What if You Never Marry?
In response to a recent Date Night Advice (DNA) post, I received this thoughtful question in my email bag:
“What if you are urging people to prepare for marriage whom God will call to remain single? Isn’t reorienting their focus to coupledom – that oh so highly exalted status in our society and in the church – potentially hurtful?”
It’s not the first time I’ve been asked this, so I thought it high time I address it here in this space.
Marriage is NOT the Goal. Marriage is the Instrument.
To be certain, celibacy is every bit as high a calling as marriage. In fact, it’s a calling the Apostle Paul wished for everyone. It would be difficult to procure praise from a more reputable source than that. Indeed, though Jesus himself never made such a declaration, he was celibate his entire life as well, so even though I consider marriage an awesome calling, I would never present it as the ultimate calling.
Your ultimate calling is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. And, of course, you can accomplish this whether you’re single, married, widowed or divorced.
And to clarify, this ultimate calling isn’t merely the thing you’re supposed to do; like some obligation or drudgery.
“OK, class. Here’s your assignment. It needs to be 100 pages, single spaced, 1/2 inch margins, 8-point font. And it’s due tomorrow.”
It’s better than that. The call to love God with all we are (and then let His love overflow out of us into the lives of others) is also the very endeavor that will bring our hearts the greatest joy, our souls the greatest peace, our minds the greatest clarity and our lives the greatest sense of purpose.
Marriage won’t do that by itself.
That said, it is our firm belief that…
For most of you reading these words right now it will be within the covenant relationship of marriage that God desires to (and will) do his finest work of guiding you in the way of love.
Teaching you what love is and what it is not. Instructing you in how to both freely give and receive love.
I’ve shared in the past why we believe this is the case, so rather than defend this notion again here I encourage you to read one or more of these posts:
- I’m Not Sure I Want to be Married
- For Men only: Is Marriage for You?
- Marriage Will Make You Fat (And Other Such Nonsense)
Are you Sure You Want to be Married?
Having made that clarification, let’s get back to the original query: might we be guilty of reorienting the focus of some who will never marry to coupledom. And isn’t that potentially hurtful?
For starters, let’s face it, “marriage” is Future Marriage University’s (FMU) middle name, so the reality is we’re not called to empower the wise individual to prepare for life-long singleness. We’re called to empower the wise individual to prepare for marriage.
In this light, taking issue with FMU for not addressing the needs of those not called to marriage would be akin to taking issue with a business school for not addressing the needs of those not called to business.
Now, as logical as that previous paragraph is, the reaction some may have to reading it will reveal that this whole marriage/singleness thing goes far deeper than logic, as most people get a whole lot more emotional about marriage than business. This is largely due to the lofty expectations many in our culture hold for marriage.
Yes, many have lofty hopes for their career, but when you compare them to their expectations for marriage you find the marriage hopes far more unrealistic. And despite these inflated expectations for what marriage will deliver most completely underestimate what what marriage will demand of them. We call this Marriage Expectation Incongruity.
These expectations are seldom acknowledged forthrightly. They may not even be consciously realized, but they are indeed real. All too real. So real, many happy bride and grooms will file for divorce if expectations like these are not met:
- Marriage will end my loneliness
- Marriage will heal my brokenness
- Marriage will ensure my happiness
- Marriage will complete me
- Marriage will change them (ie your partner)
What kind of cruel sadists would want to encourage naive young people to prepare for such a magical relationship, when the possibility remains that said naive young people may never enter said magical relationship (and consequently will remain lonely, broken, unhappy and incomplete til death bring them relief)?
Well, if you’ve read much in this DNA blog, you know we don’t lift marriage up in this way. In fact, we refer to the five expectations listed above as the five major marriage misconceptions.
Sure, we consider marriage an awesome calling, but we also assert that, as with any high calling, success requires sober preparation and discernment. In other words, you have to be ready for what marriage will demand of you and you must understand how to make wise choices leading up to it.
If you’re not interested in learning how to love and serve and sacrifice and ultimately die to yourself, you don’t want to be married.
And if you don’t want to learn how to be wise and disciplined about pursuing marriage you can’t expect to be happy once you get there.
We never present marriage as the “Disney World” of relationships. We present it more like the triathlon of relationships where you need to train hard if you ever hope to survive it, much less enjoy it. And even enjoying it requires far more perseverance, sweat, patience, grace, humility and selflessness than any other relationship you could commit to.
If most of those longing for marriage were honest with themselves, this is not exactly what they’re daydreaming about. And certainly not what they’re preparing for.
Learning is about Becoming. Not Getting.
… and then never marry?
Will it all be for nothing?
Well, let me ask you a couple questions.
Think about the millions heading back to college this Fall. How many of them will actually wind up working in the career field for which their education will purportedly equip them? Would you believe barely a quarter of them?
Should people stop going to college because their education may fail to secure them the career they hope for?
No. A great education should deliver value to the student as they submit to the process of learning, growing and changing into a different person. Because true education is less about preparing to accomplish some specific set of tasks and more about becoming a certain kind of person who can handle any task. In other words, it should be less about knowledge and more about character.
Indeed, the very process of preparing for your career empowers you to focus your sights on the kind of work for which you were made. In the same way, the very process of preparing for your marriage should help you focus your sights on the kind of relationships for which you were made.
In that spirit, we pray that the Love Education we offer here at FMU benefits you whether you get married next year or never.
Thanks to the wise individual who inspired this post. I hope it adequately addresses their concerns. If you had a question of your own you can email us or feel free to comment below.
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The LoveEd study guide series, Beyond Sex & Salvation, will empower you to prepare for relational success when it counts: BEFORE YOU FALL IN LOVE! It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. Check out the first two 8-lesson study guides in our store. You can walk through it on your own, but it’s more fun with friends, so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study. Even better? And ask a married couple you respect to lead it!