“If only I had married earlier and had kids earlier, then I would be more mature,” I said as I cried into my husband’s arms. The irony of the situation only made me feel more discouraged.
I’d waited until I was 30 to marry, longer than I expected. When my friends first started becoming engaged, it was so long ago, we didn’t even have Facebook. To congratulate them, my college roommate and I wrote on their literal walls. We created elaborate posters whenever a girl got engaged and hung them outside her room. Now many of our college friends have two or three children.
Today, instead of coveting their adoring fiancés and glittering diamonds, I envy their maturity. Not only do they calmly handle the typical family demands, many of them have gracefully endured challenges like critically ill children and intense church ministry. Why do I feel overwhelmed simply by the transition from singleness to marriage?
I thought that my years of singleness were going to give me an edge over my friends who’d married young. After all, getting married later in life means the man will probably be able to afford a bigger diamond! More practically, I had additional time to acquire useful life skills. I learned to cook, bought a home, gained responsibility at church, and advanced in my profession.
Then I got married. I did get a nice rock. But the other expected advantages from my long years of singleness haven’t materialized. Instead of struggling together to learn the basics of young-adult life, my husband and I have the difficulty of merging two established lives. Each of us already has preferred ways of managing time, paying bills, and cleaning (or not cleaning). Whether marriage comes earlier or later in life, it’s hard work.
So what was the point of my single 20s? I feel like I’m a decade behind everyone else. After all, “Marriage and parenting provide a crucible for holiness unlike any other,” writes Candice Watters in Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen. As a single, I often wondered why I wasn’t given this particular opportunity to become more holy. Although I see God’s providence in bringing my husband and me together, marriage didn’t immediately put an end to my questions about the purpose of my single 20s. Instead, it helped me realize how proud and impatient I am, which makes me think that if I had married 10 years ago, I’d be 10 years further along in conquering these sins!
As I lay in my husband’s arms and cried that night, he gently reminded me of Peter. This passionate follower of Jesus climbed out of the boat and walked on the water toward his Lord. But when he looked around at the howling wind and the crashing waves, he was terrified and began to sink (Matthew 14:22-33). My husband said, “It seems to me that you’re so worried about your own maturity that you’re taking you’re eyes off Jesus.”
In his book on suffering, Glorious Ruin, Tullian Tchividjian (as heard on The Boundless Show in Persistent Pain: Episode 270) describes what life is like when I look away from Jesus: “When we focus so strongly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become even more neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our guilt (instead of God’s grace) makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective.” This kind of life begs the question: Am I trusting in what I’m doing for Christ or in what Christ has done for me?
In contrast, I can look to Jesus by resting in His promises. His promises are true for all believers, married and single. I don’t need to feel “mature” in order to be at peace. I am at rest because Jesus died for all of my failures, He rose again, and He is with me today. His Word says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). So I trust that He is at work in my life — not so that I can take pride in my maturity, but so that I can lift Him higher. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
There are some things we may never understand in this life. I’ll never understand all of God’s purposes for my single 20s. And that’s OK. I can trust in His promises even though He doesn’t explain the details. Because of His Word, I know God was at work in my life while I was single, just as He is now that I’m married. As I continue to grow in my ability to trust the Lord, I’m grateful He’s given me a husband who helps me look toward Him.
Kristen Sheppard married the love of her life Feb. 16, 2013, and they make their home in New Jersey where she is a financial analyst. She writes at joysoup.wordpress.com.
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