Archives For singleness

Wilbert-110I’ve already written on this one pretty extensively, but I want to delve a bit more in the practicality of it today. A short recap though: marriage is not 1+1=1, as we’re led to believe. It’s messier math than we’d like, more like (1-1)+(1-1)=1. We empty ourselves, pouring our lives out for one another, and only through sacrificial love and overarching servant-heartedness, are we able to become one with our spouse. It is not so glorious—or sexual—as I envisioned before marriage, when I thought becoming one was some sort of allusion to consummation. It is, but it’s a whole lot more of becoming a whole lot less. The good news is that, hopefully, someday the one flesh unit you’ve become is a solid and impenetrable one. We’re not there yet, but we’re learning, day by day.

Yesterday I wrote about schedules and how our schedule is to serve the other’s schedule, but on a deeper, heart level, what does that mean? It means entering into conflict without entering into competition. My friend Haley Kirkpatrick (35, married two years, one beautiful baby), said this,

“Marriage is not a competition. I know some books out there talk about competing in a healthy way—outdoing your spouse in kindness, thoughtfulness, respect, and love—but for a competitive person like myself, this is not helpful and just leads to a desire to compete when we’re in the worse, poorer, and sickness parts of marriage. I am not in competition with my husband about who is more tired, who is more stressed, whose back hurts and therefore needs a back rub more. It is easy to compete. It is harder to stop, listen, and love even when I feel tired, stressed, and unable to stand up straight. But it is loving deep and big and selflessly in the worse, poorer, and sickness that makes love so damn good in the better, richer, and healthy parts of marriage, and it is what sustains your love the next time life is worse, poorer, and sick.”

Haley and I are very different people in many ways. One of which is that Haley is a more competitive person than I am. She pushes herself against herself and against others to be the best she can be at everything she does, including being a wife. I am not wired like that, in fact, I’m wired the opposite way. I am still competitive, but she externalizes her competition, I internalize it, so much so that it eats me alive, from the inside out. We both are struggling with the same root issue: we want to be the best, even better than our husbands in some ways. I’m saying this because I think there are people who are clearly competitive people and for them, the difficulty in marriage is vocal, heated, and visible. But for others, the competition is sneaky, sly, and quiet. Instead of a game of words, it’s a game of wills—who can go the longest without bringing up something? Who can stay quiet about something the longest? Who can bear the weight of the other the longest?

I came into marriage with very real fears that every conflict would be loud, heated, and harsh, because this was the example I had growing up. Nate came into marriage determined to not repeat his sins from before, conflict was nonexistent until it was impossible to ignore, he never spoke up about anything, and was passive in his leadership. I feared conflict and he feared the lack of it. God, in His sovereignty though, has given us plenty of it in the first 17 months of our marriage. I remarked to him the other day that what we’ve walked through in the past year is more than what most people married for fifteen years walk through. It’s like God is playing catch-up with our marriage, bringing us to the place most of our peers are in. (That’s a joke. Kind of.)

How do two whole people, with whole opinions and histories and beliefs and visions, dissipate and become one whole unit?

To be honest, I have no idea. Really. No idea. I think it’s a mystery. But here are two things I have to remember often:

Conflict is good

I’ve realized that most of the bad conflict or lack of it, that we’ve experienced is mostly in the way the words are said, not in the words themselves. It is good and right to say, “I don’t like this,” or “I prefer this,” or “I’ve had a really hard day.” But it is not good or right to say those things in order to wound, to assert rights, or to compete with one another. I have not learned this well, but it actually serves my husband when I say, “I do have a preference and this is what it is,” otherwise he’s flying blind. In a new marriage this can be really scary because it’s all heart eye emojis and inside jokes until it isn’t. As soon as you say you have a preference, and especially if you know his preference is different, you’ve entered conflict. But heart eye emojis and inside jokes cannot a marriage grow. We need good, healthy, measured conflict. Nate and I have made some Really Big, Really Hard, Really Deep mistakes this year because we didn’t know how to speak the language of conflict good, so instead, we just kept quiet. Learning the language of conflict is one of the best things we can do in a new marriage. We do that two ways: watching those who do it well and doing it ourselves.

Con means against, but also with

I’ve been learning that the more I am against Nate in something, and by against, I mean our two opinions pressed up against one another, the more of me gets shaved off. This is what the Bible calls “iron sharpening iron.” By allowing the againstness of conflict chip off the parts of me that keep us from being one flesh, I become less and less of my former unmarried self. Don’t let anyone tell you, newly married person, that the process isn’t painful. It is just as painful as becoming the healthy, whole, vibrant person you were before you got married. Just as painful. Sanctification in marriage isn’t harder than singleness, but it is different, mainly in that you’re starting over in a lot of ways.

I envision it like this and maybe this will help you: We are two whole little wooden figurines before marriage and then we come together and the process of conflict shaves off pieces of us, which fall to the ground. We have always thought of ourselves as whole as the figurines, so it doesn’t occur to us to look at the shavings below and think of them as any consequence, but what is actually happening is at the end of this process, the shavings below are imperceptible from one another. They—with all their pieces of conflict, hurt, joy, preference, and desire—are the new unit, the little wooden figurines are no more. That’s the process of sanctification in marriage, the two becoming one. The analogy breaks down of course, but while it works, it works. And it helps me to not look at those scraps on the floor as wasted.

I think of John Piper’s words,

“Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for.”

. . .

I hope that encourages us today, newly married sisters, as we look at the scraps of life falling below us. He’s doing something with them. All this conflict is working in us a better marriage, a more whole one. Even if our marriages are without a lot of conflict and are peaceful havens, the world is coming at us a thousand miles a second, and the enemy crouches at our door waiting to rule over us. In the infancy of this union, friend, let’s be sisters who are gentle with our words, faithful with our words, and honest with our words. Our husbands will thank us and it will be a sweet fragrance to our God.

 

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When we were going through our pre-marital counseling, one of the questions we asked one another was, “Are you an early riser or a late one?” I typically rose around 7, so my answer was quick: “Oh, I’m an early riser. I love mornings!” It was true, I would walk up to a usually quiet house—some of the girls might be at work already, some might still be asleep—make my coffee, and sit down in the Ikat armchair and read the Bible and write. Mornings felt sacred. Nate also answered, “Early riser.” Perfect. A match made in heaven. Certain bliss would be our good fortune. Heart eye emoji.

What I came to learn in marriage, though, is that “Early” to him is “Middle of the Night” to humanity everywhere. He needs about six hours of sleep and usually gets up somewhere between the four o’clock and five o’clock hour. Some mornings he is breakfasted, coffeed, showered, dressed, bibled, podcasted, and sometimes run before I get out of bed at 6:30 am. We are also both very light sleepers and wake one another up several times a night. We also have a puppy who for the past eight months has kept us up several times a night. When Nate wakes up, he is up, at ‘em, ready to talk, listen, commentate, and go. He chooses to go to work two hours before most of his co-workers because he is crazy. I, on the other hand, would just like a little peace and quiet, a cup of coffee, and no one to talk to me for like twenty minutes after rising. Our puppy, unfortunately, is more like Nate than me, and wants to play fetch while it is still dark outside.

What I’m saying is: when I was single I had a schedule that worked well for me. I liked my schedule. I liked my quiet, slow mornings. I liked sleeping eight hours. I liked waking up without an alarm, without a husband rolling out of bed, very literally squeaking across the floorboards, and fumbling around in the dark. Without a puppy breathing in my face at 5am. I also liked staying up late, writing in the still darkness of a house, to the light of a candle. I liked processing the day late into the night. But we made a decision to go to bed at the same time, and I think it was a good decision, even if Nate falls asleep the second his head hits the pillow and I’m awake for an hour or more, laying in the dark.

I’m not the only one making sacrifices though. Nate ran Division 1 track and field for the University of Texas. He is fast. He says, like Eric Liddell, when he runs he feels God’s glory. Since we got married, though, and especially now that he is gone so many hours a day, he doesn’t have time to run like he used to and would like to. By the time he gets home after 12 hours away, his wife is anxious to see him, and there’s only a few hours before his head will hit the pillow like a rock. Marriage had to change our priorities. Sleep for me, running for him.

