Before you think this is a mere diatribe against such posts (I bet I could do a pretty good diatribe, though ;) ), let me announce that I am about to cross The Marriage Post off this girl's Blogger Bucket List.
Yep, this is me writing about marriage. And singleness. And all that good stuff.
And in good Jenn fashion, it will probably end up looking like a rant. Sigh. (Hey, I am not married, so aren't you glad I didn't choose to lecture?) And now, without further ado....
In the Christian Marriage world of young people today, after reading through reams and reams of words dedicated to this touchy topic, one would think that Christians fall into one of two camps in the apparent struggle over how marriage fits into Christianity ('cause, yeah, we have to admit that this struggle pervades a lot of modern Christian societal dialogue ~ and the struggle ain't new, either):
- There are the Christians who openly support marriage, and, what is more, openly support getting married and getting married young (aka now or the next two years). There are varying levels within this "let's get married" camp, ranging anywhere from the "Martin Luther raids monastery and weds ex-nun" (epic story, really) to your Average Joe Preacher who is working through Genesis 2:21 this Sunday morning. God created man and women to glorify God together. God commands us to be fruitful and multiply. Marriage sanctifies. Or even, God has a soul mate hand-picked for you somewhere. Your other half waits; wait for him/her until you find him/her (or, for some of us, until God brings him/her to you). There are a lot of good people who are part of this camp.
- Then there are the Christians who start off with something along the lines of "I am all for Godly marriage, but...." This writer is often a young person who five years ago expected she would be hitched in five years. But she wasn’t, and now she has to deal with it. Marriage is a gift that is not for everyone. Marriage is not the end and the beginning of all things; birth and rebirth are. I have Christ - what/who else do I need? Or even, Jesus is my boyfriend. He fills all my desires so I can live a rocking full life. Again, there are a lot of good people who are part of this camp.
Honestly, I am grown weary of the polite and subtle fighting between these two camps, and so I would like to bring up a few points to see if we can get anywhere better than the regular "I grew up in Camp X and am sick of hearing Camp X all the time and am concerned that Camp X is damaging the Church, so I am going to swing over to the completely opposite side” story. In short, Jenn hopes to move away from reactionary writing, step back, and take a good look at what is going on in our hearts.
The first point is about Context and "the Church." Both people from Camps 1 and 2 generally end up saying something like, "The Church is not helping by...(fill in the blank)," and they get all holily worried about how the Church is leading us poor young lads and lassies astray. Either the Church pushes people off into marriage like a flock of so many unsuspecting sheep, or the Church is not encouraging marriage at all. The reactions of second-generation Camp 1 or 2-ers always come from their context. Well, please remember that whatever problems you see in your local and/or ideological Christian community are by no means characteristic of every Christian community.
For example, I know of someone whose local church one year invited a guest speaker to talk to the youth about marriage. He was for young marriage and, on top of a Biblical exposition on why marriage is good, he also used the argument that people who marry young get to look forward to a night of "holy sex" instead of being stuck playing video games in a basement. The next youth conference, however, the very same church invited another guest speaker to talk about marriage. He went through the Bible showing how marriage is a big step and it is important that young people spend years maturing in Christ before they even think about being glued to another soul who has another host of problems, because you don't want immaturity ruining your marriage before it even gets started. Recipe for a slightly crazed and confused youth group? I think so. But see how these different camps are not limited to one set of Christians (for example, I think it is unfair and incorrect to equate the Homeschooling movement with Camp 1)? I have had different respected Reformed pastors tell me both, "Jenn, make sure you are preparing for a good marriage now. That is how you will win the world," and "Jenn, hold off on marriage until you are ready to settle down and give yourself up to a husband. Take as long as you can doing what you alone can do for God's kingdom."
Obviously, neither the church nor even a given denomination (nor even vaguer groups like "Homeschooling Families") are united in their problems and concerns regarding marriage. Let's not be silly and blame "the Church" or be petty and blame "Homeschoolers" or be biased and blame "Modern Youth Culture" for problems manifest in your circle of friends. Most of the time, the window we have into the universal church is very small, and thus our basis for reaction is likewise limited. Are there Christian girls who foster unrealistic expectations about marriage? Yep. Are there Christian parents who set their kids up for disappointment and disillusionment when it comes to preparing for and getting married? Oh, yes. Are there lazy and controlling young Christians who will come up with any excuse to put off (until further notice) the fetters that marriage would put on their selfish or workaholic lifestyles? You bet. Are there Christian parents who discourage their kids from marrying because they want those kids to prosper financially before locking into family payments? There are too many of these parents. Yes, just as many churches demean marriage as idolise it. Maybe we would do better to admit and address only that which we know, or, better, admit and try to know what other believers are thinking on whatever subject you are addressing. Make sure you aren't reacting from a bubble.
