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Have you ever talked to someone about your single relationship status and received the response, "Don't worry about it; you're young. You've got plenty of time"?
I remember giving this advice when I worked for a teen girl magazine. I believe it was an especially appropriate answer for the 14, 15 and 16 year olds who feared they were abnormal for not having a boyfriend.
More recently, I stumbled upon this same response in the Boundless podcast "Never Been Dated: Episode 130." A 22-year-old female listener wrote this show's Inbox question, stating her biggest goal is to be a wife and mom, yet she's never been asked out. So what should she do?
Among some great advice about making her primary goal to seek the kingdom of God rather than marriage and not to overlook any good guys for superficial reasons, Candice Watters also said, "You’re still young — relatively speaking — so I don’t think you need to panic. It’s too early to worry here. Just be faithful with what God has given you."
While I agree 22 is relatively young, Candice's words made me wonder, Is there an age when you ought to start panicking? If you're single and approaching 30, should you pull the emergency alarm?
Jesus says no.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matthew 6:25, 33-34, ESV).
Panic, worry, anxiety have no place in a believer's life.
But grieving unmet expectations is a part of every person's life.
In her 2010 article "The Things I Won't Be," Suzanne Hadley Gosselin writes,
"During my 20s and early 30s I was hit with the many things I wouldn't be: married at 22 like my mom, the first of my siblings to wed, a young mother, a youthful grandmother, a couple married for 70 years. Life just wasn't going to work out the way I had anticipated.
"And I had a choice. Choice No. 1: I could dwell on the deep sense of loss I felt at the death of those dreams, question God's goodness and become bitter. Choice No. 2: I could grieve the things I would not be and ask my loving Father to show me new dreams — the things 'no eye has seen' (1 Corinthians 2:9)."
Whether you're 14, 22, 25, 30 or 35, we have the same choice. What attitude will you choose?
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--This is part of the reason that I get frustrated with people saying, "God has someone for you. You just have to wait on His time." God doesn't have someone for everyone. There won't always be a clear reason for it, but lifelong singleness is a very real thing. It's literally in the Bible. Even though most people will eventually get married, singles need to spend more time processing through the question, "Can I really still believe that God is good if I stay single forever?"
--"Panic, worry, anxiety have no place in a believer's life."
Let me know when you've got that all figured out, and what publishing house you plan to send that book through, because I'd like to invest -- Even Jesus himself experienced anxiety, so if you can erradicate that from the human experience good on ya.
This is just one of those platitudes that annoy the everloving snot out of me that church folks throw out there to make people struggling with singleness, sickness, infertility or difficult financial times feel better. You're GONNA panic, you're going to worry and you're going to have anxiety. Experiencing those things doesn't make you a bad Christian, less Christian or unworthy. It just means that you're human. It's what you do with those anxieties, fears and difficult situations that shape and mold your character into a more Godly or more bitter person.
I can't tell you how many time I wanted to roll my eyes, stomp my feet and "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fullfilled is a tree of life" right back at the sanctimonious bible-quoting patronizing puppy dog eyes of people who wanted to proof-text my pain away because they didn't know what to do with me. Just because you CAN quote the bible at a situation doesn't mean you should, and while yes, sometimes it is good to be reminded not to borrow tomorrow's troubles, the pain of singles for a single, sickness for the ill, barrenness for the infertile and financial instability for the poor is here TODAY. If more people had a servant heart when they quoted that passage in Matthew instead of a "bother someone else with your problems because you're broke and I don't know how to fix you" heart, maybe I'd feel differently. But I think about 9 times out of 10 we're ripping that passage and Jeremiah 29:11 out of the bible to shut people up more than we are to give them good counsel. Almost NEVER are we using that Matthew chapter 6 passage in the way that is was intended, that is: "You cannot serve both God and money, therefore, serve God because he is the source of provision and faith in his provision will meet your physical needs better than chasing empty materialism."
When I turned 25, had just been broken up with by a Boyfriend I *entirely* played by the "Good Christian Girl" rules to both get, and attempt to keep, and it turns out that whatever my best was in that situation, it was not nearly enough. What's more, it was a repeat of the same experience I'd had about four times in as many years. I was a miserable failure at dating the "church approved" way and it was slowly eating at my confidence, my self worth, my identity in Christ and my relationship with God. On four separate occasions now, _I had done everything right_. I waited to be approached, I unquestioningly cooked meals, offered companionship, and supported dreams and hopes for who the men I was dating could become, then I watched one by one as they left and told me that I was somehow less than. I went on dates with people I was attracted to and asked God to give me favor. I went on dates with people I wasn't attracted to and I prayed that God would change my heart. The only thing I had ever wanted to be was a wife and mother and it was the only thing withheld from me. I _was_ worried, anxious and near-paniced. But I stuffed it down, packed it away, and didn't talk about it except on the worst of days where I would just shut the doors, make sure I was alone, or call my mother (who married at 21 and had no idea what to do with her broken daughter) and wail. I couldn't talk about it at church, certainly. People would know what a horrible, troubled, worried Christian I was if I did.
