Thursday, September 15, 2005

Singleness

I had a whole post written out before this, to preface it but it disappeared when I tried to spell check, so no luck. (Who reads the preface anyway).

On my student allowance form recently I had to put my relationship status - Tick box Single. Then I had to fill in the date this relationship status began. There was a note "If you are single, fill in with your birth date". Lol. So, I've been single since birth. Incidently, when I received a hard copy of my form, it had the date as 1/1/1870. Terrible.

I am single. My last 'relationship' (and I use that term loosely) ended when I was 17, which, (if you add), means I have been officially single for about 7 1/2 years. THAT is a long time. I'm 25 now. I'm still young enough to not feel left on the shelf. Although, in Christian terms I may well be. It is the fashion these days to marry the first ONE who seems right. I am of the opinion that Christians often marry to young, to quickly, and without seriously thinking about it. I don't think young people often consider the fact that they have to LIVE with this person (whom they've never lived with) for the next 50-60 years. That's a heck of a long time.

I know a couple recently who married and they had dated for 5 years. The wife said that she had waited that long because she wanted to be ready in herself, she wanted to be a whole person before she married him. I totally respected what she said, and was ecstatic that she is such a great role model for the young Christians she was talking to.

I have lots of opinions on marriage, but since I'm not married, I better cut it there and move onto my particular area of expertise.

Singleness is frowned upon. It's like puberty - a necessary space of time and existence, which should be endured politely and exited from at the earliest convenience. It's unpopular. It's like an illness. It's a symptom of being 'not ready' or to eager or just generally immature. But don't worry "God has a perfect man out there for you somewhere". This is the worst though: When I say to someone that I love being single and I hear "that's because you don't have a boyfriend" or "yeah right"!. Pfffff. Shut up smug-ones! My favorites are "you will find someone when you are ready" or "when you stop wanting it, it will happen". As my mother would say "what a put down"! You can imagine the mental gymnastics I put myself through - trying to stop wanting it because I wanted it so badly, but it wouldn't happen if I wanted it.....

The bible actually has a different take on it. Paul refers to singleness and marriage as gifts (1 Corinth 7:7). So singleness is actually a gift. (For a GREAT essay about this look here). At 17 I did not wholeheartedly believe this. Or even halfheartedly. Or at all actually. For YEARS all I wanted was to be in a relationship. ANYONE who knew me then knew that! Lots of people think I had a serious lust problem I imagine, but this could not be further from the truth, although I allowed it to circulate for a laugh.

I have changed. I know longer view singleness as a necessary evil on par with puberty or menopause. Nor do I view it as a preparation ground for marriage, necessarily. It is, as Paul said, (and I paraphrase), good for a woman to be single, because then she can give her whole heart to God. Singleness IS a gift. I LOVE it. I love the freedom, I love the possibilities, I love the anticipation, I love the deep friendships with a variety of people, I love being master of my own life, I love the solitude. I love the sense that I am just me, alone on this voyage. On this pilgrimage.

As a matter of course, there are times when the deep longings rise up and choke me. Last night my eyes found a one that I have long held feelings for, deep down in my heart. There were thousands of people there, but my eyes found him. He looks better than ever. My fingers ache, literally, to touch him. I want to talk to him, to hear how he is, to tell him I pray for him, to invite him out.

These are good, natural, pure, created feelings. I have long tried to suppress them, but that only intensifies the desire. God said to me "I made you this way! To have these feelings. I love you feelings, your desires. Its right to feel that way. But offer them up, a thing precious. And so I do.
My two sets of feelings do not negate each other. They rest in me, in tension always. There is room inside me for more than one feeling.

So there it is, singleness is my role, and perhaps, despite the urgings and commiserations, I will not find that 'perfect person'. In fact, it is a certainty I shall not, since by the time men get over 25 they are far from perfect in my experience. Perhaps I will marry one day, perhaps not. Perhaps my life will fill instead with friendship, career and poverty curing. Maybe I will be Dr Sharyn Brown and buy my own house and travel the world designing fantastically effective and sustainable development strategies. Maybe I will adopt some beautiful child and love it all my life. Maybe I will be free to give my whole heart to God for as long as I live, and maybe my death with be a glorious re-union with Him whom I have set my heart on. Sounds awful doesn't it, how can I bear the thought? Maybe the longings will always be there, deep in my heart. Maybe they will rise up and make me ache as I do in last-night-like moments. Those thoughts do make me quail, but shall I turn back for lack of courage? No, I have put my hand to the plough, and I will not turn back.

This is the song...

"Blessed be your name
In the land that is plentiful
Where the streams of abundance flow
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say...

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name

Blessed be your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say...

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Blessed be your name...

9 comments:

Iain said...

That's what annoys me about going to Promise Keepers.

I've been in the band that performed a few times at the Single Focus events in the Auckland, Tauranga and Wellington PK Conferences.

