Before my husband and I started dating, I was the perpetually single friend. I was the girl who was always a bridesmaid, but never a bride. On the outside I was independent, self-sufficient, goal-oriented, and totally fine with being on my own. On the inside, that was also true. Well… mostly.
On the inside, I held a deep desire for something I did not have, something I thought I’d never have: a husband. I could write a book on my years of singleness and everything I learned from them. Each day and every lesson was perfectly shaped by God to make me into the person that I am today. Maybe someday I will write a book on that (maybe after the current project is done). But today, I write about the overarching theme of not only this time in my life, but, it seems, my whole life: life with unfulfilled desires.
It’s hard to remember exactly when I first heard the “formula to cure singleness.” It was probably at camp or in one of the books on emotional purity that I ate up as a teenager. Intended to sound this way or not, we’ve probably all heard (and believed) it at one point or another. It’s simple, really. Once you find your true satisfaction in Christ and pursue complete obedience to him, you will find your mate. He or she will be plopped down next to you and all will be well. You will go on to live your lives together in happy and peaceful contentment, your perfect love story brought about by your contentment in Christ perfectly played out.
If this formula sounds a little too good to be true, that’s because it is. If you think that good behavior always equals getting good things (aka, what you want) and bad behavior always equals getting bad things, you are going to have a bad time. Oftentimes in life, it is the exact opposite. We watch, helpless, as evil men seem to prosper and the most devoted Christians we know can’t seem to catch a break. The fact is that some of the most content people I have known in life still remain single to this day. They’ve followed the so-called “magic formula.” They’re content, they follow God, they’re obedient to his commands and leading, and they serve him with their whole life.
So what happened? Did God forget them? Did they miss a step in the formula? No.
God is not a genie or a vending machine that gives you want you want if you have the right amount of change or rub the lamp in just the right way.
God is the sovereign ruler over the world. He works and moves in lives. He has planned your life from before time began and he has not forgotten you (nor will he ever). He is not so fickle as to only give his children good things when they are being perfectly obedient. If that were so, we would never get good things from him. The fact of the matter is that God delights in giving good things to his children. He is not stingy with those who are his own.
But this does not mean our lives will always be perfect or that we will get what we want when we want it. James 1:17 is a commonly quoted verse about God’s gifts to his children: Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. And while the “obvious” interpretation of this verse on its own is true and has merit, there is more to this verse than just the kindness of God in his giving of good and perfect gifts. The immediate context is that of temptation. That’s right, temptation.
Let no one say when he is tempted,
“I am being tempted by God”;
for God cannot be tempted by evil,
and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
But each one is tempted when he is carried away
and enticed by his own lust.
Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin;
and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
This verse does more than tell us that good things and perfect gifts are from God. It’s contrasting good things with the evils of temptation to sin. God will never tempt us to sin. He will never place things in our path that are temptations to sin (this is not the same as responding sinfully to trials in our lives). Rather, he will only ever give us things that are good and for our good. This does not mean we will not be given trials in our lives. Trials are a given in the Christian life and are intended to draw us closer to God (a very good thing).
But what does this have to do with singleness? You may be wondering, is singleness really a trial? Is it really that big of a deal?
To some, it may be the biggest trial they are currently facing. Let me tell you: the struggle is all too real. But let me also tell you something else: singleness is not a disease to be cured. It is not the worst thing in the world if a man or woman never enters the covenant of marriage. In fact, it is ordained that some will never see marriage outside of being part of the bride of Christ.
So why the emphasis on it in today’s post? I’m not single anymore. I’m happily married to the sweetest, most caring, most patient man in the world. I got what I’ve always wanted. My life should be perfect and all put together now, shouldn’t it?
I’ll try to hold my laughter. Mostly because I used to think this way. I once genuinely thought that my life would get better once I had a boyfriend, then fiancé, and then a husband. But I promise you, that’s not how it works. Thankfully, I had many wise and caring people in my life who God used to guide me during my single days. I learned from their biblical teaching that just because one day I may get married didn’t mean that I would suddenly become perfectly content with my life.
And a thousand words later, I have finally funneled in to my point.
Deep, yet unfulfilled, desires are a normal and real part of the Christian life. They have long been a very real part of my life and just as I know there is nothing new under the sun, I know that I am not alone in this.
During my last year of college and my first year of grad school, I wrestled with difficult questions that constantly ran through my mind. Some of these questions were directly related to my seemingly perpetual singleness. I was intentionally and deliberately devoted to following God’s leading for my life. My prayers often consisted of me begging God to change my heart, to refocus my longings. I was living with deep, unfulfilled desires. I wanted to be a wife, a mom, a writer, a teacher, an encourager. I wanted to be in the business of changing lives and encouraging my fellow women to cast aside weak, fluffy theology and pursue “the hard stuff” with all their might. I wanted so many things. But at the top of the list was a strong, godly man to walk with me through all of this. Even though I am unwaveringly introverted, I still longed for companionship. A partner, a teammate, a life-long love to be my companion through life. I let daydreams of what my life would someday be interfere with my attentiveness in class and my homework in the evenings. I struggled to stay focused on the very things that would help me achieve my ministry goals because I was too busy dreaming instead of doing.