The well-meaning people around me telling me to make my _primary_ goal to seek the kingdom of God and not to look over good guys for superficial reasons were just flummoxed by my singleness, and didn't want to put effort or take time to get to know me, my situation, or what I brought to the table. I mean, here I was, a for-all-intents-and-purposes not any more unattractive than average sort of woman with a good, stable job, raised in a Christian home who loved Jesus, volunteered relentlessly at church and could cook a darn fine meal and I couldn't get guys interested, or on the rare occasion that I could, I couldn't get them to stick around. But it's MUCH easier to put people into simple boxes and equations than it is to actually admit that God has different, individual plans for the lives of very different individuals. so I went through all the "Well, just fix what's wrong with you, and oh by the way, it's that you're fat, too "independent", too masculine, too clingy and that you have an advanced degree" and I went through all the "Well it must just not be God's timing" and I went through all the "use this time to prepare for marriage" and all the "Use this time to focus on God" and all the "Well, I just don't know why on Earth you're still single" and all the "You'll make a great wife for _someone_ (but Dear Lord, not me, please not me, not me not me not me!), someday!"
I can tell you right now, I had good days and bad days. I had days where I was happy to wake up in the morning and be alive and a part of whatever was going on in God's plan and I had days where I just wanted to pull the covers up over my head and moan that I wished I'd died in my sleep. But never, ever did I want to be told that I was obligated to feel worry-free and happy-dappy about life or that I was being a poor excuse for a Christian. That unless I got an "attitude adjustment" I was destroying my witness and my ability to lead other people to follow God. That unless I could paste a big ol' fake plastic smile on my bleeding heart, have a "good attitude" toward my situatin and be "content" in my singleness, not only was I a failure as a woman, but as a Christian.
But that is EXACTLY the message that gets touted to single women -- ESPECIALLY single women of a certain age. It's like we can't acknowledge that even if you're right inside the will of God you might be upset, sad or frustrated -- when, ironically, OFTEN people in the bible at the center of God's will were frustrated, sad, lonely or scared -- they just hadn't gotten to the end of their story yet. Instead of telling people not to worry, or to have a better attitude, why don't we tell people that they're probably in the middle of the story? Why don't we sit down next to our hurting friend and wrap our arms around them and tell them that their pain brings you pain? Why are we SO dreadfully terrible at mourning with those who mourn?
Ironically, those women who don't go through this period of mourning and grief and the death of dreams and actually seem to be able to embrace their contentedness, get slammed for not *trying* to get married. You just can't win. If you want marriage and are trying to get it, you want it too much. If you are comfortable with living the rest of your life alone you are somehow abnormal. There is no room, it seem in the church for the single woman. Either she is outside the will of God for making marriage an idol or she is outside the will of God by not desiring to be the godly married woman God has designed her to be. Why can't we recognise, that just as with the false dichotomy of Panic and Bliss, that there is a middle ground between morose and content and that most of us, most days, live there.
Oof. And I know (/hope) that that wasn't the real underlying message here, but for me, my goal from this side of the married/single divide is to approach singles like I remember what it was like to be single. To be transparent and offer experiences and shoulder and tears and prayers instead of platitudes and verses that might sound right for the situation but aren't. And I'm not saying that you should shoot for those pulling-the-covers-over-your-head days, at all -- You should shoot for the days when you are happy to be a part of God's plan, whatever it entails. You should do the things you enjoy that you feel his pleasure in, and you should question those aspects of your faith that you have embraced simply because a sunday school teacher said them to you. You should be where you are in every moment and live life to the hilt -- and sometimes that means you will experience worry, and anxiety and pain and loss and hardship, but the solace of God is that in spite of those things, he is still good. There is still the greater story of redemption and the cross and you are a part of it. There is still a greater story of you, and wherever you are not, content or woefully discontent, you don't know the ending yet. So even if today brings you pain, tomorrow might bring you joy, and I hope that even with the pain of today that there will be for you comfort and companionship to escort your limping heart along to better times.
--MrsAshleyTOF, that's an interesting point to add that even Jesus himself experienced anxiety. I suppose the key to His example is that in the end, He still said, "not my will but yours be done." That's the attitude I think we must strive for and where we'll all be most happy. I haven't mastered it, but that's the perspective I desire Christ to grow within me.
--Instead of feeling anxious, I think that singles should rejoice that God is giving them more time to prepare for marriage. Married life has many challenges, and the more preparation one can do the better. It reminds me of when I was in high school and some of my teachers said they would give a test on a certain date, and then they would postpone it. Just means more time to study and get ready.
