The LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he
withhold from those who walk uprightly.
P S A L M 8 4 : 1 1
Istood outside in the crisp autumn night, rekindling twenty-year-old memories. As I hesitated, numerous laughing couples passed through the hotel doors. Would I be the only one attending my high school reunion alone?
Taking a deep breath and exhaling a brief prayer, I opened the door and strode purposefully to my target—a paper-skirted table with multiple rows of plastic nametags. With a sigh I pinned on the evidence: Twenty years had passed since high school, and my name was unchanged.
I was still single.
Back home various friends were praying for me—that I would be gracious, focused on others, and above all, that I would have evangelistic opportunities. My goals were much smaller: Keep smiling, keep moving, and keep the mascara in place. No tears, no quivering lower lip, no self-pity.
With a practiced smile, I entered the reunion, a collision of high school trauma and middle-aged reality. The music was loud, the lighting dim. Thankfully, the nametags were in large print, sporting our graduation pictures. I marveled at the number of people I never would have recognized without the tag.
I was making my way toward some familiar faces when I heard my name half-shouted, half-slurred on my right. Turning toward the sound, I was greeted by an exhaled puff of beery breath from lips O-shaped in surprise and disbelief.
“Carolyn McCULLEY? Is that right? You’re still single?!”
I looked at the unfamiliar bloodshot eyes and then stole a quick glance at his nametag. I barely recalled this man. Dear God, please give me the grace I need to make it through tonight.
“Yes, I am.” Smile. Look him in the eyes. Be gracious. “It’s so kind of you to remember me. Where are you living now? Did you have to travel long to get here?”
After a few moments of small talk, I moved on to mingle elsewhere. The participants changed, but the questions didn’t vary: So what’s a nice girl like you doing still single? Why aren’t you married? Didn’t you want to get married? How’s the single life these days—do you still have to hang out in bars to meet men?
It was a singularly long night.
Extended singleness ushers in a season of difficult questions—questions for which few gracious and informative answers exist. (My definition for extended singleness is one day past the marriage of a close high school friend, your younger sister, or even your own niece or nephew.) Being single also requires a healthy sense of humor. This Top Ten list is from my witty friend Vivian Saavedra:
Top ten things never to say to a single woman at a wedding . . .
1. You’re next.
2. Why aren’t you married?
3. Maybe you should lose some weight.
4. What about (insert name here)? He’s a nice boy.
5. You’re next.
6. Maybe you’re called to singleness.
7. Can you baby-sit tonight?
8. Did you ever consider being a missionary?
9. Just don’t think about marriage, and it will happen.
10. You’re next.
“Why aren’t you married?” Here’s a common question, usually posed by a brand-new acquaintance. Believing the best, I must assume they ask because they are genuinely interested in my situation. But because I often lack a good, pithy answer to one of life’s mysteries, it feels like a tabloid reporter’s inquiry to uncover what’s really wrong with me.
“Don’t you want to get married?” Shortly after my fortieth birthday, a college friend wondered whether I was really serious about getting married. She wanted to know why I wasn’t more proactive about achieving that goal. Had I considered Internet dating? I couldn’t just sit around and expect it to happen. She was trying to be helpful, to express her care. But her words fueled a slow boil of despair in my soul.
“Don’t the guys in your church want to get married?” The only way to answer this one is with another question: “Why don’t you ask them?” I’m sure the people who ask these questions don’t mean to embarrass me. Still I find myself awkwardly fumbling for an appropriate answer.
The questions others ask, however, can’t compare to the kinds of questions that bubble up from within me during a lonely moment at a wedding or late at night when the house is still but the emotions rage: “Does God really know what He’s doing? Is He really in control? Can I trust Him with my desires? Has He forgotten me?”
If you’ve ever been asked those questions, you have my sympathy. And if you’ve responded graciously, you have my respect. Well done! But if you opened this book hoping to find a specific, concrete answer to your own situation, then let me first introduce you to a mystery. There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden. (Prov. 30:18-19 NIV)
This biblical passage shows us that there are things too amazing, too wonderful for even a wise man to understand. Now you may say to yourself that modern science can explain the first three items. What’s the big deal? Number four still has us though. Wise men and women remain confounded by the mystery of attraction and romance. We really don’t know why some relationships bud and bloom, and others do not. It takes humility—a sober recognition of our limitations—to be comfortable with that mystery.
I hope you’re not tempted to close the book right now because I have some good news for you: There is One who does know.
We don’t know the ways of the heart, but God does. He perfectly understands the things that are too amazing for us to understand. He created the eagle, the snake, the high seas, and men and women. He knows how everything operates, and nothing is a mystery to Him.
Even better, He is lovingly involved in His creation—with the eagles, the snakes, the ships, and also our wily hearts. He didn’t just make us all and then stand back to have a good laugh. He is Lord over His creation, lovingly ruling over all things to accomplish His purposes—even (especially!) in the affairs of the heart: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1).
