling discouraged I can go there and express my heart to the Lord through great hymns of the faith as well as more recent spiritual songs which direct my heart to Him.
For more practical suggestions read my last post, or click here to find the beginning of this series. Some concluding thoughts coming up next week.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
So, as one fighting the battle alongside you, there are some encouragements I’d like to share with you. Practically speaking, how have I been striving to cultivate this contentment and gratitude in my own life?
Do not concede the battle for your mind. When I am discouraged and discontent, and especially when I am overtired, it is easy for my thoughts to be filled with: never, always, no one, and everyone. What do I mean by that? I start thinking that “all of my friends are married.” Ridiculous because it is patently untrue—the Lord has blessed me with many wonderful friends, some married and some single. I start thinking that “there are NO single guys.” Equally ridiculous, because even if there is no one currently expressing interest in me or no one I am interested in, obviously it is not true that there are “no single guys.” I think, all in one thought, “no one is ever going to love me like that, I am always going to be single.” I don’t know the future and dwelling on these kinds of thoughts is disobedience to the Lord, it is not thinking on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Never, always, no one and everyone are dangerous words because they are so absolute and they, at least in this context, are words that show my lack of trust in God’s sovereignty and His goodness.
There are other areas where our thinking can really mislead our emotion—body image (as the world would call it) is one of those areas. As women we struggle with contentment regarding our appearance and can easily swing from one extreme to the other, either not caring enough as good stewards of our bodies, not putting reasonable effort into our appearance, or putting far too much effort and emphasis into physical appearance. We think: if only I was taller, thinner, shorter, prettier, if only I had blonde hair and blue eyes, if only it was curly instead of straight, or straight instead of wavy. The constant barrage of media doesn’t help and we base our thinking on what we see portrayed in the world through movies, television and magazines instead of how Scripture describes beauty. Psalm 139:14 tells us, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.” God created us and we should be thankful for how He created us, recognizing that our appearance, as created by our loving Heavenly Father, is not a barrier to His plans for us.
Romans 12:2 instructs us to renew our minds, “and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Ephesians 5:18-19 talks about being filled with the Spirit, “but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” Further, we understand from Colossians 3:16 that being filled with the Spirit is synonymous with being filled with the Word of God. “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” It is an interesting side note that both passages talk about thankfulness, but even more to the point we see that the “renewing of our mind” occurs through “the Word of God.” If I am going to keep obedient and God honoring thoughts, then I must be actively taking in God’s Word through faithful reading, study, meditation, memorization, and hearing the Word proclaimed.
Serve others in love, even when it is painful. There are some practical ways in which I try to do this. I may not be married, but one of the ways I can value marriage in the church is by promoting and guarding the marriages of my friends. While I am sure there are many practical suggestions that could come to mind there are two primaries ways I try to do this. One, I try to encourage my girlfriends in submission to their husbands and their service to their families. I do this by not having unreasonable expectations regarding the time they will be able to put into our relationship. I try to understand the dynamics of their marriage and family life and not encourage or expect them to do things that will take them away from their husband or children unreasonably. I also try not to listen to gossip about their husband or children, and when they are struggling I seek to point them to Christ and the gospel, to biblical solutions that don’t encourage them in sinful attitudes or actions.
Two, I try to practically serve their marriages by loving their children and encouraging them to have a regular date night and occasional weekends away. People move around a lot more and many of the young couples in my church do not live near their extended family. The church is their family. They don’t have parents or siblings nearby to watch their children. If we are going to honor marriage in the church we need to help people preserve their marriages. Nothing accomplishes that more practically than helping parents prioritize their relationship with one another by facilitating “date night.” Admittedly this is not always easy. There have been nights where I was fighting back tears as I supervised bath time and tucked little friends into bed, despairing if I would ever know that sweet blessing of bath time or bedtime with my own little one. Plenty of times I have cried all the way home from an evening of babysitting, or cried myself to sleep later that night, certain that my adopted “nephews” or “nieces” were the closest I would ever come to those experiences I desired.
