Who Has the Words of Eternal Life?

I like to think I am not like Peter, the regretful, faltering, denying follower of Christ, but I am more like him in my heart than I pretend to be in my flesh. I think a lot about his question to Jesus, “Master, to whom else would we go?” He follows it by an assurance of his commitment to Jesus, but one can’t help wondering if his question betrayed beneath it the possibility that if another more compelling voice came along, he’d be down for it.

I read an interview with the great thinker Wendell Berry this morning on The New Yorker. It was a long one, but these are the best kind, allowing the interviewer to peel back layers, the interviewee to grow more relaxed, and the reader to exercise attention for longer. The whole piece is good and I recommend it, but one section in particular remains in my mind:

“As I understand my effort, it is to deal with the problems of, for example, land use, in their real complexity. And of course, I’ve failed. I get invited to talk to a lady at Time, and we have a very nice talk, and I answer five questions. It’s obviously inadequate. And then there’s this thing I wrote, “Eating Is an Agricultural Act," I’m so sorry about. By itself it’s baloney.”

Did you hear that? “I failed.” “Obviously inadequate.” “I’m so sorry.” “Baloney.”

What strikes me in this interview (and really has always struck me about Berry’s writing) is his absolute willingness to own his past mistakes. To say something he worked on was inadequate. To admit failure and be sorry about what he said, what was published, and what others read.

This past week on social media I shared a snapshot of a book I read in an afternoon. Within seconds of sharing it, the messages started rolling in. “You’re an influencer, you shouldn’t share this book…” “You’re a public figure, you should consider how you’re leading others astray…” “You’re spreading the gospel of Satan.” The latter in particular tickled me because if there’s one thing I know about Satan it’s that he doesn’t have any good news. But the accusations were similar: because of who I was, I shouldn’t share the imperfect words of a fellow sister in Christ, one who displayed humility, care, attentiveness, and a willingness to be wrong in her book, simply because she runs in different theological streams than I do. Several things strike me here: The first is that I am not the Christ. The second is that I have never called myself an influencer. And the third is that we are very quick to assume it is we who have the corner on the words of eternal life and not, perhaps, someone else who loves Jesus just as much.

What is the common campfire round which these anecdotes gather? It is the warmth and goodness of a willingness to be wrong. To be doing our very best to do what makes sense, what compels us, what draws us in and delights us, but to be willing to say at the end of it all, “Jesus, you alone have the words of real life, eternal life,” which means we do not. Peter. Wendell Berry. The author of the book I read. Me. My ardent followers on social media. We do not have the words of eternal life. We simply carry the words given to us in broken earthenware jars, sip by sip, bit by bit, to our fellow humans, pointing always to the One who does.

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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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