Single Christian women: how should we then wait...

Note: Here is a comment appearing beneath Marriage, student debt, and motherhood.... My sister in Christ, Jessica, asks a question that is burning in all our churches and I'd like to ask our readers to respond to it here in the comments section of this post. What advice do you have for sisters desiring marriage who are wondering what steps are proper for them to take as women?

You'll see I've put down some preliminary thoughts, but I'm hopeful others will also respond. One rule, though: No one who despises God's command that wives submit to their husbands may respond. This is an in-God's-house conversation that must have as a foundation submission to God's commands to husbands and wives. Thanks.

Tim- I have a question for you... I have many godly single women friends, all of whom would like to be married but are without even a single prospect among them. What is the appropriate role of a single woman, particularly one who is desiring a husband? More specifically, how forward is she allowed to be? I mean, we all say wait for the Lord, His timing is perfect, occupy yourseld with other things, etc. ...and I think most of the time, that all may be fine advice. But I seem to recall a certain woman named Ruth who DID kind of take things into her own hands. Is there a place for women being that forward? Even with a man with whom you've never actually discussed marriage or dated? What are your thoughts on this?

As an example, one of my friends is 35, has been on the mission field for 11+ years, and has a burdened heart for a husband and is waiting ... but should she be doing more?

(Signed) Jessica

This is typical of a number of issues where we should be somewhat hesitant to say what ought to be done because some may conclude the suggestions are law, and thus have their consciences bound where God has given freedom.

Granted, God has not given freedom concerning the relationship between the sexes in matters of authority and purity. But how we work His decrees of father-rule and heterosexual, monogamous, life-long, covenantal marriage out in our lives must involve a large component of personality and culture. What is seen to be a matter of purity in Africa may not be purity here, for instance. Similarly, what might be considered improper female initiative for one woman in one church may well not be improper with another sister in another church.

Let me give an example. In our church, we had a godly older mother-in-Israel who was universally respected. Although there is some debate about this, my wife and I remember her instructing a young woman to go up and sit next to a young man during evening worship. She told the young woman something like this: "You can't take the initiative, but you can go up and help him to notice you."

That's common sense and I think she was right.

It's painful to see godly women waiting on men to take responsibility for building a marriage and home. Pastors and elders need to challenge the young men of their church to step up to the plate and swing, trusting that God is pleased to give good gifts to His children today as He has been in the past--and this despite our real weaknesses as men, today.

Years ago, when John MacArthur was preaching on the 1Peter 3 and the nature of the godly adornment women should put on, he did something unusual. Listening to his sermon on tape, I heard him stop mid-sermon and address the young men of his church directly. His challenge went something like this:

And you young men, listen to me. There are a lot of women here in this church who have adorned themselves with godliness, and it's time for you to notice and do something about it!

That was all, but it was met by spontaneous applause from his congregation. This sort of challenge is needed in the church today.

About seven years ago, I spoke at a singles retreat down in the deep south. Prior to the retreat, I spent time listening to the full time singles pastor as he unburdened himself concerning the challenges he faced working with his flock. There were many good women adorned by godliness and ready for marriage and motherhood, but the men weren't willing to commit themselves. So I spoke about biblical manhood and challenged the men to see that an unwillingness to bear the very real weight of responsibility taking a wife entails was sin. For many of them, I said, true repentance in the face of our feminized culture would mean marriage and fatherhood.

The fruit of that conference was bittersweet. The singles pastor who brought me there saw the men of his flock go home, propose to their girlfriend, and marry. It was sweet in that they finally became men and founded a Christian home. But it was bitter in that my friend's singles ministry was decimated by the departure of a whole host of young couples who left the singles minisry behind.

Now please don't accuse me of having a low view of singleness as the Apostle Paul describes it in 1Corinthians 7. Clearly God calls some to singleness and it's my habit always to mention that call in any discussion of courtship, betrothal, dating, or marriage. We should never neglect to affirm that the first step to be taken is to seek God's will as to one's own calling concerning marriage. Singleness must be honored among us as a godly calling, and nothing less than constant references to its honor will do in our sex-saturated culture.

Also, please don't think I'm being cavalier about the challenge of marrying in our immoral and anti-Christian day. Almost all the men I was speaking to were college graduates with well-established careers, so these were not young pups still needing to put a few years under their belt on the road to manhood. Rather, they were men who were dating women in the group, often for years on end, without ever being challenged to have faith in God and love these women by taking them to be their wives.

And yet, while honoring singleness and warning against being precipitous in engagement and marriage, the larger need of out time is to help men to walk by faith, shouldering their male responsibilities despite their intimate knowledge of their own weakness. Ultimately, let's acknowledge that there's a lot of truth to the statement that the only preparation for marriage, fatherhood, and motherhood is marriage, fatherhood, and motherhood. You know what I mean?

That, and prayer with faith in the power of God to accomplish in us what He commands of us.

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Comments

hi Tim

I agree, but the 'demographics of faith' seem to militate against all Christian women being able to marry. There are more Christian women than men. I suppose that is true of humanity in general, but probably not to the same degree.