While at times it is hard, in a certain sense, to serve these families the reward is great. This is the Christian life, a call to serve and love others and it is a great training ground should the Lord bring a husband and children into my life at some point down the road. Who, more than a Christian wife and mother, is called to set aside her own desires and needs to serve others? The practical advantage is obvious, if you spend time with the children of family and friends, pouring into them, you will be more practically equipped for your own future family life; but there are emotional and spiritual rewards as well. We are not created to live in isolation. This type of relationship contributes to a family context in which to live out life. Single women are blessed to have brothers in the faith who can speak into their lives and provide both spiritual covering and practical help in the appropriate context of their wife and children. Similarly single men benefit from interacting with the wives of their friends and getting a feminine perspective, again in an appropriate context.
It also helps me to keep an accurate perspective about what it is to be a wife and a mom. It can be easy for single gals like me to romanticize marriage and motherhood. If only I was married and had the husband and children I desire everything would be perfect. Every day I will take my sweet, curly haired, wide-eyed munchkins to the park and return just in time to dress them immaculately and have a delicious homemade dinner on the table for daddy. We’ll all greet him at the door every night with smiles and joyful exclamations of “welcome home.” A wonderful thought, perhaps even something to strive for, but if you regularly spend time with families of young children you will realize that it is often a lot more mundane, challenging, and even downright exhausting and exasperating than the picture I create in my mind. Worth it? Absolutely! But real life experiences help keep my expectations in check and remind me that while aspects of my single life challenge me, there are plenty of challenging aspects of marriage and motherhood too.
Rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). At times the temptation to isolate yourself may become overwhelming—resist that temptation! When your best friend meets that special guy and isn’t available to hang out with you anymore. When their dating turns into an engagement and that same friend who laughed with you about all the other ridiculous bridesmaid dresses you’ve had to wear picks out an equally ridiculous dress and says, ‘it’s perfect and you’ll even be able to wear it again,” just like all the other brides did. Perhaps some of that is over the top, but in reality it is very difficult when the person who has been your confidant and best friend, commiserating and encouraging you in turn and a fellow singleton, begins dating and then moves through engagement, marriage and motherhood without you. Many friendships fail at this point, either because of a lack of sensitivity on the part of the bride or because the bridesmaid can’t handle it, or a combination of the two. It takes effort and love focused on others to press through and find the path for your friendship in this new season.
Perhaps more than anything else these experiences have caused me to press into Christ my Savior. In these times of transition with friends I have realized that I’ve been putting my hope in this friend and our shared experience to “get me through my singleness,” rather than hoping in Christ. In these moments, first, I need to pursue Christ. No matter who else may be in my life and able to encourage me, no one understands what I am experiencing and feeling like Christ does.
Next up, a bit more practical encouragement. I'll look at the question: Is it wrong to seek a husband? and finding hope by living in the Psalms and in song. Start here to begin reading at the beginning.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
We need to turn our theology of suffering on its head. From the perspective of the world we believe suffering is bad, but that isn’t a biblical perspective. Philippians 1:25-26 says, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Paul tells us that suffering is granted to us, as a gift of grace, along with our salvation! We do not instinctively think about suffering as a gift, but Paul promises us that it is a gift, and elsewhere Scripture promises us that suffering accomplishes a perfect work. James tells us, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4).
If I had designed my own life, I would never have chosen extended singleness. I would have been married long ago and been well into years of motherhood by now; but what would I have missed out on? Please don’t misinterpret the point of my personal testimony, I am not suggesting that singleness is somehow more spiritual than marriage or that extended singleness is more sanctifying than marriage; rather I am acknowledging that this has been God’s perfect work in my life for His purposes and glory. While I have seen the sanctifying work of God in the lives of many of my friends through their marriages, I can also see the sanctifying work of God in my own life through my singleness. In the loneliness, Christ has met me. In the despair, He brings hope. In the shattered dreams, He brings restoration. I have learned, and am still learning, what it means to walk with Him and bring to Him my sin, my brokenness, my hurts, and my unsettled emotions. I know my Father in a way that may not have developed, at least in my heart, had there been another person in whom I might have poured that emotion and been tempted to depend upon. I also recognize I have had a different set of ministry experiences and opportunities as a result, not better than my friends who have been pursuing their godly femininity as wives and mothers, but different and needed in order to display the full breath of God’s vision for biblical womanhood.
