When “When” becomes “If”

I wish none of this had happened. Frodo
So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. Gandalf

I should be married by now. I had expected, by the grand old age of 27, to not only be married, but to have a kid, possibly two and looking forward to more. This is not the case. Not only is it not the case, it is entirely impossible that I will be married with kids by the age of 27. I guess it is still mathematically possible that I could be a married mum by 30, but as I am single with no obvious prospective boyfriends on the horizon, with each passing month this becomes less plausible.

It all seemed so easy when I was 14 and I made the decision that I would only go out with Christian guys. I was in a girls’ school and not really that interested in boys anyway, but I was sure that at some point I would get married. It got a little harder at 18 when I fell for a good Christian man, but even then it was OK that he didn’t reciprocate because I was just about to go to uni, and loads of people find “the One” at uni. Loads of people, but not me. I found someone, but he wasn’t a Christian, so I let him go. God would reward that kind of sacrifice, right? Anyway, there was still plenty of time. But my twenties have produced a pretty modest list of half chances with non-Christians, a couple of turn downs by Christians and the heartache of letting someone I loved go because of mismatched life visions. Gradually “When I get married” has become “If I get married”.

As I’ve wrestled over the last year with the issue of singleness in general, and my singleness in particular I’ve discovered various frustrations and false ideas present in my thinking. I am particularly indebted to the following writers for their wisdom and honesty and recommend their work to those who are single, and those who aren’t: Al Hsu The Single Issue; Elizabeth Elliott Passion and Purity; and this lovely blog from Grace for the Road called I Don’t Wait Anymore http://gracefortheroad.com/2012/02/03/idontwait/ 

One of the big frustrations for me is that we just don’t seem to talk about it much, especially in a church setting. I think it would be so healing for someone to acknowledge every once in a while that being single can really hurt; that it can be very hard to be alone, in a world that often feels set up for couples and families. Not that I want pity, rather the freedom to admit that sometimes this state can be gut wrenchingly painful, without feeling like I’ve failed somehow. There is a deficiency in how churches handle singleness and single people and in what we are taught about how to deal with the relationship situations we find ourselves in (more on that in my next blog).

I look around churches and I see many older women (mainly) who are beautiful, godly, friendly etc but unmarried. To my shame I still wonder “Why are they unmarried? What is wrong with them?”, which obviously by extension becomes “What is wrong with me?”. Maybe nothing at all is wrong with them. Perhaps they are living out exactly the life that God has mapped for them. Why do we not hold these people up more often as examples, for both singles and couples, of godly obedience to the life and sacrifices God has called them to?

For those who have chosen to save sex for marriage there can be additional emotional and physical frustration. If I am feeling particularly lonely, I cannot seek comfort and security in casual physical relationships. Of course, Jesus should be my comfort and security, but honestly, that sometimes just doesn’t cut it when all you really want is a hug. We are all sexual beings, even if we are not having sex, and daft though it sounds, no one ever really explained to me that your hormones and libido do not stop operating if you are not having sex. That has been an additional frustration which I just wasn’t prepared for.

In my reading and thinking I have realised that I have bought into a number of lies. Read the books and blogs I’ve mentioned for a more in depth look at these, but briefly here are some of the key falsehoods I held/hold, how they have affected my perspective and what I feel to be a more truthful understanding.

– Single people are abnormal . Therefore there must be something wrong with me. But Jesus, Paul  and many others throughout church history have been single because that is how God needed them to be to do His work.

– I deserve a husband. After all I’ve made these sacrifices for God, I’ve sought His will, sought to become more like Him. But have I just been doing this as a means to an end, rather than seeing knowing God as the end itself? Anyway, am I in any position to be bargaining with God, my Creator and Sustainer?

– Getting married is inevitable. So I’ve waited to start living life, because with a husband I would have all I need, I would be able to minister better. But God has said “I will be with you. I will provide all that you need”. Now when people say “Of course you will get married” I tend to correct them. I hope that is the case, but it’s not “Of course”, it’s a case of “If” not “when”. I have been given no promise of marriage.

Recognising these frustrations and lies is all very well, but the reality is that currently I am single, no matter how much I may wish that not to be the case. So the question is, how do I handle this?

