Has God ever promised you something that didn’t end up happening? The question completely shocked me and immediately drew my attention away from unpacking my suitcase in the London hotel room. Instead, I found my eyes fixed on the television screen where a televangelist was asking this somewhat confounding question. To be honest, I do not remember who this person was. I had never heard his name before and likely will never hear of him again. But this one-off encounter of having the TV on solely as background noise ended up being one of the most spiritual experiences I have received over here in the United Kingdom.
Before you get too caught up in thinking this man was contradicting the Scriptures which clearly indicate that God is not able to break His Word because faithfulness is His very character (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+89%3A8&version=NIV) let me explain. The preacher was actually saying that everything God promises to us will happen. The difficulty is in the waiting.
We live in a fast-paced culture. With our high levels of technology, people often expect a reply almost immediately. I know I am guilty of this as well. I often leave my cell phone and Facebook messenger on for almost 24 hours a day in hopes that the minute someone responds to my query or status, I will immediately be able to respond back to them. It has now even gotten to the level of me installing the Facebook app onto my smartphone in order that I can save those precious two or three seconds it previously took me to boot up my WiFi. However, God does not work like that. There have definitely been moments in my life when God has responded quickly and given me a very direct answer almost as soon as the question left my mouth. But there have been many other times when I have had to patiently wait for His promises to be revealed to me. Never has this been truer than in waiting for my future spouse.
I will spare you the personal testimony here, but I will gladly mention that I am in the same place many of you might find yourselves in. I went to a Christian University where the majority of my friends got married between the ages of 18-21. Now that I am 25, it feels like nearly all of my friends are not only married but have at least two or three kids. It can sometimes feel like the church places more pressure on singles than the general society does. Sermon illustrations are often picked from the garden of marital and family scenarios which singles often can only relate to at a superficial or hypothetical level. In particular, pastors love illustrating the concept of intimacy with God through the lens of intimacy between a husband and wife which may make single people feel somehow inferior in their spiritual walk compared to their married counterparts.
Additionally, there has been an insurgence of Facebook posts and articles that say little in the way of helpful advice to single people. Oftentimes these articles suggest an extreme sense of bitterness and loneliness on the part of singles, are written by someone who has no concept of what it means to be single because they got married in their late teens or early twenties, or else extols singleness as the best possible option in a way that seems almost impractical.
For this reason, when one of my good friends invited me to an Initiate Hub* seminar on the topic of “Waiting Well” I was a bit cynical. I envisioned a group of twenty-somethings gathered around a lecture hall moping about how everyone was married except them. I imagined the speaker to be someone who was happily married with children trying to provide some level of sound wisdom all the while being clueless about what this culture really needs to hear. It ends up I was wrong on both accounts.
When I first entered the Eric Liddell Centre where the seminar was being held, I was immediately greeted by several friendly faces. My first thought was to realize that I was likely the youngest in the group. Each woman was smartly dressed, well spoken, and had a lovely personality. I ended up talking to the speaker, Margot Rea – a local Edinburgh pastor who originally hails from America, for a bit all the while not realizing she was the presenter because she was so personable and appeared to be in the same position the rest of us were in. Surprisingly, the complaints were kept to a minimum. Of course, there is a healthy need to express discouragement or even resentment, but the participants and the speaker were more focused on the overall picture of seeing ourselves as the beloved of God.
As a single pastor herself, Margot, spoke to us in a way that stirred each one of us into deeper contemplation and graciously invited gentle conversation. Margot shared incredible wisdom and insight into what it means to be a single woman living in a society that is preoccupied with relationships and love all the while teaching us what it means for us to become more preoccupied with God. Due to the length of this blog post, I will not be able to share all the wisdom I gleaned from this seminar; however, I would like to highlight three topics in particular which I hope will be encouraging to you:
- Waiting Does Not Mean Doing Nothing
If you are like me, you hate the idea of waiting. You hate the concept of wasted time and you hate being stuck in an Edinburgh traffic jam. When I lived in Toronto, this was even worse. If you have ever travelled to or lived in Toronto, Canada, you are well aware of the congestion problems we face. If you leave your house anytime between 4-6pm you are destined to spend about two hours stuck in traffic moving at a snail’s pace. When I lived in Toronto, I very much considered this to be “dead time” and often spent it mindlessly listening to music or an audio-book all the while reminding myself of how much homework I still had to do.
We can feel much the same way when we are single. We may regard our singleness as “dead and wasted time” when in reality it is a perfect opportunity for God to create a rich and vibrant garden. Singleness is not a curse, instead it is a wonderful chance to get to know ourselves better, to pour into the lives of others and into our ministries, and to do things for ourselves that we want to do and that would foster a healthy sense of adventure and achievement.
But of course, this is all easier said than done. It is vital to know the importance of waiting until God’s timing, but it is quite another to know how to properly nourish that time. What I recommend is finding things that breathe life into you. Finding ways to develop a stronger relationship with God and with close friends. Exploring ways to pour into the life a local church congregation and to build a community that spans across age or gender divides. During this time of waiting, it is helpful to begin to ask ourselves what our life goals are and to make decisions for ourselves that are not contingent upon having a significant other in our life. We need to do what pleases God – not solely what we think might please our future spouse.
- Recognize the Pressures, But Be a Conqueror
When I was a teen, I used to do an online labyrinth where we were asked two important questions: 1) What are the noises on the outside? Identify them and place them to the side. 2) What are the noises on the inside? Identify them and place them to the side. Today, over ten years later, I still try to use this same format when I am practising being still.
There are many voices in our culture that dictate what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be single, and what it means to be married. At first glance, it may seem that society is more accepting of singles than Christians are, but in reality, both simply place different expectations on the other person. Don’t feed into the lies that culture places on you, feed into the truths of Christ.
