A Case for Marrying Later

I have read and heard and read some more of the case for marrying young, but the more I think about it, and the more I see faithful singles in their late twenties into their thirties and forties and beyond, the more I actually do believe with Paul that it is good to remain unmarried, if not forever, at least then longer. 

What I am not saying is prolonged, aimless, meandering singleness serves anyone (including, if God wills, your future marriage). What I am saying is the purposeful, intentional, poured out life of an unmarried person for the good of the church, the community, and the earth, is a very great gift and should not be squandered or squelched by the growing concerns of married people about late marriages. 

I think the reason many—in the church especially—are concerned about this trend of later marriages is because for so long the main medium and message has centered around the family instead of around faithfulness. Procreation of children, family morals, concerns about marriage issues—these have formed a boundary line of sorts around the sort of things Christians care about. This is why singles have felt alienated, marginalized, and overlooked within the church for so long: unless they both want marriage and are actively involved in the getting of it, there isn't a box for them. Which is unfortunate. No, it's something more than unfortunate. 

I know I don't know much about marriage yet, but I do know a thing or two about being single far longer than I originally hoped. What I found in the prolonging of my singleness was not less fruitfulness, but more as time went on. I found a curious and surprising freedom of flexibility. I found I was able to love the Lord and others with fewer distractions. I found I was able to give of my finances quickly without question. I could travel easily, serve easily, and spend long periods of time in thinking, processing, and praying. What I am not saying is the often quoted line that "singles have more time and finances than married people." What I am saying is I had the same 24 hours in my day then as I do now and the same tight budget then as I do now, but I was able to spend those hours undistracted by the things marriage has called me to now. 

Some of the most faithful Christians I know today are unmarried. They are using their gifts to show a different side of what faithfulness might look like when one doesn't have children, a spouse, a mortgage, or some other constraints. They are making a case for late marriages not simply because of the kind of marriage they might have by delaying it (hopefully more mature, grounded, wise, and sanctified than if they'd come into marriage at 20 or 22), but by being extraordinarily faithful in their singleness.

To all my readers who are unmarried, thank you for being faithful and I pray you grow only more so. The Church needs to see your example of faithfulness. The Church needs to learn marriage isn't the most sanctifying agent, but age, maturity, and submission to God are, and no one is exempt from those three things. The Church needs your hands, your minds, your insights, your passion, your longing, your gifts, not because we are needy and greedy, but because for too long we have not valued what you bring to the Christian life. 

You stand in the company of Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Amy Carmichael, Joni Eareckson Tada, Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Young, Gladys Aylward, Lottie Moon, Corrie Ten Boom, my sweet friend Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus—men and women who married late or never married at all, and of whom the world is not worthy in many ways. Faithful men and women who gave their most fruitful years not to bearing children or pleasing wives, but to the bettering of the Church and world. These are giants in my mind and they make the case for marrying late all on their own.

Marriage is a gift and it is not wrong or sinful to long for it—it is a gift I wouldn't trade today for anything, but those years of singleness were a gift too, not just to me, but to others I hope. If you have not married young, there will be sacrifices and it is good and right to mourn over those unmet desires, but then, friends, stand up in the company of those men and women above. Your undistracted, unhindered, anxiety-free faithfulness can be a gift without compare. You have not been wasted and God has not wasted you.

Marry late or not at all—God will not waste you. 

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When You Cannot Yet See the Great Light

A quiet, pulsing comfort when I'm reminded, in no uncertain terms, that we don't always get what we want, is we haven't been promised most of whatever it is we want. Marriage? More money? Bigger house? Health? More kids? Kids at all? None of them are promised. The years go by with no prospective spouse, the bank account always seems to be dry, every month a painful reminder that no seed has taken root in our womb. The reminders are everywhere, we don't even have to look far. Name anything you want and haven't yet got and there it is, your reminder. 

Today, though, I woke on this fifth day of Advent and the second day of a miscarriage, remembering the child who was promised to me. God promised a child would be born to us, a son, given to us (Isaiah 9). He was not the child I wanted last night as silent tears tracked down my face, but he was given to us the same. 

I know that doesn't seem to be a lot of comfort for all of us who are still waiting, on days we feel the not-yetness more than the alreadyness of the kingdom. But this isn't some grand cosmic Jesus-Juke. It is Jesus, before juking was a thing. And he is actually enough. Even when he doesn't feel like it. 

This morning I'm listening to Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and the words from the third stanza comfort: 

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Through this life, where hope is guiding, listen: what peaceful music rings. Where we all trust Jesus and drink from eternal and living water. 

Everyone I've talked to this December has been weighed down by the busy, the rush, the flurry of activity, the demands of family. I am laying in bed for the second day in a row, though, captive to my broken body, forced to face my sadness, our emptiness, the not-yetness. But this morning, I find myself weeping while reading Isaiah 9 because everything God has promised me is true. He is a God who keeps his promises. 

Jesus: the joy of all my desires. The one in whom I find all the yeses and amens of the Father. The perfect gift. The promised and delivered gift. 

