The Myth of Marital Maturity

In conversations with many married friends from their late 20s on, the following phrases can sometimes arise:

  • I didn’t know what unconditional love was until I got married
  • God uses our husbands/wives to grow us the most 
  • It wasn’t until I got married that I understood how to love
  • I was young and immature and then I got married and realized how much about myself needed to change
  • Without my husband/wife I would never have grown in this area

While all of the above statements may indeed be true for that specific person, there is an implied connotation that marriage = maturity. There is a subtle (or sometimes not at all subtle) insinuation that God uses marriage to mature Christians in a way that He uses nothing else, an implication that outside of marriage this level of Christian growth actually isn’t possible.

Biblically, this is incorrect in several ways:

  1. The only perfect, whole, mature Christian to walk the earth was single. That’s right, I’m pulling the Jesus card. And most of the leaders of the early church, the disciples and apostles, were also single.
  1. God has promised to complete the good work He began in us – each and every one of us (Philippians 1:6). This is not limited to married folks.
  1. God uses EVERYTHING in our lives to help us grow. So yes, if you have a spouse, God will use them. But guess what, He also uses roommates, kids, coworkers, parents, siblings, friends, and every other kind of person you interact with.

A lot of maturity happens in the decades in which many people get married. So perhaps maturity has more to do with the age, experiences, and brains of people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s than it does the specific relationships they have. Which means single or married, most of us do a heck of a lot of growing up in this time.

And yes, there are indeed people in these middle stages of life who aren’t as mature as others, some of whom are single, which could lead you to believe their non-attachment to a significant other is the reason they never grew up. But I happen to know quite a few immature married men and women who still struggle with adulthood in spite of the responsibilities of marriage and often even parenthood. Marriage isn’t a silver bullet to wisdom and maturity.

Marriage also does not create the sudden ability to love deeply and sacrificially. Thinking that your spouse is the reason you can truly love underestimates the ability for singles to love and commit to loving others wholly. We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our love is not contingent on another person committing to love us ‘til death do us part. We have to love others knowing they may not be available to us. While we are usually lower down on the list of priorities in the lives of others, we keep loving. Love does not require a single lifelong object. We may love more widely, more broadly, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less deep. We are the aunties and uncles, the godparents, the children who will care for our elderly parents, the best friends who will drop everything when you need us, the church volunteers, the committed employees who never miss work, the best roommates ever. We learn to love without expecting another person to love us back in the same way. We get our hearts broken, we feel unappreciated and overlooked. We feel second, third, or fourth best. We are sometimes truly alone. But we keep on loving. 

There are incredibly selfish husbands and wives, narcissistic and abusive spouses who care more about themselves than their families. Marriage does not teach true love. God just often uses it in his children’s lives to help expose their need for him and help them develop some level of selflessness. It is not easy, marriage, but neither is being an excellent roommate at the age of 38, or adult child to a parent who is aging. Our ability to love well does not hinge on how well we are loved by another human being. I am wholly loved by God, and that is enough. 

God uses more than just people to help season us. Our circumstances and our spiritual disciplines also help us grow more Christlike. Since most people get married in their post college years, it’s easy to attribute all growth to the marriage, but so much more is happening that singletons also experience. We’re all learning how to pay bills, how to rent apartments, how to buy cars, how to find jobs, how to find friends outside of the school context, how to contribute to society. Many of us also experience loss during this time, which is a growth experience of its own. Some of us travel, opening our minds to a more global view of the world. We have trials and suffering, we have successes and joys. All of this happens in adulthood, not just to married people. In fact, singles who have to navigate much of this on our own may “grow up” pretty quickly.

God also uses our spiritual disciplines to help us grow. Spending time meditating on His Word, talking with him in prayer, obeying him, worshiping him, finding good teachers and wise counselors, learning how to lament, and growing in our ability to rejoice in him and love others will inevitably add up to more maturity as a Christian individual. None of this requires a spouse.