Adolf Hitler once said, “If you tell a lie long enough, loud enough, and often enough, people will believe it.” But this is true not only on the macro, but also on the micro-level. What we tell ourselves about ourselves impacts not only have we view ourselves, but also how we view the world. For example, if you constantly berate yourself and say that you are ugly or unintelligent or unworthy of love, you will begin to see yourself as nothing more than a worthless and wasted vessel. You may begin to view men in the same way and think that a Godly man would not desire you because of your past mistakes. That’s why, we need to start at the root cause of our anxieties. We need to be proud of who God has made us to be and express our identity as His son or His daughter. As His prince or His princess.
Different things can lead us into the mentality of comparing ourselves to others. For some it could be reading certain books or watching certain movies that portray relationship ideals which are essentially unattainable. For me, my greatest vice is Facebook. I love Facebook dearly because it is the most convenient and practical way to communicate with friends and family back in Canada, but it also poses a huge threat. When I scroll through multiple Facebook feeds and notice all the pictures posted about engagements, marriages, and births it can be easy to fall into the temptation of thinking I am the only single person on the face of this planet when it reality that is simply not the case.
It’s not that social media, books, or movies are inherently bad in themselves, but when we use them to foster negative thoughts and images about ourselves or our relationship status, that is when grave danger occurs. Instead, we need to be properly nourished by the sound counsel of others. We need to seek out the advice and input of those more mature in their faith including men and women who have done amazing things for God while being single. If even after all of this we still find ourselves unable to change our mindset, we need to be willing to consider seeing a spiritual director, pastor, or Christian counsellor who may be able to provide us with tips and suggestions on how we can work at rewiring our minds with the truth of Christ.
- Don’t Settle For Less
Being single can be one of the most exhilarating, adventurous, and independent times of our lives. It can be a wonderful experience and give us opportunities we never dreamed of. However, it can also be an intensely lonely, difficult, and bitter season.
If we find ourselves unable to cope with the loneliness, grief, or depression such a season can cause, we need to be able to explore our emotions (by ourselves, with God, and with trusted friends and family), be able to practice good self-care, and be able to find strategies in order to live well.
Loneliness can tempt us to do many foolish and wreck-less things. This is where it becomes important to guard our hearts. Don’t let loneliness dictate how you will live your life. God created us for relationships and for community. It is important and necessary to have friends and people you can confide in, but the most vital relationship should always be the one we have with God. It can be easy to use friends as a substitute for God. I know I am certainly guilty of that at times. God does desire us to be able to trust friends, to share in mutual encouragement, and to grow deeper in His truths together, but ultimately if we find we are quicker to pick up the phone and dial a friend when things get tough rather than hit our knees and cry out to Him that’s when we need to reconsider our priorities. We also need to guard our friendships. If it ever looks like a friendship is becoming one-sided and dominated by the problems or opinions of one while the other’s emotional and relational needs are virtually being ignored, we need to ensure this relationship is not being one of co-dependency and poor boundaries. A friend is not there to solve all of our problems, but rather to help point us to the One who can solve those problems: the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Additionally, in this time of waiting, it can be easy to try to fix our problems on our own. We may notice that typically more women than men attend church and we may begin to think that it wouldn’t be so bad for us to date or marry a non-Christian as long as he is respectful of our beliefs. However, the Bible gives us fairly clear guidelines which are non-debatable that Christians are to marry one another (not outside the faith). By God’s grace, Christians do occasionally lead non-Christians into the faith; however, more often than not, non-Christians lead Christians out of the faith. Regardless, an intermarriage between two different philosophical and theological viewpoints often times leads to additional challenges, burdens, and difficulties which are less likely to be prevalent within relationships where the same viewpoints are held. Most importantly, you must realize that if you do marry a non-Christian and they never come to faith in Christ, this will not only have consequences within this life, but also for eternity. This is where I disagree with the traditional wedding vows. For while I do believe we should love our partner in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse…I do not believe that this is only applicable “until death do us part.” Rather for any Christian couple, the vows should actually read “until death physically separates us, but even after that because our spirits will be in the same place.”
When we know the truth of Christ and how He never fails to act on His promises in His perfect timing, there is no reason to settle for less. There is no reason to settle for the man or woman God did not ordain for us since the dawn of creation, there is no reason to settle for cheap and temporary escapes and fixes such as pornography, drunkenness, or casual sex, and there is certainly no reason to settle for the lies Satan can feed into our lives about never being a complete and whole person. Because at the root of who we are: we are complete and whole in Christ alone, not because of any person. Singleness does not make us any less or any more of a person because when we were created, we were already whole. And it is only in understanding and appreciating that wholeness that we are spiritually and emotionally healthy enough to receive a partner from God. Otherwise, we will always place demands on our partner that God alone is able to meet.
A Final Word: We often spend our lives focussed on others, when in reality, our heart is our own responsibility. We are told throughout Scripture to guard our hearts. That’s because God knows how vulnerable, weak, and immature we all have the ability to be. But He also knows that there is really so much more we are capable of and by trusting in Him, we find wholeness and contentment. Rather than making a list of the characteristics we hope our Godly husband will have, we need to think about the characteristics we need to have in order to be a Godly wife. We cannot expect our significant other to do anything we ourselves would not be willing to do in order to grow deeper and more intimate in our relationship and walk with the Lord.
I am so thankful to Initiate Hub for hosting events and seminars like this one. I was truly blessed by the loving community and new friends such a seminar fostered and I look forward to attending similar conferences in the future.
** Initiate Hub is an organization which helps single Christians connect with one another and grow deeper into the truths of who God is and what it means to live in this season. Check out their website here: http://www.initiatehub.com/**