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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why marriage seems to be such an idol for singles in the Christian community.
Certainly, people outside of the Christian faith desire to get married, but there seems to be almost a need, a desperate desire, and a panic to avoid singleness within the church.
If you’ve read anything about my own story, you know that I’ve lived this desperation. I’ve felt the pain of thinking that I had somehow failed, or must not deserve God’s favor because I didn’t get married on what I had grown up thinking was the proper Christian timeline.
So what gives?
Why do Christians in particular struggle with singleness, so much so that it feels like a failure? Heck, Jesus was single (I know, usually the most hated rationale for why singleness is ok, but it works here). It should have been pretty obvious to us growing up that singleness was cool if the man we’re supposed to be modeling our lives after did it. Right?
I’ve come to realize there are several reasons for the creation of this marriage-centric culture, but there’s one that I’d like to focus on today. Recently, it’s come up in my life more than ever before, and I just can’t get down with it, and I’d like to share why.
It’s the idea of “Preparing for Marriage” when you’re still single.
Recently I’ve read several articles about preparing for marriage as a single Christian. It’s positioned as something that we can and should be doing as a way to be taking steps toward marriage even before it has come to fruition.
You might think, “Well, Laura, that makes total sense. Marriage is a big deal and a big commitment, and a little preparation wouldn’t hurt!” And that’s completely true, and I’m in total agreement with intentional preparation once you’re engaged or it’s clear you’re really on a path to marriage.
But here’s the thing about intentionally preparing for marriage when you’re still single (actually, here are three things):
1. When we intentionally prepare for marriage as single people, we risk doing things in the name of our unmet desire for marriage, instead of our desire for God and His plan:
A number of the articles that I’ve read on preparing for marriage as a single person mostly focus on deepening your relationship with the Lord in specific areas. They say that we can use this time as single people to grow in areas that we will need in marriage; areas like grace, forgiveness, intimacy, prayer, and thankfulness.
This in and of itself is awesome. As single people, we do have the privilege of this time being just us and God. But if our intent in seeking Him and growing in these areas is solely to prepare for marriage, something that we do not know is a part of His plan, we run the risk of placing our desire for marriage above our desire to truly grow a deeper, more trusting relationship with Him. The actions we take with this approach are borne out of the assumption that marriage is God’s plan, as opposed to growing in and trusting whatever God’s plan may actually be.
2. When we are told to intentionally prepare for marriage, we tend to believe that what we are preparing for is certainly going to happen, and we are not open to (nor encouraged to be open to) an alternative plan:
When we take steps to prepare for marriage as single people, it is usually under the assumption that marriage is most certainly going to happen. We morph preparation for marriage into this idea that when we are prepared, God will, of course, give us a spouse. We begin to believe that the timeline, or whether He gives us someone or not, is based on nothing more than our level of readiness.
But this ignores so many other parts of God’s plan. When we are so focused on getting ourselves ready for something we can’t be sure is coming, we don’t leave as much room to be open to what God is doing now through our singleness, or what He might be calling us to outside of or instead of marriage. Our entire focus is toward the future that we desire.
The truth, however, is that we could be the person in the room who is best “prepared” for marriage, and yet be the person farthest away from it. This is not for lack of readiness, or preparation, there is simply more to the plan than we can see.
3. When we feel we’ve prepared well, and someone else receives what we were preparing for, it can create resentment and a culture of deservedness:
“Wait. What? SHE’s getting married?! I’m definitely more ready than she is!”
When we think in terms of readiness and preparedness, we sometimes find ourselves in a competition we didn’t intend to be in.
If we assume, like in number two, that when we are “ready”, the vending machine of God will automatically give us what we were preparing for, what happens when we see Him give it to someone we deem less “ready”?
We begin to doubt. We resent our sister in Christ. And we start to wonder how much more “prepared” we could possibly be.
The support, gladness, and joy we should be funneling toward our newly engaged sister is replaced with negativity, jealousy, and questions over how God could possibly deem her more prepared. We begin to think of marriage as something deserved for reaching a certain level of readiness, as opposed to being a blessing and part of God’s plan.
So then, you might ask, do you feel we shouldn’t prepare for marriage as single people at all?
Like I said above, the idea of preparing for marriage is a valid one, because marriage is a holy covenant and quite frankly, it’s a big deal. But you may have noticed a word that I repeated several times in the above: “Intentionally”.
When we prepare for marriage intentionally, with that being our motivation and our end goal, that is when the culture of elevating marriage as something that should and will happen in our lives manifests itself.
So then, if we don’t intentionally prepare for marriage, how will we be prepared for something so significant that may, or may not, happen?
My answer is simply this:
Period. Not with any end goal of marriage in mind. Not with the idea that if we follow Him enough, or get ourselves ready enough, He will give us our desire. Just follow.
When we truly follow God, He is constantly preparing us for things that we do not yet know are going to happen.
God knows the desires of our heart. He knows the blessings He’s going to take us to, and the hardships he’s going to bring us through. When we follow Him wholeheartedly, He changes us in ways and for reasons we may not even be aware of yet.
I consider how often I think to myself “If this had happened five years ago, I couldn’t have handled it, or wouldn’t have done it.” Does that ever happen to you? Often it’s things that I didn’t even know were going to happen, and yet, He had them in the plan and was getting me ready for them the whole time.
Actually, He wasn’t even always getting me ready. Sometimes I think he was getting me “ready enough”. Because here’s the other thing about following God:
We are never fully prepared for what He has in store, and that’s why we will always need Him.
We can intentionally prepare for marriage all day long, and never feel fully ready if it happens. There will still be surprises, struggles, and situations where we’ll think “I’m just not prepared for this.” But yet, that’s the beauty of following God. He doesn’t leave us if we get married. Our relationship with Him continues, and He is there for every situation in which we do, and do not, feel ready.
And the most beautiful thing about following God with no alternative intention or expectation?
Whether marriage becomes a reality or not, we can have faith and trust in God’s plan and His best for our lives because we’ve chosen to follow Him regardless.
When we follow God, with only the hope and plan to honor Him with our lives and follow His leading, we can trust that if our desire for marriage isn’t fulfilled, or if the timeline is far longer than we had hoped, we are still where God wants us.
It isn’t a failure. It isn’t for lack of preparedness. It’s simply is, or maybe isn’t, part of God’s plan.
We don’t know what the plan is, what it looks like, or where He’s leading, but I am confident that if we follow, we will be ready and prepared for whatever is coming next. And if we’re not? He’ll already know that, and be right there to help us through.
No intentional preparation required.
Question: What are your thoughts on preparing for marriage as a single person? I’d love to know! Drop me a comment below!
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