In any case, the fact is that many Christian women will be single. I don't know the answers to all the needs in this respect, but surely that means they are called to contentment with their lot. It also may mean that the church may need to reorient its approach so that we don't have 'singles ghettoes'. Why do we need singles ministries, anyway?

My question is only partly rhetorical, I think we tend to compartmentalize a little too much.

Regards,
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Don, you raise a valid point about the "singles ghetto".

Once I reached 25 years of age, with no prospects in sight, and the very real possibility that I would never be married, I decided that it was time to plan for a life of singleness as much as I had been planning for a lifetime of marriage. While I attended some of the singles' stuff in my church, I had begun to formalize and implement a plan that, as I joked with my older brother, would prevent myself from turning into one of those bitter spinsters --- you know, the type that has everyone murmuring, "Well, we can see why she never married!"

The key to not turning odd and peculiar, it seemed to me, was being involved in other activities besides waiting for Mr. Right. A big part of that was being involved in the lives of children. So I began visiting an older widow in the church on a regular basis, and I began looking around the church for a family to "attach" myself to. I also scouted around for children and, for example, took a motherless boy to the circus.

Of course, none of these things brought me in contact with eligible men. However, somehow I did manage to attract the notice of my future husband, who was too busy ministering to young teens to be involved in the singles ministry.

I didn't even have time to implement my "how to be single but not weird" plan beyond the very beginning stages before I was married.

My experience is that too many young women in the church are far too focused on getting married, rather than on using their single years as admonished in Scripture. I also cannot help but wonder about young women who allow themselves to be in exclusive dating relationships for years, without any hint that this relationship is headed for marriage.

One of the things that I had decided, before even formulating my "how to be joyously single" plan, was that I was too old to date for "fun". I would no longer date anyone that I would not seriously consider marrying, and I would not allow someone to take up too much time in my life unless he was serious about marriage. I really had no desire to be anyone's girlfriend. (I know this is hugely controversial. I'm just sharing my own experience. Hopefully this won't get me banned! Let me hasten to say that because I strongly believe wives are supposed to submit to their own husbands, I also believe that unmarried women are not to submit to boyfriends, or to allow themselves to be in relationships that too strongly resemble marriage.)

Now, I wasn't exactly popular. Men weren't clamoring for dates. But once I made this decision, which is one I made prayerfully, I was suddenly being asked out for dates. It was actually humorous! I had to learn how to say "no" graciously. It was sometimes tempting to go out with some guy, just so as not to return to an empty apartment, but I felt wrong about wasting a young man's time and money in this way, when I already knew I would not marry him.

A friend of mine, years later, was in a dating relationship and set a deadline, without ever hinting at it to anyone, for how long she would allow that relationship to continue without a commitment from her boyfriend. She wanted marriage and did not want to postpone marriage by wasting her time with someone who was unwilling to marry her, or who merely wanted to string her along.

Anyway, it worked for me and, in my opinion, followed sound Biblical principles. Others may be led to different courses of action.

Rebecca's story mirrors some things that Douglas Wilson noted in "Her Hand in Marriage"; that if a woman (or man for that matter) fulfills her (his) role as a single man and church member, she'll be simultaneously more ready for both singleness and marriage. She'll also be in a position where her virtues will be more readily apparent to men who are of the same disposition.

It's also more or less my story; my wife and I met and courted in a situation where we were taking part in missions, church maintenance, and such, not just the "singles" ministry. (though I was leading that at the time too) Our first date was putting up sheetrock with Habitat for Humanity.

Go to read Debbie Maken's _Getting Serious About Getting Married_ (http://www.canonpress.org/shop/item.asp?itemid=1049). Go directy to read it. Do not pass go; do not collect $200. It's not a perfect book, but there simply isn't another one that says what it says. Despite the girly cover, this is NOT a book just for women. I would recommend, nay PLEAD, that single men and pastors and elders read this book. The whole American evangelical church has followed the culture into unbiblical thinking about singleness, and _GSAGM_ is good medicine for what ails us.

Shorthand answer for Jessica: Mrs. Maken's advice to women is to "employ agency," by which she means rather than doing the pursuing yourself, get your father, brothers, pastor, elders, friends, etc. to be on the lookout for you and play matchmaker. Or go through a matchmaking service, preferably with one of the aforementioned -- father, brother, pastor, elders, etc. -- playing an active and protective role ( la the aforementioned _Her Hand in Marriage_).

Oops, I forgot that the commenting software here does goofy things to links. Use this one instead:

http://www.canonpress.org/shop/item.asp?itemid=1049

I have been following these discussions with interest as I am the father of several daughters, the oldest two being 19 and 15. One concept that seems to be assumed is the notion of a "single" female. As I think ponder this I wonder if there isn't something amiss with that idea.

As a basic principle, it seems that God places us in families. When scripture speaks of unmarried females, it seems to me that it speaks of them as being part of their father's family until they marry. Following this line of thinking, my daughters are my responsibility, and if I should die they become the responsibility of their brothers.