These are small examples, and the truth is, they’re kind of petty examples. There are much larger things happening in the melding of two people schedules, primarily the discipline of not growing weary in well-doing. There is a kind of selflessness at play when our schedule preferences meet with one another and clash, a constant and minute opportunity to resent instead of serve. And those opportunities mount day by day by day, particularly if you think you will never get the thing you want. I have had to remind myself of two truths regularly in our new marriage:

1. My schedule is to serve his schedule

The bible says the wife is to be concerned with how she may please her husband, and I take that to mean, very seriously, my primary occupation is to make sure he can go about his day feeling loved, fed, nourished, rested, and released to lead our family. That means my schedule submits to his schedule. My schedule bends to his schedule. We eat when he comes home. We go to sleep when he is tired. We wake when he wakes. I stop my paying work when he comes home on the train, and begin my at home work. And sometimes my paying work plays second fiddle to my at home work. I had to turn down a great contract recently because I knew I couldn’t serve my husband and this contract in this season. I knew if I took the contract, my flesh would want to please the contract more than it pleased my husband. My schedule is to lay my life down for him.

2. His schedule is to serve my schedule

Before your feminism gets its panties in a twist, his schedule is to serve mine too. He is working to provide for our family, to keep a roof over our heads, food on our table, and to pay for that pesky puppy who wakes me up every morning. He has submitted his life to leading and caring for our family, instead of out running, reading theology all day, and traveling the world. He washes the dishes every single night after I cook. He tiptoes across the squeaking floorboards, doing his best to miss the really loud ones. He showers in our guest bathroom so it’s not as loud. If I’m up when he leaves, he makes sure there’s coffee in the French Press. He always gets up with the puppy in the middle of the night. Always. When he has a day off, he always asks me what I would like to do with the day, instead of putting his preferences ahead of mine. His schedule is to lay his life down for mine.

. . .

There’s an interdependence in marriage that I didn’t have when I was single—as much as I tried to craft my life in such a way that there were daily opportunities to lay it down. In marriage you go to sleep with that person every night, and the worst thing you can do is go to sleep with a running list of all the ways you sacrificed for him and all the ways he didn’t for you. I want to take every opportunity to cheer my husband on, encourage him when he is down, make space for things he loves, and please him—not in order that he might do the same, but because God has said a wife is a good thing, and I want to be a good thing for my husband.

If you’re newly married and this clash of wills rears its ugly head primarily around your schedules, first, maybe you need some sleep, but second, what would it look like for you to lay your life down this week for his? To craft your life around what the cares of your household are? To prefer his needs above yours? I am praying for us, newly married sisters, that we would be wives who say, “I’m not my own flesh anymore,” knowing it is God who gets the glory of a relinquished will and schedule.

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The next challenge for the newly married is one I think affects those who have been married a lot longer too, but the newly married face it in a fresh and shocking way. It is the challenge of finding and agreeing on a local church.

When I was unmarried I chose the church I wanted to go to, even moving to the opposite side of the United States to become part of The Village Church. I had immense flexibility in the choice, theology, worship style, size, and amount of involvement I wanted in a church. I considered each those things heavily, but the choice was mine. When I met Nate, I met him through my church community, in the foyer of my church building, and we were married surrounded by our church family. Even though we were about to move to Denver for my job at a new church, our local church, the local church, was very much a factor and part of our relationship.

Imagine my shock, then, when we moved across the country again, and it was taking us seemingly forever to settle on a church. I was blindsided by how difficult all of this would be. I think it’s partially because both Nate and I take God’s word very seriously and soberly in regard to membership, worship, community, discipline, eldership, etc., and we don’t treat any decision having to do with those components lightly, but what I didn’t expect, and was most surprised by, was how much we actually clashed in these areas. There was an illusion that because we met and married in the same church, we agreed on everything therein and would forevermore. But we didn’t.

One day, in the car on the way home from yet another church we were visiting in August, I wept bitterly and my sweet husband bore the brunt of my outburst. My case was this: If I was still single, even if it wasn’t ideal, and even if I had to drive 45 minutes, I would have settled on a church six months earlier. I would have just gone to the good-enough one instead of searching for the one one or both of us had in mind. I wouldn’t have squandered my time, I wouldn’t have grown stagnate in faith or community, and I would have just sacrificed whatever it took, just to hear the word among the same brothers and sisters every week. This conversation led to some more painful conversations about why I hadn’t said anything earlier. Which led to more conversations about why we both struggled to speak up on our own behalf about very much at all (which I’ll write about another day this week). What this conversation revealed was there were  assumptions being made on both of our parts about what would be best for our family in regard to a local church, based on partial information from one or the other.

I wish I could say we’ve found victory in this area, but I think this will be an ongoing conversation for the rest of our marriage. Committing to one local church won’t lift the issue at hand, which is a communication one, but it also won’t solve each of our individual desires and beliefs when it comes to a local church. We both need to make sacrifices, sacrifices I in particular have never made before in regard to a church, and sacrifices he in particular will need to revise in our marriage, because they weren’t present in his previous one. In the meantime, here are some things we are learning:

1. Church baggage is real

We have each gone to many different churches, which means double the history. We have had great experiences and bad ones, good ones and hard ones. If you name a denomination, though, we have a bit of experience with it, and this informs our future direction. He might have had a great experience with one denominations or theology, and I might have had a terrible one, and we have to talk about that, without assuming the other understands or empathizes with it. I know this can sound very consumeristic in a sense and I don’t want in any way to communicate we are consumers of the local church, but there is a very real choice in the church we go to, and we all have very real reasons for those choices. My reasons are not the same as Nate’s and instead of assuming they are, I ought to assume they are not.

2. Understanding of Theology and Practice change and grow

With joy and confidence I can say what I believe now about God has changed from what I believed about him fifteen years ago, ten years ago, two years ago, and so on. God has not changed, but my understanding of him has. It has been informed by my circumstances, by deeper study of his word, by teaching from others, and by experiences. This is a beautiful thing, but it can be a difficult thing in marriage if one of you has changed and the other feels blindsided by it. We left Denver feeling very disillusioned with some things and those things in particular informed Nate’s desire to attend a very different kind of church when we moved, whereas I felt very afraid of any additional change at all. Until we talked about that, though, we were both operating with two different values and it caused me to feel terrified of any church and him to feel very powerless in leading our family. We had to hash through our fears and our sin, and mistrust of God’s sovereignty, for us to come at finding a church with open hands. Our understanding of theology hasn’t changed much in a year and a half, but our understanding of practice has, and this is what we’ve been blindsided by.

3. What we think we need and what we need are two different things

I was standing in the kitchen this week chopping garlic and a song came on from my playlist that threw me back to a moment of worship at my church in Texas. I knew exactly where I was standing, who was beside me, and what the Lord was teaching me in that moment of unhindered worship. It was a painful time in life for me and I felt so humbled by the Holy Spirit that He would gift me with an experience like that, just when I needed it. The last time I felt that was when I went back to Texas a year ago this month and wept through the entire service. It was profound in a way I cannot explain to others and happens rarely enough that I remember it when it does. I love my church family there, and I love my church there. I have felt the lack of her more deeply this year than I’ve felt the lack of anything else in my life. I am constantly tempted to believe that I need to be with her again to ever feel whole in church again.

If I’m not careful, I can begin to believe I need certain aspects of a local church, preferring my self and my own needs, over my husband’s, or over the local church herself. I need a particular kind of worship. I need a pastor of a certain age. I need a homegroup with a certain type of person. I need a church of a certain size. I need. I need. I need. But what if God doesn’t give?

If I believe that God gives us exactly what we need when we need it, and no more or less, then I can trust that what we have today is exactly what we need. God isn’t skimpy with his gifts. What I also have to realize, though, is within marriage, Nate and I have different needs, but God is meeting them in the same way. This can be a real challenge in marriage when it feels like in every scenario someone is the clear winner and someone the loser (I’ll talk more about that another day this week), but when I stop thinking of my needs needing to trump his needs, I’m able to see how God might be meeting both of our needs, or the needs of others—even in a local church that didn’t check any of the boxes we both desired when we moved here.

I promise you it doesn’t feel as glorious as that moment several years ago in the sanctuary of my church, tears streaming down my face, the rushing desire in me to give all to Him, but it is the result of that moment. Worship says, “I place all my needs at Your feet, because you’re better than all the things I think I need,” and then it gets up and actually does it.

