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.

An Ode To My Dog

My dog died last Wednesday, and I am heartbroken. In the midst of having to stay at home as much as possible during the global pandemic, smoke-filled skies from my poor state being aflame, losing my incredibly beloved job (taking with it my health insurance), the possible disintegration of my little church, the horror show that is our current government, friends dealing with depression and divorce and loneliness and anxiety and all things distance learning, having to watch my little niece and nephew grow up from a distance, and in the month my father died years ago, our little dog was a sweet comfort. 

Paddington Bear, our little old westie, did not care that Donald Trump ramped up his lying. He was thrilled when we had to stay home more – it just meant more walkies and cuddles and attention for him! He sat on my mum’s lap every Sunday as we watched church online, loving that for 1+ hours we sat there, unmoving, with our coffee and songs and notepads. 

Paddy did care when one of us was sad. If I cried, he would gently approach to give me cuddles and licks, and check on me. He helped us keep to some sort of routine, which is difficult when mum is retired and I’m unemployed. But every morning he’d wake mum up to be let out, go for a walk, get breakfast. I knew it was time to get off the computer, working on whatever freelance or personal project I was on, and finish for the day because it was time to feed him his dinner, then cuddle on the couch while watching some TV. 

Paddington didn’t care if my friends were Democrats or Republicans, adults or children, single or married, Christian or anything else. He loved everyone. He was happy to be petted and cooed over, and then left to his own devices. He was, after all, a very old man at 15 ½. No longer desiring to play fetch in the backyard for hours, he was happy just to run after the ball once, stare at it, then look around the yard for a good sniff. 

Paddy loved nature. Squirrels were his favorite, with birds as a close second. The terrier in him never went away, and he’d sniff around the perimeter of his yard every morning and night to make sure all was right with our little world. 

Paddy was mostly deaf and a little bit blind these last months of his life, but it never seemed to bother him. He couldn’t jump on and off the furniture like he used to. Had to eat softer food. But he wasn’t worried – he knew mum and I would take care of him. We’d talk louder so he could hear us, try to gently pat him awake, lift him off and on anything he wanted to get to, and smoosh and warm up his food just so. He trusted us implicitly, never worrying.

Just a dog, but really a little treasure from God to my mum and I. Like a glimpse of innocence, creation before the fall, loaned to us for these 15 ½ years to care for and enjoy. To our whole family, really. As two single adult women, he gave us something to take care of, he gave us affection and comfort, and all the snuggles we needed. And we miss him, and I am sad. We will get another dog, as we are just dog people, but I will still miss Paddy. He was a gift. 

From Sprained Ankles to Leaky Hot Water Heaters

This time of year is always a mixed bag of emotions. In the span of one week we celebrate my mum’s birthday as well as my littlest nephew’s, then move right into the anniversary of my father’s death. This year my life decided to also throw in a mild ankle sprain and a leaky hot water heater.

In the midst of hobbling through my usual workday, birthday parties, a writer’s group dinner, the Downton Abbey movie, GriefShare, a going away party, church, heating up water on the stove, and all the various other little details of daily life there was a low-lying hum of something just not being quite right. For others in my family this year, the hum this week was more like incredible sadness or constant anxiety, but for me grief remained under the surface. It doesn’t always, some years they are pretty unaffected and I’m the one with more obvious symptoms. It’s rarely the same for all of us at the same time, which is nice because we can help each other through when needed. 

So this year I managed to get through the 17th anniversary of dad’s death without too much sadness, but with a couple tears alone at night, digging up a beautiful old photo of us snuggling, and stopping every once in awhile to recognize how much I still miss him. The moment of digging out his old crutches from the garage, the very ones he and I used to trade off between our constantly sprained ankles, brought memories flooding back. And I know the thought of “I wish Gordon was here to help deal with this” is constantly in the back of my mum’s head as she deals with the broken hot water heater. But God gave me encouraging students to help cheer me on as I hobbled around this week, and an endlessly kind and patient neighbor to come rescue us with his special vacuum, and tools, and truck, and knowledge. 

Ah Fall, my favorite season and yet one filled with so much emotion. Our house is already decorated with fake fall leaves, pumpkins, scarecrows, and various adorably haunted things. The nights are cool enough that I can snuggle under my top covers again, bringing me better sleep. Even the days are finally cooling down – I’m even wearing a long-sleeved top as I type this! We are burning pumpkin or apple scented candles non-stop, and may even fire up the fireplace tonight! I love it. But I also have that undercurrent of melancholy coursing through my body at all times.

Perhaps that’s part of growing up, of becoming an adult: we learn to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time, to celebrate life and grieve death simultaneously, to yearn for something lost or that we know we will never have while also reveling in the beauty that surrounds us. I no longer fear holding both things at once, no longer feel the need to only experience one at a time. Part of how I’m able to do this relies on talking to God about it, letting him know what I’m experiencing throughout the day and relying on him to give me peace.

Philippians 4:4-13 keeps coming up, at GriefShare, in my own study, and at church again this Sunday. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I’m learning that rejoicing in everything and not being anxious require facing the truth of what’s going on and relying on God to get me through it, knowing he always has done and always will. Peace and contentment don’t magically appear after I pray, or throughout the day as I talk to God, but this week I’ve experienced moment after moment when I can choose anxiety or peace, when I can panic or trust God, and this week God’s been gracious enough to grant me the peace. 

As September turns into October, I’m looking forward to more and more crisp, cool weather and nights by the fire with cups of tea and delicious smelling candles. I know the melancholy will be there, but so will the joy. And, as I’m about to dash out to go shower at my sister’s house, I’m really looking forward to hot water again. Praise God for fall, and for healed ankles and appliances.