One of the high schoolers I used to mentor became a married woman this past spring. (That’s two of them who have beaten me to marriage! Oi.)
I had the privilege to attend her wedding, even drove through a May snowstorm to reach it (and it’s not the first time I’ve done it. Montana, y’all). It was one of those affairs you never forget, the liturgy interrupted by great splats of melting snow hitting the pavilion roof and great splats of happiness hitting our hearts. The couple danced to “You Are Mine” by Secret Nation and wrote their own vows, the kind bursting with yearning and breathless delight. (No disrespect to the sobriety of Baptist weddings, but would it kill you, Christianity, to include both of these divine intentions once in a while? Ephesians 5 and the Song of Songs?)
But what got me excited about N & D was hearing the pastor talk of shared purpose. Here are two people who want to share each other’s callings and are well-crafted to do so. A union of two disciples who know their role, who have delved deep into God and are discovering what he created them to do and be. They’re headed in the same direction.
That sounds way better than any rom-com I’ve ever seen. (Not that I’ve seen a lot. Guy.)
Do we envision a marriage as face-to-face, or side-by-side?
Darby Livingston wrote, “The gospel isn’t to be used to build better marriages…Marriage is to be used to expand the Kingdom of God” (The Pursuit of Pleasure in the Pleasure of Another”).
John Eldredge wrote, “A beautiful you and a beautiful me in a beautiful place forever is not the right vision of a marriage. …the vision is too self-centered, too inwardly turned. Like a bad toenail.” (Love and War)
And the Apostle Paul wrote,
“…the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not” (1 Corinthians 7:29).
I’m assuming Paul hasn’t gone off the deep end and forgotten that Jesus hates both divorce and neglect, so he must have a deeper meaning. It’s found six verses later: “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but in order to promote proper decorum and undivided devotion to the Lord” (7:35).
1 Corinthians 7 used to really throw me. Yes, Paul says marriage is not a sin; but come on, Paul. You can’t proclaim that marrieds are divided in their devotion, then turn around and go”Oh but that’s okay, marry if you want”. Too late. I have a crisis of conscience. Anything that distracts us from God is sin. That’s how I’ve been raised. If it hinders or entangles, get rid of it.
Over time, however, the Holy Spirit disentangled my understanding. This verse is not permission for marrieds to fall short. Jesus expects every disciple to arrive at the same place – full devotion to God – and 1 Corinthians 7 simply presents the easier road. “I’m offering you Interstate 90,” Paul says. “You married people want to take the Highway 2 along the Great Bear Wilderness, with that Dead Man’s Curve and January closures. I’m just trying to make life easier for you.”
But for those who meet someone and cannot envision life without them – they still must live life as if they could.
The time is short. Funeral bells toll as surely as wedding.
We must live each day as on the end of the world, not live for the end of our singleness.
A face-to-face relationship certainly sounds more romantic, more satisfying; it might even sound more proper. What’s the point of a relationship if you never enjoy the other person?
But if you’ve got any experience, you know things can get…weird. Of course being the center of one’s world is exciting. For a little while. But eventually a restlessness sets in. I’ve seen it in many people. You can’t put a finger on it, but you find yourself wanting…more. It makes the other person harder to be around. It’s the soul’s unworded cry for a bigger orbit – a shared calling.
And what’s truly incredible, as I’ve seen recently with N & D, is to witness two people called up into that greater adventure, side by side into”good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10), to see their strengths and weaknesses complement each other. As if it were plotted all along.
Maybe I’m just being a guy, but this “kingdom-centered business” sounds way more exciting.
So. both in Jesus’ name and in the name of setting good habits for matrimony, let us singles be kingdom-centered now. Ask God how that should look for you. Examine your gifts and talents; investigate your community’s needs. It takes your focus off the frustration of your singleness, not to mention, you know, being the light of Christ. Pray for his mission statement for your life; if nothing sprawling shows up, simply volunteer at church and commit to giving your best. This all sounds like a spiritualized version of “get a life”, but it works; you won’t be so inclined to take umbrage from a future mate over HOA meetings or cleaning out the car when you’re volunteering together at pregnancy clinics or homeless shelters or your church’s youth group.
I won’t promise you that God will respond immediately with a mate. That’s giving you a bad motive. But I can promise you that you will find it satisfying. Don’t underestimate God there.
These callings can be scary, in that they require taking your hands off the wheel. One person might need to leave on mission while the other person lets them go. Kingdom-centered relationships celebrate other people on Sunday morning and Wednesday night, not their dates from within a “bubble”. My pastors have always been great examples to me. They’ve had to leave innumerable Friday dates to attend to some crisis; God always rewards them. To the rookie, this all feels like moving away from your relationship. But paradoxically, you’re actually strengthening it; you’re placing it on the unshakeable foundation of the kingdom of God.
He does tend to reward those who sacrifice thus.
And isn’t someone who’s busy “occupying their street” a lot more interesting anyway?
One question this raises: “What if I the kingdom calls me in a different direction than the person I’m dating?” Honestly…this might happen. We feel the urge to control, to keep our blessings in closed fists. God asks us to release them. If the kingdom is pulling you apart, it’s probably best to let the tearing happen now. A band-aid pulled off slowly and haltingly is always worse. There is something better out there for you. I know it’s trite. I know it’s hard. But we can trust him.
As we open our fists, we can trust him to arrange for the joy. That’s another thing I’ve learned as I’ve kept my eyes and ears open for how marriage works. “Do not awaken love until it desires” speaks to romance’s spontaneity, how it cannot be forced but comes on its own. We’re talking about the Inventor of romance here, the one who created wine and sunsets and music, the one who put the capacity for romance in our souls.
Surely you don’t think he’ll forget about us?
There’s a saying we’ve all heard: “Run towards Jesus and grab the hand of the person running next to you”. (It was recently changed to “and if someone else keeps up, introduce yourself”; did a wave of spontaneous hand-grabbing sweep across the church and leave the ladies begging for a rephrase?) Tragically, this advice is often twisted into something like “Be the best Christian you can be and someone will show up”, which is a dangerous promise to make and even more dangerous motive to practice; what is a single to conclude if nobody shows up?
But what the advice really means is, put the kingdom first. Find someone who’s “occupying their street”, as Carl Lentz often says.
And better yet, be that person yourself.
I pray God will bring you someone whose callings match yours and provide you with great conversation, intimacy, and meaning before God. But don’t wait. Find that purpose now; be well-entrenched before that person comes along.
You won’t regret it.