What gets my goat is that people talk about how to feel whole in Christ etc, how to avoid "circling around the marriage airport" but then by the end of the seminar you really get the feeling that they expect you to go get married anyway, only to not act so desperate.

I mean, if you were to confront all the speakers about it they'd tell you that they only want people to feel complete no matter their relationship status, but functionally they only end up giving messages about how to stop focussing on what you want and changing who you are... which is actually secretly just the indirect route to getting what you want anyway.

That's from the same camp as the bright people who, as your blog post talks about, tell you if you want marriage you'd better stop wanting marriage coz that's the only way to get marriage... which is really just the indirect way of sneakily wanting marriage.

Such things inspire great promisekeepering men of god to rise up and surrender their lives wholly to God just because that's the only way they'll be able to get a woman since they really know they won't have to surrender it in the end.

*ohmm ohmm* How zen.

(1) I suffer (being single)
(2) I desire (marriage)
(3) Desiring is bad
(4) "Programme X" is the only way to avoid Step 1

Of course, one only wants to follow Step 4 by desiring removal of their suffering in Step 1, which is in itself another example of desiring... which breaches Step 3 and continues the desire causing the suffering (Step 2) in the first place.

I tell you, this form of Christian Relationship-Buddhism is just a joke and a stupid mind-game that people play just to make themselves feel Holy while they still get to be Players. The only way these people will ever fix it is to get over being single and stop seeing it like a disease, or go and get married if they really have to (which is, if I recall, pretty close to what St Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 (click to see some summary verses).

andrew brown said...

I don't think people get married to early. Sometimes I wish I married earlier. God is completely sovreign and if a couple get married, then wether or not it turns out good for them, it's what God always intended. Sure people shouldn't be scared of being single, I had great fun being single, but people in no way should feel that marriage brings them down.

Sharyn said...

Did I say that? I completely disagree with you, I think some couples get married to early. I in no way agree that everything is as God intended it. Infact, nothing is as God intended it. God is sovereign, but we have free will. God may be able to use all things that happen, that in no way suggests he intended it to be so. Otherwise, we have no free will. All this christianity is a farce!

The problem is not that people think marriage brings them down. The problem is people think singleness brings them down. You have, once again, entirely missed the point of my blog!

Sharyn said...

And Iain - your comment made me laugh! And laugh. I didn't really realise it was the same for guys! Interesting.

Iain said...

Andrew,

I disagree with your post. In fact, I don't think it's a biblical response (which is, of course, synonymous with me not agreeing in the first place).

For one, Christians do get married early compared to the sociological norm in todays society. In the 1970's i believe the average marriage age was something like 21/23 for male/female. Now it is about 27/29... but NOT for Christians, who remain about the same as in 1970.
Essentially, Christians get married much earlier than the rest of society - and for every 23+ Christian male who gets married that equates to a teenage wedding for another. To me (and I presume Sharyn agrees), knowing the state of change and continued character formation in a male of <20, that is "too early" (but that doesn't make any and every such marriage a bad idea).

On the other point, I agree that God is sovereign. But I believe that God sovereignly allows us to make decisions that help ourselves and harm ourselves. That is, God's sovereignty doesn't give us assurance of perfect decision making - it only assures us of who has our back when it's all wrapped up in the eschaton. There are biblical cases of people who supposedly follow God and yet fail, disappoint or are 'passed over' to another more able to run with the ball. I reckon it's the same with me.

How does that fit our conversation? Well, if people DO marry the first "nice" person to come along - there's no magical guarantee that such a choice was the best decision that they could have made, or even the one that would have glorified God the most in their possible life choices.

Lastly, I don't think anybody is saying marriage is bad. Saint Paul didn't say it, so I'm not going to. That would just be wrong of me.

To find out what St Paul IS saying, I recommend a careful reading of 1 Cor 7. You'll notice that the biblical injunction is "singleness if you can, marriage if you must" rather than "marriage if you can, singleness if you must". Interesting :)

p.s. I would add that a person who was single then gets married can no longer possibly hold the same perspective on singleness as an actual single person. I'm saying that your lense through which you view the topic is forever and fundamentally altered from that of, say, Sharyn or myself. So when you comment about along the lines of "it's good no matter what" you hold a particular perspective that is now free from the crushing bonds of the "i'm gonna be alone forever" mindset. I notice that married people risk being patronising towards single people when this kind of contrast occurs (it even happens with my Cousin Paul sometimes, God bless his lovely soul).

ElizabethB said...

This is a wonderfully freeing blog Shaz and I honour you for it. Go for it girl, your life choices are your own to make and you are doing very well!

By 'freeing' I mean that as a parent I do not need to be concerned for you and a life partner, you are okay as you are! THAT IS FREEDOM FOR YOU I hope this attitude spreads, so young peole do not feel compelled to marry or feel they have failed.

I support your choices.

Aaron said...

