Archives For singleness

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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I have yet another single friend who is convinced if only this one little thing changes about the guy she’s dating, they’d be perfect together. If he just didn’t nag her so much. If she didn’t just shut down emotionally. If they didn’t argue so much. If his family wasn’t so crazy. If she felt like herself around him.

All those “ifs” and so many of my friends persist in the same pursuit. They have “chemistry” or “spark” with this person. They feel on fire around them. They just “know” them better than anyone else has. But settling for the sort of person who, in dating incites you to anger, brings out your passivity, makes you shut down, doesn’t encourage you, and more, is foolishness, friends. Don’t so long for the gift of marriage, or even marriage with a particular person, that you lay all that marriage is intended to be on the bench and pursue the lust of being not-alone.

We have swallowed the idea that marriage is hard because that’s the narrative of the Church, “Marriage is hard. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It shows you your sin. You’ll never know your selfishness until you’re married.” But I don’t think that’s the picture God intends to illustrate the love between Christ and the Church—and I don’t think that’s the narrative we should believe or espouse. There is difficulty in life, yes, challenges, sin, brokenness, but those things exist in marriage and out. As long as you are unmarried, don’t settle for the belief that being married is another thing on the long list of hard things in life.

Don’t believe the lie that marriage is supposed to be hard and you have to choose your battles and just settle for the first girl who makes you feel alive or the first guy who tells you you’re meant to be. If you didn’t think it was “supposed to be like this” than maybe “this” isn’t it. I beg you, singles, with the words of the man who married us, “It isn’t done until you say ‘I do.'”

Here is what the bible actually says about husbands and wives:

The heart of her husband safely trusts in her (Prov. 31:11). Brother, do you trust this girl? Trust her with your weakness? Your basest fears? Sister, are you trustworthy? Do you gain his trust by being one who cares for him?

The husband washes her with the water of the word (Eph. 5:26). Brother, do you respond with words fortified with the word or words fortified by the world? Do you point her to the gospel and the hope in God, or tear her down by comparing her to the world?

A wife is not contentious or angry (Prov. 21:19). Sister, do you incite him to anger? Do you nag him and criticize him? Is your natural inclination to defend yourself by tearing him down? To make yourself look better by shaming him?

A husband is not bitter toward her (Col. 3:19). Brother, do you take all those reasons for bitterness to the cross and leave them there? Do you carry your angsts and allegations against her?

A husband cares for his wife’s body as he cares for his own (5:28). Brothers, do you care for her actual body, the flesh and blood body, the heart that beats inside of her, her emotions, her mind, her stress. Or do you only care about how hot she is?

A husband honors his wife (I Peter 3:7). Brother, do you speak well of her in front of others? Are you proud to stand beside her and be hers?

A husband lives joyfully with his wife (Eccl. 9:9). Brother, does being beside this woman bring joy to you? Deep, lasting, comfort and joy? Do you go home and night and beam with joy at the thought of someday being with her forever?

A wife is a companion (Mal. 2:16). Sister, are you a friend? Not a floor-mat and not a fierce competitor, but a friend? A peer? An equal?

A wife brings her husband gain (Prov. 31). Sister, is one of your goals to see him gain, to see him grow, and to see him succeed? Or do you tear him down with your words and actions?

A wife is respectful and pure in her conduct (I Peter 3). Sister, do you respect this man in purity? Do you care more about the way he treats your heart than the way he treats your body? Do you present your body as a peace offering instead of offering your heart?

A husband finding a wife, finds a good thing (Prov. 18:22). Brother, is this a good thing? Ask yourself that hard question before you move any further in this relationship. Does everyone around you, those who know you best: do they agree this match is a good one?

If you can’t see yourself in that list above in the relationship you’re in right now, get out. Seriously. You don’t have to marry him or her. They might be really great people, but they might be really great people for someone else and that’s okay.

