Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Gracious Trial of Singleness

I recently did something that I've never done in my life...read a book about dating. My roommate's brother recommended a book to me a couple of weeks ago that he said was one of the best books he had read on the subject. I have always been skeptical about the helpfulness of a book on dating, but I decided to buy and read this one anyway. And I'm glad I did. It's called Holding Hands, Holding Hearts by a couple named Richard and Susan Phillips.

I'm not a big fan of the title. It just sounds sorta cheesy. But I got over that quickly. Even though I wanted to jump right in and get to their practical suggestions for dating, I was pleasantly surprised that the first third of the book is a biblical look at God's design for relationships, how that was tainted by sin, and how it is redeemed in Christ.

I was struck by a few quotes in these early pages that called out my own selfishness. For instance:
"Many Christians approach dating mainly in terms of pursuing romance and meeting their emotional needs. Far too few think of it as an opportunity to honor God and grow in grace."
Guilty. Also:
“If God is my portion, if God is the true source of my joy, and if it is God who will fulfill me, then I am free to be a companion instead of a consumer. That is, because of what I receive from God I can give to another person instead of always taking; I can minister rather than manipulate because of the fulfillment I get from God.”
The next few chapters were very helpful as well and covered topics like attraction, the first date, commitment, and getting ready for marriage. But it's the last chapter that I wanted to highlight, because it speaks to those of us who, well...are very much still single. The chapter is entitled 'Waiting for Love?'.

The chapter starts off this way:
"For the vast majority of adult Christians, singleness is not a gift but a trial...but it is not the only trial...curing singleness will not cure the problem of trials in this life."
This offers great perspective. I can easily forget that God is constantly using all kinds of circumstances in my life to refine me. The Phillips' say it this way:
“This is what God is doing to us in our trials, purifying the thing that we most need--our faith in him. Perhaps your frustrations in waiting for love are intended to draw you nearer to God and to teach you reliance on his grace...

What God is preparing for us through our trials is incomparably greater than the things we long for in this world. We would gladly settle for mere happiness in life. But God is determined that we should be holy, and through holiness partake of his own glory. It is for that cause that God ordains our trials in this life. Christians struggling with singleness, then, should not label their troubles a ‘gift.’ But they should realize that through their often painful trials, God is working an incomprehensible gift: eternal life and the hope of glory.”
This is a great reminder to me, but hard to appreciate a lot of the time. God ultimately cares about me seeing and knowing Him. So, instead of giving in to self-pity or jealousy, I should be asking God to help me grow in grace during this process...and to be content.

True contentment is a difficult thing and often seems unattainable. Yet Paul, writing to the Phillipians says that he has learned the secret of being content in every situation. So, it is possible. And I know God wants to bring it to us.

It's also easy to believe that if we just had this or that, then we could be happy. But Martyn-Lloyd Jones reminds us that "man’s happiness was never meant to be determined by his circumstances." God is meant to fill us up and to satisfy our deepest longings. And until we really believe and experience that, we are constantly going from one thing to another trying to suck life out of it, only to find ourselves disappointed every time.

Finally, consider another definition of contentment by A.W. Pink. It should speak well to any trial you might be going through in life, singleness or otherwise:
"Contentment, then, is the product of a heart resting in God. It is the soul’s enjoyment of that peace that passes all understanding. It is the outcome of my will being brought into subjection to the Divine will. It is the blessed assurance that God does all things well, and is, even now, making all things work together for my ultimate good.”

4 comments:

  1. Hi David -

    I think I agree with everything you said. I'd simply like to add that if we view the "trial" of singleness as preparation for marriage, then we're likely to focus on marriage. If, however, we view the trial of singleness as preparation for eternity, then we're likely to focus on eternity...and learning in the meantime what we need to learn. In other words, the intended outcome of the trial of singleness is not marriage, but Christlikeness.

    There are other (legitimate) ways to find love than in a marriage, and there are plenty of loveless marriages consisting of two lonely partners.

    Singleness is not better than marriage, and marriage is not better than singleness. Both are states to which God may call us...although singleness is the only one of the two that EVERYONE is called to for at least some period of time.

    And I guess you could say that everyone is called to singleness twice, because, of course, no one will be married in Heaven. The temporary state is marriage.

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  2. Arnold
    As usual, I agree with and appreciate your added thoughts. If I had more time and blog space, I could have added parts of the book that talk about some of those same ideas. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Although this post was written a while ago. You have some good food for thought.

    Thanks

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  4. Thank you for sharing this, I find it is easy to fall into focusing on the wrong end and subsequently resenting the means because we can't see how it matches up. Once we refocus the end to God's perfect plan and, like you said, become subject to His will, we can find that contentment. I know that's how it is for me. I can usually tell when my focus is off or when my blinders are skewed; it's when my thoughts are starting to become overcrowded with thoughts of my singleness in a sea of married people or anxiousness that I'll be a single woman forever when in truth what I really want is God's plan regardless of what that is because I am living for my future with Him and to be used as His instrument until it's completed. When I refocus on working toward and for His kingdom, that's when everything becomes clear, I have purpose, perfect love and fulfillment in Christ.

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