Gratitude is an important biblical principle. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In everything, give thanks. I can’t say that I am thankful every day for my singleness. There are still days when I succumb to the temptation to view singleness as the unwanted gift of socks left under the Christmas tree; but, increasingly I find myself able to rejoice in what God has ordained for me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still desire marriage. It means, by God’s grace, I am obedient to God’s command given through Paul, “in everything give thanks.” And this gratitude translates, singleness isn’t the only aspect in my life where I am tempted to be discontent and ungrateful; but when I learn the lesson in one corner of my world, it becomes just that much easier to implement in other realms.
Have you been waiting for some practical ideas? They are up next in the series! Click here to begin with part one.
Friday, September 7, 2012
In one sense, the opposite of contentment is anxiety. Jesus speaks to the problem of worry quite clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 6:25-34, this is a longer passage, but worth examining in context:
For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.Commenting on this passage, Alexander MacLaren has said, “And what does your anxiety do? It does not empty tomorrow, brother, of its sorrows; but, ah! it empties today of its strength…it does not bless tomorrow, but it robs today (Alexander MacLaren, Sermon on Mt. 6:25-34). In the battle with singleness much of the struggle comes from anxiety about the future. What if I never get married? What if I am not able to have children? How will I provide for myself? Who will take care of me when I get old? In particular I have struggled, in at times frankly torrents of tears, with how I was going to deal with facing a lifetime of singleness. What if God was calling me to singleness (please Lord, no?!?) for my entire life? At some point, the truth MacLaren identifies from Matthew 6 occurred to me in the context of my singleness. I don’t need God’s grace to deal with a lifetime of singleness, I need God’s grace to deal with my singleness today, and each day He will grant (because He has promised it, 1 Corinthians 10:13) enough grace for that day. To say it a little differently, if I attempt to deal with tomorrow’s problems in today’s strength I will always fail. While at times I still have to redirect my thoughts from carrying my emotions off with them, this has been an incredibly freeing truth and has greatly reduced my anxiety (and applies to far more than singleness by the way). My Heavenly Father holds the future in His hands and He is in control. I don’t know what the future holds and I don’t need to know. He will give me the strength to deal with the challenges I face today and that is enough (Sermon by Greg Stoever, April 22, 2012).
Coming up - The Result of Faith. Click here to begin reading the beginning of this series on singleness.
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Paul instructs the Philippians by his own example in Philippians 4,
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstances I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
I am particularly comforted by one word—learned. Paul learned to be content. He was not automatically content with his circumstances; he had to learn how to have a content disposition. This encourages me because it helps me understand two important things, 1) I will not automatically be content, it is something I need to learn, and 2) contentment is something I am able to learn by God’s grace.
Here is where the connection between suffering and sanctification has become clear to me, often painfully clear. Contentment does not become a virtue that is a victory over my flesh until I find myself in the midst of a trial. Contentment matters when I am faced with losing something I love, when I don’t have something I desperately desire, or when I receive something I really didn’t want. Then, in the trial, I can glorify God if I choose Him instead of complaining or panicking or gratifying my flesh. As has often been described, the trial is what brings out the truth of what my heart has been desiring more than God. When I sin in response to the trial, I cannot blame the trial, my circumstances are simply exposing my own heart.