. . . .

Finding a new local church as a newly married couple can be fuel for some very real fires, especially since you’re probably doing it without the safety of a church community around you. I used to be able to recommend ways of doing it, but think if there’s anything this year has taught me, it’s that there’s no prescription for this. It’s hard. And that hardness can actually lead to really good things in your marriage if you’ll let it. Communicate. Repent. Confess. Attempt.

And, be like my husband, who several times this year saw how the weekly searching for a church was actually hurting me more than helping me, and encouraged us to be at peace staying home for a day. It is not a good ongoing pattern, but I think Jesus was okay with hiding sometimes, with running away from the crowds. I think he’s okay with it and understands it, and it might be his good gift to a marriage that needs to remember that he alone is the source.


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This is part of a series I’m doing this week on challenges for the newly married

Before I got married, I’d get questions from my single sisters often that went something like this, “My friend recently got married and now it seems like she has no time for me! What do I do?” My answer was always along the lines of, “If you value the friendship, and I hope you do, recognize the massive life change she is undergoing, and be patient. There will come a time, sooner than she thinks, that she realizes this wonderful, amazing man she’s knit herself to for life, doesn’t fill every need when it comes to relationships. She needs female friendship, and she will want it again soon, and hopefully if your friendship before marriage was the sort that there was an equal give and take, she will want it with you soon.” I know it feels a bit like rainy-day friendship, but true friendship will weather that torrential storm. I hope my friends have the same grace for me.

There are, I think, two main challenges for the newly married when it comes to friendships:

1. Keeping your own friends

This has been a real challenge for us. Partially affected by our two moves, but also because our individual friends were our own. We each have long histories with them. Now, in marriage, there are twice the amount of relationships to maintain and only one unit of us. We simply cannot maintain the double relational energy it takes to maintain all the friendships there are between the two of us—particularly because both of us have lived all over world and we met one another in our mid-late-thirties—that’s a lot of friendships all over the place to try to maintain well. It’s impossible for mere humans, and so we have had to step back from some friendships. It feels horrible to be the person on the other side of that equation, and I have been there dozens of times myself. It isn’t meant to be mean, it is simply the limitations of our human-ness pressing up against the expectations of others. I cannot have long and rambling phone calls or text messages at 11pm anymore. I don’t book tickets to a wedding halfway across the country anymore. I don’t spend weeks away from home on road-trips anymore. Disappointing others will happen because I am saying “Yes” to my husband and home and “No” to many other things and people, and Nate is doing the same.

There are a few friends where our friendship has changed, but our friendship is maintained. The number is simply smaller than it ever has been before, and in some ways, some of those friendships have grown or diminished even since marriage. Things change. People change. Friendships change. It doesn’t change the value of what was had before though, and if you’re still single or newly married, I’d encourage you to not grow bitter or feel ashamed of this reality. Sometimes some friendships are only for a season.

2. Making new friends together

Before marriage I had this idea that married friendship looked a lot like two guy best friends and two girl best friends hanging out for all hours of the night. They had all sorts of inside jokes and there was a comfortable familiarity among all of them together that was the glue holding their friendship together. The truth is more like this: two or three of the four have great chemistry, and the other(s) is left feeling on the outside of something that seems very much like they should be inside it.

We all learn early on in life that not everyone has to be friends with everyone. There is a natural sort of chemistry to friendship, an attractiveness not based on physicality, but on camaraderie. Similar ways of joking or similar interests, alike histories or worldviews. These sort of things are present in every close friendship, and I’ve experienced them with both men and women alike. These are the sort of friendships where you can not see one another for a year and pick right back up where you left off. But when you have four people in the equation now, it becomes more complicated. Now you have four personalities at play, and all four are non-negotiable parts of this new relationship. It becomes very, very difficult to retain friendships in which your friend and your spouse, or you and their spouse, don’t have that chemistry. It becomes a chore to spend time with them instead of a joy—and that is very difficult on a marriage. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any one person here, or wrong with any one friendship, it is just not as natural as it once was, or not as natural as you’d like it to be in new friendships.

We have not learned this well together in our marriage, our closest friends are still the ones we had before marriage, and we have struggled to make new friends together. Part of that is, again, the two moves, but I think it’s common in marriage and has only been exacerbated by the moves. I simply keep reminding myself that right now I am learning deep friendship with my husband—an opportunity we didn’t have before marriage. But someday, we will have to learn to make friends together with other couples, and unless God blesses us with perfect chemistry with all parties, it will involve sacrifice on someone’s part.

. . .

I thought it would be good to share a personal story of how someone is wrestling through this in the present. Below is a story from a friend of mine, Liana Hull, who got married a year ago. She is in her early twenties and I got the chance to sit across from her and hear more of her heart and story last month.

When my husband and I started dating, a friend of mine became bitter and jealous, ruining much of dating and being engaged for us. I let that jealousy and bitterness steal my joy and the situation became a constant source of worry on my part. After a few months of marriage and recovering from an emotionally tumultuous engagement season, I came to realize that I needed to just let her go. And it broke my heart. Losing such a close friend because of jealousy that I could not appease really, really broke me. A deep sadness took over my heart and mind and I struggled. For a few months, every day was hard. Choosing to feel joy in this season of life has been really difficult. Becoming verbal about my happiness has been surprisingly difficult in marriage as well, because I don’t want to alienate further.

I would also add that having every relationship in my life change post-marriage (which is good and right), plus a deep insecurity that everything I do would cause someone to be jealous is lethal combination. It paralyzed me emotionally and I become very isolated. One of my pastors encouraged me to just pray “Lord, work in my life and work in [my friend’s]” every time I thought of her and it helped me get my mind/heart beyond my own fears and paranoias about relationships in my life. Simple, genuine, regular prayers (I probably prayed that 15+ times in a day for a month or two) really changed the way I thought about our friendship, and all relationships in my life.

. . .

The challenge for the newly married of making new friends and keeping the old ones is a real one. Don’t feel guilty for being unable to maintain all your old friendships or for struggling in making new friendships together. The other day I was close to tears with Nate saying how much I miss our friends and how I’m afraid we’ll never be settled enough to have close community like that again, and he comforted me with the truth that we are being faithful and having open hands, and it can look different than it looked before and not be any less good. God actually doesn’t promise any of us friendship in this world, but He does promise to put the lonely in families.

My prayer for us newly married sisters, is that instead of growing hard to the possibility, we would be made soft in the probability, that we would have hope like an anchor in the reality that Christ calls us His friends, even if no one else does.

I hope your Thanksgiving was lovely and full, if not of food, then of love. And if not love, then food, which is a kind of love too. Before I got married I thought often married people had a built in presence of love, a constant reminder that they were loved and known and kept. But living life forward is meant to teach us about what has passed under us, not about what comes in front of us, or as the philosopher said, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” I wish I hadn’t thought that holidays were harder for me as an unmarried person than they would be as a married person. The truth is both have beauties and both have challenges.

In many ways my holidays or birthdays or other celebrations were richer and fuller when I was single, and that’s partially because we are far from those we love and are loved by most. But in other ways it is because we are in the infancy of our marriage, growing and bending and breaking in new traditions. I love everything to do with celebrating others, giving gifts, and making every holiday special and unique, but the husband God gave me cares more about the every day of our lives, rhythms and routines of life, discipline, the predictable motions of the week and weekend. I crave New! and Special! He clings to solid and faithful. For us, holidays and special days have actually been hard to learn how to do well, how to serve one another in, and how to not feel hurt when things don’t go as hoped. They are actually just as painful as the feeling of aloneness I had in singleness, not more or less. And I wonder if this is the case for more of my married sisters, particularly the newly married ones.

I’ve had a few conversations with some of my newly married sisters (within the past two years) in recent months and been surprised that though we may be all over the place in terms of age, work, location, etc., we have some very similar struggles. My heart has grown burdened for this demographic and I’ve wanted to talk about it more on Sayable, but feared losing readers who are further ahead in the journey of marriage and think it is over-reactive, or those readers who long for marriage and for whom reading one more post on the struggles of those who have what they want would be painful. But the more I’ve thought and prayed about it, the more I’ve decided I think it’s important, so next week I’ll be writing on a few things that affect us in our newly married-ness. I hope you are encouraged, whatever season of life you’re in.