I agree with you Sharyn, people make stupid comments about how to deal with singleness, the old "pretend to give it up and then you will be given it" is something is such terrible advice and utterly sinful. I think that idea has it basis in witchcraft!

However I think to say that OFTEN Christians get married too young is also a big generalisation.

It is a big call to say that God has given you more insight into how someones life should span out then he has given the people involved. And not just on the odd ocassion but often.

Some people may have trouble when they first get married but this does not always mean they are outside the will of God. They may even struggle with the marriage, but once again this does not mean they are outside the will of God.

Justin said...

I'm only going to add a testimony to add credibility to Sharyn's belief that people get married too young.

Two days after my Mom turned 19, she married a man two years her senior. He was a kind, gentle, and settled man who was ready to start a family. My mom didn't really think about all that - she just wanted to get married. Girls it seem dream about their wedding day from the time they are old enough to say the word "wedding." Anyway...

After a while, my mother started really thinking on what marriage was all about. I suppose she thought getting married at 19 was the normal and right thing to do. In fact, she was "old" when she got married compared to her sister (married at 17), her mother (married at 15), and one of her grandmothers (married at 16). Her own father was in fact 19 when he married. So she was right in line.

However, after she had been married a few years, she was offered a job (as both she and her husband had to work to make it financially) that was very lucrative and highly unusual for such a young person to get. Along with this great job, came great opportunities to go to conventions and what not. This also included parties and social get togethers, and what not, getting to be around other people outside of her small circle.

In all of this she began to understand that she did not want to settle down. She still wanted to see the world - to meet more people, to be free and able to do what it is we singles do. She was able to see more of the world and meet very different people attending these conferences. However, she was married and this didn't seem to mix well with her sense of freedom.

What my mother realized in her early 20s is nothing different than what I felt and realized at that age (I am now 24). You see, for me, going off to college, and now being farther away in seminary was what I wanted. I wanted to get out of my small town. I wanted to see the world that everyone talked about. I wanted to meet different kinds of people. I wanted to not be limited in my choices of where to live, whom to marry, and whom to befriend.

However, after living away from home for the past six years and seeing a lot of the world, I am now resolved to settle down and move nearer home. I have fulfilled my quest of seeing what else is "out there" so that I can never say "what if I had moved out of my home town - would there have been a better woman for me or a better place to live?" There are no "what if" scenarios. I now know and so there can be no regrets.

Alas, the story of my mother does not end positively. After about seven years of marriage, she left her husband. She was just not ready to be tied down. Her spirit was too free. The marriage ended in divorce.

At the age of 28, she married my father, finally feeling "settled." They have been married 27 years and this marriage has never been threatened by talks of "divorce" or anything of that nature. It is for the long haul. This is quite different than her first marriage, when she married at 19.

My mom's sister (whom I mentioned was married at 17) divorced. My mom's brother (whom was married at 20) divorced. I even know of a couple seminary students roughly my age that are getting divored. Married too young? Perhaps. Didn't understand what marriage really means? Definitely.

My view of marriage at 24 is vastly different than at 22 or even 18. When and if I get married, when I get into it, I will be ready for it (not to say it won't have many bumps along the way). However, I will know that when I put the ring on her finger, it is for life - there is no "out" option. Young people generally don't understand marriage this way. They see a way out and more often than not, take it.

Wait, listen to the Lord, grow in the Lord, be patient. If I had been married at 20, I would have most likely been divorced by now. At that age I saw an out. Now there is no out. Ah, the beauty of maturing in the Lord and just growing up and understanding what things are really about. Marriage is a commitment. That is why I don't want to rush into it. It has to be right. I now understand the biblical mandate in Ephesians 5 bears quite heavily on the husband: for he is to love her like Christ loves the church (willing to die for her every day and to make sure she is holy and blameless. He is to be a strong biblical leader and to be a real Christian husband (in deed, not only in word). We should not rush into something as sacred and as important as marriage. We should prepare ourselves, making sure we are following God's will and so that we can be God honoring in all we do, before and after marriage.

Aaron said...

Some very good points Justin.

Although it is important to remember that maturity is not an age.
I agree with almost all of what you said, was just trying to make the point that as an outsider it is very hard to judge whether someone else got married too young.

A good example of this is a couple who I know who got married very young. The wife didn't have many friends and struggled to make them as most people her age were not married. THis was a real burden for the wife and something she found very hard.
It would be easy for an outsider to judge(and people did) and say this is because she got married to young. However when you learn that God has a missionary calling on their lives you begin to realise that maybe he is setting them apart and preparing them for times of isolation overseas.

God also gives in grace in a marriage situation, none of us can truely ever love our spouse as Christ loves the church but it is something that we strive and grow towards.

However I do honor your (and Sharyns) desire to be right before the Lord and to grow in him as much as possible whether single or married our priority is always to be our relationship with the one who completes us!