I caused a bit of a kerfuffle over on my Facebook page the other day by attempting to encourage one group of folks and bumbling it a bit. The husband and I hashed over it all while going to pick up a white slipcovered couch we found on Facebook Marketplace, which should tell you two things: Facebook is still good for something and that something will probably lead to more headaches than fewer ones. I promptly spilled coffee on the couch yesterday morning. An object lesson if there ever was one.
Few of my still unmarried friends, in all honesty, really, truly, and completely think that marriage will complete them, solve all their problems, and generally make them better folks all around. Though it is all the rage to assume they do think this, I can't think of a single one who does. Most of them, though, hear that message from married folks all the time in some form.
I know, I know, you're throwing up your hands right now, insisting you've never said that ever. But, actually, most of us have. Every time we say things like, "Marriage is the most sanctifying thing you'll ever do," or "Nothing matures you like marriage," or "He/She just needs to settle down and get married." What message do you think singles are hearing when you say things like that?
They're hearing: If marriage is the most sanctifying thing one can ever do, I must be incomplete until I'm married (therefore, marriage will complete me). Or, if nothing matures one like marriage, I will be immature until I'm married. Or, if I want to be stable and settled, I have to get married. You see what I mean? Married folks complaining that singles all think marriage will complete them while continuing to tout that in some form marriage is the most of anything continues to perpetuate strangulating myths for both married folks and unmarried ones.
What I tried to say in my Facebook status was that, for some (and for me specifically), singleness was more difficult and more sanctifying that marriage has been. I did not say it would never even out (though I suppose it may take another 35 years for the scales to level), though I did infer that if one presses themselves into obedience, which leads to righteousness, which leads to sanctification (which—surprise—leads to obedience, which...) (Romans 6:15-23) while still unmarried, then they too may have a less difficult marriage as those muscles will be stronger coming into it.
I don't know why this is so difficult for many to hear. As the weekend progressed, though, and I thought, prayed, and talked with Nate about it (and listened to yet another respected teacher say a form of, "Marriage is the most sanctifying thing you'll ever do." ), I realized something: the Bible never says that.
The Bible says in this world we will all have trouble (John 16:33). It says marriage will bring us concern for our spouse, yet singleness has concern for the Lord—so both have concerns aplenty (I Corinthians 7). It says husbands must love and wives must submit (Ephesians 5), but it also says all Christians will be known by their love (I John 3) and all of us must submit to one another (Ephesians 5). In fact, there isn't one thing a married person has or does that an unmarried person will not participate in fully, functionally, and more eternally than an earthly married person does. So who's the more mature one here? Who's the one who has it harder? Who's getting more sanctified? The answer is neither.
Life is difficult and trials have come for all of us in one form or another. But, as our dear Lewis said, it isn't that we expect too much, but that we expect too little. From God and from one another. The Scriptures do not promise marriage will be hard, but they do promise life will be. For some, that difficulty will come in marriage, and for some in cancer, and for some in financial ruin, and for some in singleness, and for some in infertility, and for some in lifelong celibacy, and for some in ministry, and for some in wealth, and for some in parenthood, and so on.
When we perpetuate the narrative that our experience of marriage is hard and therefore assign it will or should be hard for everyone, it puts limitations on singles for the possibility of sanctification.
When we perpetuate the myth that there is no relationship we will be more challenged by, in, or within than marriage, we place limitations on relationships for singles—are we surprised when our unmarried brothers and sisters struggle to commit to one another, to truly love, to risk hurt? We've as much as told them they're incapable of deep, lasting, covenantal relationship unless they're married!
When we perpetuate the myth that marriage is the "most" or "hardest" of anything, we elevate marriage as pinnacle. Why are we then surprised when our unmarried friends perhaps think marriage will complete them?
We are guaranteed two things in life: the first is we will suffer and the second is we will spend eternity with our Groom. We are not guaranteed a hard marriage or an easy one, a difficult singleness or an easy one. To each has been given a measure of faith for the life we've been given to live. Nothing we do is the most or worst or best or easiest or hardest or whatever other superlative we want to throw in there. What we're called to today—where sufficient for every person's day is its troubles—is faithfulness.
If your marriage is hard, and Lord knows, many of them are and the hardest thing some folks have ever done, here's my encouragement to you: obey the Scriptures, bear the fruit of righteousness, press yourself into sanctification, beg the Spirit to fill you with himself more and more, and to bear his fruit in all things.
If your singleness is hard, and friends, I know it sometimes feels like the most difficult thing you will ever do, here's my encouragement to you: obey the Scriptures, bear the fruit of righteousness, press yourself into sanctification, beg the Spirit to fill you with himself more and more, and to bear his fruit in all things.
If your marriage or singleness is easy, and goodness gracious, let's rejoice when ours is or others are, here's my encouragement to you: obey the Scriptures, bear the fruit of righteousness, press yourself into sanctification, beg the Spirit to fill you with himself more and more, and to bear his fruit in all things.
I am praying for all of us today to that end. Faithfulness in easy marriages and hard ones. Faithfulness in child-rearing and child-absence. Faithfulness in singleness and widowhood. Faithfulness in empty-nesting and baby-birthing. Just faithfulness.