As a homeschooling family we have raised and trained our daughters to be wives and mothers. That is our basic expectation. Unless God clearly and explicitly calls them to something, they know very clearly they are welcome in our home and that I intend to provide for them. While they are there they will be working, functioning members of the family.

I enjoy the thoughtful perspectives presented here, and I look forward to others thoughts on this issue.

I've got to say that I agree with what Rebecca finally did...quit hanging out in the single ghetto and get on with the work of the Kingdom as is appropriate for a young, single woman. Preferably this would be with the counsel and guidance of her father. And I agree wholeheartedly with Valerie's admonition for women to engage trusted men (preferably her father) in the search for a suitor.

And I agree with Tim that a big part of our problem is with the young men who are taking extended adolescence and are not looking at marriage as a goal/responsibility. We in the church, and especially those in leadership, MUST get off our duffs and actively encourage both sexes (but especially the men) to pursue marriage with all their heart...and not to put it off. There is a huge number of lovely young women who would make extraordinary, Godly wives...but a dearth of qualified young men. I'm afraid that won't change quickly, for it will require intentional training on the part of fathers and on the part of the church, neither of which is really a priority in most parts of our culture.

Gee...I guess I'm just all agreeable today!

Charley

"One concept that seems to be assumed is the notion of a 'single' female. As I ponder this I wonder if there isn't something amiss with that idea."

Not assumed...observed. Your vision and plan for your family is the ideal. Alas, it is not the typical situation for the vast majority of single Christian women in our culture, who do not have fathers with such a standard. Applause, applause to those of you who have not abandoned your daughters to the status quo!

It also becomes our responsibility to raise our sons and teach our church's young men what adulthood is, which includes being well-marryable, and marrying well in the sight of God. God didn't put our young men on the earth to live in permanent, stunted juvenility, playing X-Box, knocking knuckles, and yelling "Dude" to each other into our thirties. It makes me feel like we shouldn't even have official, organized "singles" ministries, except for the fact that there are singles who are that way involuntarily, and whose lives do entail special problems and stresses that married people don't experience.

If, I may comment,

I am an unmarried 24 year old and from my perspective the church, which has about 3x as many women, has really dropped the ball on the issue of marriage. There is little different between what the ungoldy say in the academy and pop culture about marriage and the practice of the church. Why do Christain youth need to "find themselves", " "beware of settling down too early" or "grow up a little more" often in late 20s and 30s? When the biological and historical reality is that persons are ready for marriage in their late teens why do we encourage childhood into pensionable age? I would be surprised if any of the ministers here are unaware that the chief reason for the popular discouraging of marriage is an aversion to sexuality morality what are all us singles supposed to be doing in this area? I think it is no coincidence that that marriage is under such an attack since it is the picture of Christ and his church and that picture is under particular attack right now. While I am aware of the Pauline teaching on singleness I think that the common teaching on it, that we should all be happy that we can devote ourselves to God despite not in any way resembling what Paul had in mind like foreign mission to dangerous lands is incorrect. Most of us are called to be missionaries to our own culture and marriage in this time when it is a scandal is probably the most effective means of doing so. I am tired of hearing that it is better to be happy single that to burn, that is not scriptural.

Jack and Deniece, you'd both like Mrs. Maken's book, too. And no, I'm not getting a kickback to shill for it...I just think the more who read it, the more we'll all benefit! ;-)

Wow, I sure don't see a 3-1 ratio of women to men in Alaska.

Rebecca,
I really appreciate your position on this- you're right- the godly Christian woman should be focused on things other than her singleness. My friend that I used as an example, however, did that for 15 years on the mission field. But she has felt so burdened for a husband that it was affecting her ministry overseas, and she is now home in the States waiting for a husband but there is none yet. What to do when even single-mindedly toiling for the Lord does not bring that mate that she longs for?

Ken, I appreciate your thoughts on all this too... I believe we will raise our daughters in a similar way, not just turning them over to the world because of a particular birthday. However, there are far too many young women for whom there is no father, or he is spiritually checked out. What is the solution for these women?

Valerie, it is wonderful to think that Godly men would take on such a role (of matchmaking for an eligible young lady), but I can only think of perhaps 4 men in the whole of my acquaintance who would willingly do so. This is often seen as the woman's pervue.

************************************************
I'd like to pose another question then:

Where do single people fit into our current church structure? If we aren't to have a separate ministry for them (and I'm not arguing that we should, I'm just asking the question), where are they to be? Clearly, many would say, right in the midst of the body. And that is good and right, I think.

And yet, what can we do as church members when the sad truth is that many of our churches make it painfully difficult for a single to sit through services and feel valuable and fulfilled. Sermons in this fast-food culture are quickly heated and meant for the majority of consumers... the married with children. And even more specifically, the sermons in the average American church are often aimed at the lowest common denominator-- the troubled marriage, the parents of troubled teens, etc. So how can a single feel fulfilled and respected in such a culture as this? What can we as church members do to bring about changes necessary to make them feel a vital part?