I wish someone had told me this in every single dating (and engagement) I had. Or I wish I had listened. Marriage to Nate is the best thing I’ve ever experienced. It is a blessing every single day, without exception. I know there are those who would say our time is coming, but if you knew a half of the hell we’ve walked through in the past six months you’d probably close your mouth. Sin has been crouching at our door since day one and God has put his Holy Spirit inside of us and the gospel in us, and by His grace, we rule over it.

Pray over that list above if you’re in a relationship heading toward marriage. Taking off that ring, making that phone call, asking for the ring back, having that last conversation could be one of the best things you ever do for your future marriage.

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A few months ago I had a conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about her upcoming marriage to Robert Wolgemuth, their joy in one another and the Lord was palpable. Nancy has faithfully served the Lord for over fifty years of singleness, teaching women to love and study the word, and reflect their maker in wholeness. I’ve benefited from her ministry, but mainly I’ve benefited from her example. Here was a woman who served the Lord in her singleness for a very long time. While there was an overarching confidence in her call to singleness, though, fifty years of life in this world can threaten our confidence in a great many things.

Robert and Nancy have now married and their wedding video is here. I urge you to take fifteen minutes when you can find them and watch it. Even if you do not feel the call to singleness, or even if you are already married, what is most present and beautiful in their story is not the theme of marriage or singleness, but of trusting God in all kinds of circumstances.

One of the things Nancy talks about is how she has always taught the gospel as the love story it is: a Groom coming to make his bride beautiful and bring her to himself, but how now she would learn to bring glory to God in the telling of that same story as a married woman. I agree and have said for years the church understands singleness better than any other entity on earth because we intrinsically know what it means to long for what we do not have in fullness.

But what happens when you get married and the longing dissipates or distills or even disappears? What happens when you wake up next to a man who does fill so many of your longings? What happens when you live within the walls of a home you’ve desired for 35 years? What happens when your message of longing feels a bit less present and a bit more satiated?

This morning I read the preface to John Piper’s Advent readings, The Coming of Indestructible Joy. He writes, “Peter [in II Peter 1:13, 3:1] assumes that his Christian readers need to wakened. I know I continually need awaking. Especially when Christmas approaches.”

Especially when Christmas approaches.

I have still been thinking about Philippians 2:12 this week, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” These words in particular: “much more in my absence.” Another way of saying this is, “especially in my absence.”

One look around my world these days and I have it all: a husband who loves me, a beautiful home of our own, a good job, a home bursting with friends this weekend. But one thing I do not have is Christ in His fullness—and I need every reminder possible of his absence. Nothing magical happens when you get married, but something is risked: the constant, pressing, angst of desire. Not for an earthly spouse, but for the heavenly one.

Whoever you are, and wherever you are today, a few days before the eve of Advent, remember the longing especially in his absence. Remember the people who waited decades and centuries for the coming of Christ. Remember “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2). Perhaps your longing is pressing and present, perhaps it is dormant and dulled, but it is there, somewhere. Find it. Empty your world this season of things and distractions, or instead keep them, and make them serve as reminders of the shadows they are.

We walk in darkness, partial blindness. We see, like the blind man at Bethsaida, “men as trees walking.” We see partially, not fully. We long for wholeness and live in shadows. We have and do not have. We exist in the already and the not yet. Let’s press apart the closed over pieces of our hearts, the pieces that have forgotten to long, or the pieces that only know longing for earthly things.

This Advent season, let’s especially long especially in our groom’s absence.

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Here’s an exercise: let’s keep an account of the words coming out of our mouths and filling up our hearts today. How many of them are informed by the word of God and how many of them are informed by Christian culture and how many of them are informed by the world’s culture?

Here’s an example: “Marriage is the most sanctifying agent in a person’s life.”

Word of God?
Christian Culture?
World’s Culture?

I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the first.

More and more I hear married people touting that line, and more and more I wish people would add a two small words to it: “…for me.”