I like to think that I could “fix” it relatively easy. I think I would have a decent chance of finding someone suitable through internet dating sites.  But I don’t go on them because I know that currently for me that would be demonstrating a lack of trust in God. He is encouraging me to trust Him for my security, my provision, my comfort; to trust Him with the details and the timings of my life; to leave it in His hands, not in a laissez-faire, “woe is me, I’ll never marry therefore I will make myself as frumpy as possible” way, but in submission to His will, His plan and His timings. This is not easy. It is a daily battle, and one that I quite often lose as I offer my all, and then take it back again off the altar.

My desire has got to be to know God better and to seek to do His will in the situation and place that I find myself in now. I’m not going to deny my hope for a husband, but my greater desire is to be able to one day honestly pray “Your will be done in my life, whatever that looks like, whatever that costs”.

I wait.
Dear Lord, Thy ways
Are past finding out,
Thy love too high
O hold me still
Beneath Thy shadow.
It is enough that Thou
Lift up the light
Of Thy Countenance.
I wait-
Because I am commanded
So to do. My mind
Is filled with wonderings.
My soul asks “Why?”
But then the quiet word,
“Wait thou only
Upon God”
And so, not even for the light
To show a step ahead
But for Thee, dear Lord,
I wait.
Elizabeth Elliott


6 thoughts on “When “When” becomes “If”

  1. Andy Saunders

    Thank you for your reflections and honest comments. I wasn’t married till I was 34, but as a guy this seemed to be ‘okay’. Different questions and wondering about what God’s purpose if for the whole of our
    Iives come at different times through life.Your feelings (which are an important part of us) and questions are important ones, and thank you for allowing them to be aired.

  2. Jo H

    [edited in length- which should explain any sudden jumps]
    my name is Jo – and all of what you said rang true
    only perhaps I had a lot less offers from boys . . . I was never in the popular crowd
    and I coped with it by keeping myself busy with work, church, socialising, crafts, evening classes . . . .
    many of them designed to meet a man somehow . . .but I didn’t
    even the woodwork class had 6 women and 1 married man . . .
    and it’s the waiting and not knowing . . .if I knew what was in store I would have known how to plan my waiting time
    but if it was not going to happen and I knew that, then I could get on with another plan – but we don’t know and I choose to just live rather than focus on the wait as I was worried life would pass me by and I would have waited and wasted time
    I was mid 30’s before I met a man that I then wasted 3 and a half years of my on . . . I’d always had a feeling that God would give me someone to love but doubt and the very long wait is a hard journey . . . and like you say it gets forgotten in church . . . possibly because people don’t know how to talk about it, or what to say . . . and in some ways it’s harder than giving your condolences to someone who is bereaved because at least a bereavement is finite . . .
    Anyway back to the man – we will call him G . . . these were the thoughts (be wary of them) . . .
    – perhaps my expectations are too high and he is as good as it will get
    – I have been on my own a long time and I am very independent so that will make being in a relationship harder
    – well he believes in God – even though I’m not sure I understand his faith and he is very private about it to the point that sometimes I wonder what it is that he believes
    – he does love me more than anyone else ever has and accepts me for who I am (believe me that is so not enough!)
    And then at about 3 years I knew it had to end (really really end this time) . . .
    So my message behind the story is definitely that being single is better than less than the best (the very best man). . . I was so happy being single after G even though I still wanted someone to love and felt empty . . . being trapped in the wrong relationship was such a waste of time even though I learnt a lot . . .

    My other survival technique is having friends who are TOTALLY honest . . . I have seen friends in relationships that are good but not the best and some that are really not that great even though they think they are . . . I made it quite clear to my friends that I expected total honesty and I would listen to their opinion . . .the problem was with G that we all liked him and felt a little sorry for him . . . but he was not my true love and I never hid from my close friends how hard stuff was, I was never going to be a woman that made out everything was glowing and fab when it was not! Although I am also not the kind of person to burden them with how low I was feeling at times . . .it’s a balance!

