By Fern Horst
other day I happened to notice several Christian romance novels on my bookshelf that have somehow survived my ruthless disposals of what I’ve considered worthless reads. I turned one over to read the description on the back cover, and once again realized why I’ve abandoned reading most romantic Christian fiction. It read:
The straight-laced little town of Roslyn was shocked when Victoria Gracen welcomed young Dick into her home. What would a gentle, lovely young woman want with a reckless trouble-maker? Especially one who had no plans to reform. So when Victoria tried to tame the boy’s wild ways with tenderness and faith, no one believed she’d succeed. But they hadn’t counted on one thing: only a heart of steel could resist Victoria Gracen!
Sounds like a fun summer vacation read, doesn’t it? But if we take a closer look at the message presented in even this short description, we catch a glimpse of the subtle messages that encourage false expectations in our lives.
The basic subliminal message of this particular book is that if a woman is gentle and lovely enough, she will inspire the most unreformed among men to change his ways in order to win her heart. In reality, if a “gentle, lovely young woman” wants to go down a path of heartache and pain, this is a sure route to get there. Most people don’t reform for other people, gentle and lovely as the other person may be.
If a young woman saturates her mind with such novels, a build-up of expectations results. If she doesn’t win the heart of the hardened young man she has set her affections on, is it because she was not lovely enough, or because she didn’t have what it takes to inspire a man to change his ways in order to have her as his prize?
Novels aren’t the only conduits of such false messages. Movies, advertisements, and even Christian materials often present the assumptions that if we are good enough in some aspect, then the ultimate happiness of marriage will be ours.
If our expectations for marriage are based on false assumptions, they will become a tyrant in our lives, controlling our emotions, coloring our perspective, and eventually leaving us disillusioned, disappointed, and — worst of all — ineffective in fulfilling God’s purposes for us. Many of these false assumptions center around supposed formulas that if we do “A” and “B”, God will bless us with “C” (marriage). There is no such guaranteed equation. The logical conclusions reached from such assumptions if “C” isn’t delivered, leaves individuals with many questions about their faith, about God and His promises, and about how He relates to us as humans.
Let’s take a closer at these false assumptions.
False Assumption #1: If we reach a state of contentment and acceptance of our singleness, God will give us marriage
One of my friends and I often laugh (and inwardly groan) every time we hear a married person say that just as they became content with singleness, God gave them a mate. I have no doubt that these individuals were in a season of contentment when they met the person they married. But I don’t believe for a minute that it was their contentment that moved God to send a spouse their way. God calls us to contentment in whatever state we find ourselves, and it’s not so He can remove us from the situation. If contentment and acceptance of singleness is a prerequisite for getting married, there would be many individuals married who are now single, and there would be many single who are now married.
False Assumption #2: Marriage is the reward of being the “right” person and doing the “right” thing
The subliminal message of much teaching surrounding dating and courtship is if you do things God’s way, He will give you the best: a wonderful marriage to a wonderful spouse. God will indeed bless us when we live life as He has instructed us. However, He is the Chooser of what His blessings will be. Many times the result of living right does not immediately appear to be the “best” that we desired. But we must trust God to lovingly choose what He knows is best for fulfilling His purposes for us and meeting our needs.
Much of the pain we have over finding ourselves single when we thought we wouldn’t be, comes from viewing our status as being evidence of our not having done something right, when just the opposite is often true! Many times the reason someone is single is because they made good choices to not marry someone whom they knew was not in the Lord’s will for them to marry.
Marriage is not God’s reward, nor is singleness God’s punishment. Both are a means of accomplishing His purposes. We may have a strong preference of one over the other, but from God’s perspective one is not better than the other, nor is our marital status an indication of His favor or lack of it.
False Assumption #3: If God wants us to remain single, He will remove our desire to be married
I have heard this taught by well-known speakers and authors, but none of them were single. Young people are told that if they have the desire to marry, they will; or that if they struggle with sexual desires, that they do not have the “gift” of singleness.
The truth of the matter is that sexual desires and the desire to marry are an inherent part of every human, unless physically or emotionally something has happened to hinder those desires. Those who are single all their lives and live pure lives are those who have made the choice daily to accept God’s grace to deny the fulfillment of those desires. Many life-long singles live their entire lives with every sexual desire intact, though by God’s grace they have remained chaste.
Though the supposed easy way out of the battle of sexual desires would be to get married to anyone who was willing, many would also have to lay aside being equally yoked spiritually, mentally, and emotionally in order to do so. Most singles realize that such a risk is not worth it simply for the sake of sexual release. Again, singleness is often the evidence of having made wise choices. It is not in and of itself an indicator that the person is undesirable, unable to commit, or has made some awful mistake which has prevented them from marrying.
False Assumption #4: Since God promises to give us the desires of our heart, then anyone who desires to get married will eventually marry.
Many have become disillusioned and disappointed that God hasn’t fulfilled “promises” He never promised to fulfill. God does indeed give us the desires of our heart, but only if they are in line with His. If we desire something that He has commanded that we shouldn’t have, or that He sees is better that we don’t have, He will not give us that desire of our heart.
As we saturate ourselves with God’s Word, we learn what His desires are for our lives. His ways are higher than our ways, and His Kingdom is one that doesn’t fit in with the focus of self-fulfillment of our culture. The longing we have for perfect circumstances in which to live, for all our desires to be fulfilled, and to have it all, is an indication that we are eternal beings longing for heaven. When we learn to be content with less than heaven while we live on earth, life here gets a little easier.
It is never wrong to pray for a spouse if we are free to marry. But as in all things we ask the Lord for, our prayers should be with the realization that He knows what is best and will give us His best if we let Him. In our limited perspective what we think is best may not be. Our deepest desire should be for what God wants, whatever that is, not a specific something such as marriage. A better prayer would be to ask God to meet our needs and fulfill His purposes for us, in whatever way He chooses. God did indeed initiate marriage, and it truly is a good plan. But it is not the only thing He initiated and not the only good plan He has for His children.
False Assumption #5: Since God wants me to be happy, He will provide a mate for me.
God does indeed have good gifts for His children, and He wants us to be happy. But He wants us to derive our happiness from our relationship with Him, not from the gifts He gives us. Marriage is a good gift, but it is not always God’s best for every individual. We need to keep the mentality that it is not we who determine what God will give us, just as we do not demand to our friends and family exactly what gifts they should give us.
The answer for those who are unhappy in their singleness is not marriage, just as the answer for those who are unhappy in their marriages is not singleness (nor marriage to someone else). God calls us to “endure” joyfully. He doesn’t promise to rescue us out of our circumstances, but He does promise to rescue us from our misery if we let Him.
Misery is not necessarily a bad thing. It often reveals that our thinking about our lives is not in line with God’s. It also reveals at times that we are living in sin. I have also found it to indicate a lack of submission on my part to what God wants me to be focusing on right now. The amazing thing is that when we give up all rights to our human desires, God fills us with joy and fulfillment that transcends the circumstance in which we find ourselves. Our humanness will always cry out in protest to undesirable situations, but if we keep our desires in line with His, our primary experience will be contentment in Him. What are His desires for us? Primarily a close relationship with Him, which is possible whether we are married or single, and that we spend our lives for Him.
Continue to False Assumptions, Part II