Here are some things I read this past week and wanted to share:

Neither a Republican nor a Democrat. Words from Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in D.C. on the Sunday after the election to his church, made of both Republicans and Democrats.

The Challenge in Praying with your Spouse. Nate and I have found we love to pray for and with one another, and yet rarely do it together. This article challenged me to do it more.

Friday Night Meatballs. The seasons of life where a weekly dinner has been a part it, have been some of the best times of community in my life. I got to know Nate during one of those weekly dinners. A total win in my book.

Ten Spurgeon Quotes for Wounded Christians. It is a comfort to me a thousand times over that this giant in faith struggled so deeply with the same besetting wrestle I have.

Why Read a Poem at a Time Like This. More of us should make the reading of poetry a part of our everyday, especially at times when the news from every angle threatens to push us over the edge. Poetry grounds us and reminds us.

One of my favorite things to do when I was small was to page through photo albums and ask my parents about the photos in it. One of the sad things about this new digital age we live in, is we’re less likely to print photos for keepsake books. Chatbooks is a great way to do this. Whenever we get a new one in, Nate (who isn’t on social media) sits down with it and pages through each photo and caption, reading, laughing, and remembering. Your kids will probably do the same. These cost the same as a roll of film cost back in the day, and you get to curate each book to your liking. A total win in my book.

chatbooks

I read a quote from two of my favorite people the other day: “In a gospel-centered marriage, we can be really, truly, deeply known and at the same time really, truly, deeply loved.” I’ve learned more about the gospel from one of those people than anyone in my life so I’m reticent to push back on this idea, but it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve given him a hard time, so here’s my careful pushback to this common idea in the church.

1. Even within marriage you will never be wholly known by one another.
2. Outside of marriage you are still known and loved.

Within earthly marriage, which is a beautiful picture of the gospel, we are still clinging to these earthly tents. We can never be truly known inside any human relationship and indeed we are not meant to be. There is beautiful ahava, a give, a love within marriage. A selflessness, a caring, a joy, for sure. But there is not the elusive juxtaposition of being fully known/fully loved. This only exists within life in Christ. When we say this what we communicate to married people is they’re missing something if they don’t feel truly known by the other person. And we communicate to unmarried people they can never be really known outside of marriage.

The church should be the place that gently lifts the heads of two people in a less than perfect marriage (which is all of us) and sets their eyes on Christ as the one who knows and loves them fully now, so they can be set free to love and know one another as fully partially as they’re able here on earth.

The church should be the place that gently lifts the heads of unmarried people and shows them how men like Paul and Jesus and women like Lydia and Mary were fully known and loved by their Father, but fully misunderstood by the men and women around them—and yet they still pressed forward in love doing amazing acts of church planting, bearing the Son of God, miracles, and writing more than half of the New Testament.

Neither married people, nor unmarried people will ever feel as really, truly, and deeply known as the ache in our hearts tells us we ought to feel. It is so easy to paint the picture within the Church that marriage can be the nirvana of earthly existence—but friends, if marriages quells all the longing inside of you for something more, than your marriage is not actually gospel-centered, but earthly-centered. Marriage should smack of a holy discontent and a fervent desire to be fully known and fully loved by Christ alone, who then empowers us to walk by the spirit in how we love and know others incompletely.

In the same vein, singleness should meet that holy discontent in the middle and know with full assurance that waiting for marriage to feel known and loved is foolish. Start now. First, Christ does it with more ardor than any spouse ever will. Second, the relationships you have in your life right now can be some of the richest you will ever know if you will submit yourself to being known and loved in them. It’s an act of submission, to be sure, letting your weaknesses be seen, challenged, and pressed into, but Christ has set a good example for you in His submission to His Father on the cross.

Friend, you may be in the happiest marriage known to man or the hardest, you may be joyfully single for life or you may be limping through every day in your wait, but you are fully known and fully loved now. Go now, and love and know as truly as you’re able—albeit imperfectly—knowing the gospel is no respecter of marital status even as it displays the perfect union of Christ and His bride.

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Encourage married friendsBefore I got married and was asked to write on singleness every other day, one of the questions I’d be asked often was, “How can married women encourage their unmarried sisters.” I thought a lot about this question because I think it’s a good one, but also because it can be easy to forget some pains of singleness once the vows are said.

In order for us to truly mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice, it takes a great amount of empathy—entering into the sadness, fears, and joys of our sisters and brothers in Christ. What is unfortunate, though, is that the question is rarely flipped the other way around. “How can unmarried women encourage their married sisters?” I think this is perhaps due to an incorrect view that those who are unmarried are somehow lesser than and therefore need greater amounts of encouragement than those who are married. This simply isn’t true. What is true is that an unmarried person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for their season, and a married person has distinct and perfect gifts designed by God for theirs. No one is less than, or has less than—though it’s hard to believe that as an unmarried person who longs for what your sisters and brothers have through their spouses.

I know even as I write this there are those who are saying, “Well, of course you can say that, you’re married. I’ll bet it didn’t feel like a gift when you were single!” To which I’d reply, actually, it did, and not just in hindsight. Yes, I felt the lack, and yes I mourned the reality that I might never have children or a husband, but it didn’t make my unmarried life any less rich than my married life is today. If you’re still disbelieving me, I encourage you to tend to the affections of your heart; if having a spouse is the pinnacle of joy for you, then your heart has settled for idolatry.

In hindsight, though, there is still one regret of my singleness: I wish I had encouraged, or known how to encourage, my married friends better. I prayed for them, loved them, tried to be specific about helping them and encouraging them when I knew how to, but I wish I had not looked at their lives and seen a form of completion that somehow (in my mind) negated my words and presence in their lives. There was a perception that the season they were in did not need my particular brand of encouragement as a single. I was wrong. Just as I needed their prayers, encouragement, vulnerability, and friendship, they needed mine.

Here are four ways the unmarried can encourage the married:

1. Fight the lie that says to you their lives are complete in a way yours is not.

This lie is not only damaging to you, it is damaging to them. Marriage does not complete a person, but when you believe it does, you remove the opportunity for them to be vulnerable about the ways marriage presses on them in difficult ways. If your answer to their struggles in marriage is always, “Well, at least you have a husband,” the lie that can play on their minds and hearts is, “They’re right. I have a husband. I shouldn’t be struggling with this gnawing feeling of incompleteness.” Now you’re both believing lies. The truth is you are both complete and whole in Christ, nothing more, nothing less. The truth is also that you are both wholly incomplete in Christ, awaiting your final consummation with Christ. This is a beautiful truth if we can truly wrap our minds and hearts around it. Complete and not complete, but both in Christ, not in marital status.

I have really struggled with this in marriage because many of my still unmarried friends so long for marriage that they assume I can’t possibly understand the struggle anymore, or I feel guilty talking about difficulties in this season of my life as though I’m not allowed to still struggle. God is doing a work on me in this area and I’m trying to be faithful to holding marriage up as a source of joy (though not the pinnacle of joy) while also being honest about the very real angsts within it.

2. Ask them probing questions about their marriage.

There has been an idea that one’s marriage is somehow off limits for discussion. Perhaps you grew up in a broken home and any conflict meant divorce was around the corner, or perhaps you’ve heard men and women alike complaining about their marriages, or gossiping about their spouses. I’ve experienced both. There can be a paralyzing fear that if we talk about struggles we are having or our husbands are having with anyone, that we are slandering them or exposing our marriage.

The best thing for sin is to be exposed to the light, for the Holy Spirit to minister and heal, and for reconciliation to come. But often times as unmarried people, you can feel inept at asking those probing questions without seeming like you’re digging for salacious details. I’ll never forget being in a group of friends with one recently married and one of the other girls asking our newly married friend all kinds of details about marriage, sex, routines, etc.. I was embarrassed, but mostly because my newly married friend was embarrassed. But years later when that marriage had dissolved, I wished I’d asked more questions along the way. I wished I’d helped to be a minister of reconciliation instead of a bystander who thought I couldn’t ask probing questions. You may not have all the answers (and in fact, none of us do), but hearing honest words about the difficulties within marriage can help dissolve the Hollywood version we all have in our heads—and God may use you to help heal brokenness along the way.