    BUT it did make me resolute that I would rather be single than with the wrong man.
    AND despite the fact that I HATE the whole idea of meeting on the internet, a couple of years (yes by now I am 37 – ahhhhhhhhh!) later I chose a small Christian dating website and signed up for 3 months . . . it was a learning curve . . .
    Lessons on internet dating:
    – it’s an emotional rollercoaster
    – there are lots of weird men out there
    – a small dating site usually means less local choices of men
    – the chances of meeting someone on line have got to be so slim and I always wanted to know some of their friends to be sure there was not something sinister about them . . .

    And then 2 local-ish blokes joined the web site (at this point I was sending friendly hello messages to any newbies on the website just to strike up conversations) . . .The one from Stoke replied – Chris . . .
    He was so honest and really did not have a clue about the dating game etiquette – He did all the things you should not do on a first date:
    – he was so nervous he talked non-stop and barely let me finish a sentence
    – he told me all about his recent split with his wife
    – he was totally honest about stuff which you usually save till at least the third or 30th date!
    and basically he made me laugh . . .
    I was so fed up of the falseness of on line dating and my relationship with G that he was a refreshing change.
    2 years later we were married and 5 years later I am truly amazed that God found such a perfect match through a ruddy dating site . . . but then he always had it planned and I just didn’t know when or where or who . . .

    BUT I don’t want you to think “oh heck even this mad woman has found someone” . . . this is about living and surviving being single . . . live and plan your life how you want to be as if you will remain single, but don’t prevent opportunities happening . . . perhaps just be more discerning and trusting in God’s plan than I was through the “G years”!
    And don’t doubt that if God has someone in store he will be soooooooooo worth the wait . . . and if not then you have lived your life to the full and not had any misfits dragging you down!

    . . . if we had met 15 years earlier we would probably not have been attracted to each other, it was because of our journeys through life that we were ready to meet each other when we did.

    what matters is staying true to you and working a way to live with God and not waiting for what may or may not happen . . .
    It’s tough
    I think that when we have a lot of love to give in our heart to a man God knows that and put that there for a reason . . . I hope and pray that you will not have to wait as long as I did, but also that you will have the time of your life between now and then!

  3. Tempest

    This was so honest, and, therefore, so refreshing. It’s unfortunate the Church, and culture, seems to say sex and relationships and marriage are a must for satisfaction in life. It’s just not true. The Bible suggests a different way: that being single and being in a relationship are two, equal, gifts of God, ways in which we can live life and follow Him. I choose to live life as a single man. If God sends someone my that is fine and if not that is also fine.

    Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to be single. People can look on that, as you said, as a ‘Woe is me’ statement. To me, it’s more like ‘Yeah, life is a challenge, an adventure, and I’m going to take it on with all I’ve got. If I find a companion to share the road, well then that’s fine, but if I don’t well then I’m not going to let that stop me being all I can be, being who I was born to be.’

    It’s possible there’s someone out there who shares the same road, and who could it with me, but I made my peace with the possibility that there won’t be. It’s the road that matters and I’m going to have my eyes and my feet pointed straight forward, rather spinning around on the spot looking for a fellow companion.

    I think there can also be a problem with wanting marriage rather than wanting the person themselves. It’s like the idea of being in love with love, rather than being in love with a person. We need to lay that aside and practise the art of satisfaction as we are so that, when/if we meet someone, we don’t fall for them for what they offer us but for them themselves. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s also the difference between loving someone and using them.

    I really like Al Hsu’s book (haven’t read the other book, or the blog). I think it’s an honest and candid appraisal of the situation. It’s theological and practical and I’d recommend it to both people who are single and those who are not.

  4. Kate Wharton

    Thank you so much for this honest & real blog! I’m a 35 year old single Christian woman & identify with all that you’ve said! I too blog (www.katewharton.blogspot.co.uk). It’s been great to read this. & the prayer at the end is beautiful. Kate

  5. Julie

    Thanks for your honesty. My parents went to uni with your Dad and my Mum linked me to your blog after a conversation we had recently about awe in worship and whether we had the balance of friendship and fear wrong. And reading your post on singleness was like reading something I’d written myself. So refreshing to see people honestly blogging about such things.

  6. Pingback: When “If” becomes “When” again | My Father's Child

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