“I thought marriage was coming, and soon. I thought I gave up the worldly approach to womanhood in exchange for a beautiful biblical picture that included husband, children, a home to be a homemaker in. And something went wrong. I gave up the world’s picture in exchange for nothing. I have nothing to show for it. I’ve spent 8 years in a holding pattern. I pushed off education, training, work, so nothing would be in the way of my getting married. Now I’m wondering if marriage is ever coming at all. Should I keep waiting and preparing, or should I go back to my previous plan?”
This is not only one girl’s question – this is the heart-cry of many young women today. Whether we swore off higher learning and work to engage in full-time waiting for Prince Charming; chose a college based on which one was most likely to provide an MRS degree; were so distracted by boys that we couldn’t focus on a single productive thing through our whole teens and twenties; or simply let the possibility of marriage coming any day now eat up our mental CPU and distract us from moving full-speed-ahead into anything else, most of us eventually realize this is not jibing with a productive, practical Christian life, and that it’s time to choose between our current track and a different one.
If this is the way we’ve been approaching the single season, yes, something does need to change – but it may not involve either of the options “keep waiting and preparing, or … go back to my previous [‘worldly’] plan.” The reason both of these options may feel wrong is because they are – they’re both missing critical elements of God’s plan for women. And no, the critical element is not marriage.
This is not the article to tackle nitty-gritty questions like “What kind of vocational training should I get and where/how should I get it?” What we would like to offer instead are four suggestions to help us approach the whole question with new eyes.
1. Embrace a bigger theology of womanhood, marriage, and singleness.
The problem many of us are struggling with starts with theology. If:
a) our idea of biblical womanhood primarily involves marriage
b) our “beautiful biblical picture” of marriage is primarily one of “a husband, children, and a home to be a homemaker in”
c) we believe “education, training, work” belong to “the worldly approach to womanhood” (and “would be in the way of… getting married”)
…then the first thing that needs to change is our idea of what “biblical womanhood” includes. The problem (and it’s one that’s rife throughout the biblical womanhood movement) is that we have sliced the Christian woman’s character and work up into a bunch of separate pieces — economically-productive work becomes separated from domestic work, initiative and strength from gentleness and submissiveness, home-focus from serving others in the outside world.
The real “beautiful, biblical picture” of womanhood we see in Scripture involves all the pieces – family, home, work, education, community, ministry, strength, gentleness – being brought back together into one cohesive whole, and playing out across multiple seasons – singleness, marriage, motherhood, barrenness, widowhood, old age. In Scripture, we see married women engaged in business, ministry, and church-planting (Proverbs 31 woman, Priscilla), single women showing hospitality, engaging in family-based ministry, and wall-building (Mary and Martha, Miriam, Rebekah, Shallum’s daughters), elderly widows nursing children and housing prophets (Naomi, widow of Zarephath), and women in every season helping plant and foster the early church, build up and support the saints, and love and nurture the poor and needy.
Priscilla’s beautiful married life no doubt involved keeping a lovely home for Aquila, packing him great lunches, and keeping his toga well-pressed, but fascinatingly, the only pictures Scripture left us of her wifely activities are of her and her husband making tents, planting churches, and discipling young converts together. Are we preparing for that kind of marriage? The Proverbs 31 woman, on top of being a devoted wife, mother, and DIY diva, was also engaged in business transactions, agriculture, and charitable endeavors for others outside the home. Are we preparing for that kind of marriage? And Paul’s description of what should be expected of married women goes far beyond a lot of “biblical womanhood” trends when he said in 1 Timothy 5:9,10 what made an elderly widow worthy of church support. He didn’t say, “If she was a good wife and mother to lots of children” – he said, “having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” Are we preparing for that kind of marriage?
More importantly, are we preparing to live that kind of life now?
We can’t cherish a beautiful picture of married womanhood in our hearts that would exempt us from doing a lot of the things God requires us to do. Scripture’s picture of marriage is beautiful, but the main way marriage should change our lives is by giving us a different construct for living out the purpose we already have – husband, children, and home become an integral part of how we “engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs,” “make disciples of all the nations,” and contribute to “the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” However, they are not themselves our purpose, and they do not replace or change our purpose. This was already our calling, before marriage.
What we see in Scripture is both married, single, and widowed women being all about the same essential things: Relationships. Discipleship. Service. Teaming up with others to spread the gospel. Pouring themselves into the households they were in. Assisting men (fathers, husbands, brothers, prophets, fellow disciples) in supportive roles. Nurturing biological and spiritual children. Meeting physical and spiritual and emotional needs. You know what this would mean for life preparation? It means the same training that would prepare a woman to be an amazing wife and mother would also prepare her to be an amazing single woman, an amazing widow, and an amazing empty-nester.
