This is a series that started as a response to the troublesome umbrella graphic:
I began with what I feel is the most important part: Jesus as the Song of Solomon bridegroom, as the One Who leads us to the banqueting table in celebration with a Banner over us…”His banner over me is love.” If you haven’t read it yet, take a second and go back to it.
Before I get too much farther into the husband/wife dynamic, though, let’s take a pause and talk about the “M” word: Marriage.
As women (keep in mind that although this is a blog about family dynamics, I’m going to come at this from a woman’s perspective without apology, because guess what??? I’M A WOMAN.), we are taught from birth that our goal in life, particularly if we’re raised in the church, is to get married and have dem babies! Opting to stay single is not portrayed as an option at all in the church, and we’re all pushed toward marriage pretty early on. And it kinda makes sense–I mean, we’re not supposed to have sex until we’re married, and celibacy isn’t really an option for most of us. “Taking care of business” isn’t discussed and if it is, it’s never in a favorable light, so in order to meet sexual needs, we get married. In order to have children, we get married. In order to be considered as grown-ups and valid members of society (it seems), we get married. Staying single isn’t an option, and if you DO stay single (either by choice or by just, life), it’s looked down on. You really do feel ostracized in the church as a single person. Singles groups tend to be college-age driven, so for the over-30 group, being single is like being the Loch Ness Monster. I’ve never lived that life (I got married at 27–waaaaay after all of my college friends, I believe), but I’ve had friends that weren’t married until they were in their 30’s, and it’s a common complaint. Now, I’m not saying that we get married primarily out of duty and then out of love–don’t twist this. I’m saying that IF we aren’t following the textbook path of marriage and babies, there can be a curtain of condescension that comes over us in the eyes of the church, and it can push us towards making hasty decisions.
It almost feels like there’s an age-related checklist of our duties:
- Get saved by ____years old (the younger, the better!)
- Get water baptized by ____years old.
- Get your Scriptures memorized (and get your prize) by ____years old.
- Get involved in your youth group, and eventually get promoted to being a leader, by ____years old.
- Go to college, find a member of the opposite sex (but don’t have sex) by _____.
- Get married by _____. For women, focus on that magic age more than your education. After all, that MRS degree is FAR more important than investing in your career or your future, right?!?!? “If you have your college degree before your MRS degree, well, that’s okay, honey. It’s just how it worked out for you.”
- Start having dem babies, okay? OKAY?!?! “NO, of course there won’t be any problems! Breastfeeding will be a dream, your sex life will bounce back, and your babies will sleep through the night, no problems! After all, you’re doing God’s will!!!!!!!!!!!”
People, this is a lie (especially #7, LOL, but that’s another blog). Learn these three words: MARRIAGE. IS. HARD.
But not being married is difficult, too, and I don’t think we should discount the issues singles face. People assume that we all want to be in a relationship. Maybe not–why is that wrong? Some people truly are happy on their own, and no one has any right to assume there’s anything negative about that. The single life is difficult particularly in the Church, because you have to take an all-out stand to be valued independently of a married couple. You’re just as important of a church member as the next person, because guess what? When we all stand before God, we stand ALONE. I stand independently of my husband (I’m sure he’s thankful for that, because I’m not kidding when I call myself a hot mess!). Churches have to stop singling out the singles, because they’re so foundational to a successful ministry. People assume that being single means you’re much more available and flexible than married couples which can be true, but not necessarily, so the church also has to realize that being single does NOT equal Free Help. 🙂
There are huge blessings in being single; Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 7 (Message Translation):
7 Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.
8-9 I do, though, tell the unmarried and widows that singleness might well be the best thing for them, as it has been for me. But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married. The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single.
I have to laugh at the phrase, “sexually tortured life as a single.” It’s The Message translation, and I think it might be stretching it a tad, here….but maybe not? In today’s hypersexualized world, a celibate life probably IS tortuous, particularly if you’re not guarding your heart, your eyes, and your mind–that’s a key issue. Purity is difficult to keep, whether married or single; I would imagine that it would be more difficult as a single person, but with the easy access to explicit materials? We all struggle. I know I do.
