Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What The Heart Wants - Part II

My beautiful friend Meredith Evert in Malibu, California
Used With Permission
(This is the second of a three-part post written from the perspective of a 40+ year old woman who desires to be married, and for whom contentment in singleness is difficult. This post represents only one of many valid viewpoints on this topic. Click here to read Part I.)

"'Have you not read that he who created them 
from the beginning made them male and female, and said,
'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother
and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?'"
Matthew 19:4-5 (ESV)

Being single when your heart wants to be married is difficult at best, devastating at worst. Each decade of singleness has its own distinct characteristics (Part I). Each decade also garners different reactions from family, friends, church family, co-workers, and even strangers. 

In your 20's people are likely to say:
  • Do you have a boyfriend? 
  • I know some great guys and would love to set you up.
  • You're young and have your whole life ahead of you. Go have fun and when you're not even thinking about it Mr. Right will come along.
  • Girl, you're too young to be tied down with children! There is plenty of time for that in your 30's.

Typical comments to a 30-something single:

  • Are you dating anybody right now?
  • Most women wait until their 30's to have kids these days anyway!
  • Where are you going and what are you doing to meet the right kind of guys? Are you in a singles Sunday School class? 
  • Have you thought about e-Harmony or Match.com? My cousin's best friend's sister met an awesome man online and they got married in less than six months.
  • I bet your parents are thinking they will never have any grandchildren!

Words uttered to an unmarried woman in her 40's:
  • I'm so sorry.
  • The Bible says singleness is a gift. You should be honored God has chosen you for this gift!
  • Statistically speaking, you have a greater chance of being hit by lightning and/or winning the lottery than you do of ever getting married.
  • No words. Just a pity-filled stare.

However unintentional it may be, the message is pretty clear: you are less of a woman without a man. Your worth is diminished if you never marry or have children. You are to be pitied, especially if you are over 40, because your life will never really have meaning without the experience of marriage and family. 

Adding insult to injury, single women of all ages are apt to hear:
  • Pray and ask God to reveal what is wrong with you. When you fix those issues God will bring you a husband.    
    Really? Are you kidding? Most of the married people we know (including the ones making that statement) are screwed up way worse than us, but we've gotta fix ourselves so men will want us?
  • You have a strong personality and you're too independent. That's intimidating to men. If you could tone yourself down some, guys would flock to you.
    So we're supposed to alter our God-given personalities in order to attract men? When did confidence and healthy self-esteem stop being sexy? What about all of the strong, independent women we know who are married?
  • A husband doesn't complete you; only God can do that. If you're empty now, you'll still be empty in marriage.
    Deep in our hearts we know you are right, but we don't want to hear that. Would you be able to say that as confidently if you weren't married?
  • When you give up and quit looking, that's when the man of your dreams will find you.
    Do you have any idea how many times we have quit? How often we've begged and pleaded with God to please take the desire for marriage away if He never intends to fulfill it? How we've given up only to have the desire hit us again out of nowhere, leaving us feeling crushed and defeated all over again?

Then there's the taboo topic discussed only in whispers - SEX:

If you're in your 20's, your youthful hormones are raging, understandably, but you have the opportunity to die to self and honor God by practicing self-control. If you're in your 30's, your married friends discuss their sex lives openly. Assuming your self-control is still strong, you listen and learn and, of course, blush at the appropriate times. If you are currently making ungodly choices (and your friends know it) you still do not participate in the conversation. Outwardly everyone pretends you're handling abstinence well, while inwardly they judge you a little for your lack of purity. But they don't envy you and have no idea how they would handle themselves if they were in your shoes. If you're in your 40's, it's assumed that you don't really need or want physical intimacy. Besides, by this point many married women you know are busy figuring out how not to have sex and assume you understand that it's a necessary evil that you've been spared (a sad, but pervasive view of sex embraced by many older married women in the church who are passing this unhealthy, ungodly perspective on to single and young married women alike).

The Bottom Line

I'm certain that married people don't intend to make singleness more difficult. They're mostly unaware that they communicate to single women that we possess a tragic flaw rendering us essentially unattractive and unlovable. But we don't and we're not. 

From the woman's perspective of singleness last week, to the common platitudes we often hear from those wanting to help us this week, I hope you'll hang around for one more week as I wrap up what began as two-parts, but has grown into a three-part post ending in the most amazing love affair imaginable! 

"Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life."
Proverbs 13:12 (ESV)

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What The Heart Wants - Part I

My beautiful friend Meredith Evert in Malibu, California
Used With Permission
(This is the first of a three-part post written from the perspective of a 40+ year old woman who desires to be married, and for whom contentment in singleness is difficult. This post represents only one of many valid viewpoints on this topic.)

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good
that the man should be alone; 
I will make him a helper fit for him.'"
Genesis 2:18 

For a woman whose heart yearns to be married, there is a huge difference between singleness in your 20's than in your 30's, but being unwed in your 40's takes on a whole new meaning. In no way am I implying that being single in your 20's isn't difficult. But it is different than dealing with the deep longing for marriage when you are older. 

Being unwed in your 40's takes on a whole new meaning!

Several single friends recently asked me about my feelings and experiences as someone whose desire for marriage was unfulfilled until I was in my 40's. I don't have any great wisdom, but their expertly camouflaged pain is so similar to what I felt that I thought it was time for me to write about it. From the heart of an older, single woman desiring marriage to those who seek to understand and minister to such women, and to those who desperately need to know you're not alone, here is a glimpse of the differences in the decades of singleness:

  • 20's - You have finished high school/college and friends are beginning to pair off. Sparkly engagement rings and adorable photo sessions are the rule. You want the Cinderella story too and, every once in a while, the jealous twinges get to you. But there are lots of fun parties to attend, colorful bridesmaid dresses to buy, and wedding festivities to fill your social calendar. By the end of your 20's the initial frenzy is over and it has been a blast. As the big 3-0 approaches, you secretly admit to your closest friend that part of you has enjoyed the carefree lifestyle, but you don't say it too loud lest God think you're OK staying this way. You still socialize with your married friends, but they are being drawn like magnets to other young couples - not because they don't love you or desire your company anymore, but because they have moved into a new station in life and, unfortunately, it's one you don't understand. You feel like you're being left behind, so you cling to that handful of friends who are in your current life station. You pretend that you're fine with it, because desperation is not an attractive quality. 

You want the Cinderella story too and,
every once in a while, the jealous twinges get to you.

  • 30's -  The wedding decade is over and you are genuinely happy for your friends, but each aisle walking occasion rubbed a little more salt in the proverbial wound. You observe your married friends, further defining what you want (or don't want) your marriage to look like. Meanwhile babies begin popping out everywhere and you become an "aunt." You adore your friends' kids and view your time with them as practice for yours (you still have hope that marriage and family are in the cards). Bitterness is biting at your heels, but you're fighting to keep it at bay (mainly by avoiding family gatherings and reunions). By your mid-30's you play math games with yourself - "Ok, if I meet someone this weekend, we can know we're in love within three months, get engaged at six months, be married within the year and, if we plan carefully, I can get pregnant on my honeymoon and have baby #1 before our first anniversary." The bar scene lost its appeal years ago, so you try online dating because several friends have had success with it. Forty is looming. Your heart breaks because this is not the way you pictured your life unfolding. You're angry with God (He could fix this if He wanted to, but He doesn't) so your relationship with Him, that is supposed to fill you and make you whole, suffers. 

Your heart breaks because this is not the way
you pictured your life unfolding.

  • 40's - Over the past twenty years you've looked at all the engagement, wedding, honeymoon, ultrasound, weekly pregnancy, monthly newborn, kid birthday party and happy family photos you can stomach. The longing for the life you thought you would have has erupted into a grief so deep that it's palpable. You put on a happy face publicly, but privately the tears flow as you mourn. You miss God. You need God. But you blame God. How are you supposed to find comfort in Him when you feel like this is all His fault? Statistically speaking, it's now highly unlikely that you will ever marry. Your reality is that you must wrestle this out and, like Jacob, refuse to let go until God blesses you with the ability to be at peace and accept your singleness as a fact of life. The desire still burns, but it's time to stop licking your wounds. You renew your pursuit of God as the lover of your soul, imploring Him to give you a new purpose and the will to walk it out.

You miss God. You need God. But you blame God.

Not all single women struggle with their marital status. I did. And I know others who do. Many unmarried women are not able to embrace their singleness because it's not what the heart wants. Next week I will talk about the way families, friends, co-workers, strangers, and, yes, even the church both hinder and help single women arrive at the conclusion that their wholeness as humans and women has nothing to do with whether or not they wear wedding rings, but, instead, depends entirely on their identity as children of the King.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God. 
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:6-7