God, Why Am I Still Single?
By Lori Smith
(Although this article was originally intended for all singles, in many churches Ladies Ministries oversees the Single’s Ministry as well. For this reason we have provided this excellent article to share with your singles group. Editors)
Almost every Christian who’s single has heard this line: “Hang in there. The right one’s out there, and he (or she) is worth waiting for.”
It’s a wonderful notion that God has a specific partner in mind for each of us and all we need to do is wait. Friends and family believe this for us. How could they not? They love us, they want what’s best for us, and they believe that our having someone to love would be a very good thing. They also know we want to he married (many of us, at least). Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that, although well meant, the assurance that God will grant our desires for a mate is not entirely grounded in biblical truth.
I grew up with the idea as did many in the church that good Christian girls went to college and then got married. When that didn’t happen for me, I was surprised, but I imagined that God would come through for me in my early 20s. By my late 20s, I was feeling the tension between what I hoped and tried to believe (that God had someone specifically for me) and the reality of my very single life.
My prolonged singleness forced me to reevaluate my beliefs regarding God’s provision of a spouse. I began to see that I often viewed God as the fairy godmother in Cinderella: I expected Him to show up at the right time with just what I wanted. The idea sounds presumptuous, yet there are verses- Jer. 29:11 and Ps. 37:4 are the most quoted that seem to indicate He will do just that. I wondered, Do thee verses really mean that God will fulfill my desires? If so, why has He been so slow in meeting my desire for a spouse? Either God wasn’t living up to His promises, or my interpretation of Scripture was a bit off and I suspected that the problem was mine. So I set out to discover what these passages really meant.
God’s Good Plans
Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Like merry Christians, I’d often read this verse and thought, Aha! God is going to prosper me and give me what I want. But I failed to look at the verse in its context. By studying the book of Jeremiah I unearthed truths I had previously missed.
At the time Jeremiah was writing, the children of Judah were to in exile. They had turned from following God and Nebuchadnezzar’s armies invaded and carried them off to Babylon. Jeremiah wrote to them from Jerusalem to tell them that though the 70-year exile would be longer than they hoped (and longer than their false prophets were predicting), God still had good plans for them as a nation. In the middle of this letter sits Jen 29:11 written to a nation, not to individuals.
Details from Jeremiah’s life provided further clarification. Jeremiah never married. His family and friends turned against him. His life was threatened more than once. He didn’t enjoy being a prophet, but when he tried to stay quiet he found that God’s Word was like “a fire shut up in [his] bones” (Jer. 20:93), and he couldn’t keep from speaking it. His life was marked by misery yet he played an invaluable role in God’s kingdom: calling God’s children back to Him. Ultimately, I’m sure Jeremiah would have wanted nothing more.
What does this mean for us: From Jer. 29:11 and its context we learn the nature of our God. He is forgiving. He doesn’t give up easily. He wants us to seek Him. He wants to be found. On a grand scale, He’s working out good plans that we have the privilege to be part of, though at times these plans may be painful. In the end, this is the best kind of good to play a role in His larger plan. Even if that means we remain single.
My Heart’s Desire
The second verse that’s often used to support the of-course-God’s-going-to-give-you-a-mate philosophy is Ps. 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This one is more difficult to interpret. It seems to say that if we delight in God, He’ll give us what we want. So why do our experiences frequently suggest otherwise?
I often get stumped like this when I read the Psalms. Many of the verses – although certainly inspired and therefore true – are obviously not true in my life or in every situation. For example, reading further in Psalm 37, I wonder, Is it true that no one who follows God has ever died in a famine?(v.19). And how do you square David’s affirmation that God will “protect forever” His “faithful ones” (v. 28) with the knowledge that Christians are dying in wars or as victims of drunk-driving accidents or of cancer?
It’s becoming clear to me that, rather than reading verses in the Psalms as though they were written directly to me, I need to take a mental step back and approach them the way I do other passages of Scripture. For example, when I read Proverbs, I understand that its teachings are generally true but may not be specifically applied to every situation. And in Jesus’ parables, I look for overarching principles rather than milking the details for meaning.
I also have to remember that the Psalms are poetry personal expressions of emotion and worship. In them, David and other writers capture their feelings at the moment. The same David who talks with joyful confidence about God giving us our desires in Psalm 37 cries out to Him in agony countless times in other passages. “Has God abandoned me?” he asks. “Is He going to be faithful? Why has He allowed such misery?” Through these varied expressions of emotion, the psalmists guide us in how to communicate our feelings to God.
When I read Psalm 37 with this broader perspective, I see that David is contrasting the hopelessness of the wicked with the sure hope of the righteous, showing God’s followers how to respond when evil men appear to prosper. In this context verse 4 takes on a slightly different meaning. What David seems to he saying is this, “Don’t worry that the wicked appear to have it all. Don’t worry that you have less than they do. Consider the great wealth of your relationship with God, and trust Him to meet your needs. Don’t resort to wickedness just because it appears to be working for someone else.”
This message isn’t the simple assurance we often take from Ps. 37:4, but it still relates to singleness. From my perspective as a single woman attempting to live out Jesus’ calling, it may look as if others are getting ahead. It may seem as if I should abandon my convictions to get what I want. If I just give up my high standards and move in with a good guy, I may be tempted to think, wouldn’t my life be better? But I have to remember the end of things. I have to trust God to meet my desires in His time. I have to focus on delighting in Him and following the other imperatives in Psalm 37: doing good, committing my life to Him, being still before Him. And if I don’t get what I want, then, as verse 16 says, ‘better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked.’
A New Vision
I would be lying if I said these truths have been easy to swallow. At times I still struggle with what it means to trust a God who isn’t necessarily going to give me what I want. I love my independence, but there are days and nights when I long for someone to share with me the small, daily pieces of life – the huge electric bill, the guy who cut me off in traffic, the leftovers. With each birthday I calculate how many years I have left to make it down the aisle and into the
delivery room before that old biological clock runs out. Then I panic, and I try to remember that God is in control and His overall plan is good.
Despite the challenges, reevaluating Gods promises about my desire for marriage has yielded good results.
First, I’ve learned not to “grab a verse and go.” When looking for answers and hope, it’s easy to return to a familiar passage, take a verse slightly out of content, and hold on to it for all it’s worth. But understanding the truth of the Scriptures requires deeper mining and a more nuanced approach.
Second, I can empathize more with others who struggle with disappointing circumstances, whether it be a mother whose child was born with Down syndrome or a friend whose husband died suddenly. I can encourage them with what is most encouraging to me: not the idea that God will do what we want, but that, whatever happens, God will be with us and use our experiences as a good part of His overall plan.
Third, my faith has grown up through this process. I’ve been reminded not to trivialize God. He delights in giving me good things, but he’s not the granter of all my wishes. The Christian life may involve deeply painful things I don’t understand. (Of course, it’s also full of blessings – and in my case, the many unique blessings that accompany singleness.) The question is, when I can’t see the purpose behind the pain God allows, will I, like Jeremiah, continue to speak His truth and fufill my commission? I hope I will always say yes.
Finally, I’ve established new visions for my life. A dear friend once asked me, “What do you want your life to be like if you don’t get married?” Her question started me dreaming. I want my life to be full of devotion and service and love – full of life, not bitterness. Perhaps I’ll go to graduate school, do missions work, adopt a child, start a foster home. The possibilities are endless – and they are all in God’s hands.
“God, Why Am I Still Single?” By Lori Smith
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”