Monday, December 12, 2011

Navigating This Season

[This is part one of a three part series.]

Maybe I’m just a biased, almost 20 year old college student, but none of these books or articles or websites or speakers on Christian singleness are really helping.

Last week, I found myself in the back of the library, sitting on a stepstool in the corner beside the “Devotional” section, hunched up and holding the book carefully so no who descended the stairs and rounded the corner could see the title. I held my breath whenever someone walked through the doorway to the stairs, hoping it wasn’t someone I knew. I spent an hour on that little stepstool (after I got my studying done, of course), reading books on chastity and singleness. It hasn’t been the easiest season of singleness recently, and I needed some kind of help that knew what it was talking about but wouldn’t judge and had time for me at 10:30 on a Sunday night. Enter the Christian experts shelved in my college’s library.

For the most part, I appreciated the comments. I found a good book by Lauren Winner, which I didn’t have time to read in its entirety. However, most of the books I located were published in the early 90’s (which isn’t surprising for my small college’s library), but I have a feeling things may have changed just a bit in the last 20 years.

Coming home for Christmas break, I found my huge collection of books I’ve loved, as well as those I just haven’t had time to read yet. In the want-to-read-but-haven’t-yet pile, I found many books, including the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” (Harris) and “I Gave Dating a Chance” (Clark) dichotomy, as well as “Boundaries in Dating” and “Lady in Waiting,” not to mention my “Wild at Heart” and “Captivating” bookshelf back at school. So, why do I have all these books? Because the books from high school (like “Dateable”) aren’t cutting it for the college student I have become. Because if I’m honest with myself, marriage is no longer foreign and far away. Suddenly I find myself almost twenty and searching for a few answers.

Let me clue you in. This is what I’m looking at right now:
  1. Being single, I can devote more of my time to ministry than to a boyfriend/husband/family (1 Corinthians 7:34)
  2. This season of life can be used to plan for the next. There should be an enjoyment of this season with anticipation for the next season, but not a focus on it (Ecclesiastes 3).
  3. The desire for dating and marriage is not inherently wrong, and I would do well to find a place to put it (more on that later) instead of stuffing it (Psalm 37:4, Song of Solomon).
That is what I believe. Yet, I find that many of the resources available and/or prized highly for Christian singles are not saying what we need to hear. Many of the Christian sources I found told me I just needed to be a stronger Christian or I needed to have more purity, and I would be okay until marriage. I heard the ever elusive “Don’t awaken love before its time” (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, 8:4), but "love" has already been awake for a while. Let me give you another example: I gave away my copies of “Passion and Purity” and “When God Writes Your Love Story” because I was so upset at their messages. I got the impression that I should just sit here and wait for God to hang a flashing neon sign above the head of the guy I should marry. While that’s probably not what the authors were intending, that’s the message I got.

Elisabeth Elliot (author of Passion and Purity) praised the womanly virtue of patience, which seemed to me more like sitting here waiting for the guy God told we’re going get married finally come around to asking me. She admits in the book that her future husband (the first of three) even began “talking” to some girls at the college he attended while they were physically separated before their courtship began. I may be female, but I am not called to sit here in silence while he makes all the moves.

Note: I am not asserting any feminist tendencies here. This issue here is not about submission as a wife, but rather the concept that relationships take two people, not just a pursuing guy. Anyway, learning to submit to God, who loves me enough to die for me, has taught me some lessons that will be valuable in the future.

In the meantime, however, let me propose some places to “put” the desire for dating and marriage that I really feel neither our worldly culture nor our Christian culture has, for the most part, provided. I believe these places are healthy outlets and safe places for the Christian single.
  • Friendships. Having healthy and positive relationships with both guys and girls has made singleness a good thing for me. We will need our friends before, during, and after dating relationships. And until that boyfriend becomes a fiancĂ©, your girl friends come first any day. I would add that we need friends of both genders who are both single and taken, and we desperately need same-gender single friends to hold us accountable and provide support and encouragement (Ecclesiastes 4:12, Proverbs 27:17).
  • College, Career, and Ministry. If one more person mentions going to college to her get MRS degree, I’m going to get really angry. Yes, it would be great to marry a guy who will graduate from such an awesome college as mine, but I have a life apart from marriage. I have a job I’m excited about and a future career into which I desire to invest. I have obligations here at college that I long to fulfill. Life is not about getting married and having kids, and although I desire that, I will not make it my aim. In addition, there are multiple ministry opportunities, places of service, jobs, and callings that are only available to single people, and we can minister in those capacities in our seasons of singleness (1 Corinthians 7:34).
  • Preparation. I know I bashed many Christian singles books, but there are also some good ones. I would recommend “Boundaries in Dating” by Townsend and Cloud. In addition, people are usually better than books any day, so I would encourage you to go to other Christians, those who are single, dating, and married, and ask for advice and encouragement. A pastor once said that if you don’t start thinking and planning for marriage when you’re eighteen, it will probably be too late to start by the time you’re twenty-five. (Proverbs 16:9)
  • God. “I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion. I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as the Lord” (Hosea 2:19-20). Have we forgotten how much God loves us? He is wooing us like a patient lover. Before you get all up in arms about singleness, return to God. Let him love you. Now, loving God does not always mean that your longing for a guy or girl will be eliminated. I believe that if God has not called you to singleness, you will still yearn to get married. But God provides fulfillment until he opens the door for marriage. Like a good father, he wants to give us the desires of our hearts, but he wants us to first be satisfied in him. (Psalm 37:4, Luke 11:13, 1 Samuel 8:4-9)
Finally, know that we were never meant to be alone and that the desires within you to date and get married are not wrong. They will never be wrong unless they take the place of God in your heart. Also know that loneliness is a possibility. I’ve felt so lonely at periods when I was surrounded by people. It takes a close Christian community and a growing relationship in Christ to combat loneliness. But never let loneliness force you into a relationship. Go into a relationship when there is a measure of wholeness, not out of your own brokenness.

Trust that God guides us on the best path (Psalm 32:8). After all of this, I still believe that God has a guy picked out for me, and me for him. And I believe that God knows what he’s doing when he works out circumstances and relationships the way he does.

After writing this entire post and going back over it multiple times over several days, one line from my devotional reading this morning really stuck out. It was about love being the true fellowship of two souls. I spent a while reading through 1 Corinthians 13 and I was convicted about the terrible job I’ve been doing at love. It’s easy to end a conversation with a friend with: “Bye, I love you!” But do I really love them?

I once heard a friend say that he felt like he had so much work to do on his heart and in his life before he could get married, because he didn’t think he was mature enough or Christ-like enough to love his wife and treat her right. When I heard that, I laughed, because I know we’ll never be “good enough” for anything, if that is our goal. But it started to make sense to me when I looked at what I could be doing so much better. Maybe God knows what he’s doing when he requires us to wait a seemingly long time for a romantic relationship. In our deep struggles connected with the opposite gender/love/families, there are issues we must work through on our own and there are issues we work through with our spouses. Maybe God’s “holding off” because I’m still working on me. Because He’s still working on me.

And that’s okay. In fact, it’s awesome. I still fall short, but God is in the process of restoring me. When his timing is right, a guy and I will end up running the race together and being perfected by God together. Jeramy Clark writes, “You’re running on your own, then one day you notice someone running next to you at the same pace and in the same direction. You can run together without hindrance because your course is the same."

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

P.S. I welcome any suggestions for books and articles on this or any other subject.

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