Are you tracking with me here? This means if the Lord can direct the heart of an absolute monarch, He can certainly turn the affections of our future husbands to us.
(Crickets: brrrpp, brrrppp.)
“Uh . . . well, does that mean God is holding out on us?” you might ask.
It can feel that way, can’t it? But only if you forget whose heart He has already changed—yours. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, if your life has been radically changed by a personal relationship with Him, then you know this to be true. He softened your once hardened, rebellious heart and gave you affection for His Word and His people. You may remember what you were like before your Christian conversion. I certainly remember what I was like! I mocked Christians. They made no sense to me.
I didn’t know I needed a Savior, but that wasn’t a mystery to God. I didn’t know then that my heart needed to be changed, but that wasn’t a mystery to God—nor was it impossible for Him to do. What we can’t control, what we don’t even understand, is clear to Him. As hard as it can be at times to be single, doesn’t that put it all in perspective?
Dear friends, the whole Bible testifies of God’s faithfulness to us even in the face of our own faithlessness to Him. God has not forgotten anything at all. The gentle words of my pastor, C. J. Mahaney, are a good reminder:
“Your greatest need is not a spouse. Your greatest need is to be delivered from the wrath of God—and that has already been accomplished for you through the death and resurrection of Christ. So why doubt that God will provide a much, much lesser need? Trust His sovereignty, trust His wisdom, trust His love.”1
So the infamous question about why we’re not married is the wrong question to ask. It implies lack. But our heavenly Father has said He withholds no good thing from His children (Ps. 84:11; Matt. 7:11). The better question to ask ourselves is: What is God doing with and through my singleness?
Maybe this perspective is all new to you. If you’re uncertain of the statement I just made, or if you’re not entirely sure what the gospel really is (and I remember what that was like), then I encourage you to read the Afterword at the end of this book before you read further. That’s the foundation for this book, and the rest of the chapters will make a lot more sense after you read the Afterword.
Maybe the gospel doesn’t confuse you, but you’re living as though it doesn’t make much difference in your life. You don’t see how God could possibly have any purpose for your being single, and you’re wondering what you have to do to “earn” the privilege of marriage.
Maybe you don’t trust God to bless you. You look at your life and wonder at what age you need to shut down hope and start making long-term goals for solitary confinement—oops, that’s singleness, of course. Maybe you say you’re content now, but your actions and decisions reveal that you are really waiting for your life to begin when a man comes along.
Maybe you are still young, and you’ve only recently started to wonder if you are going to get married. But you see lots of older, discontented single women around you, and you’re hoping this book will tell you how to make sure you don’t end up like them.
Maybe you’d honestly say you fit that description—an older, discontented single woman—and you have no idea how to change.
Maybe you just want to know what God has planned for your future so you could prepare for either marriage or singleness (because you would not prepare the same way, right?).
Maybe none of the above applies to you. You love the Lord, and His gospel is precious to you, but you need to be encouraged in how to apply His Word to your daily life as a single woman. For all of you, may you find in these pages some answers and a sympathetic friend. As we go along on this journey together, I’m not offering myself as a role model for “successful” singleness. But I have been the beneficiary of much rich, grace-filled teaching that has deeply affected my life, and I want to refract that through the prism of single adulthood. I hope if you ever receive a high school reunion invitation, and you are unmarried, that this book will help you respond with true joy—not ashamed of what God has done in your life throughout the intervening years.
So let’s ask ourselves the better question: What is God doing with and through our singleness? If your answer begins with “Uhmm . . .” and then a long pause, I pray you’ll continue to read. I believe there is much encouragement ahead!
• In the next chapter, we’ll look at why God calls singleness a gift. We’ll examine the definition, value, purpose, and context of this gift.
• In the third chapter, we’ll explore why God is worthy of our trust as He sovereignly, wisely, and lovingly chooses which gifts to give and when.
• In the fourth chapter, we’ll see that we don’t need to know now whether we’ll be ever be married in order to prepare for our futures. The Bible shows us, married or single, that the emphasis is on our femininity. Our preparation is the same in almost every respect.
• Chapters 5 and 6 will look at matters of the heart and our relationships with men.
• Then we’ll spend the rest of this book exploring one worthy role model who shows us how to make the most of our femininity now.
My prayer as you read this book is the same one I prayed as I wrote it: Lord, please give me Your comfort, encouragement, and wisdom as I examine Your Word as a single woman. Impress it upon my heart that You are worthy of my complete trust, and change me as I study and write these truths about You. Then please use these words to inspire and edify my sisters—Your daughters— as they read. All to the praise of Your glory and for the advance of Your kingdom. I pray this in the compassionate and mighty name of Jesus. Amen.