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Link Love for the Journeying People

It's been weeks and maybe months since I've shared some things I've read around the Internets. I know no one reads blogs anymore (that's what they say) but sometimes I happen along a blog or seven or an article or two that I think more people ought to read. I love the blogging format for what it is: an opportunity to invite the world into today's thoughts. It's one of the reasons I won't quit anytime soon (even though they say no one reads blogs anymore). I love knowing here, today, right this minute, this is how I see the world. It may change in two years or twenty, but for a moment, this slice of life is served up. 

So for that reason I'll also keep reading a few blog sites, a regular rotation of what my soul needs to feast on: other writers stumbling along in words and life, offering their crumbs or delicacies or finest fare for those in need. I need too. 

Winn Collier has this Advent reflection

Bethany Douglass on Thoughts for the Overwhelmed Homeschool Parent. I am not an overwhelmed homeschool parent, but I know many of you are. I was glad to see the grace in this and you might need it today. 

Again, not a mother, but this advice is for every Christian. Carolyn Mahaney on her Biggest Mistake as a Mother

Nate and I are eating the words of Wendell Berry in spades these days. This piece on him resurfaced recently and I loved it. The Hard Edged Hope of Wendell Berry

The Mainliner who Made [Russell Moore] More Evangelical. One of the things I like best about Russell Moore is how widely and out of his camp he reads. This piece is proof. (And I love Buechner too.)

This reflection on the Wendell Berry documentary, Look and See, is from Brett McCracken and I've thought about it so many times since I read it. Wendell Berry is a Dandelion Man

This blog from Timothy Willard on the Value of Retreat is just necessary for all of us. 

I hope even just one of these pieces encourages you, makes you think, or challenges you this week. These writers are all inviting us into their process, thoughts, and sacred spaces. I hope you find comfort or rest for your soul when you join them. 

Also, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to my Patreon supporters. Many of you pledged a simple dollar a month but I want you to know: that dollar a month means the world to me. It says to me that money is tight, but you care about me and you care about Sayable. It says, I don't have much, but such as I have give I thee. It says, like the widow with two mites, you're giving what you can. I just wanted you to know that small act of generosity means millions to me. That's not hyperbole. I mean it with all my heart. Thank you. 

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For the Anxious at Christmas

We wrestled our way home through post-Thanksgiving traffic where all the cheery thankfulness of our nation had by then dissipated and was replaced by a mostly a grumpy, rushed, chaotic nation (of which I was chief after one too many reckless driver cut us off). To add insult to injury, while driving we listened to a sermon from an unknown preacher on anxiety, which was mostly just seven reasons you shouldn't be anxious and a lot of shouting. Thirteen hours into what was supposed to be an eleven hour drive, my anxiety was high.

And then today, it's all photos of homes decked for Christmas already and Cyber Monday deals and an empty refrigerator and three article deadlines + a book review for a book I haven't gotten through yet. Another five opportunities for anxiety. 

I've always been a more mellow sort, more prone to depression than anxiety, but I think two things happen as we age. The first is suffering adds to suffering adds to suffering. And the second is we are faced with a choice: to face the suffering or to medicate ourselves into unfeelingness. December is a month ripe for the latter. It is the one month of the year we indulge every good and beautiful thing and many distorted and disordered things. Perhaps it is all childhood and magical and sparkly and warm in your sphere, and if so, enjoy it. But that is not the reality for most Americans, or the rest of the world. There is a reason reports of anxiety rise leading up to the holidays. Folks are either completely alone or they are engulfed in the mess of materialism. Folks are in poverty or they are in excess. Folks are mourning or they are overwhelmed. 

Almost every person I know is suffering right now. Perhaps they're masking it with trite conversation or seasoned optimism, but the cares of this world are pressing against them in pain and in loss, in grief and in dashed hope, in loneliness and in fear. In our most vulnerable moments we admit it, but in December it is easy to bake another cookie, hang another garland, play another classic, and wrap another gift, to forget, for just a moment. 

Last night Nate and I watched a movie a friend recommended, and in it, one father who lost his child says to another father who has just lost his child, "You have to feel it, press into it, remember the memories. If you try to run away, to not feel it, you'll begin to forget." I wept when I heard that because there are a lot of memories in my life I've tried to run away from. A lot of feelings I've neglected to feel. And a lot of emotions I've stuffed to the bottom. I'm in a season where those are being dug up and stared at, by me and others, and I have to remember the dark before the dawn. December is always difficult for me, but this year I sense it heavier than ever. 

The only remedy for my anxiety is to remember and rejoice, remember and rejoice, remember and rejoice. Remember my God in flesh who was born in poverty and lavished with the gifts of a king, who was a baby boy born when all the other baby boys were killed, who was refused the inn and found haven with the animals, who knew loss and grief and loneliness and death. And then, when I can and only when I can, rejoice.

There is no remedy for anxiety except this: for the anxious, Christmas

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* I know for some folks the mental illness of anxiety is debilitating, and there is no reductionistic answer to that kind of anxiety. Medication is a common grace, and one we should all feel free to use if it works for us. Also counseling (which is a common grace I'm partaking in these days). Also good, healthy foods and routines. 