Here are a few questions that would be helpful for you and her: What does leadership and submission look like in your marriage? How does it make you feel? What is the hardest thing about being a wife? What are you afraid of in your marriage? What brings you joy in it? In what ways was what you were taught in the church right about sex in marriage? In what ways was it wrong? How can I pray for you and your husband today?

3. Pray with them about their needs and desires.

Something happens when I pray. I don’t mean God always answers my prayers. I mean something happens in me when I pray. My heart is softened and becomes more understanding to the plight of another. I can talk for hours about a particular angst or fear or whatever I or someone else is struggling with, but the moment I say, “Father,” and follow it with an earnest prayer, my heart changes. I don’t mean this in a mystical way, I just think it’s the Holy Spirit in me communing with the Son who intercedes on behalf of me to our Father in heaven.

When you bring your own longings, fears, and angsts to the fervor behind a prayer for someone else, something settles within you. You are able to understand and sympathize with a friend—in whatever season of life they’re in—matching your longings ache for ache.

One of my good friends has a baby right now and a tiny apartment she longs to be out of. I am renting a home but ache for a baby. We are able to have what the other longs for (in a way), but pray for the other as though we both long for the same thing because we understand what we ultimately long for is God. Pray with your married sisters—even if you think they should just be happy with what they have because it’s what you want.

4. Rejoice with them when their dreams are fulfilled.

I’ve told this story a hundred times before but for the past six years I had three friends who all struggled with infertility. They each mourned differently and struggled in unique ways, but we prayed and cried for one another in the lack of what we desired: a baby for them, a husband for me. Within a year, we saw all of those prayers answered for each of us in various ways. I’m not saying this is a guarantee for everyone, but it was a sweet picture of God’s attentiveness toward each of us and because we had been faithful to love and encourage one another in our particular season, we were able to rejoice with a fullness we wouldn’t have had before.

It is much harder to look with jealous longing at a friend who has what you want when you’ve truly entered into her mourning when she didn’t have it. The safeguard against jealousy is not coveting all the more what our neighbors have, but rejoicing with them when they get it. This is a blessed safeguard and an opportunity more of us should take. Rejoice, as fully as you’re able, when God answers the prayers you’ve both been praying for them.

This has also been a struggle for me in marriage because most of my closest friends are still unmarried. I have struggled to rejoice around them because I fear my happiness will lead to their sadness. God is teaching me to model joy for earthly gifts while at the same time keeping Christ as my constant joy at the center.

. . .

In many ways these are things we all need to do with all of our friends, but many of us do them more easily with those who are in the same season as us. It is easier to pray for a husband with a friend who longs for one too. It’s easier to understand infertility when you’re walking through it too. It’s easier to counsel difficult seasons in marriage when you’ve walked through them too. But crossing outside of those boundary lines can bring, I might argue, a better more lasting blessing.

I know it’s hard to fight the lie that your married friend has everything you want and doesn’t need your encouragement, but I beg you to fight through it, set your truest affections on Christ, trust He supplies every need according to His riches, and assume the position of being the answer to your friend’s need. Your joy will be greater, I promise.

Screen Shot 2016-10-05 at 8.29.24 AMI never thought I’d be the girl without a family, the willingly orphaned. We left Texas in tears, reading our congratulatory wedding cards on the drive to Colorado through weeping and intermittent sobbing. By we, I mean me.

I love my church family in Texas, never have I left a place looking behind me as I did there; pioneering is in my blood, forging ahead, new, change, adventure. By the time we came to the end of our time in Denver, our first year of marriage was forged in the fire of unemployment, miscarriages, violence, financial loss, and a church leadership crisis. There was no one reason that pressed us out, but the compilation all the reasons made it easier to leave. We looked eastward and hoped for home.

. . .

When I first signed the membership covenant at my church in Texas six years ago, I did it with a confident flourish. My life had been changed there, my understanding of God rocked, settled, firmed, and set to rest. I would have signed my name in blood if it were an option. This was how committed I was to seeing my family thrive there. Years of struggle, walking through imperfect discipline with imperfect people, rubbing up against imperfect leadership and failure to do things the way I envisioned didn’t change my commitment though. Every year, when the time to renew came, I signed the document with joy and confidence. This was my family and family will always fail you, but you don’t back away, you press in. I was the church membership girl, her biggest evangelist.

When we arrived in Denver I asked about signing something, a promise, a covenant to this new body, but I was co-opted in, it seems, by virtue of being employed there. It never felt right with me, but nothing in my life felt right then, everything was new and different and I didn’t know which things were wrong and which were just new. When the email came from my Texas family a few months after we left, telling members it was time to renew, it broke my heart to archive it knowing I was saying “No” to them and still didn’t feel like I was saying “Yes” to anything else yet.

Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him,” but sometimes that rest comes through commitment to a people and a place, and sometimes it takes a long time to get there.

. . .

Before I got married I would encourage my single friends to not view the church as some sort of social gathering or authority setting, but instead to view it as family, through and through. I believed strongly then (and still believe it for my friends) that if God had marriage for me, then it would come through the family of my church. This was an unpopular view, but I held to it without wavering.

Then, one day, in the foyer of my family’s home, with our family milling around us, I met him. It was without incident, without much notice, without care. I noted his beard. He noted my recent travel overseas. We shared a few words of conversation not knowing that less than six months later we’d be sharing everything with one another. I didn’t know it, but there, on the threshold of my family’s home, I crossed the threshold of my married home.

. . .

We have been in D.C. now for seven months. We live in a neighboring city twenty miles as the crow flies from Capitol Hill. But for the same reason I swore I would never live here, it takes Nate a generous average of three hours a day in travel to go to and from work in the city each day. That travel time is the same reason it has taken us nearly seven months to settle on a church home, and it was not the church home we envisioned when we moved here.

We moved here broken, hurting, limping. We felt the weight of failure in every direction: our ability to hold a job, keep a job, love the church, carry a baby, feel safe, pay our mortgage, and more. No illusion of comfort was kept. We felt the fracture down to our core in a way neither of us had ever felt before. Some thought we were pining for what one pastor called, “Our hot ex-girlfriend” of a church, the thriving family we had in Texas, but the thought of comparing my family to a hot ex-girlfriend, a once and done, a flavor of the week is abhorrent to me. She was my family—still is my family, if we believe there is something spiritual about the church covenant (and I do). But that actually wasn’t even what we longed for at all.

We wanted a quiet place, a family that had been pastored for 30 years by the same man who didn’t use social media and who didn’t care about who you knew; a place that was elder-led by an equality of elders. A still and small place, a local place, a place where we could mourn and not be judged, a place where we could weep in the back row and not be rushed to counseling or medication or quick fixes, a place where we could just say, “Hey, we’re broken right now and just want a family.” But we couldn’t find that place and the searching grew wearisome, week after week our search taking us farther from our local village. Finally we heard about a church that would be planted in the fall and we came to know the pastor and his family. We decided that if what we wanted wasn’t possible, maybe God could use us in their lives and them in ours as long as he had us here, while we made plans to relocate to a smaller city. Their friendship is a sweet one, and a needed one. He is pastoral and gentle and vulnerable and fun. She is strong and wise and kind and a friend. We love and are loved by their children. It was not the family we envisioned, but it was the family God set us in for the time we’re here. The church is a month old this week.

. . .

I was telling a friend the other day that in all my years of singleness I never once felt my lack of a husband the way I have felt my lack of a church family this year. I wish I could somehow communicate this to my yet unmarried friends—the longing for a nuclear family is not wrong, and there is something beautiful and dear and illustrative of God’s family in a nuclear family, but your church family is—I promise you this—a more lasting and better family than the one you envision or the one you have.

I thought I understood this before, but I have really come to understand it this year. I love my husband and would not trade him for anything on earth, he is a gift to me brought in God’s time and God’s way. But I ache for my church family in a way I never ached for a husband before I knew God would bring me Nate. God does not promise earthly marriage to us, but He does promise family to us, and the Church itself is God’s promise of marriage and a family. It is the promise that Christ is coming again to bring His bride home. It is the promise that He is making all things new. It is the promise that on earth we are spotted and blemished and imperfect and terrible at so many things, but He is washing us with the water of the Word and He is coming to perfect us with His presence.

