Singleness and Contentment

This is a guest post by my coworker Sarah Malone, who is the College Women’s Director at Grace Bible Church. These thoughts are distilled from a talk she gave to a Christian sorority on the subject of singleness. I’ve preserved as much of it as possible (so this is a longer post today), because it impacted me deeply when I read it. Her thoughts on singleness can be applied effectively to anybody who is waiting for something, which is most of us most of the time.

I wish I could give you the five steps to walking well through singleness and being content in life. If you get a speaker who does that, can you call me? I’ll sit quietly in the back when she comes. My motivation is actually to help you walk through singleness (or whatever God has allowed in your life to help you learn contentment) better than I have at times.

I have learned and am re-learning many lessons of contentment and who God is through being single in a world of marrieds. I realize that many of you are dating somebody. Even if you end up marrying the guy you’re dating, this will hopefully help you to be a source of encouragement to your single friends.  I can’t tell you how many times a well-meaning friend has told me, “I know you’ll get married someday” (Do you?) or, “I’m sure God is just waiting until that one guy is ready for you” (But aren’t there plenty of godly, single men now?), or my personal favorite, “One day someone will notice how wonderful you are” (NOT ENCOURAGING!)  I’d rather be encouraged by the truth of God’s Word and His promises.

If we are honest, many of us are in some kind of holding pattern, just waiting for the day when the man of our dreams will swoop in with his strong hands and good heart to take care of us forever and ever. I think most of us have been duped by characters in movies who promise something that real men can never give us.  I remember realizing this one day when I happened to be watching Pride and Prejudice.  There’s a scene where Mr. Darcy says something to Elizabeth Bennett like, “You have enchanted me body and soul, and I love, I love you.  I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”  Bitterness got the better of me that day and I actually threw the remote control at the TV and started crying.  I didn’t have anyone saying these kinds of things to me! But this kind of man is a counterfeit.  He’s not real. He was made up by another woman who wants what no man can possibly offer.  Satan uses counterfeits to breed discontentment in our lives.

Our longing to be loved can sometimes be a little emotionally painful. Heart wrenching is more like it.  There is a verse in the Bible that captures this idea: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).  I think The Message better explains how I feel when my hopes are dashed: “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick.”  It’s more like it yanks out my female heart, throws it to the ground, stomps all over it, sticks it back in my chest and tells it to keep on beating.  How can we deal with that disappointment?

I think the answer lies in learning contentment.  Yes, LEARNING. It doesn’t come naturally to us.  That’s why it’s hard.  It’s hard to live for what we don’t see.  But the Holy Spirit gives Christians the ability to choose to trust in Him and in His promises.

I’ve seen God stretch and grow me in huge ways as I’ve been forced to wait. Waiting.  The word alone makes my skin crawl.  “Lord, I’d rather just learn to wait another time.” The truth is that often I don’t want to wait because I have a completely false sense of God’s character.  I think most of us swing to one extreme or the other.  Either God is powerful and can do whatever He wants, in which case He must not be good, since He’s allowing this pain into my life.  Or God is good (like Santa Clause), but He just isn’t big enough to change these circumstances for me.  But, when we read the Bible we see that He’s capable of doing anything He wants and completely good and faithful.  So, if I believe what the Scripture says about Him, then I’ll believe that this tough circumstance is part of His good plan. He could change it if He wanted.  He would change it if he desired.  So He must have some good reason for allowing it. That means I have to remind myself to trust in His greater purpose, even though I don’t know what it is.

Waiting can paralyze us. It can cause us to do nothing until our hopes are realized, or until it’s clear that it won’t be. But I want to be like Abraham, who was actually strengthened as he waited, because he chose to believe God’s promises.  He and Sarah waited 100 years for a son. But they trusted God’s plan, because His plan is trustworthy.

So we have the choice of what we will do while we wait, because waiting is inevitable. I remember having a huge crush on a guy throughout most of my first two years of college.  I spent so much of my mental and emotional energy thinking about him and focusing on him and all the “what ifs”.  What a huge investment in something that turned out to be nothing.  I could have spent that time living in reality. I could have developed better relationships with God and others around me.  He’s taught me that waiting is an opportunity to grow.  Remembering who God is and who I am. Worshiping God for his presence, power, goodness, love and grace. Serving with the abilities God has given me. Praying for the grace of God, who has allowed this circumstance into my life.

