I've read the articles on Boundless for years now and have always found them as a wonderful resource for support and thoughtful consideration. I'm wondering, though, what to do when the feelings of frustration overtake the capacity for hope.
I'm 30 and single. I know there have been a lot of letters written to Boundless over the years from women who are past their 20s and trying to deal with the life that continues to elude them. But, as I re-read those letters, I'm noticing that there's not a lot of encouragement. I know that we should be content, that we should do things to make ourselves happy and that we should trust that the Lord will do whatever is best for us. That's not very hopeful to me, though.
I feel like a terrible Christian because I don't find contentment in God's love. I know that I should, but the bottom line is that I cannot hold a conversation with Him. He will not hug me and tell me that everything will be OK. He will not bring me soup when I'm sick, and I cannot do any of those things for Him. Yes, a husband would eventually disappoint me in one way or another, but I still need him.
I find it discouraging that married women tell me that I should remember that the Bible does not promise an earthly husband. This makes me feel like they are talking down to me from some elite club that I am not good enough for. Romantic relationships are all about free will, and I must be a person that no man would willingly commit himself to.
Churches don't help. They are centered entirely around families, and it's no wonder that singles groups are rapidly disappearing. Sermons revolve around how to treat your spouse and raise your children, but no hope is preached to those who have a burning desire for marriage yet find it constantly receding from them like the horizon.
What biblical passages can we turn to? Am I being denied a husband because I'm not a strong enough Christian? Are my prayers being ignored because I am not content in the Lord? How can I become content with the Lord when I have this growing resentment as I watch friends and family marry off at alarming rates? People who are not Christians find spouses. Why are they given such a blessing when others are denied it?
I've spent years trying to form my life into something that brings me happiness just in case there never is a husband. Truth be told, though, my dream job, financial security and a host of friends may be wonderful, but I'm still all alone at the end of the day. The thought of being 40 and still unmarried is unbearable. I have not been called to singleness; otherwise, I wouldn't have the overwhelming desire for marriage. How do I get that hope back?
My heart aches for you as I read your letter, knowing you’ve taken a great risk to write from a place of deep pain. I worry that you are approaching the heartsickness Solomon describes in Proverbs 13:12, the sort that comes when hope is postponed indefinitely: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
You ask what you should do when you’re overcome by frustration and hopelessness. One of the best things you can do is read the Psalms, meditate on them and pattern your prayer life after them. David was overcome by grief and despair on many occasions. He lamented his hardships and heartache boldly and with candor. For example:
Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer (Psalm 4:1).
I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes (Psalm 6:6-7).
It’s not always easy to praise. Often it’s hard. David cried out repeatedly.
I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:9)
Yet in the midst of his agony — and he had much to agonize over — he coached himself to do what is right. Three times he said, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11 and Psalm 43:5).
He also instructs us, the readers, to guard our responses to hardship:
In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent (Psalm 4:4).
Not only can you model your prayers after David, but also, if you are in Christ, you can pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guard your heart and give you the power to obey God’s Word. Why pray that? I fear that what you describe as your “growing resentment as [you] watch friends and family marry off at alarming rates” will find you crossing the line from sobs of sorrow to hot tears of anger, envy and self-pity. It’s bad enough that those emotions make you unpleasant to be around and can wreck your health, but what’s worse is that they’re sin.
What evil it would be if Satan so discouraged and disheartened you over your unmarried state — convincing you that you’d been unfairly denied the institution that most perfectly portrays Christ and His bride — that you were to become embittered to the point of denying your Maker. It’s a real risk. The enemy is the father of all lies who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). You must guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23), for it is easily deceived (Jeremiah 17:9).
While it’s hard to enter into someone else’s joy (see Proverbs 14:10), we’re told to rejoice with those who rejoice. Romans 12:15–16 instructs us to,
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
But Paul isn’t suggesting all we do is party. Those who are rejoicing are also to enter with those of us in mourning. There’s an expectation of community in those verses.
Which brings me to your church body. You said “Churches don't help. They are centered entirely around families, and it's no wonder that singles groups are rapidly disappearing. Sermons revolve around how to treat your spouse and raise your children, but no hope is preached to those who have a burning desire for marriage yet find it constantly receding from them like the horizon.” Certainly it would weary any believer (married or not) to hear repeatedly the sort of sermon you describe! Is that how the church you belong to functions? I’ve seen many books by single women complaining about the family-centric nature of churches, and I know there are some churches like that out there, but my experience is that not all churches are that way.
The sermons in our church revolve around Scripture. Our pastors preach expositionally, looking to the text to determine the point of the sermon and whatever the text, to see it in relation to the cross. That means marriage will only come up as often as it’s in Scripture, and when it does, as in Ephesians 5, that we’ll be exhorted to look on marriage as it was intended to be, a picture of Christ and His church. Not every church does focus so wholly on the Bible, but I think you would be greatly encouraged to find one that does.
You mentioned twice in your letter that you’ve done what you can to insure your happiness. As you’re discovering, making our own happiness the goal of life is unsatisfying. What does satisfy is living for Christ by serving others. That, too, is how He intends His bride, the church, to function. You’re right in one sense that you can’t hug Jesus, or give or receive food to and from Him. But you in another, you can. He said in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’ (Matthew 25:37-45).
In addition to studying the Psalms, the best antidote I can think of to your state of heart and mind is to serve. Serving others in greater need than ourselves has a way of taking us out of our selfishness and expanding our ability to feel and be compassionate.
You’re right that earthly marriages are meant to be a picture of the relationship of Christ and His bride. It’s natural and good to want to marry for God’s glory. What’s not good is when that desire consumes you to the point that marriage, not God’s glory, becomes your goal. The Lord will do what glorifies himself, and He will work all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes; (that’s often misquoted in a way that suggests God will work everything out to our liking.)
God is good, and it pleases Him when we praise His name, not for what He has done or will do, but because of who He is. We are to praise the Lord and thank Him because He is our King. He is worthy of all praise and honor, even when circumstances don’t go our way. Regardless of how your story ends, may you say with David,
I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High (Psalm 7:17).
Copyright 2011 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.