Friends, there are a thousand difficult things about finding a local church, compounded when you’re married and you need to agree on those things with your spouse, but as imperfect as she is, and incomplete as she feels, she is God’s design for covenant on earth. She is the opportunity to practice what God has made perfect in the new kingdom and new earth. I am still struggling with this reality in ways I haven’t in years. Last night Nate and I talked long while the candles burned low, about the ins and outs of church membership and church membership here and there and what God has taught us and is still teaching us and it was good, but hard, but good.

Something that is true of marriage that is also true of life in the Bride of Christ on earth: disagreement about next steps or future living or big decisions don’t have to mean division, they just mean you talk a little more, listen a little more, ask more questions, pray more, seek understanding more than you seek to be understood. The church is like any other family in that way: work, but oh what a good work.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-09-26 at 10.12.45 AMI am doing math in my head on a Sunday morning. The water beats hot against my back and I lean against the shower wall. I’ve been praying. My prayers are laundry lists and messy rooms and “Please God, thank yous” and things to pray for my husband these days. A father-friend asks me last week, “Have you been praying?” Nate asks me Friday as we drive through D.C. traffic for four hours, “Have you been praying?” I want to scream at them, “Yes! Yes I have been praying. The problem is I don’t know what I’m praying for.” Have you ever felt like a shell of yourself?

I was quick to call it depression before and it is a form of it at least. The kind of depression that happens when you crush a caterpillar or smash a fly or squeeze a balloon until it pops, pressing your foot or your fingers or your hands deep into whatever it is you want to kill. That kind of depression. I think of Paul, “We are pressed but not crushed,” and I wonder at the freedom to say that with confidence—they both feel the same in the process, it’s just the end that’s different.

Maybe compressed is a better word. That which makes cider or wine or those flattened pennies with the whole Declaration of Independence on them. Compressed and coming out a whole different thing.

. . .

I’m the child of divorce and am married to a man who was divorced so I did not come into marriage with illusions of perfection. I knew it would be work. I knew there would be dark days and delightful ones. I knew there would be death involved and it wouldn’t always be pretty—not the Austenian sort at least, where all the foibles and fractures of humanity are embraced and loved and kept as endearing. Real life is not like that. A real marriage is not like that.

I came into marriage believing it takes two whole people to make it work, and I still believe this is true. But that belief has to die the moment you say “I do,” and I did not know that. I thought, having worked so hard in my singleness to be a whole person, I would get to keep that whole person in marriage. I liked the whole person I was. I liked the time I had. I liked my financial flexibility. I liked my independence. I liked my autonomy. I liked my friends. I liked my personality. I liked me. I worked hard to be independent, secure, faithful, well-liked, a friend to many, thought-full, deep, and more. I liked that person. And I liked the person my husband was, a minister to many hurting men, faithful friend, financially secure, a home-owner, well-regarded in the city gates. Someone who stayed up with me way past our self-imposed curfew because we had so much to say. I liked us. Two whole people, come to one another in wholeness.

. . .

I used to believe that “the two shall become one flesh” was some sort of sneaky illusion to sex (wink, wink), that sex would seal the deal. A wedding itself wasn’t enough and a marriage license helped, but sex, two bodies becoming as close as humanly possible—this was when one flesh happened. I was wrong.

Marriage is not one + one = two

It isn’t even one + one = one

Marriage is (one – one) + (one – one) = one

The math doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, or like a friend said, “I have always loved math. There are rules, and if you follow the rules you can always solve the problem (even though it can take some creativity). Marriage doesn’t always seem so straightforward…”

Marriage, I am learning, is less about becoming more of who you are, or all of who you are, or your truest self, and more about becoming less of who you are. And that hurts.

It is the trendy thing in many circles today to abandon marriage when it gets too hard or when you feel like you’re drowning or when you don’t recognize the face you see in the mirror. I have been looking in the mirror for a year now, trying to find the self I used to be and she’s gone. I cannot find her. She was full in a way I am depressed. She was in bloom in a way I am compressed. She was deep in the way I am shallow. She was whole in a way I am not. She was becoming more and I am becoming less.

. . .

I tell someone yesterday, “Sanctification in singleness is hard. It is in marriage too. But they’re different kinds of sanctification. Pursuing wholeness in singleness is sanctifying. And pursuing togetherness in marriage is sanctifying. Neither one is more or less difficult or rewarding. Both hard. Both good.” It’s because they’re so different though, this is what makes marriage sanctifying for those who worked hard to be whole in their singleness, to not feel the need to legitimize their presence by the presence of a spouse, to not feel unseen or unheard in the Church.

. . .

There is no advice in this post, I have none to give. But maybe some encouragement for the newly married among us? When you look in the mirror and the vestiges of your singleness are gone, when financial flexibility feels far away, when late nights or early mornings or free schedules seem like a thing of history, when comparing calendars feels challenging, when your single friends are traipsing over Europe or crying over heartbreak or dreaming of what they want to do with their lives, when you touch that face in the mirror and try to remember what she felt like a year or two years ago: turn away, you will not find her there, and the harder you look, the less you will see.

You will need a new mirror and one before which you only stand with your new spouse, your one flesh. You are no longer two, but one. You are less whole today than you have ever been before and your spouse is not your completion any more today than the hope of them was a few years ago. What does that man or woman beside you need to flourish in the kingdom and church? Where do they need to see God more wholly or to love Him more deeply? What depressions are made in his body by yours? In which ways does her presence compress you into something wholly different than before? You are being taken from, yes, and you are giving away. You are becoming less and will never again become more of who you are. But you are also becoming one, together, with the one God has given you.

The math doesn’t add up: become less until you become one, but this is kingdom math, see: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

One of the best blessings to me in my singleness were friends who did not make marriage an ultimate thing in my eyes by only telling me the beautiful parts of their marriage, but who told me the difficulties of it as well. They also prayed for me actively to someday have the gift of marriage. I hope I am doing the same for my still single friends who desire the gift. I want them to know its not all romance and intimacy and good feelings and great conversation. But I also want them to experience the gift themselves so they can both see it and minister out of it.

One thing it is very easy to believe during the long fast from sexual intimacy that is godward singleness, is the option to have sex will make things better. Most of us wouldn’t be so foolish to say having sex makes things better, but it’s darn easy to believe the option and permission to will make it better.

But sex doesn’t make things better.

Not in the way you think it will.

Sex is good, God created it, he blessed it. He made it the integral piece in the procreation of humanity—science thwarts it and succeeds it but even science admits the masterful design of two humans making more humans. Sex is great, but it does not make all the angsts of longing for intimacy before marriage go away. All those angsts still exist within marriage, they just take different forms.

I know it’s easy for the married person to say this, you protest, because at the end of the day I can still have sex. But what I wish I could tell every unmarried person I know is until we realize our issues are much deeper and more profound than a sexual itch for satisfaction, we will still find our desires unmet. Within marriage and without.

The blessing of sex between a husband and wife is not to relieve stress, to make me feel desirable, or to make my husband feel strong and manly. It is not even to conceive and bear children. These are all benefits, but none of them are guarantees. God doesn’t owe us relief from stress apart from him, the guarantee I will always feel desirable (I don’t), my husband will feel capable and sufficient (he doesn’t), or children will be borne. God doesn’t even owe us sex within marriage. None of the things we think sex will accomplish (and indeed try to chase inside and outside marriage), are guarantees.

When I hear those who are not married say “But at least you get to have sex! And live with your best friend!” Well, first, I’d warn against saying at least in regard to much. But second I want to say your words betray a much, much deeper need and the fact that you think sex or living with your best friend fixes it tells me you don’t see your need as clearly as you think. If you think I’m just saying this because I’m married, trust me, I’ve been saying things like this for years and years as a single.

I’ve heard the illustration of the gift of sex for a man and woman in marriage like this: it’s glue holding you together. But in my limited view sex is more like a reminder: I am not my own anymore, I am part of someone and sex is a tether to remind, seal, and strengthen the binding. Outside of marriage there would actually be no reason or benefit for sex because union with this specific person—my husband—doesn’t exist. What I mean is, until he was my husband, he wasn’t my husband and sex wasn’t necessary (1 Corinthians 7:2).

