Friday, December 7, 2012

Learning to Fly

As I type, my sister’s boyfriend has just texted me that he’s picking up her engagement ring at the jewelry store. He’s going to propose in two days and I get to help set up the scene for the proposal. It’s been pretty obvious to everyone for the past few months that they’re serious and perfect for one another. Our group of friends is pretty happy for them―though some more than others. Early in their relationship, one of my girl friends asked me, “And how are you doing?” To be honest, I was caught a little off-guard… and yet, I knew what she was asking. “I’m absolutely fine… I’ve been praying for them to get together for a long time.” I smiled and said, “I’m so happy for her.”

Now, four days later, they are engaged and busily planning their wedding. At church this past weekend, more young women came up and congratulated me and asked things like, “So how does it feel to have your sister engaged?” “How are you feeling?” and “What do you think?” and on and on. I smiled and said I’m happy to finally have an older brother and talked excitedly about my getting to be maid of honor. And the whole time, in the back of my mind, I was wondering: why should my sister’s relationship have any effect on me? I mean, really, why should I care or “feel” anything beyond happiness?

Yet, I know what and why they’re asking. There’s a disease that lurks in church groups and conservative family circles, you’ve probably seen or heard something connected to it. Usually, it affects young women and sometimes even their mothers. It also affects married couples, particularly grandparents, aunts, and uncles, but in a different way. It’s the belief that singleness, especially for young women, is almost a sin or at least, not the proper state of being. Young women must be married, or engaged, as soon as possible or else they are defective, bound an old maid, and/or doing something wrong.

Addressing young women first, I see a huge problem with jealousy and covetousness when it comes to marriage. For many young women, marriage is so important that when someone else gets engaged, they can hardly see straight. They wonder things like: “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I not married?” “She’s younger than me!” “I deserve it more than she does!” “Doesn’t God love me?” “Why won’t God answer my prayers for a husband?” and “What does she have that I don’t have?”I have friends that are very open about their desire to get married (a very good thing!) but when someone else starts dating or gets engaged, they turn green. People don’t usually believe me when I say this but I love weddings. I love throwing bridal showers, helping with details, being a bridesmaid, and just going to weddings. Unfortunately, I think I’m in a minority. Some girls I know actually avoid weddings because of their inability to face their jealousy. Books such as Boy Meets Girl don’t really help in this because they make this jealousy seem normal. I remember reading about young women who couldn’t stand going to weddings or cried through them because they were so jealous of the bride. “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4) This is incredibly sad and we as a church and as young women should be ashamed that we’ve let marriage become an idol. I think it’s shocking that people think I would or should be sad or jealous because my sister is engaged. And then can’t comprehend that I’m not. People probably thought it was weird when I made a point of watching everyone’s reactions to the happy news and probably enjoyed them as much as my sister and her fiancé. And they might even think that my joy is an act. How have we reached this point? How can it be normal to ask the sister of the bride how she “feels” about it all? Should we not assume that the bride’s family and friends would be thrilled? And seriously people, shouldn’t I be overjoyed to have a room to myself at this time next year? :-D I have my own life! I don’t need to covet my sister’s!

Also, I think I should point out that guys are not objects. One of my friends is very petite, I think she’s around 5’ tall, and she’s married to a guy that is about 6’2”. When she got engaged, other (taller) young women kept saying to her, “Why didn’t you leave the tall guy for us?!” This lack of tact astounded her and she just kept replying, “Because I fell in love with him!” Now, some of the women could have been joking but my friend knew that a few of them really were irritated and jealous because she “got” a tall guy. This is a perfect example of young women viewing guys as objects.  I’ve had several friends marry in the last year and a few of them were younger than me. Yet, I was totally happy for them. One of the reasons for this was that I don’t want to marry their guy. It sounds kind of strange to say it like that but it’s true. I don’t see their fiancés or husbands as objects—they’re also my friends—and so I don’t envy their marrying someone else. If you’re jealous because your friend is getting married, ask yourself this: “Do I want to marry him?” Probably not. (But if you have a crush on that guy, you should deal with it accordingly.) If you’re jealous for no reason other than “She’s getting married and I’m not” you may very well be viewing guys as objects or means to an end. As Kevin says in 27 Dresses, “I think you want a wedding―not a marriage―a wedding.”

Addressing young women… do you see a husband as a way out? Is marriage saving you from something? Do you see marriage as an escape from problems or from things that God has called you to do? Your problems don’t go away just because you get married and God’s call on your life doesn’t change either. Only Jesus Christ can save you and so you should never expect perfection from a fallible human being. A mortal man will never be able to save you, nor should you feel the need for him to do so. And seriously, never ever, settle for a guy just because you want to be married. That’s a very foolish thing to do.

