Believe it or not, when I was 22 I co-authored my first book. It was an anthology exploring various Christian and theological topics, and I chose to write a section on celibacy.
Why celibacy? At that time in my life I truly believed being single was just as special as being married. I saw no major rush to be in a relationship, let alone to be married with kids. At that time in my life, I honestly did not even know whether I ever wanted to be a wife and mother. I loved travelling, my education, and the independent life. However, within two years, everything all changed.
At 24 I moved to the city of Edinburgh, Scotland. It was my first time living abroad, and like most, I took as many opportunities as I could to have an exotic life. When I wasn’t learning to drive on the other side of the road using manual, I was off trying to check off as many sights as I could on my ever growing list. I tried haggis and deep fried Mars bars, I drank a pint of Irn Bru (and decided I hated it), and I began cooking my famous salmon recipe (fresh from the sea). Somewhere in all of this I decided it might be fun to try to find myself a Scotsman and get married to a kilted boy. This never happened, but I did meet an Indian man.
This Indian man, was very kind at first. He listened intently as I told him stories, he took me on long hikes and loved being my photographer for the day. He was an excellent chef, and we used to get together to watch sermons on Youtube. However, it only took about a month before discovering his true character. When we were out with other people he often was kind, compassionate, and well-spoken. But when we were alone, he belittled me, was a cheater, and wanted to keep everything secretive claiming he was simply a “very private person.” I was quite inexperienced in the dating realm (having only been in 2 previous relationships – one when I was in high school which honestly shouldn’t even count, and the second when I was 21 but which only lasted 3.5 months). However, even with my limited knowledge of dating, I knew enough to say, “this doesn’t feel right.” The worst part of it all was his constant pressure for us to get married. He claimed that in India where there were arranged marriages, people already knew the first time they saw someone. He was adamant that we would get married, the sooner the better. I weakly suggested 6 months, which then became 3 due to the constant pressure. Eventually we broke up, him claiming that the “relationship was dead.” There was no point to go bowling, to the cinema, or even just to hang out unless we were meeting together to plan all the details of our wedding.
After I broke up with this man, I remember going on a trip four hours away to Inverness. It was here that God told me that He had someone special planned for me, but that it was not the right time to introduce me to this person. I was at peace with this and even came to enjoy the single life because I had so many other friends who were single. I was just loving life way too much. Why should it matter that I was 25 and still unhitched?
I came home to Canada, keeping this same resolve and attitude for exactly three months, until marriage soon began creeping in and its idolatrous forces literally began eroding and destroying my life. I was constantly unhappy, comparing myself to everyone I knew around me who was married. Their lives seemed perfect and flawless. I envisioned getting married to have all those same perks – status from the church, those special secret hang-outs that only double-dates seem to be invited to, planning a future and a life together, and those long and sappy Facebook posts complete with pictures. Jealousy and envy reared its ugly head as I began a route of self-pity asking myself what I was doing wrong and if there was something inherently wrong with me. I counted up my qualities – I had an education, lots of friends, a good family or origin, what I thought was a strong faith – were these not good enough for a man? The hardest part of it all was seeing friends get hitched who went on to say that marriage to them was simply a piece of paper. They were doing it for reasons of convenience or insurance. Why did God want them to be married when marriage meant nothing to them, but not me to be married when marriage meant everything to me? This idolatry crept into my life – invading every waking and sleeping moment. Soon, I couldn’t watch TV, go to the theatre, or go on a walk without the thoughts beating against my brain. Soon, every conversation I had with friends somehow ended up revolving around my unhappiness at being single. I viewed singlehood as a punishment and the worst thing imaginable. I do not doubt that this caused a strain on quite a few close friendships. Thankfully, many friends stuck by me even in this mental torture, but I do know that it often did irritate and frustrate them.