And, is there a case to be made that they're always going to feel a little bit out-of-sorts? Just like a couple who can't for whatever reason have children will likely always feel a bit out of step with their peers? This seems like such a hard issue to sort through.

By the way, Tim, thanks so much for opening this up to discussion by the whole group. It's really interesting to see what different perspectives people come from on this one issue.

Thanks,
Jessica

Dear Jessica, It's interesting for me, too. By the way, much of what's been proposed here is common within our congregation, although not because anyone's read a book about it. It just seems to be healthy family life in a church where there is real fellowship and a large number of the people are between the age of fifteen and thirty-five (maybe a third). Being in a university community keeps singles from being as much a fifth wheel as they would likely be in other communities. But it remains hard here for couples without children because we place such a biblical (heavy) emphasis on the blessing of children in our fellowship. Another thing, for years now we have had a much higher number of young men than young women. That seems to have changed this fall, finally, but it was quite interesting while it lasted.

I know you can't cherry-pick worshipers, or snip and shape a church as if it was a bonsai tree. If you have loads of singles (say, you're a university church or near a military fort), then that's who God has given you to help if you can! But we know from the Bible that marriage and having children is the norm. Not just an option...it's the norm, meaning, it's good to make that a goal and to expect to marry. People who haven't found the right mate yet, people who are single involuntarily, and "regular" singles shouldn't resent an emphasis like that in a good Christian church. Somewhat similar to how Christian people who have undergone a divorce should want the pastor to teach and preach all the truth about lifelong marriage. The goal is to help people get their thoughts and lives molded into conformity to the Scripture, rather than adapt our emphases to the community.

But it's hard to manage a balancing act like that -- I think we like our own churches to be thematically homogenous. Home-schoolers want their church to be a "home-schooling church", divorced Christians feel more sympathy from people who have suffered through the same plight, singles don't want to feel like fifth wheels. I can understand all that.

Jessica wrote, "Valerie, it is wonderful to think that Godly men would take on such a role (of matchmaking for an eligible young lady), but I can only think of perhaps 4 men in the whole of my acquaintance who would willingly do so. This is often seen as the woman's pervue."

Most have probably just never considered the thought, because the church has gotten so used to "trusting God" for relationships to form that we forget that action is not antithetical to faith in that arena any more than it's antithetical to faith in God's provision of food. We still understand that we have have to work to eat, but we think marriage is the result of some sort of spontaneous generation.

Ideally families would take primary responsibility for helping their children find spouses. But because there are so many singles these days, and so few families who have this vision, the Church needs both to teach this responsibility and to step in and lovingly help where families have fallen short.

Lance,

"Wow, I sure don't see a 3-1 ratio of women to men in Alaska."

I met a woman from Alaska a few years ago and she was telling my wife and I about the 6:1 (or whatever it was at the time) ratio of men to women in Alaska. Someone piped up, "Those are good odds for you," to which she immediately responded, "Yes, but we women have a saying in Alaska. The odds are good, but the goods are odd."

Archie

Tim wrote, "By the way, much of what's been proposed here is common within our congregation, although not because anyone's read a book about it."

Bet you DID get it from a book...The Book, in fact. ;-)

Hurrah for your church! I know there are congregations here and there that haven't bought into the culture's devaluation of marriage and family -- my church is like that, too. I just hope Debbie Maken's book will be the catalyst for more.

(Heh...the word I have to type in to verify I'm human is "hope." How appropriate!)

Well, how should I then wait,
I never thought that this would come to this blog. This subject is my life but multiply this by 30 yrs. The church is for families. I went through many stages of how come not me, or not relating well to the celebrated sermons regarding mothers, fathers, couples, family. You are many times the 5th wheel... oh people invite you over for dinner. Then you go on church functions or retreats and the first questions asked is children?? husband??? You are a fish out of water. Sometimes it more fun to stay home and listen to sermons on line. Oh I am not bitter, but please when you think of the structure of how the church is created, older singles are out in left field. So when you go to church with your family try to think how you would think, act, and respond to the well intended questions and sermons I gave up praying for a husband long ago. Maybe I sound a bit assertive in my opinion but I have no person on earth to be a helpmate to but Jesus. That can be a solitary life. I hope I have given some insight to the life of a "non-spinster.
Loving in Christ, Suzi

I'm glad you brought your honest experience to the table here, Suzi.

I think it is hard to do what the Bible says to do- "weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice" and none of us are very good at it. We married people (especially if we have children) are so caught up in family life, going here, there, training up the kids, etc., that we often forget to stop and weep with those who long for a spouse, to weep with those who long for children but are barren ... I know for my part, I don't often know what to say, so in the past, that has sometimes translated into me not saying anything at all.

There is also the flip side of it, that I think having a separate "wing"/"department"/"ghetto" for single people doesn't teach them how to rejoice with those who are rejoicing with new babies, new marriages, etc. I think it can build bitterness and resentment of some of the biggest joys in life.

