Have you noticed that groups of single Christian woman often include that one lady who constantly bemoans her relationship status? She’s the one who, when you ask how you can pray for her, leaps at the chance to enlist one more prayer warrior in her battle to seize a husband. To be honest, I think I was that girl. Not to brag, but I even had multiple pastors in Africa asking God to provide me a husband. But that’s another story.
Although my own pursuit of marriage has been fueled at times by anxiety and impatience, I do not mean to imply that all single Christians who ask God for spouses have the same motives. Most of my single friends are waiting for godly husbands, and their prayers for the blessing of marriage are coupled with pleas for contentment.
So what is the relationship between singleness and contentment? It may seem obvious, but it hasn’t always been obvious to me. In the past, I viewed contentment as the painkiller that would help me survive singleness until I married. And since the need for contentment is greatest when our strongest desires continue unfulfilled, my prayers for a husband were almost always accompanied by prayers for contentment. But in the past two years, God has transformed my prayers.
No, I haven’t stopped praying for a husband. Absolutely not. The change in my prayers began with a short sentence that my pastor encouraged me and my church family to pray: “You, Jesus, are all I need for everlasting joy.” This truth permeates the Bible: Psalm 16, Philippians 4:4, 1 Peter 1:8, 9. As I pondered that statement, I realized that, although I always have Jesus, I often lack joy. So I asked myself, What am I waiting for so that I can be completely joyful? The answer won’t surprise you. I was waiting for a husband, who — in my mind — would elevate me to the ultimate level of contentment.
My prayers for a pain-killing-contentment-while-I’m-waiting-for-a-husband have evolved into pleas for joy in what I already have and cannot lose: a Father who adopted me at the cost of His only Son; a Savior who loves me completely, regardless of my fickle heart; the Spirit who guides me and pleads with my Father on my behalf (Paul describes all of these blessings in Romans 8). Friends, here is what I’m trying to say: God has convinced me that I do not need a husband to be happy.
End of story.
It’s a scary thought, isn’t it? Surrendering the hope of marriage to God feels risky. What if He decides to keep you single — forever? He certainly might. In other words, I’m not advocating a sort of reverse psychology in which, as soon as you begin pursuing joy in Christ, God will surprise you with an elder-qualified version of Ryan Gosling. Shifting your heart’s focus from a husband to Christ does not oblige God to give you a husband.
But the question persists: What should I do with my desire for marriage? Christians have plenty of answers to this question. I’m sure you’re familiar with the standard churchy “encouragements” for singles:
Trust God’s timing and ask Him to send you the right person at the right time.
Marriage is God’s normative plan for His people, so the numbers are on your side.
Since God has planted this desire for marriage in your heart, He will surely fulfill it.
It’s tempting to seek consolation in these platitudes, but if we’re honest, we have to admit that, although God has promised His children many blessings, a spouse is not one of them. Real, biblical encouragement points us beyond our desire for a spouse to the only One who guarantees joy (1 Peter 1:13).
If Christ is all we need for eternal joy, we must loosen our grip on our most precious dreams and offer them to God open-handed. I’ll be the first to admit that surrender is intimidating. But God has blessed my (admittedly hesitant) offering of marriage with a growing certainty that He really is enough. Like a father who knows his child’s little clenched fist conceals something that will harm her, He is gently prying open my hands, helping me relinquish every substitute for His joy.
I love Lydia Brownback’s words of encouragement to single women: “Ask [God] to create in you a desire for Christ that will surpass your desire for a spouse and every other earthly thing. This prayer he will surely answer.”Fine China Is for Single Women Too. P & R Publishing, 2011. (106) Sisters, let’s ask God to provide us with godly husbands while begging Him to open our eyes and hearts to the everlasting joy that is already ours in Christ.
Bethany Bowen is a graduate student in Durham, N.C
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|↑1||Fine China Is for Single Women Too. P & R Publishing, 2011. (106)|