DEAR ALI: ‘Why are so many godly women at my church staying single?’
I am one of your male readers and really enjoyed your book! I also know a lot of people in my church who share similar ecclesiastical considerations as you. They trust God for a mate. They keep prayer journals. They try to engage in “joyful waiting.” But they remain single. Why is this so?
Dear (male) Reader,
Thank you for your boldness in writing in! And for your honest, real and very relevant question regarding single women in the church. I cannot give you an exact answer as to why women in your church remain single, but I will attempt to share my thoughts on this from my own experience and from trends I have observed in various churches both in Asia and the US.
Here are several reasons why I think prolonged singleness could be prevalent in the Body of Christ:
God’s Timing. Why is it that some women who have surrendered their hearts to God and have resolved to wait on Him for His choosing of a spouse don’t get married until they are well into their thirties and forties or even beyond? Did God forget about them? For many if not most women in waiting, this sounds like their worst nightmare! But when you ask the women who did marry later, they usually have nothing to say other than “God’s timing really is perfect!” If God calls us to something, He will enable us by His grace and power of His Holy Spirit not only to survive, but to live victoriously through it! It may not make sense. It may not have been easy to wait that long. It may not have been according to the the time frame in which they had wished or hoped. The whole timing thing is one big mystery. But one thing is for sure: God’s grace IS sufficient in all things! Surrendering our entire hearts to Him means we must surrender our own time clocks, trusting that He will provide for all our needs–emotional, physical, and spiritual–in each season He brings us through. If he does call us into marriage later than what is considered ‘normal’ by societal standards, we can rest under the blanket of His love knowing that His higher purposes are at work and that He is making everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Not called to Marriage. I do know a few women who truly feel ‘called’ to remain single. The Apostle Paul calls singleness a ‘gift’ (1 Corinthians 7:7) and for those who choose to remain single, they see it as so. With that said, God also says ‘it is not good for man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18). I believe that if a woman has a sincere desire for marriage, it should be viewed as a good and godly desire. To these women, I say: continue to ‘delight yourself in the Lord’ and believe He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). It is this delighting in Him and spending time in His presence that you can count on God strengthening this desire to ‘become one’ with another man (Matthew 19:6) or He will enable you to embrace and enjoy the gift of singleness.
Lack of Men Pursuing. One trend that seems to be happening in the mainline protestant churches, is a lack of pursuit from the male side. Sorry men! And I am not just making this up. In her book, Where Have All The Good Men Gone? A.J. Kiesling reports her findings from an in-depth survey of 120 single Christian women. What was their most common complaint about men? Kiesling reports: “Over and over I heard the words, ‘I wish men would step up to the plate and take a risk in asking me out.’” If this isn’t enough, the Bible says, “He who FINDS a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). What are you waiting for men? Get going!
Over-guarding of Hearts. With that being said on the male side, we can’t pin all the blame on them! Women, we have our part to play too. One trend that seems to be prevalent on the female side of this relationship equation is when a woman is interested in a man, she refrains from giving him any external signals. Yes, we are called to ‘guard our hearts’ (Proverbs 4:23) and there is wisdom in this no doubt about it. But we shouldn’t take it to mean disengaging with the opposite sex all together. Though there are times when God does ask us to refrain from engagement so that a period of personal growth and establishing a spiritual foundation can take place, we need to be attentive to when God is moving us into a new season–a season of being pursued. When we get this nudge from God, and perhaps even from a male of interest, I believe it is our responsibility to reciprocate external signs of interest, if in fact here is some. If the men are bold enough to pursue, then we can at least do them a favor and encourage them by letting them know it is mutual. This can take the form of many different expressions, such as verbal communication, laughter and playfulness, making a point to sit next to the person, etc. Engaging with potential males of interest and forming friendships with them is a healthy thing and can start the ball rolling in the direction of a healthy dating or courting (whichever term you prefer) relationship. (more on this in future posts!)
Waiting Passively, rather than Actively. Sometimes we have this notion that ‘waiting on God’ means sitting on our bums and twiddling our thumbs. But I think this is a false way of thinking of it. Yes, we do wait in the sense that we allow God to reveal the person and timing of when a relationship it is to happen. But what we do in the ‘in-between’ time is up to us. We are instructed to love God with all our heart, mind, strength and soul (Luke 10:27). And that we are to live life abundantly in Him (John 10:10). I take this to mean that we are to be pursuing a lifestyle full of His activity and purpose, whether we are single or not. This could mean investing in new friendships, pursuing passions, serving in ministry, spending time studying God’s Word. My season of waiting has been my most active and fruitful yet and I am so grateful for it! My prayer has always been, “Lord, help me to live out this special season to the fullest so I can look back and not have once ounce of regret.”
Unrealistic Expectations. Have you ever heard that song by Amy Grant, “Hope Set High”? (check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_9r8XTryO0). It’s one of my favorites! We should set our hopes high when it comes to expecting things from God. But we must check where our hopes lie. They should be in our God who in all things and at all times, promises to provide for all our needs (2 Corinthians 9:8), NOT in hoping for a perfect mate. Perhaps some women are remaining single longer because they have painted this unrealistic picture in their head of what their husband will look like. Don’t get me wrong, I believe God loves to bless us as His children and answer the desires of our hearts. But there are times when our desires are not rooted in Him and we are just being too darn picky! Trust me, I have been guilty of this myself. But I will say that my so-called ‘list’ of traits and characteristics that I desire in a husband has continued to evolve as God continues to give me new insights into His Word. Our desires change as we mature in our faith and begin to reflect more of who God is. My prayer has been and continues to be, “Lord, please show me what kind of person I should consider in a mate… show me what matters to You….I only want what You want.” When our prayers reflect our earnest desire to live out His will for our lives, we can receive the treasure of a promise found in Hebrews 11:6, “He rewards those diligently seek Him.”
In summary, each one of us (both men and women) is called to put our full trust in God to provide for us in every area of our lives–including our love lives. While the reasons for godly women remaining single longer is somewhat of a mystery, there are practical things we can do to live out the principles laid out in God’s Word in more meaningful and effective ways, thus further transforming us from the inside out in the process. So let’s continue to ‘spur one another on’ (Hebrews 10:24) towards living lives that are pleasing and honorable in His sight, especially as it relates to this crazy, mysterious and wildly adventurous thing called love.
Feel free to join the conversation with your thoughts, comments and further questions!