Oh, and I’ve finally pondered this out as well: there’s no rhyme or reason as to why some young women seem to lead charmed lives and get married right out of high school or college. I believe that this happens because it is God’s plan for them and obviously, He knows that they’ll grow more by being in a relationship than being out of one. Of my friends that are married or engaged, none of them are more godly, special, or perfect than me and my single friends. Marriage isn’t some special gift that God only gives to his chosen, extraordinary children. That just isn’t how He works. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11) So stop comparing yourself to married women and thinking, “What does she have that I don’t?”

Lastly, at some point, most unmarried young women start whining, “Where are all the good guys?” and “Why is no one getting married?” I hate to break this to you but there are good guys and people are getting married but it’s just not your turn. Don’t worry, it probably will be sometime but not until God decides the time is right. So chill and stop whining.

Now, I’m focusing on a more mainstream position as I and my girlfriends are all college educated and able to support ourselves. However, this is a tricky situation for Stay at Home Daughters and those involved in the Patriarchy movement. What do you do if you’re thirty, have no education, and are still at home with your parents? Beyond breaking free and seeking education, I honestly don’t know. Ultimately, I think jealousy over engagements and marriages is magnified two times over within the Patriarchy movement. If all of these young women have been brought up to think that their only role is that of wife and mother and then find that they aren’t getting married, there is definitely going to be some depression and hopelessness abounding. In this situation, young women tend to blame themselves (See the Botkin’s article and my response) or other people and then start finding other things on which to focus. Usually, photography, gourmet cooking, blogging, babysitting, costuming, or a home business; none of these things are wrong—they’re all very good things. Yet, I wish SAHDs would start questioning the system and their ideology instead of running around trying to fill up their hearts with accomplishments.

And as for the upcoming Kevin Swanson fundamentalist documentary… there are no words. Mostly because it makes me laugh too hard to say anything about it. :-D I did find it amusing that the site contains this gem of a quote “Many are still at home, living a life of prolonged adolescence, with no hopes of marriage in sight.” Umm… can anyone else say SAHDs? The irony! You wanted the girls to stay at home with almost no education, few marriage prospects, and now you want them to leave? Don’t you see that you’re creating the problem? Especially by selling them things to inspire and glorify this lifestyle. *rolls eyes* And now, you’re selling them things to fix the problem? How coincidental! And don't forget: "the answers can be found in God's word." (Yes, duh. If the filmmakers really believed that, they wouldn't be trying to make or sell this film at all.)
This unwillingness to accept singleness not only affects young women, it also affects members of their families. My extended family drives me nuts because they’ve been asking me since I was 16 when I am going to get married. Incredibly annoying and completely stupid because I’m not the one making the first move. What’s wrong with society? Why are we pressuring young women so much? Traditionally, it’s the guy that makes the first move and honestly, things haven’t changed very much. Relationships, I know this to be true, go better when the guy is the one doing the work and asking you out. So stop bothering me about it.

Of course, does my family ask my brother? No. Not once. On the whole, young men do not face this pressure as early or as intensely as young women. I see this in my own family where my sister and I were subjected to constant interrogation and pronouncements about our love lives as soon as we were in high school and yet, my brother and my guy cousins have yet to be asked even once about their love lives. Start asking guys why they aren’t being more proactive about getting married if you’re so concerned! However, I think most guys are being intentional and just aren’t talking about it. Never mind, just give them a break; we’re all in the same boat.

Plus, why are we in such a hurry for young women (and men) to get married? I’m to the point now where I’m ready to say, “Dude! Are you kidding? I’m in my early twenties! I’m still figuring out who I am, let alone trying to figure out someone else!” Don’t get me wrong, Marriage is a great thing! I want to get married and I am lonely sometimes, but I am truly, honestly, content in being single until God brings someone into my life. I’ve finally reached that point where I’m okay with being single and furthermore, I know that my God is big enough to bring the right guy at the right time and I don’t need to freak out about it.


