When researching for my book I stumbled across a number of books related to singleness and relationships; many of which were, unsurprisingly, geared toward women.
Most of the books centered on preparing for your mate or waiting for “the one”. One was even called “Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen.” Regardless of the content, the messages these titles send speak a thousand words. In spite of my hesitancy to take any of them with more than a grain of salt, when I stumbled on this title I took a gasp for air: Lady in Waiting For Little Girls: Strengthening the Heart of Your Princess.
“Every fairy tale has a moment when the prince finally dances with the leading lady. A little girl’s devotion to God is to be that of a princess dancing with her Prince.”
This book is based on the original best-selling book “Lady in Waiting” by Jackie Kendall. In spite of its title, the description says it was written “to prepare the hearts of young girls for a continual relationship with their heavenly Father.” If that is the case then why not call the book, “Preparing the Hearts of Young Girls for a Continual Relationship with their Heavenly Father”? With all due respect to the author, as well-intentioned as the thought behind this was, what kind of message does this send to our young daughters? Is the message that their purpose on earth is merely that they are waiting to be found?
In addition to books there are also sermons and even conferences centered around the topic of what to do while you’re waiting, as though we are metaphorically sitting in a waiting room, finding things to do while we pass the time. As a result of that constant message, I once fooled myself into waiting around to be found. I wondered why no one had yet found me so that I could start my real life.
The notion that we are merely men and women in waiting is a bit misinformed. None of us really know what we’re waiting for, how long we’re going to be waiting, and if what we’re waiting for will ever manifest itself in our lives. It implies that we are somehow stunted in our lives until we get married, because “real life” occurs only after marriage.
Marriage has become something of an idol within the Christian community. This is the message and unintentional energy that our community has been sending. The message is that you are not significant unless you are joined to another person and, furthermore, until you have offspring. In an article on marriage and singleness in Christianity Today, Katelyn Beaty writes:
In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, perhaps, local churches have acted as if monogamous sexual unions are the closest icon of heaven in this life. That no matter how much self-giving ministry or cultural creativity we undertake in our lifetimes, they are second-best without a spouse and children in tow…And so long as marriage ascends into the echelons of existential imperative—you must have this in order to be a complete human being—then my singleness becomes a problem.[i]
Beaty highlights the problematic equation that single equals incomplete and married equals complete: complete in happiness, complete in personhood, complete in calling.
One of the most significant books giving an accurate view of singleness is Rodney Clapp’s Families at the Crossroads. In it he says this:
We need to re-examine the reasons for seeing singleness as good so that, in a confused and searching postmodern world, we can reassert the goodness of singleness for the right reasons. Only so as we shall see, can we reinsert the goodness of family, and the goodness of freedom, for the right reasons.[ii]
The problem is that we have adopted a skewed and unhealthy theology of relationships, and at the core of it is what I call the misinterpreted gospel of singleness.
In Luke 20, some of Jesus’s dissenters approached him with a question:
28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” 34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels.”[iii]
I do not believe that Jesus was being anti-marriage with this statement. Jesus celebrated marriage unions and even used wedding banquet imagery in his parables. I believe in this passage Jesus was refocusing their attention on what was important. This scripture speaks to the contemporary church as well, urging us to re-center our attention on the larger purpose of the kingdom of God.
There is no such thing as “while you’re waiting.”
You live life regardless. You explore and stretch yourself into new ways of thinking and growing. Life does not begin AFTER you get married. Life begins right now. Don’t let it pass you by merely waiting.
To put it lightly: let’s stop idolizing marriage and turn our attention on things to come.
YOUR TURN: Do you agree that marriage has become something of an idol in Christian circles today? Why or why not?
Also see Christina Cleveland’s related post with some very practical ways married people can support singles in the church: Singled Out: How Churches Can Embrace Unmarried Adults.
This post is adapted from excerpts from chapters in Khristi’s book, The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness.
[i] Beaty, Katelyn. “Same-Sex Marriage and the Single Christian. How marriage-happy churches are unwittingly fueling same-sex coupling—and leaving singles like me in the dust.” Christianity Today. 1 July 2013. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/july-web-only/same-sex-marriage-and-single-christian.html
[ii] Rodney Clapp, Families at the Crossroads (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 91, 92.
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