When I was single I was desparate to marry as soon as possible, Now I'm married I wish I spent more time preparing for marriage. I probably prepared more than most people do, but there is still a lot more I could have done.
In that case, I'm not a believer....I struggle very much with worry and anxiety. I realize it's a sin, but whether I overcome it depends on the day.
--Kellie, I'm right there with you!
Two great resources that I highly recommend include:
"Why Worry" DVD series by Andy Stanley family.christianbook.com/.../924598
"Trusting God" by Jerry Bridges family.christianbook.com/.../063053
--The problem is with "Don't worry, you're young, you've got plenty of time" line is that there is no smooth transition time. It goes from. "You've got lots of time" to "Shouldn't you be more vigilant/less picky/etc" in no time flat.
There is no universal standard for age on each gender. Although it seems men have a little more time to spare than women at least in terms of social norms.
--Martha: A good and worthy goal, for sure, and one we all strive for. Sometimes it's good, though, to caviot the acomplishment with the striving -- Paul did it a lot in his letters.
There is a difference between being concerned or distressed and letting that concern or distress take over your entire life, which is really what Matthew 6: 25-34 is all about. It is not saying "Never buy yourself a new outfit" or "Don't try to feed your family", it is saying don't let your love of stuff consume you.
I'm not entirely certain that "stuff" here extends all the way to a spouse, as physical and material needs are different from relational needs, but even if it did, you can still desire to be married and be proactive about it without placing it at a higher importance overall than God. You are right that we should be able to surrender our will to God -- but measuring our obedience by our attitude is not something that is all that supported by Scripture (Matthew 21:28-32).
--THANK YOU SO MUCH, MRS. ASHLEY!!!
I promised myself that I would never patronize singles when I got married. I will remember the pain of my prolonged singleness too well. In fact, I had this idea for having a dinner on Valentine's Day for singles where I and my wife would serve them. That way, they would know they are remembered and loved and that V-Day didn't have to be solely about romance.
By the way, men have panic buttons, too. Trust me, with my 30th birthday quickly approaching, I'm on the verge of hitting it myself.
--Keith: I understand what you're saying, but I think there can be danger in saying that more time of singleness prepares us for marriage--because it makes marriage seem like the ultimate goal (that not everyone achieves) and singleness be a mere waiting room. Should we be preparing ourselves for our future spouse, or should be preparing ourselves for the Bridegroom?
I really like Suzanne's quote, but I would add to her choice #2--grieve the things I would not be and rejoice in the things God's allowed me to be! I may not be a young mom, but I've been a surrogate young mom to about 500 middle school kids as I've taught them, encouraged them, and given them advice. I might not be the young married woman who offers hospitality to other couples once in a while, but I've been the young single woman who hosts Bible studies at my house regularly. I guess I just don't ever want to look back at my single years, or look at my life, and have regrets because I dwelled on "the deep sense of loss" instead of dwelling on what great opportunities God's given me in every season of my life. There's definitely more to life than marriage.
--Oh no I commented on a different post thinking I was commenting on this :( and now can't even find it
--Deborah, I found it over on the "How to Join the New Boundless Blog" post! You (or anyone else) can always go to your profile page and see what posts you recently commented on.
Deborah S Jun 18, 2013 4:13 PM
I am reading this post and smiling :) I panicked big time before turning 30 and then a few years after that but then when I saw nothing changed and I was still single and all the fussing and panicking didn't help. Then came a season of despair I might never be married or have kids, then now in a season where its alright to be a single as the things I do now and the way I serve might be not possible if I was married. So I want to be faithful in this season and as the years pass and I come towards my mid 30's my panic gets less and less. I guess big part of that is relying on a good God and his goodness :)
--Thanks :) Martha. I went to your page to look for it. I should have gone to mine but I didn't know I had a profile page where I could check :) thanks again.
"Instead of feeling anxious, I think that singles should rejoice that God is giving them more time to prepare for marriage. Married life has many challenges, and the more preparation one can do the better."
I think the problem with this is it still assumes marriage is coming. I think some of the "panic" that comes with being an older single is the question of how long to live your life preparing/being prepared for marriage.
How long should a young man work in a sable, well-paying job so that he will be able to support a family before deciding that the family isn't coming and changing to a less stable/less lucrative job that is more fun or more fulfilling? How long should one keep going to courses on relationships and marriage before deciding that they should spend their time fishing instead? How long should a woman hold out hope that she will be a mother before coming to grips with the idea that her opportunity has passed?
I think we need to be more realistic with single people (especially as they get older) that it's entirely possible that marriage is not in the cards for them. It's entirely possible that God is not giving them more time to prepare for anything. And it's entirely possible that trusting God for a spouse may very well still result in them being alone.
Haha - I just did the same thing and posted on the How to Join Boundless page. :)
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