I’ve spent the last three years hearing college women and young professionals pour out their hearts. Each young woman has a different story — different joys, different hurts, different aspirations of what they’ll do next. Yet despite all the differences among these wonderfully unique women, there is an overwhelming similarity between so many. The same perceived solution to what will finally make their joy complete, for what will comfort them in their hurting, and what will make the future worthwhile. For so many of these young women who are not yet there, marriage is the supreme goal.
Now I feel I should preface the difference between a goal and a desire. A desire is hoping for or wanting something to happen. But a goal is the object of our ambition, the final destination, the end of a race. So to desire to be married, as it is subordinate to our desire for Jesus and His will and all that that implies, is a good thing. But to set the goal of marriage, to see it as the ultimate prize and pinnacle of life, is destructive to a woman’s heart.
To the single woman reading this right now, I hope to encourage you as you struggle with the stinging pain of loneliness or rejection while you wait in uncertainty about your relational future. There are days where I feel that sting too. But I also want to challenge us, myself included, to long more deeply for Jesus. I’m on the downhill side of my mid-twenties (which I recognize is still young to be married, unless you live here in the South) and I am single. In the last 12 months, six of my college discipleship students got married. Six girls who at one point or another looked to me as a spiritual mentor or guide in their lives entered into a new season that is still a mystery to me. And while I had the honor of genuinely rejoicing with them, I also had moments (or days) when I privately mourned and petitioned against my own singleness.
I’ll be the first to admit that the lifelong covenant of marriage is a heavy desire on my heart. There is no shame in my hope to be a wife and mother over climbing some vocational ladder, and I’ve had a lot of really honest conversations about that with the Lord. But let me also be absolutely clear in saying that while it may be a consistent longing, I refuse to make marriage my ultimate goal.
Here’s why I pray that you wouldn't either:
1. Your true identity will never be found in marriage
Single women, I ask you not to believe that the fullness of your existence can be found by becoming someone’s wife. Even the privilege of motherhood will not complete your reason for being. I know it’s alluring to believe that in reaching marriage you will finally be made whole — that marriage alone will produce the culmination of joy that the Lord has intended for you. But I am yet to talk to a married person who has found that to be true. Rather, the misplaced identity that is present before marriage will remain present after. If your hope is in your future spouse, you will be let down. And if your perceived worth and purpose is in being needed and wanted by someone, I truly believe that you will begin to see your spouse — or anyone else for that matter — as a means to your own self-fulfilling ends.
If you are a believer, I encourage you to remember that you were bought with a price. You died to your sin and your life is buried in Jesus. It is no longer you who lives, but Christ who lives through you. You were purposefully designed, your days ordained ahead of time, and you are a new creation. So then, seek not your identity in the objects and achievements of this world or in the soul of another. Place your identity in Him alone.
2. You cannot put ministry on hold while you wait for a spouse
There seems to be this belief (I know it, because I’ve thought it) that if we become too busy with life and ministry and serving the Lord, that we will somehow not have time to find ourselves a husband. It’s silly when we consider it, yet we really believe we have that much control. Since when did God become bound by the availability in our schedule? And since when did our state of singleness warrant disobedience from the commands of the Lord to sacrificially serve and make disciples?
1 Corinthians 7 speaks of this season as a time to serve the Lord. As an unmarried woman, you have an opportunity to be concerned fully about the Lord’s affairs; to be undivided in devoting your full being to His work. Marriage, although a beautifully ordained ministry in and of itself, does not afford you this same freedom. Do not make less of your current calling simply because it’s not what you planned for. Do not delay the sanctifying process of surrendering your time and energy to God’s purposes. Immerse yourself in the local church as one who serves rather than one who simply consumes. Find older women and learn from them while teaching and providing an example for the women who are younger. Care for those who cannot care for themselves and see the most mundane of your daily tasks as a way to give glory to the Lord. Whether singleness is what you desire right now or not, it is where God’s sovereign and loving hand has you. Be a faithful steward of this time.
3. A husband will not fill the eternity-shaped hole in your heart
Jesus’ promises are eternal, but marriage is not. If given the call to marry, do know that it is for the remainder your time here on earth, but not beyond that. Now, that does not lessen the gift and intimacy of becoming one flesh with another person, but it is a reminder that marriage exists as a foreshadowing of something much sweeter. Randy Alcorn in his book Heaven writes:
“To have a lot of marriages in Heaven would be like still offering sacrifices after the Lamb of God came and offered the ultimate sacrifice . . . Those who did not experience marriage or had only a poor marriage on earth will be delighted with their eternal bridegroom, who has already gone to prepare a place for them. One day all Heaven will attend the ultimate wedding, and we will all be his bride.”
Our desire for the intimacy that marriage provides can and should be found forevermore in Jesus. In Him we are fully known and fully loved, and it is the hope and promise of His presence for eternity that can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. So fight the urge to place eternal hope in a temporary union — instead, place your hope in the greater covenant that it points to.
4. Being single does not make you “lesser than” the married
For many women — and likely men — in the church, there is a prevalent lie that we buy into. We start to think that singleness is a state of deprivation for us who must be spiritually “lesser”. Less mature, less sanctified, less deserving, less righteous. Let me reiterate what this is: a lie. Sure, the Lord is still working on the depths of your heart before He calls you to marriage. But He will also be doing that after marriage. Marriage is not just a gift for the spiritually elite or deserving or one that we somehow earn after a certain amount of obedience. That idea is against the Gospel in every way.
You are single because God is relentlessly good to you, and right now, this is His best. Remember that Jesus stands before the throne of God on your behalf, continually securing your justified standing through the sacrifice He made once for all. He also cares about your most tender hurts and cries and lonely days. Trust that He is at work for your good and His glory, and that you have already attained righteousness through Him.
Although marriage does provide a different lens in which we can experience the love of Christ for His church, it is not necessary to be able to fully partake in the Gospel. You are not missing out on a deeper intimacy with your creator because you are single, and those that have been given that different perspective through marriage are no more righteous by their own merit than those who have not. For a further reminder of this, dig into scripture. You may be unmarried, but you’re in good company.
5. Marriage is not promised, but Jesus is
A couple years ago, it was almost a guarantee that every day I could find a new, slightly different yet mostly the same, “open letter to my future husband” popping up on my newsfeed. While there were occasionally redeeming truths in these, the heart behind them was discouraging. It was almost always written and read with the belief that a husband would most definitely, without a doubt come. That the men you’d met so far just weren’t good enough or you were under appreciated and that one day your perfect mate would arrive. And while this may be sort of true for some, it’s not our promised hope. At some point or another, that belief will likely lead you to despair.
It’s not that I’m cynical or unromantic — I fully believe God can give us the sweet gift of romance and a deeply unique delight in the one whom we enter with into the marriage covenant. But because I hold scripture as my inerrant authority, I don’t believe in soulmates and I don’t believe that a spouse is promised. How do you know that God will give you a husband and when you’ve finally found “the one”? You’ll know when you’re standing across from him at the altar making an irrevocable commitment before God and man. So rather than clinging tightly to what is unknown and may not come to be, rest in all of the clear promises of scripture. They are a guarantee for those made new in Jesus.
Pray fervently, petition the Lord, and have faith that He will respond. But have an open hand, knowing that God may not meet the desire for marriage in the way that you want. Can you accept that and still choose His moral and declared will for your life? Jesus’ promises are unwavering, and He is worthy of a surrendered life of singleness just as much as a surrendered life of marriage.