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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The Hidden Grief of Singleness

I caught myself staring at my husband the other day. Gray is creeping into his full head of hair, small wrinkles forming at the corners of his eyes, a tiny patch of white in his beard. There is a dignity in aging for men, I think to myself, as I think ahead to my next cut and color, dabbing vitamin E oil onto the darkening age spots of my face. Men grow more attractive the older they get and I think women do too, but the world is telling us our bloom came and went, it is time to droop and drop and become the ground from which the next crop will come. 

The name Eve means "the mother of all living," but it does not mean "always mothering all that is living." There is not a woman among us who does not feel the age of fertility closing, the gap between fully alive and to dust we shall return ending. Most of us have a monthly reminder of one more opportunity lost. We are all coming to the last chapter of motherhood, whether we bear children or not. 

I am leaving in a few hours to pick up my oldest friend from the airport. There is no one in the world who knows me as well, as deep, as long, and as wholly as she does. How could anyone, even my husband? She held me through fitful nights after my brother was killed. I have listened to her for years mourn things she cannot control. She was equal parts older sister to my youngest siblings and I to hers. There is no scent in the world as familiar to me as hers. I have always assumed she would marry first. She is cute, vivacious, tiny, adventurous, nurturing, full of life, bringing joy wherever she goes. She gives of herself in every possible manner, always pouring out, never lacking in love to give. I have learned more about motherhood from her than anyone in my life. And yet, she is not married, and I am and it pains me. I physically ache for her in this sometimes. She was made to mother, to be a wife. I don't know anyone made for it more. 

. . .

It occurs to me more and more recently that the barrenness of singleness is a silent pain. In our singleness we feel the lack of a partner often and others' suppose it is our deepest ache. It can be tempting to see it as the only barrier between today and joy. Yet there is another, sometimes more difficult, pain unmarried women face and this is the pain of barrenness. Some find ways around this ache, adopting or fostering children. But for most unmarried women that monthly reminder of aging reminds them again and again that time is running out. Men can prolong marriage as long as they like, but women know there is a deadline and it is half of a man's life-span. Men wonder why, sometimes, some women are anxious to be united? It is no mystery to me: we are dealing with only half the time and must move doubly fast if we are to become mothers of what is living. 

The older I grow, and the more familiar I grow with my own body's failure to make and hold a child, the more I talk to my unmarried friends, the more I hear it is not the lack of a partner that pains or has pained us all most, it is the lack of motherhood. 

There is a very real ache for children that cannot be replaced by mentoring, discipleship, practicing hospitality. Nothing can be substituted for hearing the words "Mama" or "Daddy" from the lips of a child. Yet, I think, we cannot look at the substance of our being mothers as only within the gift of children. Nurturing others is not some consolation prize for the barren, it is the call for every Christian. Our problem is not that we are being withheld from, it is that we view the gift of nurturing too narrowly. We think it is only—and best—done with children we bear, but that is not the call to the New Testament family. In the Old Testament the family of God was nuclear and extended, but limited to one lineage. In the New Testament, the family of God is corporate and available to all, mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and brothers and sisters—this is the language of the New Testament Christian. We are all family now. 

Eve was created to be a helpmeet, but she was named to be a mother. She was called to a man, but called mother. Her very identity, the way she specifically imaged God, was to conceive, birth, mother, nurture, grow, care for, and gather her offspring to herself. We may feel called to marriage (even if we have not been given the gift of it yet), but our identity, our substance, who we are is not some future event: it is now. Mother. Now. 

If you are unmarried today and the secret pain of barrenness haunts you, I want to encourage you to face that pain. It is a very real and legitimate ache. You were made to ache for this. A friend of mine talked recently about how the pain of singleness/barrenness doesn't haunt her, but sometimes it hits her and I loved that. I think God wants all of us, regardless of our season in life, to be hit by true, real, and good longings, but not be haunted by them. This friend went on to talk about a situation in which I've found myself too: buying a baby gift for a friend and going out to her car in tears. 

John Piper said, "Occasionally, weep deeply over the life that you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Feel the pain. Then wash your face, trust God, and embrace the life that he’s given you."

The Bible gives us permission to weep deeply over the life we hoped we would have, and to not feel ashamed of that hope or disappointment. It is okay to grieve those losses and feel that pain. Go out to your car armed with tiny onesies you just bought for your friend, the scent of powder and sweet baby things still on you, and weep, cry hard aching sobs. You were made to mother. You are built for it. And it is not happening for you right now. And that is sad. Deeply sad. And that is okay. Really okay. 

. . .

I'll pick up my friend today, my oldest and dearest friend, and for the next ten days we will do all the things we love to do together, make, create, laugh, cry, be, dream, cook, talk, or not. She will nurture me and I will hopefully nurture her. It is our identity to do so. We are daughters of the post-fall Eve, bodies broken, dreams unrealized, fears alive, but we are also the daughters of pre-fall Eve, imaging God, tending to life, nurturing growth, mothers of what is living. 

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