Most girls grow up thinking that they will marry and have children. What happens when that expectation isn't met, when temporary singleness stretches well into a woman's 30s or even later? That's the subject of two very different new books: Getting Serious About Getting Married by Debbie Maken, and Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn't Expect by Connally Gilliam. Their authors recently answered questions about singleness and the state of Christian marriage formation.
WORLD: Why did you write your books?
MAKEN: It was born out of my own frustration with being single by default, and hearing nothing but glib, pithy answers to my dilemma. In my research, I learned our beliefs about singleness today are radically different from what Christians used to believe. Our current teachings do not comport with Scripture, and validating singleness (as opposed to celibacy-a rare gift) is only helping push along a social deviancy.
GILLIAM: I was writing primarily for women, most likely in their mid-20s to early 40s, who find themselves "unintentionally single"-because even in a life where the personal and/or cultural landscape looks far from what was expected, God is real, and good, and showing up.
WORLD: Connally, how is your book different from Debbie's?
GILLIAM: From my vantage point, metaphorically, Debbie is writing about the supremacy of democracy, and I'm writing about how to live well in Iraq! She's in essence saying WHY democracy is the supreme form of government (and really speaking to those who shape public policy), and I'm in essence talking about how to discover the goodness of God's presence and leading when there's a civil war-which you don't fully (if at all) control-raging around you.
WORLD: Debbie, would you add or change anything about that metaphor?
MAKEN: Interminable singleness is the sinful byproduct of a culture war. We shouldn't allow notions of destiny, a marriage-maimed infrastructure, or the whims and caprices of random young men to "control" the outcome of the question. The real enemy here is Satan, the destroyer of families through divorces and wayward children, and through ambushing the formation of Christian marriages.
WORLD: How do you balance the desire to be content in a given circumstance and the desire to pursue marriage?
MAKEN: Contentment has become a buzzword in the church today to mean do not question, do not try to change your marital state, and do not complain. One can be content in the Lord and yet miserable in circumstantial singleness, an unnatural state for adults. A wrongfully imprisoned person need not marvel at bread and water to demonstrate contentment. Similarly, the single's dissatisfaction is not only understandable, but may be the Holy Spirit's prompting to get serious about marriage.
WORLD: Connally, your emphasis is a bit different . . .
GILLIAM: My book focuses more on how God shows up in the suffering of the unplanned single life, the redemptive nature of that suffering, and what it is to walk well with that suffering (i.e., when doing the right or prescriptive things doesn't get us a visa to leave Iraq). The book also offers hope and glimpses of the real joy that can be present even when our lives look little like expected. While I've worked like crazy-if unsuccessfully-to find Mr. Right (and will continue to do so), God has been faithful to keep joy coursing, in ever stronger measures, through my veins. That makes me smile.
WORLD: Have you come up with a good answer for "so, why aren't you married?"
GILLIAM: I really haven't, except to say: I don't know. I've stopped asking "why" but instead now ask, "God, what do You want to do in and through me, today?" I figure if I'm willing to ask that question (and be obedient to God's lead in response), then a lot of small daily steps are, over time, going to lead me down the very best path possible.
WORLD: But what if there are more Christian women desiring to be married than there are men wanting to be married?
MAKEN: This probably is not the only time in history when there is a shortage of good men-consider post WWII. God is not bound by statistics-a young woman does not need a large sample pool, she only needs one candidate. My advice to young women wrestling with thoughts like this is to have faith, for it is impossible to please God without faith. Faith does not require one to sit like a bump on a log waiting for some giant scheme of theologized serendipity to work out, but it does require thoughtful action to bring about a desired result.
WORLD: And that action would be?
MAKEN: Single women should not sit on their laurels somehow believing they are "waiting on the Lord." Scripture prescribes a normative-to marry "in our youth," when the full rights, privileges, and benefits of marriage are enjoyed. Unfortunately, today the attainment of marriage comes from playing dating roulette, and all of the unintended consequences are nicely repackaged as "God's will." We should reject the disorganized mating pattern bequeathed us, and instead reactivate our fathers or other Christian surrogates to assist us in the quest to find a worthy spouse and to keep the young men who do pursue us from squandering our time and our youth.
WORLD: Debbie, do you believe that unmarried people without the call to celibacy are living outside of God's will?
MAKEN: "God's will" is determined by what is written in His Word, not by our circumstances. God expects the timely marriage of Christian adults who have not the gift of continence. For those who don't marry there are consequences-being vulnerable to sexual sin, infertility, and missing out on the covering, protection, and intimacy from a spouse.
WORLD: If you could give a guy one piece of dating advice, what would it be?
GILLIAM: A lot of guys hang back out of confusion about roles (Who opens the car door? Who pays?). Some are confused about where they fit (Do women really need us? She already owns a home or has a great job, what can I offer her?). Sometimes they fear blowing it (What if I'm too this or too that, or she rejects me?). If I could encourage the guys to do anything, it would be to cling to the confidence that in Christ, they are enough.
WORLD: How many times can a mother ask "met anyone interesting lately" without driving her daughter crazy? What practical suggestions do you have for parents who want to help, as Debbie suggests, but not be seen as meddling?
GILLIAM: First, prayer-praying your dreams for your child AND praying your child's dream for themselves. To be able to do the latter, a parent might need to ask a daughter what she wants at this stage of the game, and then ask if there's anything you might do-in addition to prayer-to help. Parents can ask their sons the same. Some folks want parents' active involvement; some don't. Some want their parents' inquiry; some don't.
WORLD: On a lighter note, what's the worst line a guy ever used on you?
GILLIAM: I have had them all! After talking to a guy about art, he asked, "Would you like to come to my room and see my sketches?" (At least it wasn't his "etchings"!) And then, there was the guy at the fraternity party who, sipping his beer while I tried to share Jesus by building connections around our common interest in guitar, declared, "I know this sounds like a line, but I really do mean it: I really do think we could make beautiful music together!"
MAKEN: I would rearrange the alphabet to put U and I together.