I remember the Monday after James and I got engaged. I was walking out of the dining hall at college and someone declared, “you finally found someone! You must be so relieved to find your other half!” I remember stopping for a moment, then responding in a much too graceless tone, “I was complete before and I wasn’t searching.” before walking away (tip: engage with kindness, not grumpiness like I did).
Marriage, though, is sometimes presented in the church as an inevitable completion of the person you are, and it is assumed that unless you can find that special someone you’ll never be a whole person or even a whole adult. That idea isn’t just hurtful, it’s unbiblical. Paul writes about singleness as preferable, and espouses the benefits of it. There are examples of unmarried people throughout the Bible whom God used mightily. More than anything, though, the Christian life is not marked in Scripture by a step-by-step guide of life that includes education, marriage, children, children’s education, children’s marriage and children’s children, in a never ending cycle. It’s marked by living out the good works God has prepared for us in obedience to His will in His Word. That may mean marriage, and it may not, but when we paint marriage as a completion of the self, we’re making a grave error for both married people and single people.
James does not complete me. He isn’t my missing half and he isn’t the perfect complement to my every need. I’m not his either. The moments when we expect each other to be that are the moments when we find ourselves frustrated and empty, and we harm ourselves and each other in the process. This marriage isn’t about that.
Here’s the thing. Singleness is not an illness to be cured. Marriage is not a cure to any longing – even the longing for a spouse has a deeper longing within it that marriage cannot fulfil. We’re not made for marriage, we’re made for relationship. You can be married and lonely, but so often those who are married feel the need to present a picture perfect view of life that indicates no loneliness. For the moments I’ve done that, I’m sorry.
This relational longing that we’ve all got can’t be fulfilled by one person. God made us for relationship, and most of all it’s relationship with Him. If I’m spending hours a day with my James but no time at all with my God, then I’m going to have a loneliness that I can’t shake. If I’m throwing myself wholly into my marriage, but not into serving and building relationships at church, then there’s going to be loneliness.
Last weekend, James and I went and played mini-golf with a family that we’re friends with. Walking around and chatting with my friend provided something that I don’t get from James, and it isn’t because he’s doing something wrong, it’s because I’m made for more than one type of relationship. That time filled our hearts, and then we went and watched a movie with just us, and the next day was spent in community at church.
Our lives are a mosaic of relationships, you see. No one relationship there marks me as complete, except that with God. The relationship with God is the anchor, and it means that even when I feel incomplete, my feelings don’t represent what reality is. God completes me. Full stop. My feelings cannot change that and in the moments when I think my marriage will complete me, or when I was single and I thought that some sort of relationship was the silver bullet of my completion, I’ve forgotten who God is and who I am.
Yesterday I read a bit of Isaiah and it had that constant refrain, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” That is who we are. That is our completion. Not marriage and not dating and not anything but God.
I’m not saying this to minimise the importance of marriage relationships or to diminish the struggle of singleness. Singleness hurts sometimes and you ache for companionship and it’s okay to long for that, but that longing cannot be the end of the line. There’s a verse in Song of Songs in which the friends of the woman say, “we will praise your love more than wine!” and I mean, I love a good moscato. Or even an average moscato. These friends are all about their friend’s marriage and we need that, and married friends need to be willing to grieve with single friends without trying to out-do them for struggle stories. Let’s support each other in joy and pain… but always, always, point each other to who we truly are.
Let’s not forget that. Let’s not paint a picture that breeds discontent and hurts all of us in the process. He is our God and we are His people. Let’s be that – no matter our relationship status.