Married friends, the next time you find yourself thinking something like this, maybe stop yourself before you say it out loud until you consider how condescending you may sound to any singles around you, or indeed anyone who is struggling in their marriage and might not feel particularly mature or loving due to their husband or wife in that moment. God does use life partners as iron sharpening iron if the two people in the relationship are growing separately in their walks with God, and are committed to helping each other grow. I don’t want to discount the beautiful and meaningful bond that a couple has when committed for life. I’m a fan of marriage and try to encourage and help my married friends as much as I can. But it isn’t the secret recipe to growing up and “adulting” well. 

Perhaps it wasn’t just your husband or wife who made you mature and made you learn how to love, but just the fact that you actually, well, just grew up. Like a normal person. Like most of us do, married or not. If the last time you were single was in your teens or 20s, it’s easy to see why you might equate singleness with immaturity. But we singles don’t stay 20 forever, we grow up too, we learn how to love sacrificially just like you do. We singles in our 40s or older have some relationships, experiences, and spiritual growth under our belts which God has used to help us become better versions of ourselves. We don’t stay stuck in our youth just because we don’t marry.

So, single folks, before you worry that perhaps God isn’t pouring as much effort into helping you grow because you don’t have a spouse to prod you on, take heart! He is already at work in you. He is using everything in your life to help you glorify Him and find joy in Him. I see you, I see how well you love those God has placed in your life. I see how much you strive to help your friends and family. I see God growing you into incredibly beautiful, wise, important, loving human beings who bless so many around you. We are as much whole, mature, loving adults as the married couples around us. You are not lacking anything you need to be who God wants you to be (James 1:4). We are all capable of the growth God has ready just for us.

Reassurance that the Awkward Spinster Does Still Exist

Hello, dearest readers! It’s been awhile. Where have I been? Home. Pretty much just at home. For some reason, the general Covid fatigue blended perfectly with my natural inclination toward depression and the tough losses of the year (job, church, friends, ability to touch other human beings, etc.) to make writing impossible for me for a very long time. But I did miss it, and you guys, so I am getting back to it.

A new job at a local library (yay!!! I’m gainfully employed again!!!) that has a weekly writing club which does word sprints is rejuvenating my desire to blog. Huzzah! 

The single, childless life during Covid is such a unique experience. I know parents and married folks have had it HARD, as a couple of my dear friends are now in the midst of divorces and everyone I know who is a parent is barely hanging on to sanity. So I’m not playing the comparison game of who has it the hardest. We all do. The whole freakin’ world does. A global pandemic sucks for everyone (except possibly the top 1% who have gotten richer – though I’d argue that it probably hasn’t been good for their souls). 

But to my singletons – I see you. I see how hard this time has been for you. I see the loneliness and the anxiety, the burden of decision making and the loss of community. I also see the comfort for the introverts of finally being able to work from home and say no to awkward social situations and the stress for the extroverts who have to weigh every much needed social interaction. I see the relief for those of us singletons who have embraced celibacy as a lot of the pressure to date has been removed, and the added difficulty for those still trying to meet someone and figure out life with a love in a time of quarantine. I see the city-dwelling singles who have witnessed a lot of death, poverty, and destruction over the past year and the suburban and rural ones who may feel stranded and far from others. I see the singles who’ve had to go in to work every single day, risking their lives to go home to an empty apartment or to a roommate or to at risk parents, and I see those of us who have lost our jobs so have had the added stress of scrambling to make ends meet. I see those of you who have had incredibly beautiful and good moments in these past few months – graduations, new relationships, new pets, new friendships, new babies, new jobs, promotions, new flats, books published, art created, new skills learned (all you breadmakers are welcome to send me a loaf of sourdough!) but haven’t been able to have the friends and family around to celebrate as you normally would. 