What is communicated by saying marriage is the most sanctifying agent in life is that anyone who isn’t married can’t be as sanctified as a married person. Marriage is not always God’s best sanctifying agent. All of life is sanctification, and He may use one agent in one person’s life and another in another person’s life. At the ripe old age of 34, singleness has been the most sanctifying agent in my life. Perhaps at the age of 70 I will be able to say marriage has trumped it for me, but I think it will not have been marriage but life itself that did it.

God’s children are sanctified through whatever means God ordains to work in them His pleasure, His discipline, and His glory. Marriage, for the one who married young, may be the agent doing it for one. Singleness, divorce, widowhood, parenthood, or handicap might be the agent doing it for someone else.

Marriage is full of distractions. Singleness is full of longing and loneliness. And both are full of the other. We will be sanctified in each season to its fullness just as God designed.

Singles, stop believing true sanctification is around the corner, holding out on you, taunting you with the illusion you’re incomplete as a Christian unless married. You are incomplete—sanctification is progressive and no one has arrived. Embrace today’s sanctification.

Married people, stop saying marriage is more sanctifying than long and difficult seasons full of other gifts from God. We rob from others the beauty of this: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

If you’re God’s child a work was begun in you before the foundation of the earth and will be completed in God’s best way for you in preparation for eternity with Jesus Christ. Marriage—union with Christ—is the signifier of the completion of our sanctification!

Single and married friends, today is God’s best sanctifying agent in your life.

I used to worry that God would make me marry a man who bored me or didn’t like to read or didn’t challenge me or who didn’t have a beard. You see my frivolity? A beard? I spent time worrying God would make me marry a clean-shaven, soft-cheeked, hairless-faced guy. But I stand by the other desires: I wanted to lay on a blanket by a lake and discuss church and Church, theology and Isaiah, politics and the shape of the clouds. I wanted to never get tired of talking to him. Or listening to him.

As I made my way through my twenties and then thirties, and dated good, nice, solid, kind men, I still found myself slightly stomach-knotted at the thought of tying myself to any of them for the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine it would be worth giving up singleness (as difficult as it was and lonely as I felt) to latch myself to any of them—and latch myself to that stomach-knottedness—for life. They were good men, but they weren’t Nate.

A friend asked me the other day how a girl can avoid settling. The market is what it is, she said, and the pickings are slim. I hear her sentiments and shared them for 34 years and I hate the platitudinous answer I gave her, which was this: don’t settle.

And I wasn’t talking about settling for a man without a beard or a man whose physique may not be what you envisioned or who might have blond hair instead of brown and who may not play the guitar or write love poems for you—in this regard, women, settle yourselves down. No, I meant this:

Don’t settle in the belief that God knows what is best for you today and tomorrow and all the days of your life. He has given you the blessed-horrible gift of singleness today. One day you feel its blessedness and another you feel its horridness, but either way, it is the gift you have today. The question of settling is not attached to a man at all, but to the God whose job alone it is to give you the gift of a mate. So the question is not “Should I settle for a man who is less than what I envisioned?” and really, “Should I settle in the belief that God doesn’t hear or care about the desires of my heart?”

. . .

Nate and I have created a small ritual in our lives these days. At five o’clock, when the workday ends, we knot our sneakers, he slings a blanket over his shoulder, and we walk to the lake a few blocks away. We find a spot high enough up that we can see the sun set over the Rockies and we talk until it creeps down behind them. Sometimes one of us rants. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes he just listens, or I do. The other day we talked about Church history and architecture, and when the wind came blowing down the hill I pressed myself against his strong back, touched his beard, and I thanked God for not giving me the chance to settle. I thanked him for all the stomach-knotted uncertainty I’d had for the past 34 years. It was God’s good protection for me, and such a familiar feeling that when I knew I would marry Nate, I knew it with a surety and freedom I couldn’t have had without all those years of knowing it was not right.

