Stuck in the waiting room

 
SHARE

“Why are you still single?” Even though I have been asked this question countless times, I still never know how to answer it. 

Perhaps I should try a surprise line like, “I asked the Lord that question this very morning,” or, “Wait, is this you breaking up with me?” or, “I was—until now” (wink). Regardless of how awkward a question like this can make me feel, I do recognise that most people who ask me this mean well. Their question springs from a mixture of care and a misunderstanding about what it means to be single.

Sadly, we often talk about singleness as a “condition” that needs to be cured. Think about it: people who say, “You’re too lovely to be single,” are inadvertently implying that only unlovely people should be single and that being married is always better than being single. 

Waiting, then, is viewed as the time you spend staring at the paint cracks in the walls in your doctor’s office.

But what if there’s another way to look at it? 

Christian author Albert Hsu suggests that the real challenge is not finding a spouse but making “a success of the single life if you are single and . . . of the married life if you are married”. In his view, the ultimate priority is serving God. So if we capture his vision of life as a journey of service to God, how will that influence our view about “waiting”?
 

Beautiful, but not sleeping

Once, a well-intentioned friend advised me not to pursue a master’s degree because, he argued, it could “deter men from asking me out”. He felt that as a single woman, I should not be “too ambitious.” This Sleeping Beauty approach assumes your life is pretty much useless—thus worth putting on hold—until Prince Charming shows up.

But the idea that we should bury our gifts and hibernate rather than passionately seeking to advance God’s kingdom, whether we’re single or married, is absolutely contrary to biblical teaching. The apostle Paul, himself a single man, wrote, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15, 16).

We must make the most of every opportunity! In the brilliant words of Christian musician John Fischer, “God has called me to live now. He wants me to realise my full potential as a man [or woman] right now, to be thankful about where I am and enjoy it to the fullest.” There is no time to waste: live every day.
 

Fully alive

Recently, it became rather clear that a man I liked was, quite simply, not interested in me. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt to discover this. Rejection always hurts. 

That’s why cynicism can be such a temptation. It lures us with the promise of numbing the pain. But it comes at a huge cost. Imagine you go to the dentist for a root canal. He injects some anaesthetic into your gums to work on your teeth. But soon, you can’t feel your tongue, your cheeks or your lips. In fact, it will take a few hours before you recover any sensation at all, including pain.

Emotional numbing works in much the same way. 

“We cannot selectively numb emotions,” explains American scholar Brené Brown. “When we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” Without vulnerability, we cannot develop intimacy. Loving, at its core, is an act of bravery. God is daring us to be fully alive, to choose emotional risk over emotional lethargy.

Carrying an undiluted yearning in your heart can make it feel like it’s about to burst. The only healthy way to navigate the tension between expectation and reality—without numbing or meeting a legitimate need in an illegitimate manner—is surrender. I wish there were an easier path, but there are no shortcuts to emotional maturity. 

As Hsu, who earlier stated our ultimate priority in life should be about serving God, says, “We must face the fact that marriage may not be a possibility. When I come to this point I completely hand over my life to God . . . and tell him that my first priority will be to find my identity in Christ and Him alone.”

In my experience, surrender doesn’t happen overnight—nor once and for all. Nor does it mean that because we surrender, God will say, “Mwahaha! This is what I was waiting for. Now that you’ve whispered this prayer, you’ll never marry!” 

God isn’t stingy or mean. He just wants to set us free from our wrong priorities. So no matter what the future brings, our identity remains safely rooted in Him.
 

Blessed uncertainty

A good friend of mine once told me that she could cope with God telling her she’d never marry. What she really struggled with was not knowing whether it would ever happen. I can sympathise with her. Hoping demands such vulnerability! We’re terrified of what we can’t control, the things we don’t know. Yet, some of the greatest life adventures happen only when, like Abraham, we step out in faith (Genesis 12:1).

There’s a paradigm shift when we take uncertainty as an opportunity, even a blessing. We stop asking, “Are we there yet?” every five minutes. Instead, we learn to embrace the journey. The future becomes a gift to be opened rather than an unknown to be feared. 

Sarah Young, author of Jesus Calling, shares God advising her, “Whenever you find yourself worrying about the future, repent and return to Me. I will show you the next step forward, and the one after that, and the one after that. Relax, and enjoy the journey in My presence, trusting Me to open up the way before you as you go.”

We humans are wired for intimacy and connection, a desire to be with someone else. But since we live in a fallen world, we all feel lonely and misunderstood at times. That’s normal. The idea that romantic relationships are the prime cure to loneliness isn’t normal. In fact, it’s a dangerous notion that piles expectations on romance while devaluing all other relationships.
 

Stuck In The Waiting Room 2

Christian author and researcher Guy Brandon makes this insightful remark: “It would have been unthinkable for Paul to have dealt with problems of loneliness with suggestions of marriage or romantic relationships. . . . In fact, any evidence at all of loneliness would probably have led him to the conclusion that the church was failing miserably.”

Romance most certainly has its place, but it definitely isn’t a panacea. We must resist the temptation to idolise sex and marriage—married people get lonely too. No one person can satisfy all our psychological, emotional and social needs. 

Let’s give up these unrealistic expectations and reclaim the role of non-romantic relationships. Let’s be intentional about building these vital connections. Our churches need to be places where friendship is encouraged and the pressure to couple up is vanquished. Our aim should be to create connections that can nurture the emotional and spiritual growth of every member, regardless of their romantic relationships.
 

Making the most of the journey

For those of us who wish to get married in the not-too-distant future, the wait can be a real challenge, the struggle to silence that impostor’s voice whispering, “There must be something wrong with you,” or “You aren’t good-looking/intelligent/funny enough.” 

In those dark days of self-doubt, tears and emergency chocolate, I need to be told that I’m loved and that my life serves the exact same purpose as those who are married: bringing glory to God. What I need most from my friends and church family is to be reminded that my relationship status is not the barometer of my self-worth. The blood of Jesus Christ is.

Ironically, freedom is found in being fully dependent on God; in being less concerned with the specifics of the future (such as a spouse, two-and-a-half children and a labradoodle) and more about the adventure with Him. It’s a freedom that gives us the courage to live happy lives now and to embrace the vulnerability of hope.

While it’s a hard-earned freedom—a warfare over the heart and mind—it’s definitely worth it. God’s Word provides us with the spiritual ammunition to destroy strongholds and crippling misconceptions. Believing His truth about our identity and mission allows us to make the most of the journey: to serve Him wholeheartedly. 

The Bible says, “All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory” (John 17:10, NLT*). 

Single or married, we belong to Jesus. We—all of us, regardless of our status—are bought with a price. We are here to serve our Lord.

* Bible verses marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


Prayers for the not-yet-marrieds

  • Not my will, but Yours, be done (Luke 22:42).
  • Reveal as much of Yourself to me as possible while I’m still single (Ephesians 1:16–19).
  • Satisfy me so fully now that I never look to anyone else to make me happy (Psalm 119:10, 15, 37, 133).
  • Tell the world about Yourself through my joy and freedom in singleness (Hebrews 13:20, 21).
  • Give me faith to trust You even when I walk through pain and disappointment alone (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
  • Send me the people I need to follow You (Ephesians 4:11–16).
  • Protect me from making work my god while I wait for marriage (Colossians 3:23, 24).
  • Keep me from conforming to the world around me, and make me more like Jesus (Philippians 1:9–11).
  • If You have called me to marry, help me to date differently (Philippians 2:3–8)

(Source: Marshall Segal, desiringGod.org)