As we singles wait for God to bring us someone, we’re told enthusiastically by those around us, “This is the time for you to be preparing for marriage!” We’re told to grow in holiness, learn the Word, and hone our character as part of our preparation.
(We also get a hint that God might be waiting until we’re “trained” to marry us off. Never mind that God marries off plenty of people who aren’t even remotely ready, that nobody is exempt from learning to love, and that we’re training for a lot more than just marriage…but pull me back from the rabbit trail…)
Training. I love it. Something about those training montages in movies gets me pumped. Rocky. The Matrix. Any superhero origin film. The entire Harry Potter series. The hero doesn’t get kid gloves; he must adapt and learn, or he’ll be hosed. It’s a calling out, a strengthening and preparation for a mythic role. And he is usually guided by an old sage who cares enough about his welfare to show him the way, equip him for survival.
Honestly, if we learned to see our lives’ trials more like Shifu’s rigor towards Po, or de la Vega’s harshness towards Alejandro, we might start seeing God differently.
Singleness has its own training. We, too, love just reading about it (right?); it makes us feel like we’re “on the way”. God is our sage, showing us the ropes.
But to what great arena, what great mission, is God calling us singles?
No, not the fun romantic version. Love. Giving up, sacrificing, letting go, often with no visible prospect of reward.
True love is brutal, and so its training must be. Love isn’t cushy. It’s going to cost everything you have. For Jesus, it was a cross.
So why wait until marriage to start becoming the awesome spouse you’ve envisioned becoming? What if we could start…right now?
We all have hings we want out of marriage. Companionship. Help. A shared calling. Sex. Children. For some, it’s something closer to “just being seen”. After feeling invisible in high school and living for years with the devil whispering in your ear that “being yourself” hasn’t gotten you anywhere, finding someone feels like mercy. Nothing validates quite like that. At least for a while.
Some Christian authors warn you about wanting these good things. They remind us that marriage is about the Gospel and God’s relationship with the church, not our own fulfillment, and that he’s interested not in our happiness but in our holiness. We don’t know how to argue. But we do know our youthful hearts are left cold and confused about its desires.
That won’t happen here. I’m not here to guilt you. If you read the accounts of the old saints, study their pursuit of God down through church history, they found that God is quite generous with earthly blessings – the sun on our face, the feel of the wind, the pleasure of company. There are joys God wants us to find here. He is thoughtful and humble. God does care about our happiness. He doesn’t begrudge our search for fulfillment through a marriage.
But the catch – and where those killjoy Christian authors are entirely right – is that the path to those joys is not the one you think.
You cannot be happy until you are holy.
Let me ask this, singles. When we imagine our future marriage, do we daydream of the doldrums? Do we breathlessly envision the dull stretches, the fights, the tears, the insecurity booby traps? Of course not. That isn’t the nature of daydreams. We dream of what we’ll receive – someone to witness our lives, the excitement of raising children, a wingman for that daunting mission to Ethiopia, perhaps just someone waiting at home after a hard day to tell us we aren’t crazy.
We do not naturally think about the filling that will be required of us.
That’s the classic trap. Marrieds stumble in the door at 5:37 PM, hoping to be loved, and struggle when it doesn’t happen. They launch into life envisioning excellence from a spouse that existed largely in their minds; now the spouse is red-blooded, human, and not always coming through. They speak vows with dizzyingly high intentions but are worn down into the opposite; they stumble through the door and long to receive. (We guys are especially bad; drained by the day’s travails, it never occurs to us that those cute little be-diapered time bombs you’ve spawned have left your wife more exhausted than you.)
Ten years of this, and you can see how marriage counselors stay in business.
Not only do daydreams blind us to the present, they lie to us about the future. If you walk into marriage expecting a bliss of fully met needs all the time, you’re going to be disappointed. Ambushed. Some marrieds are knocked off their feet by the confusion. Some never recover.
(Sure, some of us idealists imagine still pulling off sweeping feats of romance for our spouse after fifteen years. Just insert them replying “Yeah, thanks, hon” and turning on the TV. Are you still sure it’s not about what you hoped for in return?)
I want to be loved.
But I also know the sole, ancient path God has blazed to that oasis.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 11:25)
Grasp for love and it vanishes like a mirage. But in God’s kingdom, we find love when we empty ourselves to offer it.
I want to be the kind of husband who offers worlds to his boss each day, then comes home and…offers better to his wife. Doesn’t that make sense? Our spouses should not receive our leftovers; they should receive our best. Hopelessly idealistic, I know. But is that not why we marry – to bless their lives? Is that not what we wish to do, deep down beneath the callouses, before the realities of life assert themselves?
We will never be perfect at this. I won’t be. We’ll fall short, and we must be prepared to show ourselves grace. But we need to learn selflessness, the kind that is utterly alien to the sinful human soul. Crucifying this flesh will take years.
We need to start now.
“But how? I have no spouse to practice on.”
No, but you still have something in common with married folks that’s proven vital to their success: the battleground of the little things. We all have little things. They are a wonderful way to train yourself for the dull, gritty route of trust and commitment.
Ladies, learn not to interpret your roommate’s Chernobyl of a stack of dinner dishes as a statement on how she values you.
Guys…clean the dishes. Those pictures we post to Facebook bragging about how sloppy we are? That’s not taking God’s training seriously. Even if you don’t see yourself as worth clean dishes (now there’s a whole counseling session), a wife will be.
Ladies, be kingdom-centered. Singleness isn’t a holding pattern. Buy a house, serve at the nursing home, go on a mission. Learn to find God’s strength in any situation.
Guys, if your mom offers to help with something, don’t bristle. She’s not saying you’re helpless; she just wants to be part of your life. Take the soup.
Ladies, learn to believe in the Christian guys around you with your words and actions. Learn the delicate art of affirming them while spurring them on. (I apologize on behalf of 3.7 billion men that this art has to be so delicate.)
Guys, train yourselves in sexual purity, for God’s sake first, but also for your future wife who will endure the havoc multiple pregnancies wreak on her body. We have no idea, bros. You’re not just waiting until marriage; sometimes you’re waiting after it, too. If you’re putting her first.
There’s no shortage of things to learn.
And don’t even think about getting into the habit of pointing out a partner’s failures. That sends everything back to square one (or ground zero). Worry on what you can control: yourself. When you’re criticized by a boss/friend/pastor who doesn’t have his story straight, learn to quietly accept what is straight and deal with the rest later. Handy for that day when you have a critic move in with you.
Irritated yet? Bored? Not what you had in mind for marriage?
Good. You’re seeing, possibly for the first time, what it will demand of you.
Condition yourself not to expect, but to offer.
Hopefully, the selflessness required will not be that extreme. Hopefully, two people who love each other will meet in the middle for grace, rest, and enjoyment. God does want that, ideally.
But there will be stretches when our love is unreciprocated. God provides, through ordinary people, a chance to train right now for those sacrificial days. There are opportunities to train everywhere, all around us, in the little things. Stewarding what we’ve already been given. Learning how to deal with people. Shepherding your own heart into truth. Most of all, learning how to pray your way into peace and contentment in Christ alone, in the present, in the midst of a hard time. You’ll need that skill in marriage for the many days where it can’t make you happy. I’m sorry to bust your bubble, but it’s absolutely true.
The fabric God has woven into the world, hinted through Matthew 11:25, tells us that if we follow his commands, train to put him and others first, he will find ways to fill us in return. It will look bleak; it will require endurance. But I believe in his faithfulness.
Let’s hit the gym.