Q: I am a single girl of 23, and I am happy and busy and having lots of fun in my first “real” job after college. Here is my problem: I want SO BADLY to get married. I have always known that I was made to be a wife and a mother. I couldn’t have more faith in this truth if God had stood in front of me in human form and told me in plain English. But I go through periods where I want to get married so badly that it makes me miserable. This ache distracts me from what I should be doing at this season, which I think is growing closer to God, concentrating on my job, and maybe growing up a little more. So what can a single girl do when the ache of wanting to get married drowns out the joys of being single? I completely trust God’s plan, and I know that He gets to decide when and how I meet a man that may become my husband. Truthfully, I want Him to be in charge as He is, because I believe that He is planning something far more wonderful for me than I could have planned for myself. But how do I develop patience and make these miserable feelings go away?
A: As a fortysomething single woman, let me assure you that I am well acquainted with living with a deferred strong desire. I can greatly empathize with you and your reactions. But as I read your comments, I have to say I had a comical image pop in my head. It was of a young woman, with all your passion and capped letters and yearning-turned-misery, bursting forth these emotions on a young man—and him, in alarm, with wide eyes and flushed cheeks, turning tail and fleeing from the weight of these expectations. I know you don’t know my sense of humor, so pardon me for thinking like a cartoon strip. But perhaps that word-picture can help us get started putting those emotions in check. Just in the human sense, that’s a lot to put on one man’s shoulders, no matter how wonderfully wide and strong they are!
Seriously, I think there are two perspectives we should consider here. The first is what I alluded to above. With all our yearnings to be married, we have to keep in mind that if the Lord has marriage for us we’re not going to marry Prince Charming. He doesn’t exist. We’re going to be marrying another weak, sinful being, though—assuming we follow the clear biblical teaching to marry only in the Lord—this man will also be a co-heir in Christ and a clay vessel containing amazing eternal treasures. Like ourselves, he will no doubt want to do good, but find himself falling short on a daily basis. He may be an answer to prayer, but he will not be all-satisfying. It’s not possible, period. To walk into marriage with all these expectations and emotional fantasies is to put a tremendous burden on such a relationship.
Second, I want to be a kind sister to you and gently show you that to want something so badly that you feel miserable is a warning sign. It is an “idolatry alarm.” What it means is that you’ve pinned all your hopes for happiness and fulfillment on something other than the only source for this: God. If you’re not familiar with the idea of modern idolatry, you may think I’m over-the-top here. But let’s stop and consider it. When we look at any created thing (a shrine, a “divine” figurine, another human being) and lavish upon it all kinds of emotions and expectations for our happiness and fulfillment, this is what the Bible calls idolatry. It doesn’t honor God and it always backfires on us.
But God is the one who created the institution of marriage and He did it before the Fall. So obviously marriage is a good idea, even though Scripture also tells us it is a temporary institution (Matt. 22:30). So it’s not wrong to desire a good and godly gift like marriage. In fact, in a modern culture that thinks so lowly of marriage, it’s commendable that you and I desire it! But we have to guard ourselves from falling down the slippery slope where desire morphs into a demand, because when a demand is not met on our timetable or our terms, we become disappointed and lash out in punishment. (I’m grateful to biblical counselor Paul Tripp for this insight.) The key is to hold our desires in open, worshiping hands before the Lord. He can then take our desires and place His provision in them—which sometimes is different than we expected. But if we have already begun to make a desire a demand, our open hands will close around our demands in clenched fists. And thus we are no longer in a worshipful posture.
So how do we live in the tension of desire and trust? One key is found in Romans 12:12. “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” The hope that is referred to here is for far more than earthly blessings. It is the hope of future glory that the apostle Paul refers to earlier in this book (Romans 8:18). It’s not that hope for marriage is wrong, it’s just not the highest aim. So aim for the greater thing, and you will find patience in the trial of unwanted singleness. (Yes, I do believe there is a bit of trial or suffering in unwanted singleness, but we have to view it in proportion to what we’ve already received in our salvation.) Then be constant in prayer—about marriage, about everything. Just this morning I was reviewing a prayer journal from 2001 and I was marveling at all the prayers, large and small, that God had already answered in these past few years. Though the various entries about a husband for me have so far gone unanswered, I couldn’t be discouraged when I saw how many other requests the Lord had answered for both myself and others.
I’d like to close with a quote from Charles Spurgeon about Ephesians 3:20-21. This verse says: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Eph. 3:20-21). Spurgeon’s comment is:
“People often misquote Ephesians 3:20. They say, ‘God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think.’ The truth is that we could ask for the very greatest of things, if we were only more alert and had more faith. Ephesians 3:20 really says that God ‘is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we do ask or think.’ God is willing to give us infinitely more than we actually do ask.”
Isn’t that great news? I rejoice in it, because I know I never would have thought to ask Him to sacrifice His Son for my own sins and thus display the lavishness of His grace and the riches of His mercy before all of creation. A husband, by comparison, is a FAR lesser need and one we can restfully trust in Him to provide, if it is His will to do so.