The second point is this whole notion of Marriage versus Singleness in the first place. Seriously? Who ever said our identity was our marital status, and that we have control over what that status is? In 20 years, a lot of the people who are currently married are going to be single and a lot of the people who are single are going to be married. Believe me. God is huge and can change your world in a year or a day. The idea that marriage or singleness is a choice you can make, a door you can close or open, strikes me as very odd and rather conceited. It is like thinking you actually have real control (for more or less) over the number of babies you have. God will do whatever it takes to make us as believers look more like His Son. That means that a 50-year-old woman is never a confirmed spinster and a 20-year-old bride might not die with her husband at her side. Our earthly marital status is not forever: in Heaven there will be no giving in marriage and in Heaven we as a Church will be married to Christ. There can't be a proper Married versus Single struggle because there aren't proper sides. All you know about the future is that God will be faithful in conforming you to Christ-likeness, whatever circumstance(s) it requires.
Perhaps if Christians would truly see that a believer can become more like Christ (be sanctified) just as effectively inside marriage as outside of it, and that God is writing each of His children's life stories in such a way that they would best grow into holiness and help others do the same, then we would stop this clandestine holier-than-thou attitude that exists on both sides of the marriage war.
Because the whole point of life as a Christian (and the third point of this post) is to...you know it by now...become more like Christ with each passing day. Both as we grow as individuals submitting to Christ and as labourers of grace in expanding His Kingdom. That is all that matters for me and for you if you are God's child. Truly, we should be thrilled to see the likeness of our Saviour blossom in a fellow believer, whether God is using marriage or singleness to increase Christ in that person's life.
Now, I think that God has called the vast majority of people to marriage as one of His tools to achieve Christ-likeness in His followers. I think that God loves a Christian marriage which reflects His good news of a groom winning his bride. I think that He has placed in most of us a desire to be married so we might preach the Gospel as couples and give birth to children who will at least see that Gospel lived out in their homes. And I think this desire for marriage is okay, even good, and that this desired marriage ought to be prepared for. (About that, though, I also think that anyone who is striving to become more like the Lord is, in all the most important senses, being prepared for marriage. Even if you don't know how to cook.) But guess what? I have no clue and you have no clue if we are going to get married, and we need to be certain in knowing that we are complete in Christ regardless of marriage. Paul was single, folks, and God used Paul in astounding ways. See, our lives here on earth are so so so so not about our wedding days. If this ruffles any of y'all's feathers, too bad. I am just talking Bible-speak.
For the married: Marriage is a beautiful and God-given thing. It is blessed by Him and He asks it of most us. Marriage represents the Gospel story in a unique and stunning way, reflecting the entire story of the Bible. The Bible begins and ends with marriage. You have a special and God-given opportunity to make little disciples of Christ (according to His will) as you train up your children in the way he should go, which single people do not have. You have been placed in a glorious situation for becoming more like Christ as you learn to live out the Gospel intimately attached to another, sacrificing and submitting as do Christ and the Church. Make sure you find your soul's satisfaction in Christ alone and not in your spouse, for you have a relationship with Christ apart from your wedded state. And you know what? Your marriage isn't going to last forever.
For the single: Singleness is a beautiful and God-given thing. It is blessed by Him in the few times He asks it of us. Singleness demonstrates the life-transforming relationship each of us as believers has with Christ, and the sufficiency of that relationship to let us live joyful, fruitful lives. You have a special and God-given opportunity to make disciples of Christ for you have the freedom and ability to go places and do things and spend the time with people that many families do not have. God has placed you in a glorious situation for becoming more like Christ as you learn to rely on Him alone for all your needs and come to a sweet knowledge of all He is and has done for you, and all He is again. Make sure you realise that you don't have to choose between marriage and Christ. And you know what? Your singleness isn't going to last forever.
So, whether you are married, single, unmarried, remarried, or pink and purple all over, embrace the fact that to live is Christ, not wedding cake.