Musician Rebecca St. James didn’t get married until the age of 34 last year (see photo above) and for many years, she was an example of a vibrant single life. I very much appreciate her honesty as she said in a 2011 interview, “I just struggled with loneliness and even feeling a bit embarrassed, you know, being in my 30s and not married. I think our culture caters to people who are married. It's just much more socially accepted to be married in your 30s." Especially in evangelical circles and in the Church? "Yes, exactly. Now, I've honestly found it easier living in LA because there are so many career people, especially women, in their thirties - single women who are focusing on careers. I think it's harder in the South and in middle America to be single. I didn't feel as much pressure in LA and I think that was God providing for me in a way. I have a lot of single friends, and it's not like they've all gotten married and I'm not. I thank God for that!” 1

It seems to me that the evangelical circles and churches haven’t been reading their Bibles. As I’ve written before, Jesus was single and so was Paul and probably many members of the early church. If marriage is the ultimate goal of life and most important role for all, why didn’t Paul tell everyone to get married as soon as possible? In fact, he said the opposite, “I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.” (1 Cor. 7:7-8) Yes, marriage is used as an illustration of Christ and the church but that doesn’t make marriage any more holy or right than any other state of being. Consider the use of sowing and reaping as an examples of the discipleship process. Does this use render farming more spiritual than other forms of employment? Of course not! Jesus uses multiple actions and parts of life to illustrate his points but that doesn’t make these actions spiritual in themselves. It is the concept being expressed that is spiritual.

Finally, think on this, Jesus said to the disciples, “For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matt. 19:12) And He said, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30) If marriage were the most important part of life, I think Jesus would have made it clear. Yet, He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

We as a church have failed single people. We’ve asked prying, hurtful questions, we’ve treated them like half a person, we act like we don’t want their input, we treat them like they’re defective, outside of God’s will, or doing something wrong. We’ve made marriage and family an idol. In loving and promoting a good thing, we’ve ignored the greater thing. Jesus said that we must deny ourselves and follow Him but do we really believe that? Sometimes following Him does require a time (or even a lifetime) of singleness. Singleness should not surprise us. It is a normal, healthy lifestyle, and completely biblical (by the correct definition of the word). Unfortunately, the truths of surrender and taking up your cross don’t sell books, documentaries, and guest speakers as well as fear, blame, and formulas for success are able to do. And so the cycle of useless advice continues.

I know it’s really hard sometimes. I know what it’s like to be the one single girl when everyone else is getting married. There are times when I’d really like to be married or even dating but there comes a point when you have to die to yourself and your dreams. The point where you realize that God is in control and that you have to trust Him. Where you can finally say, “Okay God. You know I want to get married but I know that it’s up to you. Nothing I do can change your plans for me. If I am to marry, I know that you know already know who my husband/wife will be. But if not, I will be happy anyway. If I am to be single, I know that you have big plans for me and I will follow you no matter what happens to me.” It’s hard. It’s really hard to pray that and mean it but it is worth it. You have to know that you can’t do anything apart from Him and if you try to run things, you’ll only end up stressing yourself out and making yourself miserable. Since I have come to accept my singleness, I have been so peaceful and content. I have bad days now and then, but for the most part, I just keep busy and focus on God. I still have my dreams but I’m open to God changing them and changing me in the process. I know I don’t need to stress out and try to control things or envy other women because my time will come if it is meant to be. Rebecca St. James said, “…I have struggled with loneliness. I've questioned, 'God, do you have somebody for me? Have I written the song about nobody - in my case, anyway? Maybe it was just a song for other people to sing?' I've wondered, Is it even God's plan? Deep down I believed he did have someone for me, but in my weak moments, I questioned that. A few years ago I felt like God called me to take my hands off that dream to get married and to entrust that dream entirely to God to the point of saying, 'If it's your will for me to be single, then I trust that you have a very good reason.' That was a grieving time. That was hard and I had to come back to that place quite often - to find the balance between still hoping that there is somebody, to where you kind of die emotionally, going, 'Woe is me'. That's where the balance comes in, and it's very challenging."1

Finally, just because you’ve accepted your singleness, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly going to meet someone and get married. That happens sometimes, but then again, it doesn’t. Though people try to act like it is another magic way to find someone, acceptance isn’t a magical way to show God you’re ready and then He will provide someone. I know young women who never accepted their singleness and still got married just as I’ve seen women accept it and still be without a guy. I like to think of it this way: Singleness is like having two people on a plane; one is afraid of flying and the other is not. Both will get to their destination at the same time but one of them will have spent the entire flight sweating, worrying, making themselves ill, clinging to the seat, and refusing to look out of the window. The other will have loved take-off, watched a movie, helped a tired mother with a crying child, taken pictures of the sunset, chatted with the person next to them, taken a nap, and planned for their destination. Which person do you want to be?


2. http://www.magnoliapair(DOT)com/2011/05/rebecca-jacob-san-diego-california