Hollywood has made a lot of money portraying women pining for marriage but not finding love. The typical plotline is predictable. Woman wants man. Man wants different woman while blind to the wonderful woman already in his life. Woman desperately tries to woo man, but man has too many issues. The stereotype is confirmed — a seemingly quality, single, adult, heterosexual man is a blight on society. He has problems. If the man is a Christian, the speculation can really ramp up.
As I was single into my 40s and a senior pastor as well, I am very familiar with the bewildered looks and awkward coughs as my single status was discovered. I can summarize all of them with one experience I had while visiting some friends. The visit was going quite well until their 6-year-old daughter whispered all too loudly to her mom, “Is he married?” She replied, “No.” The little girl proclaimed loudly, “That’s odd!”
It is one thing for little girls to speculate; it is another when significant people in our lives do the same. This often creates crises of faith and identity and leads to painfully difficult questions. What if God has given the desire for marriage but has not providentially given the green light to marry? What if that lasts not a year or two but 10 or 20? What if you are “normal” while those around you suspect issues? Let me share some biblical principles that reflect my own experience and struggle as a single man who waited to marry.
1. God wants you holy much more than married.
Nowhere in Scripture does God lay out for men or women the divine goal of marriage. It is a creational and cultural norm, but it is not and cannot be an ultimate personal goal. God’s goal for a Christian man is summarized in Romans 8:29 as conforming us to the likeness of His Son. God is transforming the Christian male toward the attitudes, actions and affections that mirror Christ’s. When our ultimate goal is marriage or non-marriage, we are downplaying God’s greater purposes in our lives.
Better to embrace God’s goal and whatever direction this pursuit takes us. This is critical in our single years as singleness and even dating are powerful tools God can use in us. I often cried out to God, “Why?” as if singleness was a divine punishment. Over time, I learned that in spite of my discouragement, if I believed God was good, then being single was, in God’s eyes, good for me. How? Largely, it required faith to believe that my loneliness, sexual frustration and failure to meet Christian cultural expectations were something good if I received them rightly. Primarily this meant desiring my singleness to form my character and for this formation to be Christ-likeness. If I am on mission with God’s purpose in me, then my singleness can be seen as a good means to a godly end.
2. Fear can masquerade as faith; it’s not.
Getting married was the second biggest moment of faith in my life. My biggest was trusting in Jesus. Saying you want to be married is easy; doing it is not. It’s easy to see this in others who live in a continual state of excitement about a new relationship, then a season of discovery; then disillusionment sets in and they’re on to the next one. We describe this sanctimoniously as waiting for the right one or being appropriately picky. Both are needed and necessary. But too often this is cover for the real issue — fear. Obsessive self-protection. Lack of faith in a sovereign and good God. I know it well. I recall entering into a dating relationship and fear seized me. I couldn’t sleep. I was filled with anxiety. It’s always easy to break things off and explain it in some pseudo-spiritual terms.
Christian masculinity requires men to lead, to be bold, to live and date by faith. Many a single man could and would enjoy marriage if he could simply trust God enough to marry an imperfect woman. Disillusionment is inevitable as every woman is a sinner. We are Adams looking for Eves as if the Fall never happened. Where is this perfect woman? Bly calls this “the search for the woman with golden hair,” Robert Bly, Iron John (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2004), 135. our quest for this latent memory of a pre-fall Eve. The power of pornography is largely this soulish and selfish pursuit. If we see our own brokenness in our desire for perfection, a whole world of godly Christian women becomes accessible and marriageable.
3. Nice is a turnoff; godly masculinity is a powerful attraction.
Ask the average woman what she is looking for, and “nice” might be mentioned. But a godly Christian woman is really looking for a deeply Christian and masculine man. What is masculinity? A masculine man is a self-sacrificing servant leader who willingly gives himself for the good of others. Now “nice” might be part of it, but it is a fruit of masculinity, not its source. How do we know? Look at the magnetic life of Jesus. Jesus is too often portrayed in media and art as skinny, effeminate and weak. Effeminate men don’t inspire other men to leave their careers to follow them. Effeminate men don’t draw crowds of thousands who hang on their every word. Effeminate men lack the courage and strength of character to face down the Pilates and the Herods and entire organizations like the Pharisees who want to kill them.