I know this sounds very pragmatic but I want to be a bit pragmatic if I can. Our view of sex has been so colored by films and imaginations and images, and in many ways I want to sit down and say: sex just isn’t as great as you think it is, and we don’t need it like we think we do. It’s greatness is not in how it makes us feel or how it destresses us or how awesome our orgasm is. It is only truly good in relation to the person with whom our body is intended by God to be joined with. Can sex outside of marriage feel good? Yup. Can masturbation curb the itch? Yup. But do either of them express worship of God with the gift He’s given in the right context of covenant? No. Therefore, outside marriage it is not good. And inside marriage it is only good if it points to our incompleteness apart from God.

Unmarried friends, the sex you desire and think will satisfy your longing will not. Married friends, you still feel unsatisfied? Like your longing for something is never fully realized? All of this emptiness points to a greater need and a greater longing. Sex within marriage, if anything, makes the lack of complete culmination even more profound because no matter how perfect it is, it still isn’t enough to still the longing in our hearts for God. Fasting from intimacy outside of marriage is preparation for how even within marriage we are still apart from our Groom until the culmination of all things.

My need is for Christ. In marriage and out. Sex is a gift from God but it isn’t the ultimate gift and it certainly doesn’t come without baggage of its own. We live in a broken world, my friend. If it doesn’t feel perfect it’s because it’s not, and it’s okay. Christ, our perfection, knows our longings and knows we are dust.

And that’s better than sex.

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I was 20, driving down the roads with the windows open with two of my closest friends. It was summer, maybe fall, maybe mid-afternoon, maybe midnight. We sang along with the Dixie Chicks, lyrics about being taken away, flying as high as the wild blue, “closer to heaven and closer to you.”

We all dreamed in our particular ways of that someday cowboy. He didn’t look like a cowboy for any of us, but the dream of the man was there. Romance, high heights, wide open spaces—we were well versed in dreams. Both of my friends married within five years of then, neither of them to cowboys, but both to good men, faithful men, men who work hard, own their own businesses, men who have fathered their growing broods of children. It was 15 years for me, but the dream was never too far off. I knew he wouldn’t be a cowboy, but I still wanted to be taken away, treasured, and cherished in some alternate view of what was real and tangible and difficult right in front of me.

Around the same time we were listening to Dixie Chicks on the country roads, all three of us were also reading Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be a Woman. I didn’t retain all the content from the book, but there were four chapters I have never forgotten, and I wish every woman—single or married—would read those four chapters.

Elisabeth, the woman who had not one but three husbands, had to have been somewhat of an authority on these things and yet, the very recognition of them shows her understanding of her own humanity. She tells her readers that if they marry, to remember four things about the person they marry:

1. If you marry, you marry a sinner. You cannot escape the sheer fact that your spouse will sin against you and in front of you. He or she will fail you time and time again in certain areas. You will feel acutely the weight of their sin by the fact that covenant have made you one. The comfort in this is that you are also a sinner and you can approach the throne of grace together.

2. If you marry, you marry a man/woman. You marry someone who is perfectly designed to be just that. Ill-equipped, very literally, to be anything but what they are created to be. And that means that he may not understand why you fuss with makeup, but will probably appreciate it. And you may not understand why he keeps ratty t-shirts from high-school, but you’ll appreciate it too. He won’t want to share every detail of his day and you won’t understand his primal urges. That’s okay. You’re not supposed to be the same. You’re intrinsically and uniquely different.

3. If you marry, you’ll be married to a husband/wife. This means, simply, wives, you submit to your husband, not to every man who has leadership gifts. And husbands, you’re called to love and cherish your wife, not every girl who looks at you with need. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t want to join together in helping your single sisters and brothers out, but you weren’t meant to do that with every man or woman. Just one.

4. If you marry, you marry a person. A real, live, living, breathing, thinking human being. With feelings. And needs. Some as simple as eating three times a day, some as complicated as being heard thoroughly and fully. But it’s a person. Just that. A person. Simple.

. . .

It’s fun to dream—even secretly—about the spouse you may someday have or the spouse you wish your spouse would be, but at the end of the day, he or she is just a man or woman, they are just a sinner, they will simply be a husband or a wife, and they will be just human. They’re spectacularly special, but they’re not epitome of your dreams, the likeness of lyrics, or the fairy tale you’ve always dreamed of. They’re yours and they’re God’s—and you will walk through heartbreak, lost dreams, dirty laundry, broken glasses, and burnt dinners.

I thought I wanted a cowboy to take me away, but at the end of it, what I found was a man who works hard, is faithful to God, leads me gently, and always comes home at the end of the day. He is a sinner, a man, a person, and a husband, nothing more, nothing less.

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The train depot is two blocks from our house and I am learning to tell time by the sound of the train whistle.

When I was single every few months I’d ask the Lord, “How long? How long do I have to wait for marriage? Will it ever happen?” Then in the space of three weeks from conversing to knowing, there he was: the guy I’d marry. When Nate and I were dating and engaged, saying goodnight every night felt like agony, “How long do we have to be apart?” Hyperbolic maybe, especially since from first date to wedding date it was three months. Now, a full year into life together, he spends more than eleven hours a day apart from me. The best part of my day is when he gets home, but the second best part is the text message he sends me before he gets on the train for the trek back to me.

The wait is always worth it.

A friend of mine is married to a man from Belize and for various reasons, they’ve been apart for ten months. Another friend says goodbye to her husband every week while he flies jets around the world and back. Another friend is married to a captain in the army—he’s deployed more than he’s home. And many more friends are married to men who are married to their jobs; men whose faces light up when they sit across from new friends, co-workers, or parishioners, and darken when they get home to dishes in the sink, toddlers, and tired wives.

But I have one friend who has been married to her man for 47 years and she told me once that the longing only grows and it only grows if you encourage it.

Harry Burns was right when he said to Sally, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

For many years I believed the lie that I needed to squelch the desire for marriage. That the longing for it only contributed to the sadness I felt at missing out on it. Then I believed the lie that the first stirrings of love and sadness at being apart from Nate would soon wear off in marriage. Sometimes now I am caught up in the belief that this still present longing to be with him will soon die off.

All of us are waiting for something and the closer we get to the getting of it, the more the longing grows. Christ knew this and this is why He likened us to the Bride and Himself as the Bridegroom. Weddings are so brimming with expectancy, longing, and celebration—the culmination of so much waiting. At last!

But we let dashed hopes and hardened hearts get in the way soon enough. Disappointments, fears, unmet expectations—they grow resentments instead of longings if we’re not careful. Last week Nate was late coming home two days in a row and I wanted to blame traffic, trains, work, and even him for my disappointment, but this is no way to grow longing, I reminded myself.

It is like this with God too. This year has been a year full of dreams let go, mounting frustrations, disappointed hopes, and severe misjudgment. I have sinfully directed my resentment toward God more these days than I have since He saved me. My longing for Him lands silent and limp, like forgotten toys or too small jeans.

Today I pay attention to the train whistle all day. Only one of the trains will bring my love home to me, but all of the whistles incrementally remind me to fan the flame of longing for my King. He too is coming home for me and I want to stand ready, waiting, my longing found completely in Him.

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In a world of comparisons, ten months of marriage has nothing on 34 years of singleness, so consider me a toddler in the ways of I Dos. I know very little, but here are four things I do know and I thought I’d share them with you today:

1. Marriage is not more sanctifying than Singleness

Don’t believe it for a second if you’re single, and don’t convince yourself of it for a minute if you’re married. It’s a lie that one is more sanctifying than the other. If you got married in your early twenties, you grew up into an adult with your person. You were most sanctified during marriage—but not necessarily because of it. Correlation is not causation. This little lesson should be preached by more married people because it leaves most single people in the church feeling less than and not enough until they’re married. It’s poison. Stop saying it.

God is sanctifying me in marriage differently than He sanctified me in my singleness, the same as He sanctified me in my thirties differently than He sanctified me in my twenties. It’s the beauty of growth in the gospel and in life. He’s always doing something and always making everything new.

2. Marriage doesn’t make you more financially secure; God is the primary breadwinner

I came into marriage never having had a savings account that topped a few thousand. Nate came into marriage with a fat down-payment for our house in Denver and a hefty savings account. We thought between the two of us (me the penny pincher and him the miser), we’d be set.

Within this year of marriage, we’ve sold a house in Dallas, moved cross-country twice, started two new careers, went through six months of unemployment, and now have a mortgage in Denver and rent in DC—two of the most expensive cities to live in. Any carpet of financial security we had coming into marriage has been ripped out from below our feet. We are less financially secure than either of us have ever been in our lives. We are being whiplashed with bills, costs, and drains from every direction.