As I have wrestled with singleness and my emotional response to my “status” as a single woman there has been a constant theme, a lesson I continue to learn—that lesson is contentment. Paul’s instructions in Philippians 4 have been especially helpful, as well as two books, Artof Divine Contentment by Thomas Watson and The Secret of Contentment by William Barcley. Contentment is a lesson that will serve us no matter our “status.” Single or married, rich or poor, “abundant or suffering need” (Philippians 4:12), “in any and every circumstance” (Philippians 4:12) we are tempted to discontentment, but discontentment is never solved by a change in our circumstances, the getting of what we long for or the removal of what we dread, rather discontentment is solved when we bring our hearts into alignment with our Savior and His purposes for our lives. When Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13) he isn’t talking about winning an athletic contest. He is speaking in the context of learning contentment and saying that he can face any circumstance with contentment because of his hope in Christ and the power of God working within him.
I have come to realize that until I suffer want, until my expectations fail me, and until my dreams crumble like sandcastles when the waves come crashing in, I will be content with superficial joy. I will feel satisfied in my own strength and my own resources; after all, I have what I want. The prophet Jeremiah uses an apt illustration in Jeremiah 2:13 describing the adulterous hearts of God’s people, “For My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me, The fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Similarly, CS Lewis is often quoted saying, “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased” (Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1949).
Paul exemplifies this principle in 2 Corinthians 12 as he talks about his “thorn in the flesh.” Commentators are not sure what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, it may have been a physical infirmity but many believe it was false teachers in the church (MacArthur, MacArthur Study Bible, note on 2 Corinthians 12:7, 1752). Regardless of what it was, it was certainly tormenting Paul. He begged the Lord to remove the thorn (2 Corinthians 12:8), but ultimately the Lord settled his heart to accept God’s sanctifying work (2 Corinthians 12:7 states the thorn was given, “to keep me [Paul] from exalting myself”):
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Paul learned how to accept weakness and unwanted challenges in order that God would be glorified through him. Anne Steele, an English hymn writer who lived from 1717-1778, suffered from illness and great pain for most of her life, and through her suffering she learned to find contentment and joy in the Lord which she expressed in many of her hymns:
When I survey life’s varied scene,
Amid the darkest hours,
Sweet rays of comfort shine between,
And thorns are mixed with flowers.
Lord teach me to adore thy hand,
From whence my comforts flow;
And let me in this desert land,
A glimpse of
And O, what’er of earthly bliss.
Thy sovereign hand denies,
Accepted at thy throne of grace,
Let this petition rise:
Give me a calm, a thankful heart.
From every murmur free,
The blessings of thy grace impart,
And let me live to thee.
-Anne Steele, as quoted by Sharon James, In Trouble and in Joy
For me, extended singleness has been an ongoing lesson in contentment. Both in long sessions when it seemed like there were no marriageable men interested or even available, as well as when a relationship seemingly full of potential has vaporized into thin air, our Heavenly Father has lovingly reminded me that He is my hope and joy. God’s heart towards the brokenhearted is seen throughout the Scriptures. In Psalm 34:18 David proclaims, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” and then in Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Speaking of the Suffering Servant, the prophet Isaiah says, “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law” (Isaiah 42:3-4). In the dark and quiet moments of brokenness, when my heartaches with loneliness and my pillow dries my tears it is then that I learn what it means that the Lord is my comfort.
In Watson’s Art of Divine Contentment this Puritan pastor provides an exposition of Philippians 4:11 and while he recognizes that contentment is a “hard lesson” (Watson, Art of Divine Contentment, 16), it is certainly a lesson worth pursuing. Here he describes the contented spirit, as exemplified by Paul, in a lovely analogy:
A contented spirit is like a watch: though you carry it up and down with you yet the spring of it is not shaken, nor the wheels out of order, but the watch keeps its perfect motion; so it was with St. Paul, though God carried him into various conditions, yet he was not lift up with the one, not cast down with the other; the spring of his heart was not broken, the wheels of his affections were not disordered, but kept their constant motion towards heaven; still content.
Watson also addresses some important questions about contentment. Does being content mean that I put on a happy face and pretend like my circumstances aren’t hard? Am I not allowed to bring my heartaches and grievances to the Lord? If I do that am I not being content?