The Bible describes idolatry as placing anything before God or giving anything God’s rightful place as number one in our lives. Many of us view idolatry as images made of wood and stone, like in the ancient times, but the Bible is clear that idolatry literally can be anything – thoughts, emotions, ideas…that make our mind run astray instead of focussing on the truth of Christ. Even seemingly good things can become idolatrous if we have an unhealthy and obsessive view towards it. For example, food is good and necessary to physical health. We cannot survive without food, and it can be quite enjoyable for us to take great care in decorating and presenting the food in a special way. However, if we over-indulge with food to the point that it makes us ill or we starve ourselves for fear of getting fat, we therefore have created an unhealthy and obsessive view towards food and thus food has become an idol (or as some may say, an addiction).
It is the same with marriage. From the beginning for the Bible, God created humans with a need for a social network (primarily in marriage). God said that this design of men and women needing each other was good. It is not bad or wrong for a Christian woman to dream of and desire marriage, however, it is unhealthy and idolatrous when it is all she thinks of and allows it to make her unhappy and miserable.
I made some mistakes while I was trying to figure it all out. In my first 3 months in Scotland (the second year abroad), I went on 9 dates with 5 different men. I don’t regret this because we did not cross any lines or barriers and always kept it in public locations, however, looking back, I do realize how incredibly foolish that was. Thankfully, all these men were Christians so nothing happened, but it easily could have. A young, single girl in a foreign country going on dates with random guys from the internet she’s only spoken to over text once or twice could easily have become a recipe for disaster.
Thankfully, God rescued me from all of this. What I mean is that God had other plans. It hasn’t always been easy to keep my focus on Him, and sometimes I still drift way too far into the future, but little by little, God was preparing me for something far greater than what my finite human mind could comprehend. God actually did have someone in mind for me, someone who is far better than anything I would have wished for myself. Someone who meets all my criteria – even before he even knew my list existed. I wasted precious time which could have been spent enjoying the company of friends, travelling, and investing into my work, being obsessed and worried that I would be the only single person on the face of the planet left. What a lack of faith and trust in God!
It isn’t easy being single and it can be lonely sometimes. But here are some things I wish to share with any of my brothers or sisters who are still struggling in their singlehood. I won’t pretend to have all the answers (or even all of the questions!) but I still hope it encourages you nonetheless:
* When I look back on the way God orchestrated my life and the emergence of my relationship, I am in awe. God knows what He is doing and His timing is immaculate. I actually knew this guy for years and we have been friends so long that I considered him as a brother. When we finally came together, I remember us both asking, “Why now?” What if God would have introduced us in this particular and special way earlier? God alone knows, but I believe it was for a reason. Maybe we were not ready back then and maybe we are different people today. When I look at all the opportunities that have shaped me and all I have gone through (positively and negatively) I can honestly say on my part that if it had been even one year sooner, we might not have come together in such a glorious way as we now have. I do wish, it would have been 24 or 26, but God was working in my life in ways that I didn’t even know about to prepare me to be the woman I am now. It can be discouraging when people younger than you are getting hitched, but we are all growing and learning lessons at different rates. What is monumental for one person might not be for another person and vice versa. My singleness allowed me my two years or life abroad which prepared me for the challenges a cross-cultural relationship can bring. My singleness also permitted me time to focus exclusively on my studies. Sometimes people who get married young are given the blessing of having a family right away (which is awesome), but many times they miss out on these other opportunities like travel and school. We don’t need to worry about our biological clock when we serve the author of time!
* Be open-minded. God may work in ways you never thought were possible. For example, lots of people I know are simply not willing to try to go online. But what if your future husband is waiting there? Some women worry about dating someone they have known so long, isn’t he a “brother” and hasn’t he been “friend-zoned?” Maybe so, but then again, things might have shifted. Obviously, I am not suggested that you do anything that it totally out of your element or that you might feel uncomfortable with, but if we are truly opening ourselves up to the Lord’s Will, then we need to be willing to take a few safe and calculated risks from time to time. If you only go to the places that you usually go to, chances are you aren’t going to meet anything you don’t already know. But let’s say, you’re willing to try a different church or join a different small group or even to approach a woman at a coffee shop or bus station. It’s a risk, but you never know what can happen. I even know of a real story where a woman met her husband while at the train station. They got on the same train, began talking and three hours later when they reached their destination and exchanged numbers. Less then one year later they were married.