Sisters and friends—and brothers, you too—do not settle for less than the belief that God has written your story before the foundation of the earth and he is the giver of good and perfect gifts in the proper time. He cares about birds and lilies and beards and you.

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“What are you most looking forward to about moving to Colorado,” I ask him. We are driving toward the city in a rental car, downtown Denver dwarfed by the snow-capped peaks behind it. “Making a home,” he says, and reaches for my hand.

I feel a bit of a sob catch in my throat and I’m trying to not be melodramatic, but the sob is real and the emotion is too.

I have numbered the dreams that have slipped from my palms over the years and a home was the one that died the slowest death, particularly the dream of a husband in a home. To paint the walls, to settle in, to build something as permanent as anything on earth can be: this is the work of a home.

He grew up all over the world, moving every two to four years, and my adulthood has brought 18 moves in 14 years—neither of us really know what it means to be home anywhere. We have learned to make people our home and Christ our haven, and this sustains us, brings us joy unspeakable. Who needs painted walls and front porches when you have relationships forged in time and depth?

Home, I am finding, beside this man who every day surprises me more with God’s providence, can be in the common grace and goodness of unity. As we move toward one another—and move toward Denver—I am moved by God’s faithfulness to His plan, not ours. If it was up to us I’d have been married in my early twenties and he wouldn’t have gone through a heartbreaking divorce. We wouldn’t have suffered the humbling consequences of our own sins through the years, leading us straight to one another in the proper time and proper way. We would have spared ourselves the meantimes and meanwhiles and built our own kingdoms of mud and sand.

But God.

Home is not a place or a house, it is not painted walls or deep roots or knowing your neighbors or longevity. Home is Christ and Christ is the giver of good and perfect gifts, even the ones that take the longest to arrive.

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Note to my readers: 

In the next six weeks we have to sell a house, buy a house, pack up two houses, get married, honeymoon, leave Texas well, move to Colorado, transition his job, and start my job at Park Church—I know that might sound like a cakewalk to some of you, but to me it sounds like a lot. Because of that, I’ll be putting Sayable on hiatus until just the thought of writing doesn’t give me hives. I love you, my sweet readers, thank you for rejoicing with us in our engagement. Nothing about the timeline of our lives right now makes a lot of sense, but we are so deeply loved by our community here, and so full of peace about one another and the next season, we cannot help but worship God for His gifts to us today. We are overwhelmed by His goodness. 

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The quietest voice in my life this time last year was God’s. He was saying, “I have more for you in your singleness,” but I didn’t trust Him. There were louder voices, more immediate voices, more pressing ones—even my own voice, certain that if I did not get married on March 16, I would lose my chance for marriage forever.

See how nagging the voice of doubt?

The belief that God won’t come through. That He will leave me without the thing I want. That He will give me less than what I desire. That He hasn’t heard my specific prayers and requests. That He doesn’t care about my proclivities and inclinations and desires. That everything I love and desire is simply an idol, with nothing good in it. The belief that He has gotten it wrong.

Tim Keller said, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”

This is the creeping doubt that festered in my mind most of 2014. The voices around me seemed louder and more persistent than God’s voice and I felt myself sinking under their demands to be heard. I was the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind, unstable in all my ways (James 1:6).

But the small voice persisted: I have more for you in this.

I feared that His “more for me” would be a life of begrudging singleness, alone, fearful, unloved, unseen. I feared His “more for me” would mean pretending to enjoy something that wasn’t enjoyable, and felt eternal and long. I feared He would call me to a life of celibacy and I wouldn’t be able to say with the Apostle Paul that it was better.

. . .

It has been a strange seeing that has happened this year. Singleness ceased becoming the lens through which I viewed life, and it became the thing that I have found myself most grateful for this past year. I fear even saying that because it may sound like I have resigned myself to a life I still would not choose for myself. But the truth is I have seen the great gift—and goodness—of my singlehood.