Contrary to what we are sometimes tempted to think about contentment, Watson tells us that it does not mean that we aren’t aware of our condition, least we fall into the trap of the stoics. As he says, “Rachel did well to weep for her children, there was her nature; but her fault was, she refused to be comforted, there was discontent” (Watson, Art of Divine Contentment, 21). Further, both the commandment and example of Scripture is God’s children pouring out their complaints before the Lord. Hannah, for example, cried out to the Lord in tears and prayer (1 Samuel 1:9-18). The difference, he says, “between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint; [is that] in one we complain to God, in the other we complain of God” (Watson, Art of Divine Contentment, 21).
Coming up next, Who By Your Worry?, how do we deal with the anxiety singleness can breed? Click here to begin at the beginning of the series.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Next in my series of personal reflections on singleness...
We all know the old expression, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We also know that it is not true. Proverbs 12:18 says, “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” People, often well-meaning people, people who love us like our family and close friends, say things that hurt. Authors Nancy Wilson and Carolyn McCulley have complied two excellent lists of “what not to say to single women.” Here is a sample:
- Why aren’t you married?
- Maybe you should lose some weight.
- What about (insert name here)? He’s a nice boy.
- Maybe you’re called to singleness.
- Did you ever consider being a missionary?
- Just don’t think about marriage, and it will happen. (McCulley, page 18)
- Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married?
- Don’t you wish you were married?
- Is there anyone you’re interested in? (Wilson, page 16-17)
While not all of those questions are bad under every circumstance, it is true that “people say the darndest things” and it is not limited to the comments that generally well-meaning people make to the single people. As Nancy Wilson points out, “This is a universal problem. Cancer patients hear horror stories from well-meaning friends….Pregnant women hear about terrible deliveries….So cultivate humility in this area and pray for a gracious tongue. And don’t assume that you are the only person who has to deal with this” (Wilson, page 15-16). The problem with these comments and questions are the turmoil they can feed in the heart of a discontent and dissatisfied woman. The battle for me and for other single women is to not allow comments and questions to take root in our hearts and become the basis of our thinking and therefore our emotions. Instead we have had to learn to renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) and focus on God’s attributes and promises as given in God’s word, rather than focusing on our circumstances.
There are other ways that come to feel like society is shouting your singleness at you. Home buying is one of those experiences. The process is overwhelming, the stakes high, and when you finally get to the end of the process your agent sits you down in front of a mountain of paperwork and you begin signing your life away. Over and over again you sign promises of payment, disclosure statements and various warnings added by the legislature over the years and each time you see your name it is qualified by the statement “a single woman.” “Thanks,” you think to yourself, “I wasn’t clear about that.”
So how have I learned to respond? Consistent with the counsel of Nancy Wilson I have had to learn to be less sensitive. Part of my sensitivity training has been recognizing how often I say thoughtless and insensitive things to others, so rather than spending time spinning on comments directed at me, I am trying to think more about others and how I can strive to increase the kindness in my own speech. Recognizing my own sin also has the effect of helping me be more gracious regarding the hurtful or inappropriate comments people make to me. Sometimes it is as simple as laughing it off and finding humor in the situation, not taking myself so seriously.
Ultimately it is a matter of perspective and the focus of my thinking. My reaction to the comments and questions made by friends, or even strangers, reveals how I am thinking about my circumstances. When I am consumed by the desire to be married, when it has become my idol; then I am easily devastated by the passing comment in the church foyer or the well-meaning post of my Facebook page. When I find my hope, joy, and security in my circumstances I am unstable easily tossed about by the storms of life (Matthew 7:26-27). On the other hand, when I am seeking Christ and finding my hope in Him, then I am stable and able to rejoice, even in difficult circumstances. As Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 7:14, “In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider— God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.” Similarly Peter reminds the early Christians who had been scattered by persecution:
In this [your salvation] you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls (James 1:6-9).Go here to begin reading the first post in this series, coming next "The Pursuit of Contentment."