God may not call you to give your life on a cross. He may call you to selflessness as it relates to your family. He may not call you to be scourged, but He may call you to servant leadership in the church. He may not call you to do many things, but if you are a male, then He calls you to be a man, and to be a Christian man is to follow the example of a masculine Savior. When men are really men, the women near them get very feminine. Women want Christ-like men around whom their femininity naturally complements and elevates.
4. Don’t get married for sex, social acceptance or anything else but to serve her.
Trust me, I know the pressure. I know the desires of a man’s heart. Can we talk frankly about sex? God gave most men a very strong desire for sex. I remember watching married friends leave a gathering and assuming they were headed straight to the bedroom for hours of pleasure. Problem is, that’s a fantasy.
For most single men, sex is much more important in our imagined marriage than reality could ever provide. This is especially dangerous when we date women based on our perception of how they or their bodies will satisfy us sexually. As one proverb notes, “There’s a lot of livin’ between the lovin’.” This is why it would be unwise and unfair to a spouse to marry primarily to satisfy sexual desire. That is a recipe for disaster as the things that make marriage happy are not sexual but spiritual, verbal and relational. It will be the relationship that will make the bedroom dynamic, not the bedroom that will make the relationship dynamic.
Similarly, to marry because “that’s what men do” or “mom expects it” is completely unfair to a woman marrying for deeper reasons. These sorts of men should do women the favor of just staying single and not dating at all.
Why should a man marry a woman? To lead her by serving her. While there are wonderful other secondary reasons for marrying, none are virtuous without this one. This is simply another way to say, marry for love as long as love is Christ-like love. The Apostle Paul couldn’t make it clearer, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). A good definition of love is “self-giving for the good and joy of another.” Marriage is an anvil that hammers on the character of the man. This character will either conform to God’s purposes or break. The key? Love. Self-giving. Death to self. While this sounds self-defeating, it will be the opposite. A husband increasingly dying to himself will create a new man — a better Christ-like one.
5. How do I wait? By becoming the kind of man a godly woman will be attracted to.
When I look at all my years of singleness, dating and waiting, I could see them as years of waste, but I would be wrong. God was using those years to make me into a new kind of man. I believe that if single men would embrace this and seek to enhance it, not only would growth occur as a Christian, but it would also produce a deeper attractiveness to a potential wife. The one common denominator for every quality Christian woman who wants to be married is that they want to marry a godly man. The greater the godliness in the man, the greater the desire in the woman to marry him.
While our desire to grow must be primarily motivated by the Gospel and pleasing to the Lord, one wonderful byproduct is that I am becoming a man of character, integrity, selflessness, mercy, service and leadership that a woman of spiritual character will want.
My wife and I have a single, Christian, female friend for whom our hearts ache. She is deeply spiritual, theological and servant-hearted. She will not compromise on the spiritual character of the man she marries. Yet, who will she marry? Where are these masculine Christian men? Wherever they are, they will not be spending their primary energies on personal grooming, hobbies or career building. To marry a woman of this quality will require a man who has spent his singleness serving the Lord, others and the church. He will have cultivated and demonstrated a life of Godward living, and if they meet, he will find in her his feminine counterpart. Neither will have to settle. Both will be surprised, and their marriage will be the ongoing discovery of grace, Gospel and godliness.
There is nothing “wrong” with being single or staying single. But if you want to be married, that holy desire must be pursued with holy passion for God that makes nice guys deeply masculine and prepares them to lead and love beautifully feminine women.
Copyright 2014 Steve DeWitt. All rights reserved.