Before I sidetrack on THAT discussion, back to being single: My mother, God love her, divorced my biological father when I was 2. She had her reasons; he was not a good person. The best thing my biological father ever did, was to give me an amazing stepbrother and stepsister. I wouldn’t trade them for the world, and I’m so grateful to have them in my lives.
Anyways, Mom decided for some crazy reason, to put me in a Christian school for K-12. I went to a VERY small school where my mother was the only divorcee that I knew of. I didn’t realize there was anything “wrong” with our family until the 3rd or 4th grade, when the snide comments began to be made from others with so-called nuclear families. I will never forget the shame I felt when I was asked to do a family tree around that time.
Hey, guess what?!? NOT EVERYONE CAN DO A FAMILY TREE. Maybe you should stop and consider the ramifications of that assignment before you send it out? My mother is adopted. My family is a combination of adoption, steps, surprise babies, and more. I finally invested in an AncestryDNA kit to find out what the heck I am, and I was so surprised that this stupid family tree assignment kept coming up in my thoughts to pester me. Finding out our actual family history (I traced my mom back to the Quakers. QUAKERS, PEOPLE!!!) closed a gap I didn’t realize was quite so deep. I mean, I know WHO I am; why should knowing WHAT I am be such an important thing?!?!?
It became important because of years of being made to feel “less than”…like there was some kind of great honor in having that so-called nuclear family…years of being made to feel like MY family wasn’t the “ideal” of the Church. I didn’t have 1 Mom and 1 Dad. I had a single mom, and eventually, an awesome stepdad, and then at one point, I had 2 Moms, 2 Dads, and more grandparents than I could shake a stick at. My friends at school didn’t get it; my best friend understood my issues the most, because she was the child of a single mom who was being raised by that mom and her grandparents. Since her family dynamic didn’t match the other families around us, we had a special bond. We also didn’t fit in with most of the other families in the school. My mom didn’t do the PTA (did I mention my mom was in the minority, as a working mother? GASP.). We didn’t do weekend “play dates” (and she wore makeup, darn it, so take THAT). My mother worked her rear off as a single mother, and she didn’t have time to care whether or not the other mothers approved. I don’t know how she did it. . As a married, working mother of one, I have to lean so much on my husband and on my parents; how did Mom survive with 2 kids?!?!?!? Grace of God, I tell ya. As a child, I couldn’t see the incredible honor in the sacrifices she made. As an adult, I’m amazed by her more and more.
But as an impressionable girl growing up in a Mid-western Christian school, I was more impressed by the sneers and snobbery of the girls I was in class with, and even by some of the teachers. My household shouldn’t have determined how my classmates or teachers perceived me, but it did, and that became more evident the older I became.
I firmly believe that a household is defined as a place where a nuclear group loves Jesus, serves God, and if kids are involved, commits to raising them in a Godly way. I say we love all households and all families, and we don’t treat kids any differently if they come from a 1-parent household, a 2-parent household, or a carnival. I didn’t have that luxury as a kid, so I longed for that “Mayberry” life it looked like my classmates had.
I wanted that MRS degree, so I could make my very own cookie-cutter, Leave-It-To-Beaver life.
I knew I could be “good enough,” if I could just mark a few things off of that checklist….
Being single was NOT on that checklist.
When you’re rushed out of the time you need…the time God plans for…to be single, you find yourself making regrettable choices. DON’T RUSH BEING SINGLE, just because you want to check your list off. TAKE YOUR TIME.
I almost screwed it all up by marrying a guy my sophomore year of college. The relationship was toxic and abusive, and left me desolate for at least 3 years….but I felt guilty and broken, like I didn’t deserve anything else or better. Had he not dumped me, I would have stayed with him out of a perverse sense of Christian obligation–doesn’t that sound like a loving marriage?!? How many women have done the same thing?!? How many people have done the same thing?