It’s during the waiting period that our character is changed, and we are shaped into the image of Christ. If we immediately got everything we wanted, we’d know God’s goodness, but we wouldn’t know Him as well as we do when we’re forced to trust Him through hardship.  Our faith would be quite weak.  So, as we wait, we have an opportunity to get to know God and get to know ourselves. So don’t fight against waiting. It’s a tool God uses to grow our character.

I love the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus tells her that her spiritual thirst will only be satisfied in Him. We so easily believe the lie that we’ll be satisfied once we’re in a great romantic relationship.  But romance or not, you’ll only be fully satisfied in Jesus.  Psalm 90:14 “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”  That sounds dreamy, right?  That is until things happen that we don’t like or don’t understand and it’s really hard to be satisfied by God’s love and we don’t have much to rejoice in or be glad about.  But the Psalm goes on to say, “Make us glad for the many days you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. “  This Psalmist’s life hadn’t been easy, but he knew that God could satisfy him even amidst the hardship and evil that was happening to him.  That is learning contentment.

Philippians 4:6-8 says,  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Don’t focus on what you don’t have.  It perpetuates anxiety. Train yourself to think of and pray about the blessings God’s given you.  Remember the things that are excellent and THANK him for everything!

What does God have you waiting for right now?  Where do you struggle to be content? Start by confessing to Him your discontent and struggle.  But then thank him for at least one blessing he’s given you today.  Then, write out a list of the things that are true of you because of your relationship with Christ.  Train your mind to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have.  Christ will take care of the details and you will learn to trust Him deeply as you go.

John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

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Is It Better to Stay Single?

My previous post on the subject of dating raised a number of questions, but I felt this one from Hayley merited a separate post:

What is your opinion on remaining single for all of this life? It seems to me that most evangelicals assume marriage to be a prerequisite to real life. As if remaining unmarried is miserable. As the single life is a sub-par life, an un-alive life.
However, the New Testament seems to encourage Christians to remain single. But either way, God is supposed to be our fulfillment (and indeed is the only One Who can fulfill); and yet, we concentrate so much more on finding a spouse. I have a theory that we think singleness is miserable only because we do not seek God half as much as we wish for a mate.

The New Testament passage Hayley refers to is 1 Corinthians 7, particularly verses 25-38. Paul is answering a question from his readers in Corinth about whether it is better for an unmarried woman to stay single or to get married. He acknowledges that the Lord doesn’t command one way or the other, but his personal opinion is that the unmarried are better able to direct their attention to God. Married people are naturally concerned with the needs and desires of their spouses and children, and so they have a tendency to be distracted from God. On the other hand, he acknowledges that it is better for a person to marry than to “burn” (v. 9), presumably with sexual passion and lust.

Other passages in the Bible, however, seem to praise marriage as a wonderful relationship created by God. This is certainly the case in Genesis 2:18-25, in which God creates the woman to alleviate the man’s loneliness. In addition, Ephesians 5:21-33 discusses the beauty of a marriage that reflects the relationship between Christ and the church.

So what’s going on? Does the Bible encourage marriage or singleness?

The answer is both and neither. With regard to singleness, Paul encourages those who are able to remain single and avoid lust to do so in order to better focus on the Lord. But marriage is not a sin, and for many it is the better option because it allows them to avoid “burning with passion” and gives them an opportunity to reflect the unselfish love of Christ. Each person is called to determine before God which state He wants them in, and to remain content in that state. Single people aren’t better or worse than married people. Married people aren’t better or worse than single people. Both have a critical role in the Church and in the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

Here are a couple of questions for those trying to sort it all out:

Is my decision to marry or remain single motivated by fear or discontent? Some people (not all) stay single because they fear commitment or intimacy. Some people get married because they fear loneliness. None of those are good reasons for such a critical choice.

Will marriage or singleness better allow me to glorify the Lord? If I remain unmarried, will I truly focus my energy and attention on the things of God, or will my passions run out of control? If I get married, will I unselfishly express the love of Christ or will I lose my focus on Christ and His kingdom? Every decision should be processed through the grid of God’s Word and our responsibility to obey and proclaim Him.

Question for you: If you are a person who plans to stay single, are you willing to share with us how you arrived at that decision and why it was the best choice for you to pursue the Lord? If you are married (or hope to be), can you share why you chose marriage and why you feel it is the best choice for you to pursue the Lord?

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