I know our story isn’t everyman’s, but it sure does debunk the lie that “Marriage makes you more financially secure.” The reality is having roommates (while that may not be what you desire for the long-term of your life) is a very cost-effective way to live. Those shared bills might feel like a noose around your neck, but they’re half or a quarter of what they’ll be when it’s just one paycheck coming in.

We didn’t plan on one paycheck this year. We planned to live in Nate’s salary and squirrel mine away. Instead we lost Nate’s quickly, and lived on mine and our savings account. It wasn’t sustainable. We can beat ourselves up a thousand different ways on this (We shouldn’t have left Dallas, we shouldn’t have bought a house in Denver, we shouldn’t have banked on him being able to work remotely long-term, we should have researched job options for him in Denver better, etc.), but the reality is, we did what we thought was right and good and honorable and faithful—and all of our plans failed.

I’m learning the only thing I can ever find my security in is God—which is the same lesson I’ve been learning for 35 years. My plans have never worked—never! It was foolish to think that would change just because I got married. God has always required sacrifice of me, always asked for obedience, never given me too much of any good thing. I don’t believe it’s His character to withhold any good thing, but I do believe it’s His character to give us exactly what we need of it and more is never guaranteed. Marriage and money included.

3. This one might be TMI, but here goes: the world tells us to get whatever we can from sex, but the truth is sex is only good if you give what you can—and the more you’re willing to give, the better it is.

That might be confusing, so let me flesh it out (Also, I’m having a very hard time writing this section because suddenly every word is an innuendo of some sorts.):

There was an angst in my singleness that had much to do with wanting a partner, wanting to shoulder the burdens of life with someone, wanting someone to love me, etc. But there was also a very real angst of sexual desire in me. I wanted to be held and loved and pursued. I didn’t need it to end in sex, but it culminated many times in sexual desire being fanned in my life. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. God created sex, sex is good, desiring sex is good, and getting married is good. Burning with passion is actually a good motivation (among other things) for getting married. But sex was what I thought would somehow satisfy some longings of my flesh. I wanted my desires to be met physically.

Sex within marriage is good but its goodness is almost never about my desires being met. My husband is a good and caring man, faithful, kind, gentle. He is tender with me and loves me deeply. But neither of us can satisfy desires that are too deep for words and too complicated for human hands. The best we can do is to come to bed ready to serve one another.

What I have learned about sex is that instead of it being the culmination of all the things of the day, sex is actually a very gritty, raw, messy foundation in our lives.

Instead of being the pinnacle, the point, the top of the triangle (thinking I do all the big, heavy lifting throughout life for the tiny slice of joy at the top), it is actually the base of it. Sex is the biggest part. Not because it happens the most, but because when there are a thousands things throughout the day demanding my attention, and most of them are serving my husband in some way (laundry, dishes, food prep, errands, phone calls, bills, etc.), the foundation we have within sex to serve one another makes the day to day monotony a joy.

The climax of sex is not a romp under the covers, it’s asking him every morning how I can help make his day better. It’s putting a healthy nutritious meal in his lunch bag. It’s running to Home Depot to get a special sauce for the weed-eater. It’s folding the ratty t-shirts from races he ran in high-school.

The foundation of learning to serve within my singleness translated directly to how I learn to serve within marriage. Serving my husband in sex is easy—even if there’s no physical return in it for me, because whether in bed, the kitchen, or Home Depot, serving is the posture of the Christian—married and single.

4. I am not my own anymore; marriage is shared sanctification

This has probably been the hardest adjustment for me to make within marriage. It’s not just about schedule, finances, decisions, etc. Those things are challenging for sure. I’m used to planning my own day, caring for my own finances, and making whatever decisions seemed best to me. I can’t do that anymore. Every piece of me affects a person I love. It’s a joy, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.

What is more difficult, though, is the shared burden of sanctification. This relates to point one because I think often times what married people mean when they say “Marriage is the most sanctifying thing,” is that saying I Do to all your mess means more mess in my life. In singleness whenever I walked through challenging things it was almost always easy to see where God was sanctifying me and to make small adjustments in my life to submit to Him in those areas. In marriage, though, it’s two people walking through the same challenges together. God doesn’t waste anything, but sometimes the bulk of the lesson is meant for me and sometimes it’s meant for Nate. How can you tell?

Therein lies the challenge. As we’ve walked through this past season of financial difficulty it has revealed areas in our lives of idolatry, fear, pride, and more. And it has primarily affected Nate. Most of the idols being toppled are his in that area. On the other hand, we’ve just walked through a season where I’ve encountered some fearful things, the shootings, the miscarriages, failed plans, my car being vandalized, Nate’s job loss. Never in my life have I been a fearful person and at every turn these days, I’m afraid of something. God is teaching me He is the only one who is trustworthy and He is faithful.

God is teaching both of us things in paramount ways, but they are different things, and the struggle in being one flesh is entering into that sanctification process with the other. It feels like our feet are cemented to the floor and we can barely encourage ourselves, how do we begin to encourage one another?

This is what I’ve been learning: I am not my own anymore. In the past, I was the primary preacher to my soul. I was my best encourager. I was the one who pulled myself up by my bootstraps. But I’m not anymore, I feel paralyzed in the encouragement of my own soul. But I am not paralyzed in the encouragement of Nate’s soul. This is the gift of walking through the mud together: I know the words that lift up his eyes to the hills, and he knows the words for me. It’s beautiful and painful, precious and hard. We are not our own anymore.

. . .

This is long, I know, but I’m hoping it helps some other newlyweds along the way and some singles who might be believing lies about themselves or their married friends.

Marrieds love to tell singles going through transitions and hard times, “At least you’re not tied down! At least you’re free to be flexible! At least you can make your own schedule, etc.” Singles love to tell marrieds going through transitions and hard times, “At least you have each other! At least you’re married! At least you don’t have to do it alone!” The truth is that painful circumstances in our own lives can bring offensive, short-sighted, and dismissive platitudes to real struggles in the lives of other people.

Freedoms that exist within singleness come with a cost and the partnership that comes within marriage can mean a similar cost.

In singleness, the freedom of scheduling means more time spent walking through dark and difficult things with many different people. It can feel incredibly isolating to walk through hard things in other people’s lives and then come home alone to a lonely home and an empty bed. That freedom you envy in your single friend’s life comes with a cost.

In marriage, the partnership of a spouse means you can’t go home at the end of the coffee date, you can’t schedule your life in compartments of ministry time and personal time. It’s all ministry time, making dinner, raising children, making money, even having sex, it’s all ministry—and sometimes it’s incredibly difficult ministry. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life comes with a cost.

In singleness, the freedom of flexibility means sometimes there is a very strong lack of stability. There isn’t a family needing to be provided for, so it can feel like your job is expendable to your employers, it can feel like you’re the only one paying all the bills, and it can feel like life is just one lease to another. The situation in your marriage might be the same, but “Until death us do part” gives one form of stability many singles desire and do not have. That flexibility you envy in your single friend’s life can mean an isolating instability for them.

In marriage, the partnership of fidelity also means there is a strong temptation to hope in that stability instead of in God. There’s a constant wrestle within marriage to console yourself with the belief that “at least we have one another,” when in truth that is a ploy from the enemy. We have God. The same as when we were single. The gift of a spouse can become a gift we begin to worship, to find comfort in, and trust in, instead of the Giver. God alone is faithful. That partnership you envy in your married friend’s life can mean a constant and strong temptation toward idolatry.

Marriage and singleness are both sanctifying, neither one is more or less. If you ask me where I was more sanctified, marriage or singleness, I would tell you the sanctification doesn’t even compare because it is precisely and exactly the same.

In singleness I struggled with idolatry, selfishness, fear, pride, self-sufficiency, and so much more. In marriage I struggle with all of them still, not more, not less, the same. God, in His goodness, shows me that He is the same whether I am single or married by showing me that I am the same too. The only difference in these sanctifying agents is that for 34 years singleness was the best way to prove, distill, and refine me, and now marriage is God’s best way to prove, distill, and refine me.

Friends when we are tempted to start a sentence to anyone walking through a different and hard season with the words “At least…” remember the God we serve only and ever gives the best in every season. He is not doing the least of anything in your life.

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