Singles – I just want to acknowledge how hard this past year has been for you. I want you to know you are not alone. The Lord of the universe has been with you every step of the way, catching each tear, celebrating each joy. I’ve been walking through my own depression during this time too, so I might not have experienced exactly what you have but I have been with you in the trenches. 

So how are you all doing? How have the past few months been for you? Please comment or message me to let me know how I can be praying for you, what topics I can write about in upcoming blogs that may be helpful, and general updates on how you’ve been. You are valued and loved, each and every one of you fabulous singletons, and our married friends too.

How Long, O Lord?

I’m in an online women’s Bible study that just started going through the book of James last night, and my home church had its second week of sermons on politics this Sunday. I am being reminded to “count it all joy” . . . “when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). I am being reminded that what affects me the most emotionally is a good sign of what I worship, that politics can become a false religion. I’m being reminded that the mature Christian will be filled with the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

But today, 200,000 people in my country are dead from Covid-19, many of which were preventable if our government had gotten its act together. But today, I cannot go outside because my lungs cannot handle breathing the air left behind by the fires surrounding us, people are losing their homes, and people have died while our president  repeatedly mocks our state and threatens not to send help. But today, three police officers who killed a black woman in her own house walked out of the court with little to no consequences, yet again. But today, myself and others like me who have lost our jobs due to the coronavirus search the news frantically to see if the government has finally found a compromise to help us with bills, our lost health insurance, and other needs. But today, my brother-in-law has to process the Zoom meeting he just had with his school district saying that he and all the other special education teachers will be going back to teaching in person on campus in October, even though they were given no plan on how this will actually be safe for them, their students, and their families. But today, evangelical pastors flout the law and refuse to take precautions on behalf of their parishioners because they’d rather take a political stance siding with a president that couldn’t care less about them. 

Today, I don’t know how to “count it all joy,” how not to be so emotionally invested in what’s going on politically, how to be at peace. Today I have no fun gifs with which to sprinkle my post. All I can do is listen to songs of lament on repeat, let the tears spill, let my heart hurt, lift up my voice in moaning grief and seething anger to my God, this God who cares for the vulnerable and lost, the widow and orphan, the sojourner and the poor so much that He came to earth to live amongst them, befriend them, teach them, feed them, heal them, then die for them. 

O, how my soul grieves! O, how my heart burns in anger! O, how my very body longs for God’s return and the redemption of this broken world! O, how helpless I feel, shut up rather safe and comfortable in my mother’s house, unable to fix anything for anyone, unable to even hug friends to comfort them, or march for righteous justice, or weep with my church in person! O, how I yearn for a new day to dawn of empathy and compassion, generosity and love! 

Politics is surrounding and directly affecting all of these things and more. There are immediate and long term needs everywhere I look. There is violence and hatred, cruelty and selfishness, a deep desire for power and a lack of care for those who need it most when I look at the political landscape. There is pain and loss and heartbreak, illness and death, grief and anger for so many who are meant to be served by our government.

Tears, slow yet steady, run down my face as I type this. I have no answers but my cries to the God of the universe, my Father, my creator, who IS love. Another day I will try to wrap my head around how to balance loving others well in this political landscape, how to find joy in it, how to find hope in the Lord in the midst of it, how to speak truth with love, how not to judge others harshly, how to view politics as important but not ultimate, how to participate in politics in ways that love my neighbors and help enact God’s desire for the flourishing of others, especially the vulnerable. Another day I, like David, will rejoice in God’s steadfast love and remember His bountiful gifts to us. But today I lament. Today I wish for sackcloth and ashes. I wish to tear out my hair and wail in the streets. Today I cannot stop the tears, I will not stop them. Today I will pray in sobs and songs and groans and wordless numbness. Today I will not be ok.

Psalm 13
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
 
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? 
How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I take counsel in my soul 
and have sorrow in my heart all the day? 
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; 
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” 
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. 
But I have trusted in your steadfast love; 
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 
I will sing to the Lord 
because he has dealt bountifully with me.