But nevertheless, I can't speak for the single woman who struggles to rejoice in the wedding she may attend-- but I can speak for myself: I need to learn to appropriately weep with those who are mournful and sorrowful about their unmet desires.

Suzi, I'm not sure how someone asking about husband and children makes you suddenly a fish out of water. Sure it makes that line of conversation a little short (especially if I don't pursue it and ask the other person about her family), and it might even cause a moment of awkwardness (especially if I get all pouty and make the questioner feel guilty about bringing up a sore subject), but no one has ever run screaming from me when I told the awful truth about my marital and parenting status. ;-)

When people don't fit in in a church, it's not the result of a lack of commonality, but of a lack of love -- on the single's side, on the church's side, or on both sides. In my case, it's most often been on my side, because I'm a selfish pig. I always want everything to be about me, me, me. So I'm incredibly grateful to be in a congregation that has loved me well enough to draw me in despite my self-centeredness, and is helping me learn to forget self and serve others.

You're probably not as selfish as I am (few are!), so perhaps in your case more of the burden of blame falls on others, but it might be helpful to find someone trusted in the congregation -- a pastor or elder, or a wise and mature woman -- to help you evaluate both yourself and the church and see where the problems lie and how best to work on fixing them. Be open both to forgiving others' failings and to learning to see your own.

Blessings!

And amen to what Jessica said. :-)

I'm happy this discussion has come up. It's something I think about a lot, especially as a 27 year old single woman, who has never cared a whit about getting married, until a year ago. Now I'm praying for it rather regularly!

Something that really has helped me in waiting has been Paul's words where he said he learned to be content in all situations. It doesn't say that automatically one day God gave him a content heart. He LEARNED it! So I have asked God, and will continue to ask God to help me learn to be content in all situations---whether it be singleness, marriage, or whatever.

Suzi, I can understand the "fish out of water" feeling. I personally cannot stand it when people ask me if I've got a boyfriend or not, or when lots of my friends are getting married, people sometimes have said in the past "Oh, you're next!!" That is so annoying, and that is partly my lack of grace towards them (because they probably don't know how annoying or insensitive they are being) and my struggles with the situation I am in, all manifesting themselves at the same time.

I don't know if I have any kind of main point, or amazing words for anybody, but in Christ, I have every single thing I need for life, and when I remind myself of that (and I have to do it often), I find myself comforted. Hope that helps someone, for what it's worth.

My "singles" group (with two married couples in it, but otherwise, all singles) just did a study on Song of Solomon. Now, I am by far the oldest single woman in the group. By a good 5 years. And the difference in that study for me and for a 20-year-old girl is that they still have all kinds of hope, and it seems relevant to them. To me - it seems the train has long left the station.

I'm good though - God has recently really brought me to a place of focusing my attentions elsewhere - that includes education, using the gifts God has given me to pursue the higher calling I believe he's placed on my life (advanced practice nursing, to be specific), etc. I told God one night that I was TIRED - tired of being hurt, tired of being disappointed, tired of feeling hopeless. And for the first time in my life he's renewed me to the point that I can rest on Him and not focus on what I do not have. (It's not always easy. I live in like the Fertile Valley or something.)

And yet - I say all this to say that I believe the bigger problem is what we are teaching Christians (particularly men - but really, both sexes) to look for in a mate. And it all starts with beauty. SURE - attraction is incredibly important. However, we don't teach men to look for qualities befitting a wife, we teach them to look for some "hot girl." And, to a lesser extent, we allow girls to pine after these cute boys without teaching them to look at what is truly excellent. If men were taught what is valuable in a wife and women were taught what is valuable in a husband, without attaching all the attraction, etc., issues - I think we'd see way less single people in our culture.

(And I get offended, really, at people (in my church) who say "Well, if they're single at 40, there must be some reason..." Yes - because God has not ordained them to be married yet.)

On the flip side - I have a wonderful 35-year-old friend who is getting married next week. She's waited patiently for a long time, serving the Lord all the while. So that is really cool to see.

I can't help but mentioning Paige Benton Brown's excellent article, "Singled Out for God", written several years ago when she was still single.

http://www.ruf.org/help/singledout1.htm

It has some excellent advice.

I do note that some of the practices advocated amongst evangelicals these days (bride-price, wife-brokering, courtship, etc.) have more in common with the pagan mating practices of the ancient Near East than with the Bible. The fact that there are publishing houses "canon"-izing such views does not make them more biblical. It is also hypocritical that many of the same people who insist these are the preferred "biblical" and "Christian" methods for singles to get married did not follow these practices themselves in obtaining their spouses.

Those who have commented on the cultural impact of perpetual adolescence on evangelical males are spot-on. But we must also admit that our culture has adversely influenced evangelical females as well, particularly in their expectations of men. Many women are looking for a man with Brad Pitt's looks and Brad Pitt's wallet forgetting that you also get Brad Pitt's morals. These, of course, are gross generalizations and don't apply to many/most, so we must be careful.

