“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in [pursuit] of a [seminary education] must be in want of a wife.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (slightly adjusted)
I think many Christians, if questioned, would affirm the above statement. Maybe I’m mistaken (I often am). But the further I go in seminary, the more I see this idea at play. And the concept isn’t unique to men. Both single guys and single gals are often viewed as halves in search of wholeness, as free agents looking for a home team, as works in progress.
To some extent, the idea reflects a very real experience. Many training for vocational ministry do indeed hope to find a partner for the race, and many are actively searching for a spouse. I don’t know many people who are quick to claim the gift of celibacy. And yet, in spite of the abundance of desire (and the abundance of matchmakers), seminary is filled with single people. And those singles aren’t always happy with their lot.
Maybe the above paragraph describes you. Maybe you’ve prayed for a spouse for years without finding one. Maybe you’ve sought dates but have faced rejection. Maybe you’ve waited to be asked out but find yourself waiting still. Maybe you feel old, unwanted, unsure whether your time will ever come. Though you remind yourself God will provide all you need, maybe you’re beginning to doubt that his plans for you will ever include what you so desire. Maybe you’re tired of waiting, tired of longing, tired of hoping.
What do you do with your feelings, hopes, and dreams? How do you serve the Lord in the face of unfulfilled desires?
First, recognize that your desires aren’t necessarily wrong.
Scripture affirms the goodness of marriage and the benefits of companionship (Genesis 2:18, Proverbs 18:22, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Song of Solomon). It is no sin to marry, nor is it necessarily sin to desire marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7). Singles may be tempted to suppress their feelings or to downplay their struggles for fear that they ought to be content in the Lord, as if a stronger faith can somehow eliminate their unmet desires. Yet desire in itself is not sinful. So don’t ignore your emotions. Instead, cast your anxieties on the one who cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).
Second, surrender your desires to the Lord.
Paul calls Christians to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), painting a picture that falls in line with Jesus’s call to deny oneself, to take up one’s cross, and to follow him (Luke 9:23). While I don’t believe it is wrong to desire marriage, I do believe that good desires can become crippling distractions if not handled appropriately. Unmet desires can be opportunities for temptation to incite the flesh to sin (see James 1:13-15), or they can be opportunities for us to look to the Lord and to trust in his sovereign provision (see James 1:16-18 and Matthew 6:25-34). Know your heart and act in wisdom and in faith.
Third, instead of focusing on the momentary, fix your eyes on the eternal.
The psalmist set a good example of this when he responded to his emotions not by sulking but by reminding himself of truth.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
The psalmist looked up, recognizing that his temporary situation sat within the context of a far greater reality. His mourning would one day give way to worship. His hope stood secure in God. He embodied the perspective stated in another psalm: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b). God’s discipline and sanctification may prove painful. We are not promised the fulfillment of our desires, meaning that some who desire marriage may not obtain it. The night will feel far longer if we equate the joy of the morning with the fulfillment of our earthly hopes. So avoid the trap of distraction and set your eyes on things above (Colossians 3:1-17), laying down every weight that would keep you back and fixing your gaze upon Christ Jesus, who has run the race ahead of you and has set the example for you to follow (Hebrews 12:1-2). Set your sights on him, seeing marriage as simply one potential avenue by which you may fulfill the overarching call to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). And know that God causes all things, even unmet desires, to work together for good for those who love him and who follow him (Romans 8:28).
Life will not always meet our expectations, nor should we want it to do so. If you look back over the course of your life thus far, I expect you’ll find that God has consistently proven himself to know better than you how your life should go. I praise him when I consider all the ways he kept me from what I thought was best and led me down even better paths. Every tear shed, every pain felt, and every sorrow borne has been used to bring about a better end, a needed lesson, and, I pray, a more sanctified life. So when your circumstances don’t match your expectations, look up to the God who is greater than any earthly gain and any earthly sorrow. Trust that he is good and that he is sufficient for you in any trial of this life. Rest in his unfailing love for you. And hope in God, my friend.
Thanks to Robyn Johnston for suggesting the idea for today’s post.
Thanks to Maci Duncan for her help in editing this post.