God has been slowly teaching me a lot of things in me over the past year or so, but especially in the past few months. A lot of my beliefs and ways of thinking are being challenged, down to my day-to-day life.
Career and ministry-wise, I’m successful. I’ve taken on more responsibility at the PRC where I work, fully stepping into a leadership role there, accomplishing a lot. I’m the secretary at my church, and have found myself in a support role on a lot of things, but also the coordinator and contact person and in charge of a lot of things. I’ve gone on mission trips and other ministry things and been handed responsibility and leadership roles, unsought.
There’s an awful lot of applause out there for a woman who’s using her strengths, leading, getting results, accomplishing goals, living in the spotlight, without a lot of questions about what God actually calls women to and what does faithful obedience actually look like. Not that faithful obedience can’t include those things, but . . .there’s not a lot of applause for hidden service, submission, the long investment of raising children, keeping a home, and being a godly wife.
I slip into it as a single woman especially. I am, for all intents and purposes, in “full-time ministry”, both within the church and in parachurch ministry. Somehow, I have become recognized across the board as one of those “poster single women” who is using her single years to serve the Lord instead of being “distracted” by needing to please a husband.
And I’ve liked it. I like the applause. I like the results. I like leading. I like serving. I like goal setting and planners and visible accomplishments. I like calling my time my own, doing what I please (serving God, mind you!), and being flexible. I like saying yes.
But what has it done to me? What is the cost of the applause? What lies have I allowed to take the place of God’s Word?
For when it comes to relationships, I am failing. And all the other success is feeling rather empty. I get to serve lots of mommies, but my arms feel empty and the hidden pain of barrenness within singleness has become very real. I am respected by men and given leadership roles, but no man has asked me to be his wife, to submit to him in that way. I am told I am intimidating and strong and “too much”. Even in a relationship with a godly man where I did start to fall in love and hoped marriage would be in our future . . . I was eventually told, respectfully, that my work/ministry was appreciated but my love was rejected and unwanted.
So I have run to God’s Word. Spent hours and hours in Scripture, reading it, studying it, praying through it, being quiet in His presence, listening. For only in Christ can I find truth. Am I right to be living as I am? What is truth, and what are insidious lies? Is living single a valid choice? If not, what am I to do about it?
There is one place, and only one, that can even be interpreted as showing singleness as a benefit or positive option in God’s Word, and it only “in view of the present distress”:
“I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. . . I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 7:26-27, 32-35
Everywhere else, marriage is normative and even commanded. Read the rest of 1 Corinthians 7 itself, and there is plenty of evidence that marriage is good and right and a way for people to pursue holiness, and choosing to remain single is to be the exception and only for specific reasons.
From the very beginning, in God’s grand design, it was “not good” for Adam to be alone, even before sin had entered the world and the relationship between God and man was unbroken. God did not design man to be alone, and He did not intend to fulfill that need Himself. Woman was created to be a helpmeet to man, never designed to be independent and alone, and God gave her to a man.
Yes, sin entered the world and everything became twisted. Part of the curse is that now women desire their husbands in ways that are wrong, and men rule over their wives in ways that are wrong.
But that doesn’t change God’s grand design. Or His command to be fruitful and multiply, which requires a man and a woman coming together in marriage (as I tell kids when talking about God’s design for sex: God Himself designed and commanded sex, which is why He gets to set the boundaries around it, but that’s a separate discussion . . . ).
Yes, we have the Great Commission, to go and make disciples, but not to the exclusion of the Dominion Mandate. Our realm of making disciples goes beyond the home, but not to the exclusion of the home. When women are addressed specifically and given commands, in the New Testament, they are most often addressed as wives and told to marry and have children.
“But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan.” 1 Tim. 5:11-15.
Ouch, Paul. What happened to singleness being the better option? After all, her husband died, shouldn’t she be freed to go serve God “without distraction”? Not if she’s under sixty, apparently. The church leadership had better make sure she gets married, or else she’s going to be idle and a busybody.
Hmm. Has singleness been a temptation and opportunity to sin, for more than just in recent times?
Or what about this?
“Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.” 1 Peter 3:1-6
No praise for leadership and taking the stage and loud accomplishments here. God considers a “gentle and quiet spirit” precious. Wives are called to submit “likewise”: as Jesus did.
In what ways does living as a single woman in full-time ministry equip me to obey this? In what ways am I making it much harder for myself? Those are the questions I am wrestling with.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. . . . “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Ephesians 5:21-24, 31-33
This is a picture of Christ and the church. Submission and respect are not optional but commanded, and it’s not because the husband is “worthy”, but “as to the Lord”. Unconditional respect, unconditional love. Oh, and that quote about a man leaving his father and mother and holding fast to his wife? That’s from Genesis. Apparently God didn’t forget that in the New Testament. He brought Adam to Eve and therefore this (marriage) is what is to be normative. Still true in Ephesians, which is (not incidentally) also written by Paul. And Paul wrote this, too, and called it “good teaching”:
“Older women . . . are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2:3-5
If I turn off the voices of the culture, even the voices within the church that put a Christian “spin” on what the culture says, and stop and just read the passage . . . ouch again. It doesn’t say “teach the young women to use their single years to serve God to the fullest, and eventually maybe they’ll have to get married, in which case you should teach them these things”.
It’s pretty clear: teach the young women (not just some) to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled (not just working in their strengths), pure (hmm, lots of single women struggle with sexual sin . . .I wonder if we’ve made it a bigger problem by staying single?), working at home (or keepers at home, not leaders of ministries), kind (a good trait that isn’t always cultivated elsewhere), and submissive to their own husbands (not leading, but submissive), that the word of God may not be reviled (oh. It’s not a preference or Paul’s “recommendation” anymore. It’s part of glorifying God and being His ambassador and representing Him well).
To be completely honest, I want to find wiggle room on this, but I can’t. I want to find a way that being single is just as good of an option. I want to find validation for what I’m doing. It’d be so much easier.
Yes, growing up all I wanted to be was a wife and mommy, but that didn’t happen, at least not yet, and I’ve found a lot of joy in serving as a single woman and as long as I skipped over these kind of passages or “saved them for later”, I was fine. But then I started doing inductive Bible studies, working through Colossians and Titus and 1 Peter and 1 John, and it’s hard to skip over these, especially when I read them in context.
If I look at that list in Titus and compare it to the things that are being cultivated in me through full-time ministry as a single woman . . . I am afraid I am falling quite short.
I don’t know yet what I am to do with all of this. I’m still very much in the struggling-to-understand-and-apply process. I’m closer to 30 than I am to 20, and still single. I currently carry a lot of responsibilities that I can’t just walk away from for no reason. If obedience requires a husband, quite frankly, I don’t know how to go about obeying, when I haven’t one.
I’m praying. And asking. I know that my God withholds no good thing. I know that He provides what is needed. Where He calls me to go, He will open up a way and He will be with me. I know that I live in a broken world where all is not as it should be, but I also know that God is sovereign. No matter what, my God is good and He is faithful.
So I’m trusting Him. I am trusting that He will guide me, one step at a time. I am trusting that He will reveal His truth to me. I am trusting that His forgiveness is real and that restoration is possible and that He will work all things for good.
I’m afraid I haven’t any inspiring teaching to share on this topic. No easy “5 Things To Do” approach. God’s been convicting me on that, too, this being so sure of how life works and what God’s truth looks like applied and sharing it so confidently. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t know.
But perhaps, this can be a call to wrestle well with Scripture. To ask the hard questions. To press into truth. To examine our own lives and hearts and repent where needed. To hold the messages we hear up against the word of God and discern what is true and what is a lie. To not just buy every good sounding line. To recognize where it is not just “those people out there” who have failed, but see where we too have failed.
May God make us people of the Word. May we listen to the Holy Spirit above all the noise out there. May we submit to His will and seek to please Him, over any applause. May we fix our eyes on Him and nowhere else.
May we be willing to be misunderstood. May we be willing to “let others down” that we might obey Christ. May Christ alone reign supreme as Lord of our lives. And may we glorify Him in all that we do and say and are.
Follow-up post: http://apureradiance.com/what-if-then-god/