God is Good, but NOT Because I am Getting Married.
Most of my friends got married at 22, 23, 24, 25, 26…Most of them did, not all of them. A few of us found ourselves drifting in the atmosphere of a solitary existence. Well, not truly solitary since our friendships were splitting the seams wide open. But we had no ring; we made no covenant. And that was hard at times, but ok. This would characterize my adult life for over 20 years. However, this was damp, fertile soil for supernatural seedlings to germinate. It was good, but God’s kind of “good.” Day after day, month after month, year after year…my journals were scribbled with my emotions, thoughts, fears and hopes. They stacked up on the shelf like the corner of a used bookstore. Stories of God being so mindful of, and attentive to me, whether I could see it or not.
“I couldn’t get you off my mind; I felt like God wanted me to bring this to you…”
“Let me get your cup of coffee.”
“You can use our mountain house with your friend, you both seem to need time away.”
“You can live with us as you look for a new home.”
“Why don’t you come be with us for Easter since you aren’t able to go to Pennsylvania.”
“Our spare bedroom is yours whenever you need it.”
“Let me put these leftovers in a container for you so you can have them tomorrow."
“Here are some clothes we are giving away, would you want to look through them?”
“We want to use our frequent flyer miles to get your homesick heart to Pennsylvania for the weekend.”
“We are looking to go to the beach in May, can you come with us?”
“Borrow our car while yours is in the shop, we can figure out rides for a few days.”
“I know this will be hard to receive, but I want to pay your health insurance for the year.”
My paycheck was small, but the provisions were a waterfall of support over me. A steady stream of care. Sometimes God brings a spouse as a means of goodwill. Sometimes he uses nature. Sometimes he uses the preacher. Sometimes he uses a friend. Sometimes he uses a pet. Sometimes he uses a movie. For me, his ongoing interventions have been unmistakable.
So now I’m engaged to be married. Even as I say it, it sounds bizarre. I am scattered and stunned. Though this was a desire, I never let myself imagine it. Self-protection was set in place. So now I am wearing a ring and still wonder how it all happened. With a humble heart I write this: I am grateful to God for this man, for this good thing. But to make it clear, I am grateful for ANOTHER good thing. This is not the first good thing he has given me, this is in addition to the goodness he has already bestowed on me. To those who observe my life, please do not mistake this engagement as God sending me a hero. Do not mistake this as, “finally, he has provided!” For years, I have said, “Though I long to be married, I have never been in need and I have never looked at my life as a half-life.” My fear has regularly been that others would. The truth is, I have already had a hero rescue me (over and over). I have already had a provider. I have already had a helper. I have already had a caretaker. I have already had a listener. I must write these musings lest we miss this essential fact. Into my late 20’s and 30’s I learned to scour the landscape of my life for communication from God. Eyes and ears wide open. Sometimes he was quiet or not as noticeable as at other times. But he was relentless. My mantra became, and not without hard-fought-for-discipline, “IF I marry, a husband will be a bonus to an already satisfying life.”
Last night I was flipped and yanked with internal conflict over the misunderstandings around singleness and marriage in the American church. God is gracious to give me Scott. I have no hesitation in saying that. This man is one I thought was unrealistic to hope for. It’s almost as if he were in “Dawn Camp” for the last handful of years being prepared. Because Lord knows, he would have to be a near superhuman to handle this emotional slot machine. Yet conflict arises in me. Not because I don’t want this. But because I see this in light of my entire life.
This is a lateral move. God would call it that.
Paul talks about singleness with such adoration and reverence. He calls it a “gift.” Unfortunately, I can think of few sermons on this matter of obvious value. I have sat buckled into the passenger’s seat next to plenty of friends whose lives are being crushed under the hardship and disappointment of marriage. As a result, my thoughts do not dwell on a dreamy, upcoming future. Paul talks about marriage having a specific challenge. He explains how marriage can distract people from being eternally-minded and kingdom-focused. The off-shoot is a busy schedule, the stress of managing children and the subtle drift into a robotic lifestyle.
For me, I have been spared that. Though there are other strains for me in my single life, I have known the perfect silence of going to sleep aware of God, no one taking my attention off of him. I wake up and he is the one I talk to as I stand over the stove cooking an egg by myself. I pray out loud, focus my mind to hear from him and sit in my big red chair for hours reading and reading with no other voice near me. No dinners to plan, no driving anyone around. A surplus of time to mentor, teach, speak, listen, pursue and sit in the presence of God. On the flip side, I have felt alone financially, big decisions make me so hesitant as I don’t trust my know-how, I have grieved the loss of children, and I have had too many scenarios where I am the only one not figuring out plans with a spouse. These hardships have led me crawling back to thoughts of heaven. Over and over again. “This is not my home” circles through my mind. The longing is not for marriage or the high-valued gift of singleness, it is for the New Earth.
The intentions and priorities of people, married or not, eventually pop out: How we spend our time, if we choose to be tranquil and attentive, if we talk about the spiritual world with our people, if we value prayer… If these disciplines are primary for someone prior to marriage, they will hopefully be primary after. Those who are unmarried have the same temptation to be over-scheduled and self-focused, indulgent and distracted. The disciplines secure us all.