I learned much through those two years and even the years beforehand as my dreams and goals were still forming (but I’ll be honest – in many ways, they still are).
First and foremost, I learned that God shapes and directs the desires of those who put their focus on him. I learned as I lived with biblical, but unmet desires that maybe the desires weren’t the point. Everything that I wanted was good. They were godly desires. To be a good wife, to teach, to write, to help others learn how to study the Bible in a way that strengthens their faith and understanding of the Word of God. But living with these unmet desires pushed me to find my satisfaction in the only one who can bring true satisfaction and contentment: God.
No matter how often or how long you live with unmet desires, one thing will always remain the same. The God who made you, loves you, called you by name, and redeemed you will always be the only true source of contentment. If we focus all of our attention on getting one desire fulfilled, once that desire gets fulfilled our discontent will not cease to exist. Rather, our hearts will move on to the next thing to pine after. I’ve seen this play out in my own life. One desire is met and suddenly, a new one takes it place. This is no coincidence. Our hearts are desperate and hungry and filling them with experiences and things does not satiate.
But what does it mean to find contentment in Christ when we live with deep, unmet desires? First, it means checking our attitude. I have to ask myself this constantly. Do I want something simply because I want it or because this is a God-given desire? For a long time, I wanted a husband because I wanted to feel like I’d “made it” in life. Having a husband was part of my “special formula for the perfect life.” I desired a good thing, but for all the wrong reasons. As I became convicted about this and started learning from God’s Word what biblical desire and biblical marriage look like, my reasons shifted. I learned that it is okay to have a deep desire to be in the covenant of marriage. Marriage is gift that was established by God and deemed by him to be good. It is a good and perfect gift that comes from our good Father. It is good and right to want to be married. But not at the expense of our relationship with God. I can remember times when praying that I begged God to take away my deep and painful desire to be married. It was immensely difficult to watch my friends get married and to be so blatantly alone. But God did not take away these desires, no matter how hard I prayed. I do not claim to know the mind of God – and never will – but this experience pushed me closer to him. It showed me that above all else, I need God. I need God to sustain me through the trial of unmet desires. I need God as I now walk the path of a newlywed striving to be a godly wife.
Contentment in Christ while living with deep, unmet desires looks like turning to him to sustain you when those desires threaten to take first place in your life. It looks like putting God first every time those desires serve as distractions rather than motivations. It looks like running to him every time they seem to take over and overwhelm you. It looks like being okay with never seeing them fulfilled because God has every day given you everything you need to face that day.
This does not just apply to singleness. Even now, as a newlywed, I have been learning this lesson anew. There are so many things I want to do and be. I long held the desire to be a mom, but it is not yet the time for that desire to be fulfilled. I have long had a teacher’s heart, but the applications I sent in for this school year were turned down. I want to be an author, but I am struggling to piece the magnitude of my subject together in a way that makes sense. And, as silly as it sounds, I have very much missed having a pet in my home. This is the longest I have gone without a pet since I was four years old. That’s almost twenty years of at least one (usually many, many more) pet. But circumstances don’t currently allow for us to adopt a pet. I could go on forever – if you knew the magnitude of desire and interest that I held in my heart, you’d probably pass out. I nearly do sometimes when I start thinking about everything I want to do, see, be, and try. I don’t say this to tell you how great of Christian I am or to try and convince you that I’m a cool and interesting person (I’m an introvert! I’m boring by nature). I say this to tell you that if you’re reading this and you’re wrestling with an unmet desire and wondering when it will be fulfilled (if it ever will be), I’ve been there, am still there, and I get it. I understand. And better yet, God understands. He knows. He cares.
The one who gave you these desires and passions is there with you and for you through it all, even if those desires are never fulfilled. The fact of the matter is that we will never stop wanting something else. We will never truly be content. There will always be something new and exciting to pursue, to want, to achieve. This is why we can’t rely on our desires to fill our hungry hearts. Spouses, jobs, accomplishments, children, and pets cannot and will not ever satisfy the hungry that is in our hearts. Only God can satisfy that hunger.
He is our satisfaction when it seems like no one will ever want to marry you. He is our fulfillment when we can’t seem to achieve that next thing. He is our peace when children do not come. He is our strength when we get rejected again and again.
Our God is good and he gives good things to his children. These momentary afflictions will not last forever. They will end, whether on this side of Heaven or when we reach our eternal home. Let them draw you closer to our perfect, sovereign, loving, holy God. Let them bring you closer to our Savior.