Hindsight Helps Clarify Marital Status
- Tim Laitinen Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2011 7 Jul
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is the latest installment of Solo Zone, a monthly series focusing on believers who have taken advantage of serious opportunities God has laid in their faith walks—and whose singleness actually works to their benefit, as well as God’s glory.
Well, here we are again.
It’s the thick of the summer wedding season, and once again, single adults across the country are serving as bridesmaids or groomsmen, and being pelted with what seems to be an eternal question:
”So, when it is going to be your turn at the altar?”
Does it seem like you’re “always the bridesmaid, never the bride?” Does your circle of single friends seem to dwindle every summer, as your circle of married friends grows larger?
Even the hardiest contented single can struggle with this time of year, no matter how much we trust in God’s sovereignty over our marital status.
For public relations guru Andrea Phillips, being in her early forties and having been in nine wedding parties makes her an expert at the “never a bride” syndrome. And she wants people to know that just because she’s yet to walk down the aisle as a bride, being “always a bridesmaid” hasn’t wrecked her life.
“People see that I’m in my forties and single, I’m articulate and personable, that I’m attractive in an average kind of way. So they tend to assume I’m either a feminist, a lesbian, that I’m ‘called’ to be single, or that I have some hidden neurosis. They just can’t imagine I’d be single without there being a specific cause. That bugs the snot out of me!
“On the flip side, I’m always a little gratified when people get to know me and realize there’s no obvious cause to my singleness, and say, ‘I just don’t understand why you aren’t married!’ I get to say, ‘Me neither, but that’s the plan the Lord has had for me so far.’”
Getting to Hawaii
Naturally, whenever her friends get married, Phillips celebrates God’s sovereignty with them. It’s her reliance on that same sovereignty that helps dilute much of the negative introspection that can plague singles as they leave the reception venue of yet another friend’s wedding.
“Your relational status is just another way you go through life fulfilling your God-given purpose,” she reasons, likening marriage and singlehood to taking a trip from landlocked Colorado to Hawaii.
“You go to the airport in Denver, to board a plane,” she begins. “But what if that flight gets canceled? Or you miss the flight? And for some reason, that was the only flight this week?
“Can’t you still get to Hawaii other ways? You can take a bus or train, or rent a car from Denver to get to the West Coast, then board any number of ships. The point is to not rely on an airplane. The point is to get to Hawaii, and there are multiple ways of doing that.
“However, too many singles will sit in the airport of life, obsessed with getting on the marriage plane, as if that’s the only way to go. They don’t think about the goal of Hawaii—their purpose in life. They only think about the mode of transport. And sometimes, they’ll get so distraught, they’ll hop on a plane to Fargo just so they can be on a plane, missing their destination altogether.”
Marital Status as a Calling?
Speaking of missing one’s destination, Phillips points out a common danger of singles who deny that their current marital status might not be good for them.
“When I was younger, I thought I had to know whether I was ‘called’ to singleness for all of my life,” she confesses. “I’ve heard singles say they know they’re supposed to be married, because they feel called to be married and do not feel called to be single. If God wanted them to be single, they reason, he would take their longing for marriage away.”
But is that how it works? Phillips is emphatic in her belief that singlehood is generally not a discernable call of God. Otherwise, conversely, wouldn’t everyone who longs to be married be, by God’s grace, married?
It can be one of the most frustrating parts of faith when we struggle against logic like that. Yet Phillips says she’s learned that marital status exists simply as another factor with which we need to trust God.
“I had to choose to live a full, abundant, God-honoring life in my present day and place. I had to embrace being single now, because that’s God’s will for me now. By doing that, my burden was lifted and I walked away free to live life however it came.”
Watching all her friends’ weddings go by, of course, didn’t mean that “living life however it came” was always easy. But it has been revealing, especially as Phillips began to learn some life-changing things about her own personality and cultural assumptions.
She admits that over time, her perspective on the roles for husbands and wives has evolved. In her twenties, she wouldn’t have thought twice about adopting a conventional spousal pattern, being a stay-at-home wife for a breadwinner husband. Yet, looking back, she’s relieved God did not allow her to get married with that mindset.
“It would have been a disaster for me!” Phillips exclaims. “I’ve come to realize that my chief goal in life is using my gifts and talents to benefit others to God’s glory and the advancement of his kingdom. For some women, that means focusing 100 percent on being a wife and mom. But for me, I think my greatest talents would have been idle and unused had I committed to serving primarily in the home for those years.
“Marriage is a way to go through life as I glorify God, but it is not a comprehensive reason for living.”
For Phillips, glorifying God has included obtaining a degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, a second postgraduate degree in public relations, and starting a doctoral program this fall. She owns her own marketing firm, has worked for a private Christian college, and speaks at women’s conferences.
“My gifts are not primarily gifts that are exercised in the home; they’re gifts better exercised outside the home,” she explains. “And here’s the most important part: my working outside the home is the fulfillment of God’s design for me, not contrary to it.”
Not that Phillips is a hard-charging career woman, or that she’s rationalizing away her unfulfilled desire for marriage.
“I’ve come to believe that some of our assumptions regarding duties for husbands and wives, and how the home is supposed to be, have been developed through traditional Anglicized interpretations of certain scriptures. They’re not necessarily bad or against Scripture, but they don’t represent the sole paradigm for godly marriage.”
She admits this realization seemed bizarre to her at first. Whereas in her twenties, she would have refused to consider marriage to a stay-at-home father while she went out and earned the family’s income, today, she sees how that pattern could be the best way some marriages honor God.
“That probably shocks a lot of good conservatives,” she giggles. “It would have shocked me 10 or 15 years ago.”
Catch the Bouquet
Despite being “always a bridesmaid, never a bride,” Phillips relishes her new perspective of singlehood. Although it can occasionally “stink,” and marriage remains something she’d welcome, she professes a richer faith in the One to whom she already belongs.
“He strengthens me, and reminds me that his plan is perfect. He wants good things for me, but he’s willing to deny me good things so he might produce other good things in my life … for his glory."
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
Publication date: July 7, 2011