A gal I used to mentor in high school got married this past spring.
I had the privilege to attend her wedding, even drove through a May snowstorm to reach it (and not for the first time. Montana, y’all).
It was one of those affairs you never forget, the pastor interrupted by great splats of melting snow hitting the pavilion roof (and 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 offense to sober liturgies, but this one actually made marriage sound exciting.
But what got me really excited about these two was hearing the pastor talk of shared purpose. Here are two people who want to share each other’s callings and are well-crafted for it. A union of two disciples who know their role, who have delved deep into God and are discovering the “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). As if it were plotted all along.
Maybe I’m just being a guy, but this side-by-side image of marriage, rather than face-by-face, sounds way better than any rom-com.
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 Paul wrote,
“…the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not” (1 Corinthians 7:29).
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 isn’t sin; but you can’t proclaim that marrieds are inherently divided in their devotion, then turn around and go “Oh but that’s okay, marry if you want”. Too late, Paul. I’ve got a crisis of conscience now. Anything that distracts us from God is sin. That’s how I’ve been raised. If it hinders or entangles, get rid of it. How do I reconcile this?
Over time, the Holy Spirit did so for me. This verse is neither passive-aggressive condemnation of marriage nor permission for marrieds to fall short. God expects every disciple to reach the same place – full devotion to God – and 1 Corinthians 7 simply presents an easier road. “I’m offering you Interstate 90,” Paul says. “You marriage-hunters want Highway 2 along the Great Bear Wilderness, with Dead Man’s Curve and January closures. I’m just trying to spare you all that.”
We can take Highway 2, but the time is short. Funeral bells toll as surely as wedding. We must live for God and the needy, not just for the end of our singleness.
Ask God how a kingdom-centered you should look. Examine your gifts and talents; explore your community’s needs. Pray for a mission statement; if nothing sprawling shows up immediately, volunteer at church and commit to giving your best. This isn’t a spiritualized version of “get a life”; it works. It takes your focus off the frustration of singleness, and it shines the light of Christ. Plus, 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 youth group.
These callings can be scary, requiring taking your hands off the wheel. One half of a marriage might need to leave on mission while the other lets them go. Kingdom-centered marriages celebrate others on Sunday morning, not just each other from within a “bubble”. My pastors have always been great examples of this. They’ve had to leave so many Friday night dates to attend to some crisis. God always rewards them. This might look like moving away from your relationship, but paradoxically, you’re strengthening it. You’re placing it on the unshakable foundation of God’s kingdom.
You might ask, “What if the kingdom calls me in a different direction than the person I’m dating?” Honestly…this might happen. If the kingdom is pulling you apart, it’s best to let the tearing happen now. A band-aid pulled off slowly is always worse. There is something better out there for you. I know it’s trite. I know it’s hard.
But as we open our fists, we can trust him to arrange for the joy. “Do not awaken love until it desires” speaks to romance’s spontaneity, how it cannot be forced but comes on its own, spoken by the very Inventor of romance here, the one who created wine and sunsets and music, who put the capacity for romance in our souls. Surely you don’t think he’ll get it wrong?
There’s a familiar saying: “Run towards Jesus and grab the hand of whoever’s running next to you”. (It was recently changed to “and if someone keeps up, introduce yourself”; perhaps a wave of hand-grabbing swept across the nation and left the ladies begging for a rephrase.) Tragically, this advice is often twisted into something like “Be the best Christian you can and someone will show up”. That’s a dangerous motive; what is a single to conclude if nobody appears? What it really means is, put the kingdom first. Find someone who’s “occupying their street”, as Carl Lentz has said; be that person yourself. Aren’t such folks a lot more interesting anyway?
I pray God brings you someone whose callings match yours and provide you with great intimacy and purpose before God. But don’t wait. Find that purpose now, so it enriches your marriage rather than vice versa.