A new book by Debbie Maken reminds singles that there is absolutely nothing wrong with your desire to pursue marriage.
"You are not wrong to pursue marriage." So reads the last line in the final chapter of Debbie Maken's book, Getting Serious about Getting Married. It's a shocking book, one she admits you'll either love or hate. But in our culture marked by unprecedented protracted singleness, it's necessary. And if large numbers of single women read it and follow her advice, it may not be too late for them to have husbands and children of their own.
This is a message whose time has come. And yet, it's so bold and so challenging as to seem unbelievable. Maken reminds me of Lucy in C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian. Though the whole company of her siblings and Trumpkin the dwarf are desperate for help, especially from the lion Aslan, Lucy is the only one who sees him. And though she does not at first follow him for the nay saying of her brothers and sister, she finally defies their disbelief and leaves to follow him. It's not until her siblings have followed begrudgingly (not willing to let her run off alone) for some distance that their eyes open and they finally begin to see the presence of the great lion.
In this case, Maken has seen through the disbelief that our current dating system could be anything but good, and is following the design of the One who created us for marriage in the first place. Not only does she identify what's wrong with the dating system — how it gives all the advantage to men, leaving women little hope of marrying — she tells you what you can do about it.
This book is like nothing you've read. For all the hundreds and thousands of Christian books about being single, this one is different. Most of those books say if you're single beyond your expectations, it must be God's will — His gift (1 Corinthians 7) — for you, and your joy will come when you learn to be content with the lot you've been given. Many then go on to detail the best ways to enjoy your singleness, to make the most of it, to, in the words of one author, be "single, sassy and satisfied." Some even build up singleness by tearing marriage down. "Marriage is hard," they write. "Better to be single than wish you were."
Maken debunks all these myths and more including "Jesus is all you need," "Being single equals knowing and serving God better," "Single equals celibate," and "Wait on the Lord." She is not so easily duped. She blows away the smoke, encouraging readers to go back to Genesis 1 and 2 to understand why God made marriage — in response to our loneliness — and who He intends it for — most everyone.
Far from concluding that someone who's single must have the gift of singleness, and need only to learn to be content with it, Maken believes that "The reason singleness is disappointing, lets us down, and leaves us wanting more is because singleness isn't what God intended" (p. 28).
She urges readers to consider the qualifications Jesus gave believers in Matthew 19 to know if they should stay single. To everyone not given these traits, their duty is to marry. Quoting John Calvin she asserts that "the man who chooses to stay single (without a specific call from God) is guilty of 'stealing' a husband from a wife" (pp. 33, 181).
Why is this book necessary? Because a generation of singles are at risk of believing they've all been given the "gift of singleness" quite apart from the biblical conditions for celibacy; because a generation of singles are stuffing their discontent and starting to believe that it's their discontent, and not their protracted singleness, that is their sin; because a generation of Christian singles are at risk of never marrying and having children, thwarting God's desire for a godly seed (Malachi 2:15).
What, according to Maken, should the pursuit of marriage look like? First and foremost, to be effective, it must be biblical. This is a book steeped in Scripture. Her strongest points are thoroughly backed by the authority of God's revealed Word. That's part of what makes it so shocking. To find so much of God's plan and His Word hard to swallow reveals just how much of our culture we've absorbed.
A quick review of what the Bible says about marriage and singleness, along with a history lesson of what until recently was considered a normal transition from living in your father's home to starting one — with your spouse — of your own, shows how much things have changed. And it's not only expectations and traditions that are different. The marriage rate is different, too. According to the United States Census Bureau, the singles population has nearly "quadrupled in just one generation."
"Did God just want more gifted singles in this generation?" Maken asks. Her response, rooted in Scriptural evidence, is an emphatic NO!
If it's not God's will — His special gifting of millions more singles — then what's to blame? The lack of male leadership, says Maken, encouraged and perpetuated by a dysfunctional dating system that does little to help people get married.
I'm not sure her frontal assault on unmotivated men will do much to spark their change of course, but she does, by the end of the book, moderate her approach a bit. "God made men to be leaders," she writes, "to pursue marriage and seek a wife." She encourages women not to play the victim but "help men assume the leadership that God wanted them to have.... Will we even try, or will we keep doing things just like before and then wonder why we are not married? We too have a choice to make" (p. 180).
Yes, there are those who do find mates and get married under the current system. We all know someone who married at 40 and still managed to have a baby or two. We've all been to bridal showers for women over 35 and believed with conviction, "The groom is so wonderful and this union so obviously of God, it was worth the wait." But two or three miracle stories do not good role models make. Maken's quick to say that they are exceptions and no guarantee for the majority. In politics, it's well known that when you legislate to the exceptions, you end up with bad law. Better to legislate to the norm. The same is true in marriage. When you hope for a miracle story that defies the odds, chances are you'll miss out on what could have been unspectacular but wonderful and timely.
And timely is a big part of what she's encouraging. Scripture repeatedly refers to "the wife of your youth." The implication, says Maken, is that certain benefits of marriage can only be enjoyed when couples marry young. A woman's declining fertility and waning good looks, for example, benefit little from a union begun after 40.
The book's not without its flaws — most noticeably Maken's defense of abstinence as the approach she "personally" supports. Why not speak from Scripture on this? She does on every other point. And on the issue of pre-marital sex, Scripture couldn't be clearer. It would have been more accurate for her to say, "I believe the safe sex message is wrong, but abstinence, while a great start, doesn't go far enough." But why complain about abstinence programs at all? She wishes abstinence proponents, in addition to encouraging young people to wait till marriage for sex, would give those same kids hope that marriage will happen. "The only way to subdue and delay sexual gratification is if the hope of marriage actually exists," she writes, "... what's the point of waiting for something that may never come?"
She also takes Focus on the Family to task for approving the Colorado Statement on Biblical Sexual Morality because, as she complains, "the statement fails to distinguish the state of celibacy and the state of singleness." Again, she's criticizing something whole cloth for not going as far as she'd like it to. I'd say the statement, while silent on the differences between celibacy and singleness, does not say they are equal. And as such, it's a good start. She's facing an uphill battle in her call for cultural and church-wide reform. Better to amass as many allies as possible than criticize them out-of-hand and go it alone.
Finally, in an error of judgment, she twice quotes Sex in the City as naturally as any regular viewer and delivers the lines as if her readers are fans of the show, too. For anyone trying to remain pure, this seems an unwise source of cultural commentary and entertainment.
Still, for its few flaws, the book is a must-read for singles. At the conclusion of a recent gathering of singles in our home, one gal asked about the frustrating state of relations between single men and women, "So what can we do to change things?" My first thought, get Debbie Maken's book and host a book club with your circle of friends. "If just a few women in your community read and talk through the principles in Getting Serious," I said, "you will be equipped to change the nature of that community. And quite possibly transform your male friends into husbands."
Finally, a book I can share with my single readers and friends. Finally, a book about being single that may actually help the women who read it get married.
Copyright 2006 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.