Yes, different seasons will have different areas of focus – a mom of several littles won’t likely be as engaged in home-based business, for example, as a single woman, a mom of older ones, or an empty-nester. The point, however, is: If we only are preparing for a life of loving our very own biological children, encouraging and building up our very own husbands, and cleaning our very own houses, then we actually will not be well prepared for all of marriage, and we most definitely won’t be prepared for anything else. But if we strengthen our arms for all of womanhood – amassing both the gentleness and the boldness, the love of home and the love of others outside the home, the submission and the initiative, the domestic proficiency and the ability to make contributions in the other important realms of business, culture, politics, the church, and the lives of all the people around us – we’ll be prepared for full Christian service, every day, and every season.
2. Don’t let anything (including your hope for marriage) hold you back from developing fully in Christ.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: How might we be letting the expectation of marriage hold us back from charging ahead into a full-blown, all-out, eyes-on-the-goal Christian life?
Girls have told us (and we know the feeling ourselves) that they’re afraid if they start that theological study and become really grounded… if they start that business… if they become really focused on ministry… if they become the kind of girl who’s a little too serious and mature to be in the popular group… if they become more mature than the guys around them… if they become too invested in their single lives… if they write that article about being productive while single… won’t it negatively affect their chances of getting married?
It may seem like good strategy not to price ourselves out of the market by becoming “too” serious, “too” mature, “too” Scripturally-literate, or “too” productive, but it also means that being eligible is more important to us than maturing “to the full measure of the stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), or being “equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). It means that being worthy of husbands is more important to us than being “worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1:10)
Now, we could point out that really godly men aren’t actually turned off by really godly women, but the real point is this: God doesn’t call us to prepare primarily for marriage. He calls us to prepare primarily for Kingdom-building service. He wants our lives and moments to be poured into the things that will outlast our marriages and our whole time on earth – the impact we have on the souls of all the people our lives touch, and our relationship with Him Himself. These are the investments that matter, because these are the things we will take with us – and they’re investments we can make every day of our lives.
3. Be anxious about the right things.
“[T]he unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord,” says 1 Cor. 7:34,35, “how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
Notice it doesn’t say, “The unmarried woman, just by nature of being unmarried, should be expected to be completely consumed with worldly things, how to find her husband, how to please all potential future husbands, the fact that she’s still single, that all of her friends are getting married except for her, whether she’s pretty enough, whether the guys are noticing her, and the fact that she’s getting older.” Yet the big temptation for most unmarried women is to let this season become one of total, debilitating anxiousness about almost everything except holiness and the things of the Lord. Instead of the Lord having our undivided devotion, marriage and man-pleasing can be ALL WE EVER THINK ABOUT! It’s not wrong to desire, pray for, prepare for, and think about marriage, but it is wrong to let that crowd out the even-more-important things we’re supposed to be desiring, praying for, preparing for, thinking about, and most of all, doing.
It’s great that we want to bear fruit by bringing up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But are we pouring ourselves as intensely into the spiritual growth of the young, weak, needy people around us now? It’s great that we want to have a spiritually close relationship with another believer to be building up, growing with, and being accountable to. But are we pursuing that with all the other believers the Lord has joined us with now? It’s great that we want to create a home and family all about serving the Lord together. But are we striving as vigorously to create that kind of atmosphere in our current homes or environments now? If not, then we need to consider that we’re not living to serve the Lord — we’re living for marriage.
4. Don’t wait.
When we feel like the dream keeps not happening – when we keep not moving on to the stage of life we want to be in – it’s time to take a good, hard look at what the Lord has given us, and what He might want us to with that instead. What might God want to bring out of your single years that you haven’t done for Him yet? What are the needs in your family, local church, and community, and how could you be meeting them? What are the spiritual gifts and talents He has given you, and how could you be developing and using them? What are the opportunities around you, and how could you be seizing them?
Back to the original question: So should we keep preparing for marriage, or is it time to start preparing for a single life?
To be precise, it’s time to be pursuing a disciplined, capable, need-meeting, disciple-making, counsel-giving, profit-earning, gift-exercising, knowledge-seeking, truth-proclaiming, nations-evangelizing, church-serving, poor-and-needy-helping, hospitality-giving, initiative-taking womanhood that could include serving and ministering to husbands and children but isn’t limited to that (because even if we marry, we know that’s not all the Lord wants from us).
We have been given all the pieces and responsibility for living the full-orbed Christian woman’s life, right now. So let’s start living it!
1. We need to be wise, though, about how we decide what kinds of preparation would really be a strategically smart time/money investment. For example, some kinds of marketable skills are a lot more marketable than others. Some methods of learning marketable skills are higher-payoff than others – we would need to carefully weigh whether the training would eventually pay for itself in what it cost in time and money, and whether it could feasibly translate into family-friendly financial stability (especially in a worst-case-type-scenario). And some kinds of paid work and even ministry-work opportunities could genuinely take us further away from our bigger-picture goals as women. It will take wisdom to weigh each opportunity on a case-by-case basis, in light of our biggest priorities as both Christians and women. If you’re interested, we share a lot more thoughts on in these things in our message How to Develop Your Gifts within the Family Economy.