Things have become more clear to me since I fell forward into my 40’s. I have so many honest married people in my life (for which I am grateful—and I call more to be this way for the sake of the generations behind us). And here is the secret I have garnered from all my observations: marriage is meant to make someone more like Jesus. Period. Likewise, being unmarried is meant to make someone more like Jesus. Period. This is always the objective. Selfishness, pride, resentment, insincerity, heartlessness, addiction, laziness, hatred, lust, jealousy, prayerlessness, greed, self-absorption, child-worship, and coveting are all being extracted. Death to ourselves opens up more space for Christ’s qualities to blossom and, subsequently, to be portioned out through us. His platform for this work is the human race. The fracture happens when any of us runs to the American figment of marriage as a panacea. A completion. An unmitigated gratification. Whether the fairy tale stories, chick-flick movies, the glassy posts on social media, or the falsehood couples unintentionally advertise, we have been hoodwinked. Americans are the most obsessive about romantic relationships and the least successful at them (“The Expectation Trap,” Psychology Today). Those married hit the wall of grand disillusionment and those single live in anguish over something they believe will turn their lonely boat to shore. After teaching high school for so long, it’s obvious to me we are setting our kids up to think the fantasy they hope for, is realistic. Unfortunately, the church is a primary culprit.
The long corridor ahead of me is lit with dim lights. I can’t see much. I guess that’s the case for all of us. Sometimes we mistakenly find comfort in false control. For a host of reasons, it seems so apt that I was engaged over Easter weekend. My “yes” to Scott is most certainly evidence of a resurrection force. Relationships on my timeline have been hanged by fear. One after the other. Though I am excited, peace is the central quality. God is so generous to give me peace since it is the one element I have never experienced in the context of romantic relationships. This peace has allowed me the fortitude to move a few steps ahead at a time. In the end, I know God gave me this marriage for HIS purposes.
If anyone in my life mistakes this good thing as “better,” they are missing the first half of my life as God’s best for me. To acknowledge the first half as much as the next half is to give God the acclaim for ALL of it. I do not see this as “better,” I see this as different and good. Frankly, that is how I have perceived my life for a long time: “different, but good.”
Likewise, if we call this “better,” we are also communicating to those who are unmarried, whether by divorce, loss or a worthy calling, that they are living half of a life. That those who are not married are missing something. That God has in some way left them hanging or maybe even dismissed their desires. What a horrible lie. The opposite is true, they have a fullness in the spiritual world that is more often than not, lost a bit in marriage, Paul affirms this:
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
I will always relate more to single people than married people. Forever, I will see myself as someone who is first and foremost, Christ’s. This is not an essay on if one life is better or worse than the other, or if one life is more commendable before God than the other. What is essential to me, is that there is not one of these "lives" to aim for. Rather, we are called by God, for his Kingdom work, married or not. As the church, we can highlight both, celebrate both, preach to both, and allow both to influence the church.
I have been favored to have friends and family who never thought twice about me being without a husband and children. Never have they said, “Why don’t you go to another church so you can meet a man?” though people have said that to me. My friends and family have never said, “Why don’t you dress up more, men like that?” though people have said to me. My friends and family have never said, “You need to put yourself out there since you’re getting older,” though I have had people say that to me. What my friends and family have said to me are comments like this:
“Dawn, you would never be able to have the impact you have had if you were married.”
“We are beyond grateful to you for the way in which you have ministered to our family and our daughters. We don’t know where we would be without you.”
“Dawn, you have been faithful to study and read and pray, we can hear it when you share your thoughts.”
“I don’t know where I would be if you were married, you have been the presence of God in my life.”
I don’t say these things to puff myself up as I have had many days of being weary, feeling alone and lost, and uncared for by the Lord. Gratefully, I have had numerous people model this out for me as they have invested in my life. My doubts and prayerless days have been far more regular than my towering moments of faith. And my sinful, co-dependent heart has gotten the best of me many times. I say these things to remind people to be careful. Look at a person’s life in view of Kingdom work, not by the image the world is obsessed with. Be mindful not to try to “fix” something that is holy. God called me to singleness for a long time because that is how I would know him and become more like him. He is now calling me to marry Scott because that is how I will know him and become more like him. It is as simple as that.
When we live on the New Earth, we won’t be married. Jesus said so. That should tell us something profound. The institution of marriage is solely to reflect the love of God to the world. When we are with him, we won’t need any more signposts.
And besides, interestingly, Jesus was single. I never hear that brought up.
It’s time for the Christian community to tear down the idol of marriage and family. Today, if we are honest, most people who are married will be single at some point. This is a fact.
Some practical points to consider:
Check your own view of marriage vs. singleness. Be honest with yourself.
Fill up your kitchen table with single people if you are married, they will sharpen the spiritual tone of your home.
Watch what you say to those who are unmarried.
Watch especially what you post, it can really deceive and trigger those who are without their own family. And typically our posts reveal our misplaced affections.
Evaluate your own idol of marriage and family (whether single or not). This is a toxic problem today in the church. Our parents didn’t use to promote and highlight their children the way we do today. It has become acceptable to boast, and this is propelling the problem.
I have suggested two talks on singleness that EVERYONE should listen to. They are listed below.