QUESTION: My nineteen-year-old daughter has graduated high school and is attending the local college. She wants to get married and have children. My question is this: what is she supposed to do with her time? Does she pursue a degree? Get a job? We've prayed and so far are not getting much direction. We've raised her to believe her role is to be a wife and mother but what if that's not where she ends up or what if it's not for ten years? Does she stay at home with us? At what time does she strike out on her own? She is our oldest child so this is uncharted territory for us! Just as a side note we have gone the courtship route and she has not found anyone yet.
ANSWER: A question like this requires a balancing act of tact and faith from my end. As an older never-married woman, I’m certainly glad I pursued an education as well as professional and personal interests. Though God has not (yet) answered my prayers for marriage and children, I have led an interesting, varied and full life serving others in the church and on the job. There are some who might say that these pursuits are the very reason for my current singleness, but this would be a hasty judgment – for these are the barest of details and certainly summarized without a knowledge of God’s completed plan for my life. So from the outset, let me say that I am glad not to have lived a number of years on hold, waiting for something that has not yet materialized. I also think there is a false dichotomy in thinking that something wholly different is required of single women than married women, but I’ll return to this point later.
A question like this also requires a bit of a history lesson, as young, unmarried women need to be wise about the age we live in and its influence over our worldviews even as Christians. When the first wave of feminism first arose in the mid-1800s during the suffrage movement, the stated aim of its leaders was to radically change the marriage relationship. When the second wave of feminism re-emerged in the early 1960s, the “trapped housewife” was once again the symbol of oppression. The leaders of both waves of feminism were outspoken in their critique of Christianity. By the time the third wave of feminism rolled around in the early 1990s, marriage had become just one of many lifestyle options and in the media women were exhibiting a hyper-sexuality that has become known as the “raunch culture.” This is the briefest sketch of feminism, but I present it so that we can understand some of its implications for your daughter today.
Now, before I expand on this thought, let me say that I’m not entirely dismissing some of the changes that arose during this time. I am grateful I can vote and own property, among other reforms. Neither am I entirely dismissing the sins these feminist leaders observed – in many cases, men were guilty of their charges of oppression, disregard, and mistreatment of women. But the solutions feminists proposed only compounded sin upon sin. Women’s liberation cannot come from pushing men away in anger. Our biggest problem is not the sins of others, as grievous as that sin can be. Our biggest problem is our own rebellion against a holy God, for we are all ensnared by sin and fall short of God’s righteous standard (Romans 3:23). Our greatest need is to be reconciled to God, for we cannot change these sin patterns without the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, Jesus Christ, our only mediator, is the true liberator for all women – not feminism.
So here we all are, 150 years after feminism began to profoundly affect our culture. We have the highest number of single adults ever recorded in our nation’s history, in the church and outside of it. We have nearly the same rate of divorce in the church as outside of it. And we have several generations of confused men who have been told their masculinity is the very reason for women’s oppression – exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches about the complementarity of the sexes and the Christlike model of servant-leadership that men are to cultivate for the benefit of the church, their wives, and their families.
All of this means that getting married today is very hard – but not impossible, by the grace of God. We Christians need to carefully examine our assumptions and practices about singleness and marriage for any signs of worldliness. Are we delaying God’s good gift of marriage to pursue self-centered concerns? Are we pursuing a life built on entertainment and assuming a spouse will somehow materialize? More importantly, are we being faithful to pursue the godly virtues that are commanded by Scripture, virtues that transcend marital status?
It would seem, from what you have presented in your question, that you have reared your daughter to value marriage and motherhood and that you have been praying for her husband. So what I’ve presented so far was to give some background as to why there are so many single adults and why prayer and purposeful pursuit of marriage is so badly needed today. Assuming that you are guiding her in these ways, the issue now is what to do in the meantime.
This brings me back to the false dichotomy I mentioned above. When we think single women are not yet fully-vested models of biblical femininity, we tend to think there’s some different path for single women than for married women. But when we look at the Titus 2 commands, we see that four of the seven commands are irrespective of marital status. When we look at the Proverbs 31 woman, we see the virtues of an excellent wife as recited to a young boy – virtues he was to look for in his future wife. So these passages are equally as applicable to Christian women prior to marriage as they are afterwards.
With all of that background, I would offer this advice for your daughter:
What are your gifts, abilities, and interests? How can you educate yourself in these areas for the glory of God? How can you steward these gifts and abilities for the local church? Nearly every hobby can be used to bless others in the church. If your focus is the same as the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll see that her financial abilities, cooking abilities, trading abilities, and creative abilities were not neglected. They were cultivated for her family’s benefit and thereby affected her community, too.
Where can you make an investment in others right now? Are there ministries or relationships that need the flexibility a single woman can sometimes offer? It’s important to cultivate this others-oriented perspective if a woman wants to be an effective and God-glorifying wife and mother.
Are you praying to be an effective wife and mother? Are you praying for a husband in expectant faith? (By this, I mean not expecting a husband to be delivered on demand, but in expectation of God who can richly provide us with every spiritual blessing.)
For you and your husband, I would also encourage you to be proactive in your daughter’s desire to get married. I assume you must be praying about this already. So I’m going to suggest you start with serving the single men in your church. Your husband’s discipleship and mentorship of these men to develop biblical masculinity will serve many single women, possibly also including your daughter. From my numerous conversations with single men, I’ve learned they need encouragement to trust God by risking rejection and being clear in communication and leadership. While married women can be effective sounding boards, I think married men are the untapped resource in our churches to help this generation recover the glory and priority of Christian marriage. If we want single women to get married, my opinion is that we must encourage married men to evangelize and disciple single men.
That’s the broad answer to your question. You asked several specific questions. I cannot hand you specific answers to some of them, though. If you have the financial resources, if you receive confirming counsel, and if she has a desire to develop further skills, I think a college degree could be helpful to her future. One never knows what the future holds – illness, widowhood, empty-nester jobs – all of these could require a set of employable skills. I know many women whose professional training serves their husbands, even while at home with small children. One woman does the finances for her husband’s business. Another woman does part-time design from home. Another does freelance writing to supplement her family’s income. These are issues of applying biblical wisdom, not rules.
The same goes for living at home. I know single women in many living arrangements, some still living at home with their families, others living in homes they have purchased. I don’t think the living arrangement per se is what matters. I think the degree of accountability, participation in the local church, cultivation of responsibility, boundaries for relationships with single men, and wise financial stewardship are the parameters that should be considered. An adult child living at home but not making adult contributions to the home could be a hindrance. A woman living on her own but without accountability would be unwise. A woman making a good salary but not investing it long-term in real estate may want to reconsider her situation. There is no automatic answer. It requires seeking God’s guidance, honestly evaluating motives and attitudes, and living where godliness is the highest priority. I know several single women who live with other families, for example, when their own families are not nearby. That might seem odd to others, but this arrangement serves the families and the single adults alike. The goal in any situation is living in such a way as to bring glory to God.
I hope this article has provided some points to consider and pray about. And I pray that your daughter’s generation will find the good blessing of marriage and motherhood far easier to obtain than my own generation.
Carolyn McCulley works for Sovereign Grace Ministries in church and ministry relations. She is also an author ("Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred") and blogger (solofemininity.blogs.com). Carolyn is also a member of Covenant Life Church where one of her favorite ministries is the single women's discipleship program. She highly recommends the resources for singles from the New Attitude conference and blog.
Your questions answered! Carolyn will periodically answer Crosswalk.com reader questions in her Singles Q&A columns. While we can't guarantee that each question will be answered, we do hope to hear from you! Please send your questions regarding singleness and related topics to Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.