One final word of advice born out of two decades of first-hand experience as a single adult: getting advice on singleness from married people is usually less than worthless unless they were single for a while themselves. Married people don't want to hear that, I understand, because they believe themselves experts (they are married after all, right?). Married people know how to get married and live married, but it offers no qualifications to speak to living as a single without having experience themselves. Their default is almost always to tell you to get married; singleness is a condition that must be cured. People who were single adults for a few years a long time ago or got married during or right after college have very little idea what singles face today and have very little experience to speak from. Parents would be rightly chagrined if I offered them parenting advice having no experience myself. As with anything in life, it is always best to seek out the expert practitioners.

>I do note that some of the practices advocated amongst evangelicals these days (bride-price, wife-brokering, courtship, etc.) have more in common with the pagan mating practices of the ancient Near East than with the Bible.

What are the biblical practices?

>It is also hypocritical that many of the same people who insist these are the preferred "biblical" and "Christian" methods for singles to get married did not follow these practices themselves in obtaining their spouses.

That seems an irrational statement.

>One final word of advice born out of two decades of first-hand experience as a single adult: getting advice on singleness from married people is usually less than worthless unless they were single for a while themselves.

I was single for 22 years after high school before marrying and the best advice I got was from a couple who married right out of college. Go figure.

Singleness only becomes a "problem", I think, when it springs out of immature or self-destructive attitudes. I've met more than a few Christian men who never had positive relationships with Christian women because of their own emotional problems or extreme eccentricities. And the same with some Christian women. Some of the Christian ladies I know may complain about guys, but from knowing the women I also notice they are unnaturally shy, passive-aggressive, or just plain bossy and "liberal". But I don't know that they saw these qualities in themselves, so there was a tendency to just complain about circumstances.

Patrick, precisely what practices or ideals lie behind the terms "bride-price, wife-brokering, and courtship" that you find "pagan" and unbiblical and unworthy of Canon Press ink (nice jab, by the way!) Some particulars, please?

Second, so a drunk offering advice to young men on the pitfalls of alcohol consumption would be, according to your logic, "hypocritical?" Wouldn't hypocrisy be advised YOU to court as God's requirement for singles all the while engaging in "recreational dating" myself? Just wondering.

Um, Patrick, the logic behind listening to the married is that they've successfully gotten married. Don't you think that if you want to have success in a certain area of life, maybe you ought to talk to other people who have had that success?

And pagan? Well, to be sure, virtually all cultures have had dowries and some degree of parental involvement in the process of matchmaking, but that doesn't make the process intrinsically pagan. At worst, it's unspecified.

And in reality, the argument for courting vs. dating isn't that subtle. Although neither Victorian courting nor modern "Dating" (or "hooking up") are mentioned by name in the Scriptures, it defies logic to assume that the parents one has trusted to guide in all matters in youth should suddenly be neglected or ignored in the process of finding a mate in early adulthood.

In other words, the parental role described in Proverbs and elsewhere is largely eliminated in modern dating, but emphasized in courting. It is an inference, to be sure, but not that great a leap of logic.

1) Boundless recently published an article (http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001325.cfm) questioning the conventional wisdom that single Christian women outnumber single Christian men. I haven't had time to carefully study it (it combines numbers from Barna and the US census) but it claims that are more women with unbelieving spouses than men, more Christian female divorcees than man, and more widows than widowers, but when one looks at never married Christians, men actually have a slight numerical edge. This is discussed further at the Watters's blog (whyfamily.blog*pot.com) where at least one person speculated that men may be more clustered (engineering schools, military bases) and that this contributes to the conventional wisdom. Single men have indeed outnumbered their females counterparts at every church I've attended (one of which was near an engineering school). The counterpoint often made to this, is that while there may be Christian men, they are not of "marriageable quality." I admit that I take this more personally than I should.

2) Almost all single men in the church that I know earnestly to desire and strive for marriage. There are, of course, exceptions and these deserve a good boot to the head when appropriate, but they should not be allowed to set the stereotype for Christian men in general.

3) I've read Maken's book, and definitely agree that is worth reading. I was however very unhappy with certain parts. She does a wonderful job of refuting erroneous teaching on singleness, but I am disappointed when she accuses singles of using such teachings to excuse there singleness. Instead I find these false teachings must often come from (well meaning but still wrong) Sunday school teachers and other Christian leaders. She also doesn't seem to believe that any man who wished to be married could have any trouble doing so.

4) In my experience "single ghettos" at church are often formed by default. My church has recently formed a young couple's class, which has kind of left all the singles together (there are a few married couples who stayed with us). I tried to explain to some people that I had hopes of having a family some day, I didn't see why couldn't address family matters in a class where single people happened to be present. The people organizing the new class basically looked at me as if I were on crack and just said something to the effect "but there in a different stage of life than you."

5) This is a subject I have found to be very difficult to get advice on. Much of the advice I do receive in conflicting. I often feel that people are giving advice to there former selves rather than to me.

