I am 33 and single. I have wanted to be married for as long as I can remember. As I’ve struggled to come to terms with the prospect of lifelong singleness, I’ve joined the chorus of others who desire marriage who ask, “If God wants me to be single, why hasn’t he taken away my desire for marriage?”
Some would answer the question by saying that God allows this desire to persist because he does, in fact, want me to be married. They suggest that if I adjust my idea of the kind of man I could marry or if I date online, God will give me a husband. This may not be bad advice, though I don’t believe that any initiative or lack of initiative on my part is thwarting God’s good plan for my life.
In fact, it’s possible that God may intend for my heart to continue to desire marriage without intending to satisfy that desire.
Picture of Desolation
Throughout the Scriptures, we find pictures of a bride without a bridegroom. In the biblical world, there’s no such thing as a self-centered, Sex in the City single lifestyle. A bride without a bridegroom is a picture of desolation. Take Ruth. Naomi rightly discerned that there was no future in ancient Israel for a widowed Moabitess. God ultimately provided a husband for Ruth, but until he did, her life was one of poverty and shame. Likewise, in the strange story of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11), who was put to death because of her father’s ill-considered vow, she and her friends wept, not over the fact that she would die, but that she would die a virgin.
I give thanks that my lot is not what it would have been for an unmarried woman in ancient times. I can work and support myself. I can own property. I don’t have to depend upon children to financially support me in old age.
Yet there is still sadness in the thought that I will never give birth and never know the love of a husband. There is still shame in a society that asks “What’s wrong with you?” if you never pair up with another person. In spite of the fact that these aspects of singleness are painful, I believe God has purpose in that pain.
When the Bridegroom Comes
There’s another picture in the Bible of a bride without a bridegroom. Those around her who see her plight judge her forsaken. That bride was Israel. In exile, she was as desolate as a woman without a husband or children. But the prophet Isaiah prophesied a hopeful future for Israel:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a burning torch. The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
This prophecy portrays God’s return of favor to Israel as the coming of a longed-for bridegroom. Even as it was partially fulfilled by Israel’s return from exile, the prophecy was ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, who referred to himself as the bridegroom.
If God ever gives me a husband, I will live out this picture of rejoicing in the long-awaited bridegroom. We’ll have a wedding feast, which will foreshadow the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19). The purpose in my season of singleness will be obvious to everyone who shares in my rejoicing; it was to make the consummation all the sweeter.
But what if I never marry? Do I fail as a picture of the gospel? Not at all. Instead, I will live and die as a portrait of what the church is meant to be now. Jesus forewarned that there would be a time between his ascension and his return, a time of waiting on the promised bridegroom:
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to [Jesus], “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:18-20)
As a single Christian living by God’s commands, I do not have a sex life. While most of us don’t view this abstinence as a fast, we should. By God’s grace, I will fast from sex until he brings me a bridegroom. I will also fast from a lot of other comforts that come with marriage (along with the attendant trials). And if I die without breaking this fast, I will die in the company of the faithful ones described in Hebrews 11, of whom we read, “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40).
If you are a Christian who desires marriage, the chances are good that someone has quoted to you Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” People have used this verse to assure me that if marriage is the desire of my heart then God has a husband planned for me.
Upon closer reading, it is apparent that this verse does not mean God will give me everything I’ve asked for in prayer. This is a conditional promise. In order to receive the desires of my heart, I must delight myself in the Lord. If I am delighting myself in the Lord, what is the desire of my heart? He is.
While this verse may not promise an earthly end to my singleness, it does give me hope for joy in the Lord. Does this mean that I should be content with my singleness? I would answer that while I may never be content with my singleness, I can know God’s joy in my singleness. I can give thanks for it. I can use it to bless others. But I’m not going to waste time feeling guilty that I still desire marriage. In fact, I’m going to view this unfulfilled desire as a parable of the holy discontentment we should feel until Christ returns.
The Bible tells us that we are aliens and strangers in this world. A single person knows what it feels like to live as an odd man out in a couple’s world. Why not glorify God by acknowledging that alienation while asking him to make you less at home in the world? Why not live a chaste life with the knowledge that you are embodying God’s will for his church as we fast and wait for our Bridegroom? Why not continue to pray for a spouse, even as you join in the words of the Spirit and the Bride who cry, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!”