Sometimes it feels like we evangelicals are taught to spend a lot of time waiting. We wait for a husband or wife, for children, for the next stage in our lives. And there is definitely a biblical component to the injunction to wait. According to biblegateway.com, the word “wait” shows up 129 times in the New International Version. Even excluding the times it shows up in connection to ritual purification in Leviticus, that’s still a lot. And certainly waiting and praying, seeking God’s advice on next steps in our lives rather than rushing ahead blindly is advisable. But I wonder sometimes if we’ve misunderstood what it means to wait, and how we should go about it. I’m especially concerned with the rhetoric surrounding the idea of waiting for marriage, particularly as it’s fed to women. I can’t really speak to the way it’s fed to men. Nearly everything I read, or heard in sermons at youth rallies and the like, talked about the “when” of marriage. When you get married, you’ll be glad you waited. When you get married, you’ll understand what it means to put another person first. Marriage would come one day, I just had to wait for it, and then my husband and I could serve God together.
Now for me, despite my overly neurotic fears to the contrary at times, it was a “when,” and not an “if.” I did get married, and I was glad I waited, and I am learning what it means to put another person first, and Aaron and I are going in the same direction in life, and excited about where God has us. So for me, those messages were true. The fact is, though, that marriage is not a “when” for every woman. Apparently, 40% of women in the US have never been married. Of those, some will never marry. Ever. So what does it mean to wait? Are they doomed to spend their lives regretting the fact that they’re missing out? I don’t think so. Now, I’d be the last person to deny that marriage to the right person at the right time is a pretty awesome thing. However, life does not begin when you marry. Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women, recently posted an interview in which Lee Grady spoke of women like Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor, who went onto the mission field as single women, and the need for women to keep doing so in today’s church. There is too much need, at home and in the world, for the church to squander the resource it has in its single women. So if I was asked to speak to a group of teenage girls about waiting for marriage, here is what I would tell them.
“Many of you will get married. Some of you may not. All of you, however, are called to obey God through every now you experience. So find out what He wants from you, and what gifts He’s given you, and go out and use them. Let God grow you. Let him teach you through everything you experience how to face disappointment, how to handle conflict with grace, how to give and forgive unselfishly. Learn what it means to grow up and live in the world, to serve it and love it the way Jesus did. Don’t be afraid of where obeying God takes you. Sometimes, his plans may diverge so far from yours that you’ll wonder whether they will ever meet up again. Don’t worry about it. The best place you could ever be is at the centre of God’s will. Dwell there. You may find one day, as you are obeying God, that you find someone else who is serving Him in the same ways, and that you want to spend the rest of your lives serving Him together. If this does happen, you’ll find that everything you learned when you were out serving God on your own was just what you needed to know. But until that happens, and even if it never does, you are not half a person, and you are not confined to waiting passively. Wait on God, not for a possible future. The latter paralyzes you, but the former will renew your strength and give you wings. The church and the world need you go out and be obedient to God today, and tomorrow, and throughout the days and years that follow, wherever that leads you, and God has promised you that He will provide everything you need on the whole journey.”