Seven Ways: Ruling over Screens Crouching at our Door

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing a series of posts on seven ways we try to rule over the crouching presence of sin in our home. I'll expound on our methods for engaging the gospel in these areas of our lives, the ways we fail, and our hope for the Church more and more. 

None of these things are done perfectly. In none of these areas have we arrived. And in every one of these areas we are prone to wander, to fail, and to forget. One of the best blessings of the gospel, I think, is the fact that it never changes. When I fail, forget, and wander—the cross and the empty tomb never change. The point is not to do these things perfectly, but to actually let the imperfection of my doing them remind me of how much I need Jesus every single day.

. . . 

We choose reading, writing, and talking instead of screen-time in order to engage and flourish as flesh and blood humans.

I would say, of all the pillars we try to build our home upon, this is probably the most difficult and the one that needs constant realignment. Both my husband and I make our living by using screens and we are not immune to the allure of news, social media, and whatever new show Netflix wants us to binge upon (currently season four of Great British Bake Off). One of the reasons in my intro post on this I used the verse from Genesis about sin crouching at our door and the need for us to rule over it, is because I believe Cain tried to convince himself that his offering would be pleasing to God. It seemed like he treated it as a gray area, not a black and white one. That's just conjecture, there's no way I can know for sure, but I've always assumed that was the case. 

Technology can be like this. One side of its coin seems good: connectivity, ease, a medium for enjoyment. But the other side can be not so good: producing laziness or indulgence or jealousy, or a God-complex (the idea of being everywhere for all things). The idea is that it is not necessarily sin, but that it is crouching at my door waiting to become sin. I have to rule over that. 

Nate and I are constantly reevaluating, readjusting, recommitting, re-deleting, and rearranging our priorities around technology. It would be easy to see this as failure, but I actually think, in our current culture, that's a good way to approach this. We are both legalists in our hearts and our nature is to cut a thing off entirely (and in some ways we've done that, i.e. our commitment to not having a television), but we also know it's not sin to watch, for instance, The Great British Bake Off. 

I love how Andy Crouch subtitles his book (my running for best book of 2017), The Tech Wise Family: Everyday steps for putting Technology in its place. The creation mandate is to rule over creation, to take dominion over this garden and we cannot do that if we pretend weeds don't exist. Weeds do exist, and for us, the weeds are not necessarily the screen itself, but the time, content, and emotions the content produces in our hearts. We have to be attentive to being addicted, being anxious, being fearful, fear of missing out, fear of the current political climate, overlooking our community, or overlooking one another. These are the weeds produced in the garden of screen technologies.

So how do we combat these weeds? 

It's not easy. And we fail often. That's not me being modest about our failures. We fail often. We are always circling around this conversation in our home. But: 

We regularly fast from certain things. I use the Freedom App on my phone to block all social media except Instagram all week + Sunday, and on my laptop during work hours. The only day it's not blocked is on Saturdays, which is a work-with-our-hands day anyway.

We have canceled our Netflix subscription no fewer than seven times in two years. Sometimes we just need a break from its temptation.

We do not have a television. (This one seems to get the most response, especially from families who have movie nights or use the television to occupy their kids. I don't have kids so I can't speak to how difficult those seasons are. But I have been a kid and I know from experience that when my parents got rid of our television when we were all little it produced good fruit in me. I know it created more work for my mom, but I'm grateful she was faithful with our young minds—even at the expense of things she probably would have preferred doing.)

We do, however, have a projector and so have occasional movie nights or documentary viewings with friends. We're not against watching content, but we do both find that when we do see a commercial or advertisement, they have a jarring effect on us. As they should. So a projector to watch a movie is a good route for us.

We do not read news on our Sabbath. Our aim is to enjoy creation, each other, and to remind ourselves that God is sovereign over the whole world, our only Creator, our only Redeemer, our only source of true Joy (more on this when I write about our Sabbath).

We do not have our phones at the table at mealtimes. Our aim is to enjoy one another and our food, as the provisions from God they are.

We do not take our phones to bed. 

One of us usually leaves our phone at home during date night and the other uses it minimally (GPS or Yelp).

We have all notifications turned off on our phones. I have always had my phone on silent (except for Nate) and no notifications except text-messages coming through (though still on silent). But this week I finally turned even text-notifications off. There are no red bubbles on my iPhone. I find in myself a sick-slavery to them and that's not what I want to be beholden to. 

These are what the Wilbert family chooses to do. These are not Biblical prescriptives, these are permissives. Doing these things permits us to look up, engage one another, trust God, trust one another, enjoy creation, enjoy our home, enjoy one another, fight the temptation to indulge, fight the temptation to check out.

You have to figure out what things give you permission and space to do those things in your family. Perhaps you have young children and the only way you and your husband are going to enjoy one another is to set the kids in front of PBS for an hour. Perhaps you have a sick family member and turning off text-notifications isn't going to work in this season. Whatever our season of life is, we have to recognize sin is crouching at our doors in the form of screen-technology, how will we rule over it? 

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