I may have said before that marriage was an equal blessing to singleness, but I struggled to believe that in my heart of hearts. How could having less ever be equal to having more?

. . .

This morning I was sorting through emails—requests for writing, speaking, interviews, job offers—and one persistent theme in them all is that I am a woman and I am single. I have never thought my womanhood not a gift, why would I think my singleness not a gift? Just as God in His sovereignty made me a woman, He made me single today. The same attention and care that went into knitting me together in my mother’s womb, with brown hair and blue eyes, this mind, this heart, all five foot one inch of me that I would someday become, He put that same attention and care into making me who I am today, February 19th, 2015, unmarried.

If that is true, that He is just as attentive to my womanhood as He is to my singlehood, then I have to see it as a gift. One unique thing I bring to my local church is my womanhood—and all the proclivities and oddities that make me me, but I also bring to my church my singlehood.

Yesterday I had a meeting with one of my lead pastors to talk about how we can do better in caring for women at our church and as the meeting was coming to an end, he asked a question about singles and if any of our blind spots in regard to women might be related to our blind spots in regard to singles. I left that meeting thinking, “What a blessing to be able to be a woman and a single today!”

. . .

Whatever it is you’re afraid of today, whatever you’re holding on to, despite God saying, “I have more for you in your lack than in your envisioned plenty,” consider letting it slip through your grasp. Sometimes less is more. God’s equations and equality cannot compare to ours—think of Christ, who of all men deserved to be exalted and yet did not count equality as something to be grasped, but became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6).

Singleness is not a cross to bear. The final cross has already been born and because of it, we have been set free to count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Him (Phil 4:8). Whatever He is asking you to trust him with—job loss, singleness, barrenness, moving, your life—count it as loss, one tear, one painful pull, one crashing moment of grief at a time.

Knowing Him surpasses it all.

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Someone asked me how to fall out of love with her ex-boyfriend. “You don’t,” I said. “The problem is not that you love him too much, it’s that you love everything else too little.”

What sets marriage apart from every other relationship is not the love between a man and a woman (although that love is a mystery, who can comprehend it?), it is merely covenant. Love waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows, and there are some days when we barely love ourselves let alone love others. Covenant binds the man and woman together when love seems an impossible venture.

So how do you fall out of love? What if your heart has been broken, your boyfriend didn’t love you back, your girlfriend couldn’t make her ardor match yours? What if you’re the one standing there, empty hearted while they make off with both theirs and yours? In the absence of covenant, how do you fall out of love then?

You don’t.

Oh, there will be some sorting that needs to happen, some grasping and understanding. You will need to be able to discern what about your relationship was idolatrous or lustful and what was good and holy and right and true. You will need to be able to repent for loving the wrong things too much and the right things too little. But you will also need to be able to understand the nature of real love, biblical love, means you cannot stop loving another person, not ever.

The problem is not that we love them too much, but that we love others too little. We do not extend to them the same grace or walk with the same long-suffering. We are perhaps guilty of objectifying or only loving the way someone made us feel—and this is not love, but a cheap counterfeit, flimsy and fleeting, and we ought to fall out of that.

Falling out of love is an anti-Christian idea. Christians must love all the more—even and especially the ones who deserve it the least.

If you are standing somewhere, nursing a broken and bleeding heart, know this: God is willing and working His goodness in that brokenness. But also know this, the way through this is to love others with the same fervor and intensity and selflessness that you brought to your relationship. Nurture them, encourage them, delight in them, enjoy them. As your capacity to love grows, you will find that former flame no longer burning higher than all the others, but a mere light along the path that brought you into the most full and robust love there is. The love of God.

“I think God wants us to love Him more, not to love creatures (even animals) less. We love everything in one way too much (i.e. at the expense of our love for Him) but in another way we love everything too little….No person, animal, flower, or even pebble, has ever been loved too much—i.e. more than every one of God’s works deserve.” C.S. Lewis

“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9