I still have the fondest memories of our wedding ceremony. I had memorized the vows. Paul had not. Our “special song,” went on a little too long so I decided to straighten his collar while we waited. We had a saber guard, and as we strolled under the swords during our exit, our friend Mike, (I thought), using his saber, gave the bride the traditional rear end swat with just a little bit to much exuberance! Really Mike, I thought it was supposed to be a light pat! I was a young 28 year old, Paul was a mere 27. (Yes, he is 6 months younger than me-a fact he loves repeating!) It’s true I kissed a lot of frogs before finding my prince. But that experience, though painful, helped bring me to a place of awareness about my relationship with men, and the importance I placed on those relationships in my life. In other words, there was a time when having a romantic-love like-relationship mattered to me more than it should have. It mattered at a time when truly, it shouldn’t have mattered at all! I was making decisions that were emotionally charged from an emotionally bankrupt heart, resulting in reckless judgement and decisions. I had not the advantage of a father or a mother to navigate me through adolescence with the unconditional love necessary for successful adulthood. Nor was there anyone standing in that emotional gap. I erroneously thought that love, and ultimately marriage, would complete me.
Now there are all kinds of reasons why people believe this marital myth. Though sad, but hardly rare, my personal experience is not meant to imply that only orphans or children of single parents harbor this misunderstanding. Young people from two parent homes with successful careers, steady incomes, and strong family values can also adopt this as truth.
Clearly and absolutely, parents need to demonstrate and model vibrant, healthy marriages for their kids. It is undoubtedly our responsibility to model marriages that deal with conflict effectively while enjoying intimacy and passion in matrimony! However, more importantly, parents are chiefly responsible for teaching our kids how important they are in the eyes of their Creator-that they live for an audience of One! The rickety part of that approach is that it does not guarantee marriage or grandchildren. Paul the Apostle’s words resound in my ear when he said in 1 Corinthians 7, “It is better to choose to be single, but if you must marry, better to do so than burn with passion.” As parents, our perceived “need” or desire for grandchildren, and/or our sincere and loving concern for our child’s future happiness and security, and/or our traditional beliefs that with marriage your salvation is sealed or somehow actualized, can often interfere with child rearing as we help navigate our kids through their teens and twenties. Any of these ideas, when over the years are peppered or infused into conversations, expectations, discipline, and other life decisions, send a message to our kids that without marriage (and/or children) well-you’re simply incomplete, fallen short of God’s glory, or out of His will. This couldn’t be further from the truth. And therein lies the myth, you must be married to be complete.
I hardly think Paul the Apostle was out of God’s will or not content (See Philippians 4:11-13). I love imagining an interview with Paul the Apostle on the evening news. It might go something like this:
Journalist: Paul how do you possibly get along in life and in your ministry single? No wife?
Paul: (Brow furrowed with quizzical a look) Don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:16-17 The Message)
Journalist: But since you are not married, don’t you feel a little incomplete spiritually?
Paul: Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others. (1 Corinthians 7:7)
Journalist: How are you qualified to lead others or to hand out marital advice?
Paul: In my judgement she is happier if she stays as she is (single), and I think I too have the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 7:40 NIV)
Journalist: (Sheepishly and sputtering) Well….I uh…wasn’t trying to imply that you don’t have the spirit of God Paul….
If you are married, read and reread 1 Corinthians chapter 7. There are terrific and timeless spiritual lessons for making and keeping your marriage strong and passionate.
If you are single, read and reread 1 Corinthians chapter 7. There are terrific and timeless spiritual lessons for making and keeping your life strong and passionate.
Marriage is a beautiful thing, so much so that in Ephesians chapter 5, our beloved Apostle Paul compared the relationship between Christ and the church to the love relationship between a man and his wife. And God may purpose this for you at 25, 40 or 60 years of age. Or He may have a better and even greater purpose for your life. The bottom line is (as parents especially) we don’t want to and should not pressure our kids into marriage, or communicate the message that somehow marriage saves them, completes them or makes them worthy. Only God can do this. And if we do, shame on us for derailing God’s efforts in their lives by perpetuating such a myth.
Just as we can never expect another person to “make us happy,” so we cannot expect the marriage union to complete us and make us finally “worthy,” of God’s mercy. Nor should we expect it to gain the love and approval from our family and friends that we so covet.
Finally, after he finishes admonishing married men and women for sometimes being so distracted by their marriage that they neglect God, Paul says to BOTH married and single folks, “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:35 NIV) In other words, Paul knows the equation for contentment and happiness, and it is the latter, undivided attention to one’s Creator. Use your marriage for God’s glory. Use your single status for this also. And so be happy and content, full of life and compassion and passion. Full of hope and joy and love overflowing.
And isn’t that what’s most important? You want happiness? Completion? Fulfillment? And what about your children? Do you want these latter things for them more than anything else?
Then make sure you prioritize this teaching from Paul the Apostle in their life. Tell them they are precious in the eye of their Creator just as they are! I have three daughters of my own. The last thing I want is for those precious girls to believe that a boy (or a man) is the magic bullet for their happiness and worthiness. Give the job of finding their mate back to God.
Allow Him to mold them, unmarried or otherwise, the way He wants them to be-on the path He wants them to take. That job was never ours to begin with.