Daniel . . . on #1 - if those numbers are right (about there actually being more never-married Christian men than women), you must be right about the location thing. Here in Seattle, it's very definately the other way around (at least at my home church, my roommate's home church, and the church that I attend when I can't make it to my home church - due to distance, as well as school issues). But it's encouraging to know that that isn't true everywhere!

-Jess (very single)

Whew! Where do I start ... this will indeed be brief (for now) since I stumbled upon this particular discusson in the wee hours of the morning, due to the fact that I could not sleep. However, I note that God is not a God of coincidence and this is a topic that I am very passionate about.

First, at the risk of assumming and taking on a guilty by blog association (smile) I think I know well the 'pastor of singles ministry' that Tim referred to in his original comments to Jessica. Note to Tim: your remembrance of that retreat and the response to the time spent in teaching and fellowship were accurate.

To my sisters in the Lord, who are still 'waiting' ... let me first of all say, waiting is hard,, indeed very hard. This would be true for most 'expereinces' in life. We yearn and take rest ... and then yearn some more. Sometimes our seasons of yearning can turn to seasons of yawning. Why do I wait? we may ask. And what am I waiting for?

Having worked with singles for 13+ years (now in singles ministry retirement so to speak ... that's a whole nother story ...) the one mantra I was known to trumpet was this (and actually it wasn't my idea, but rather a biblical principle taken from the Proverbs).

If you be in Christ and are a student of His word, then you know this Proverb:

Proverbs 18:22
He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.

Let me highlight 3 aspects from this verse that I think are worth emphasizing, especially in light of the whole "waiting" disucssion.

1. "FINDS" - The "he" in this passage is every warm blooded male who desires a "wife." The Proverb takes an assumptive posture that the single man, or non-married man, has the 'job description' of searching, or finding.

The state of current affairs among most single men (christian and non-christian alike) is that searching is not really something that they feel well-qualified at doing. I have a myriad of reasons as to why I think this is true (might say more on that later), in general, but I also realize that each single man's plight in this 'seek and find' journey is specifically high-profiled and unique to their own insecurities, fears and to be more blunt ... has more to do with their own sinful dispositions and lack of SEEING, and mind you UNDERSTANDING that their goldy calling is to FIND or as others of aptly stated INITIATE. This is a godly characteristic that is indelible to the DNA of a male created in God's image, only most guys have not awakened to this God-given call and it is the job of the pastor and elders and those who have been illuminated to this reality to sound the trumpet and lead the charge in helping single men rise to their role of biblical manhood. It is a task that is fundamental to either the rise and fall of our culture. It's pursuit is essential, IMHO, if we are to experience success in our relationships across all races and genders (and there are only 2 genders).

I must pause here in my comments and return at a later date (very soon indeed) to finish my other two points. Sleep is waiting ...

Grace and peace,

Greg

Let make one point that I wished to address earlier but forgot. In Jessica's original message to Tim Bayly she mentions a missionary acquaintance of hers and her "burdened heart for a husband." It is my understanding many if not most mission agencies formally prohibit any form of "dating" or romantic involvement in the field (either w/ other missionaries or other). In fairness, I've also been told that many take a "wink wink nod nod" type attitude about it as long as the missionary in question clears it with his/her supervisor first. I mention this because I fear the mission agency policies serve to perpetuate the type of situation that Jessica's friend finds herself in. I have a close friend serving for two years with MTW in Kiev and I know that she has been told not to try to explore any romantic possibilities while she is there. I've always felt that MTW was being very unfair to her in this regard (although she assures my otherwise).

I was born & raised in India. Came to the US at the age of 10. I am now married (to a girl my mom found) The biggest thing that STUNS me about America (AND THE CHURCH) is this view that marriage must be about a magical/seredipity moment. God forbid one seriously pursues marriage. I cannot tell how many time I was told in youth group, "God will bring you the right girl when you no longer need the girl" What the heck kind of gibberish is that. These people grew up into adults who think that they are single because they want marriage. So they go off the deep end and run away from any hint of wanting marriage. Marriage is not magic. If you want it, PURSUE it.

Hello all, I Have tried to read through all you comments, could you all do me a big favour and tell me how you view singleness- I am doing a tlk on singleness on thursday, this is a little research......... Thanks

Wow! It's been awhile since I read through this series of comments.

Daniel,
I think you bring up some good points. I know my mission friends have had issues with this as well. There is a wink, wink sort of attitude towards relationships, but the fact remains that it is difficult for people to even come out and (God forbid!) say, "I'd like to be married. I'm looking for a wife." So I think you're definitely on to something!

Raj,
I'm amazed by this too- that it's as if you wanting something means you won't get it. Where else do we say this is true? I mean, if you want a job, you start putting out your resume. If you're looking to buy a home, you get a realtor or start driving through neighborhoods. But somehow, you aren't supposed to want the very thing you want in order to get it! Madness! So I definitely feel what you're saying.

