When God’s Will Doesn’t Make Sense
If you’re over the age of twenty-five and single, surely by now you’ve experienced at least some of the challenges of living an uncoupled life. But no matter your age, the recent months of mandatory isolation have only enhanced the challenge of being single. Many of us are profoundly lonely.
Added to what’s going on inside us are all the external pressures. In our twenties, we feel the angst of watching one friend after another pair off and get married. Will our turn ever come? Then as we approach 30 (or 35 or 40), anxiety ramps up as the hope of raising our own family begins to dim. Added to that is the fact that we’re all immersed in mainstream ideology, unable to avoid the message that physical intimacy is the only way to be fully human. The Christian community, however unwittingly, adds a different sort of pressure. Church programs are largely family-oriented, and because of that, singles often feel shut out.
But these varied pressures aren’t the primary reason we want to get married. We want to get married because God hard-wired us to want it. Marriage is his normal ordering. And this is where our faith gets tested: If our yearning for marriage comes from God, why are we still single? If we get stuck here on this why, we’re in trouble; it so easily leads to bitterness and unbelief.
A better question—one that actually helps us—is this: Will we walk with God when his ways don’t make sense to us? And will we believe he’s all his word says he is? When we look away from ourselves and our circumstances and fix our eyes on the Lord in his word, our perspective on everything, including our singleness, begins to change.
It’s easy to be a disciple of Jesus when following him makes our life better. It’s sometimes only when our dreams don’t come true that we discover we haven’t really wanted Jesus nearly so much as we’ve wanted his gifts. But in all his ways with us, his aim is that we find him to be who he really is: a kind Father and friend. In Christ that is who he is to us, even when our prayers go unanswered.
Only from this vantage point can we go back to that first question: If our yearning for marriage comes from God, why are we still single? The answer is this: God is always, in every circumstance he allows into our lives, working to bring us to the place where we can say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you, and there is nothing on earth I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25).
Trusting God’s Plan
The truth is, we aren’t single because we’ve failed to be in the right place at the right time, or because we aren’t sufficiently attractive; or because we haven’t yet obtained some great spiritual height. We’re single because God has ordained singleness for us for today so that we’ll know that nothing this world offers is as satisfying as belonging to him through Christ Jesus. So contentment with being single comes from believing the truth about God—that he is good.
Living contentedly while single also comes from holding a right view of reality. We singles are tempted to focus on all that greener grass on the marriage side of the fence, but truth be told, when we marry, we actually trade in one set of challenges for another. The reality of marriage is taking your spouse’s needs and desires into consideration with every decision and every dollar and every minute of your day. It’s loving your husband on days when you don’t really like him all that much. It’s forgoing things you like to do at the times you like to do them so that your wife can do what she likes to do.
Contentment with being single comes from believing the truth about God—that he is good.
The apostle Paul, who was single, had learned to be content no matter what was going on in his life (Phil. 4:11). This is the man who taught that we’re to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18); and to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4); and to “be filled with the Spirit . . . singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19–20).
How was Paul able to be so genuinely joyful, no matter his earthly circumstances? He reveals his secret in Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ.” That’s it—Christ was Paul’s whole life, and for that reason, no earthly blessing or desire was ultimate. In fact, he was happy to count everything well lost for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:7–9).
Living for Christ is what enables us to see that a good and kind Father has ordered our lives. It’s what enables us to experience our Christian family as even more valuable than producing our own biological family. It’s what enables us to find joy in everything. And it’s what enables us to be characterized by gratitude. Thankfulness and contentment always, always, always go hand in hand.
7 Practical Tips
So the bottom line is, the source of our discontent isn’t our marital status. It’s our interpretation of our marital status. And with that in mind, I leave you with seven practical tips.
- Tip 1: Don’t make room for pity—especially self-pity. Devote some time to a good, prayerful read of Philippians.
- Tip 2: Don’t view singleness as a problem to be solved. When Paul validated singleness as a choice because it has less anxiety in some ways than marriage, he said, “I say this for your own benefit” (1 Cor. 7:35).
- Tip 3: Recognize the unique blessings of singleness. God richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17). Singles are free to seek out the unique blessings that come with being single and enjoy them fully to the glory of God.
- Tip 4: Know that singles are vital to the body of Christ. Read through the gospels and Acts for lots of examples.
- Tip 5: Face the loneliness factor head on. Remember Paul’s thorn? If you don’t like being single, it’s okay to acknowledge that it’s a thorn for you. There’s nothing holy about desiring marriage but pretending we don’t. It’s not the desire that’s wrong—what’s wrong is basing our well-being on getting it. So we deal with our pain the way Paul dealt with his thorn: praying for relief and then finding joy in Christ’s sufficiency, which is right here for us (2 Cor. 12:8–10).
- Tip 6: Get real about dating and marriage. Cross “blue eyes” or “six-figure income” off the list. The only qualities necessary are found in Ephesians 5:22–33—a blueprint for biblical marriage. And while no man or woman will ever fully live up to these qualities, the spouse we choose should at least desire to be like what we find there.
- Tip 7: Live in hopeful expectation of what God will do—whatever it will be.
Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.—Psalm 37:3–4
Lydia Brownback is the author of Finding God in My Loneliness.
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