* Have faith. I thought for a long time that I was having a problem with surrender. I could not allow myself to give up the chance of meeting someone. I didn’t know what would happen if I gave God this type of permission in my life only for Him to turn around and say, “actually you’re one of those I’ve called to be single forever.” Looking back now, I realize it was not a problem with surrender, but with trust. I honestly could not totally abandon myself to God trusting that everything would work out and that He actually did have someone in mind. God promised me 4 years before I started dating that He had someone for me, but I tortured myself for 4 years by not believing it and condemning myself to a life of celibacy. Today, I know how important it is to speak words of faith and affirmation over our lives. If you constantly say negative words to yourself like “no one likes me. I am unattractive. I don’t have anything to offer. I will be single forever.” It will likely happen. If you turn it on its head and declare truths of Scripture, a massive transformation can begin to unfold in the way you view yourself and the world around you.
* Don’t lower your standards. Don’t allow desperation to permit you to go out with a man who doesn’t treat you right or a woman who is catty and emotionally abusive. Don’t allow fear of being older permit you to go out with anyone who does not place Christ first in their life. Don’t paint the red flags white. Trust and believe that you are worth it. Don’t settle for anyone less than the one God has for you. Age is no reason to panic.
* Here’s the downer part, contrary to many other Christians, I actually don’t believe there is someone for everyone. I don’t see this anywhere in Scripture. Instead I see that there are some who were born eunuchs, some who were made eunuchs by men, and others who became eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. That being said, I do believe that people who are legitimately called to celibacy often know they have this gift. God is not trying to torture us by keeping us single forever, if that’s not our gift. One of my closest friends really summed it up by saying “Some people prefer the single life and do well, some could care less and for others it’s sheer torture.” When I was single, it did feel like torture, but today I know that it was God moulding and shaping me and He had a bright future ahead of me. Once when I was really struggling with singleness, I was listening to the Bible on my phone and it came upon this famous verse,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life.
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-35)
If you truly give your heart to the Lord and seek first how you can be of maximum benefit to Him and to others and how you can best minister for the sake of the Kingdom. He will provide everything else. God knows that we need a spouse. God knows we need that constant companionship and partnership. But if we are seeking marriage first as a way of idolatry, it won’t be a solid foundation. If, however, we are seeking the Kingdom first believing that our marriage will provide even more force for evangelism and witness and using our marriage as a model of Christ’s love towards the church, then God will help to establish it.
Marriage is not meant to be a selfish means to a selfish end. It shouldn’t just be about status, prestige, or cutesy pictures on Instagram. It should primarily be a means of raising a Godly family and standing up in a culture that is not based in purity and in trust. Christians are called to higher standards than the rest of the world. Christians can model Christ’s holiness and love by the way they treat their spouse and family, by remaining pure before and within the marriage context, and also by avoiding any appearance of evil which might lead to misunderstanding among non-believers (even when that isn’t the case).
Both marriage and singleness have their unique blessings and challenges. One is not better or worse than the other. One is not harder or easier than the other. Both can be incredibly hard, difficult and painful in different ways, and both can be amazing, and a blessing in different ways. If you are someone waiting for the one God has in mind for you, please don’t give up. I know from previous experience how detrimental vain wishing can be. How destructive marriage idolatry can be both for your own soul and for the friendships you have around you. But I also know from my own experience how waiting on God’s timing and trusting His process over our lives while continuing to serve Him in whatever capacity we find ourselves in is the most beautiful thing imaginable. I pray that you may find this same result in your life as you seek first the Kingdom of God and allow marriage and family and all these other things to be given to you, as well.