And Becky, how do I view singleness?
Well, I respect it when it see it being done in a Godly way. I can't imagine how hard that is in this world. This culture says "live it up" to every person- married or single, so especially for the single person, I can't imagine how difficult it is to maintain purity. I don't know how much you're wanting to know, but if I'm honest, I feel sorry for single people; I can't imagine life without the blessing of having a best friend and partner in life. But I know there are people who are called to singleness and I respect it. I don't know if this helps, but I've tried to be honest.

Blessings to all,
Jessica

I appreciate the comments from other "older" single women, and I very much agree with the recommendation of Debbie Maken's book. If the book has a second printing, I, too, would like to see a different cover and different font for the title.

Another recommendation: a series of 3 tapes entitled "Directives to Singles," by Rev. Al Martin, of Trinity Baptist Church (Reformed Baptist) in New Jersey. Rev. Martin presented these messages at a singles' retreat in 1974, but the messages are as relevant today as they were then. Perhaps more so.

The backbone of the messages is "A Theology of Singleness," where Rev. Martin looks at singleness through the "lenses" or perspectives of Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. His main points are as follows:

* God's Creation Design was one man with one woman, for life.

* In the Fall, sin tainted everything, and were it not for sin, [cautious conjecture] there probably would be very few cases of long-term singleness; therefore; most of the reasons for long-term singleness are directly or indirectly attributable to sin.

** However** Jesus came to redeem us -- to save us from our sin, and that includes sin that would make a man or woman undesirable as a marriage partner: unattractive aspects of personality, physical characteristics that are changeable (such as weight), sinful habits, unrealistic expectations, and so on. Quite compelling are his words: "Jesus Christ came to save you from that!"

Then the last section is some practical considerations: the benefits of singleness, particularly in serving the Lord; the problems inherent to singleness; and then (especially to the men), strong encouragement to pursue marriage. All of this from the heart of a wise and Godly pastor.

These tapes are still available. The title is "Directives to Singles"; code TE-V-1-2-3. Tapes are $3.00 each when ordering less than 10, plus shipping charges. For more information, e-mail the church tape ministry: tbs at tbcnj dot org

I was reading the other day on a message board where a fellow mom of many children stated that if we are to follow the Biblical teachings of Paul (that it is better to remain single), we shouldn't teach our children and prepare them for marriage.

She asked: why are we teaching our sons to prepare to support a wife and children? Why are we teaching our daughters to be a helpmeet and encouraging gentleness and servanthood in them? We ought to be preparing them for a life of singleness, because that is BEST and we want the BEST for our children.

So, rhetorically, why do we not aim our children toward singleness?

There is SO much wrong understanding on the issue of singleness it never fails to astound me.
Take for example this comment posted on the Purposeful Singleness site (singleness.org) a site whose very purpose seems to be being purposeful about remaining single!
"The Bible speaks about one who finds a wife, but not about one who searches for a wife. These two are not the same. I can find a 100-dollar note on the street, but that doesn't mean that I apparently was searching for 100-dollar notes. The Bible discourages (but not prohibits) searching for a wife quite clearly in 1 Corinthians 7:27."
Church leaders cannot, and MUST not, be allowed to continue spreading wrong teaching, the results of which are given in the example above. Indeed very often no teaching other than "be content" "trust in God" and "wait on the Lord" is given - to both men and women! And then we wonder why we have so much protracted singleness at the moment!
I echo the comments above. Read Debbie Maken's book, then give it to your Pastor. And if he doesn't get around to reading it, threaten him by saying you will streak up and down the aisle at the next "seeker-friendly" service, wearing only a sandwich board with the words: "SINGLENESS IS NOT A GIFT" on it. That should do the trick. ;)

I'll see if there's any interest in resurrecting this thread. As a single man, can I add the following:

[1] I was brought up to believe that I would marry, that as long as I was "good" God would have someone for me, etc etc. So, when I ended up single, I had absolutely no preparation or coaching for it - and a pastor telling me about my challenges as a single, "are things as bad as all that?" does not qualify. It took years to work out a roadmap to keep functioning - no-one seemed to know. We do not intend young Christians to be always single, but they do need to know what to do if they/we end up there.

[2] The comment about single men above, that "the odds are good, but the goods are odd" is very close to the mark (and as I am a single man, I can say that). The surplus of women over men leads to a large poll of quite capable single women, while the single men Left Behind really don't connect. It is generally about issues in our personalities; not our commitment to Christ. The issue of single Christian men who could marry but who don't want to grow up, I do not see in the Christian culture here (the UK). I suspect that telling people that 'singleness is a gift' has more to do with realising that a lot of singles aren't going to make it, hence pastors doing whatever they can to "talk down" the expectations of marriage.

[3] Finally ... one reason why the remaining Christian single men are so cautious, has to do with some bad experiences. We are all too used to the experience of our showing an interest in a young woman in a righteous way and then getting our heads bitten off for doing so - driven, we fear, by the women's frustration at not getting the attention they want from the man/men they want, so dumping that frustration on the guys whose attention they don't want. The wounds received in the house of one's friends!

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