Marriage is supposed to be a union that is based on the love of Jesus, not on some crappy sense of duty or obligation. Marriage is a step we take onto the battlefield of this earth under a banner that shouts the love of Jesus, not under an umbrella of oppression and duty!!!!!!! If you feel like you’re about to get married and you don’t feel a sense of freedom and joy, DON’T DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!! Stay single! Really, and I know it’s cliche, but if it’s meant to be, it will be. I firmly believe that if God gives us a vision, a “heart’s desire,” He is FAITHFUL to complete it. If you have a heart’s desire to be a husband, a wife, a mom, a dad, whatever, HE WILL COMPLETE THAT WORK IN YOU. If you don’t, THERE IS NO SHAME IN THAT. Don’t try to make something happen if it’s not in your heart to do so. If you don’t want to be married, DON’T GET MARRIED. If you don’t want kids, DON’T HAVE THEM. Why do we feel like we have to be something God didn’t necessarily create us to be? I Corinthians 7 mentioned “the gift” of the single life. Why can’t Christians accept it, if they don’t have that burning desire to be a spouse?!?
Say it with me: IT IS OKAY TO BE SINGLE. IT IS GOOD TO BE SINGLE. It’s better to be single and happy than in a relationship that is bound up in oppression!! And if you are in a marriage that is bound up in oppression, GET FREE (easier said than done–that’s another blog).
Being single is not to be burdened in loneliness and sadness, and I recommend running from any Church that treats it like it is. There is no timeline for single-ness (is that word?). And when I say, “single,” I mean “single for any reason:” Never married, divorced, single with kids, whatever. Single is SINGLE, regardless of why or how, and you can love your life without judgement. There is joy in being single, believe me.
Before I met my husband (I was like, 24), I remember sitting in my bedroom at my parents’ house (I had to move back in with them after college. Harsh.), thinking about what life would be like if I were never to be married. Keep in mind, I’ve wanted to be a wife and a mother since I could talk, so this was a major moment. I realized that in that moment, I was honestly HAPPY. I had peace and joy. I felt like the world was about to shift, and I was okay with it. I was HAPPY with it. I didn’t know what was going to happen next, but whatever happened, I had peace in my walk with God, on my own, by myself. I had absolutely no burdens; I was ready for whatever came next. I learned to be happy with who I was, and I WAS. It was a huge moment of clarity and of self-acceptance, and I’ve gone back to that moment many times in my mind. I was truly, truly happy being single, and it was a revalation that I never knew I could come to.
As women, as soon as we get into a relationship, we field questions about marriage. As soon as we’re married, we field questions about having kids. We are never given the time to JUST BE IN THE MOMENT of our lives, and we never get those moments back again. As a church, WHY ARE WE ALWAYS RUSHING PEOPLE?! Why are we so eager to check those marks off of lists? Why can we not just enjoy our lives without the pressure to be something we’re not, or to move faster onto something we’re not ready for? That’s not a Godly way to live, and it’s not fair to subject kids to. We have to learn to redefine families and homes in a way that BREATHES, because the church is SUFFOCATING people and families RIGHT OUT THE DOORS.
Family = Single people.
Family = Married people.
Family = People with kids.
Family = People without kids.
Family = Divorced people.
Family = Remarried people.
Family = A home where people within its walls want to love and serve Christ.
Jesus goes out before us as His children, and His banner over us is love. Who walks under that banner? Holy, perfect people? Or people who are marked and battle-scarred, who have fought in the trenches and lived to tell the tales? People who are TRYING to serve, trying to show His love, and are trying to live their best life in the Kingdom? He takes our broken pieces and He puts them together under His banner, to make a picture of a family that defies the portrait studios in our minds…He calls us all to the table, married, single, whatever, and He celebrates us where we are.
Why can’t the Church do the same?