Relationships

EXCERPT: Not Yet Married

Love Is Looking for You

We are all wired to want happiness, love, and significance. We all want our hearts to soar for something. We taste happiness in lots of things—in the first bite of a slightly undercooked brownie, in an overtime playoff win, in a new dress or pair of shoes—but the joy is always just enough to know we’re made for something more. Every joy here carries some kind of empty, unsatisfying aftertaste. Wrapped up with that desire to be happy is a desire to be known and loved. Our life was formed and given to us to be shared. We are all designed for relationship, regardless of whether we’re married. And we all want our lives to count for something. We want to contribute something significant to a meaningful cause. We want to make a difference. Discontentment and disappointment rise up in the not-yet-married life when we start pursuing that love, joy, and significance in a person and not in God. We become miserable not because we’re not married, but because many of us think marriage might finally make us happy.

If you had asked me when I was twenty what would make me happy, I was already Christian enough to say, “Jesus.” I knew the right answer. But if anyone watched my life closely enough back then and could answer for me, they probably would have said, “Marriage.” I went to church every Sunday. I had quiet times. I was doing ministry to high school guys. I really did love Jesus. But, if I’m honest, I gave more of myself to girls than to God. I really wanted to be married, and I loved the attention, affection, and security of having a girlfriend. I had already plunged myself into one long serious relationship after another for five or six years— five or six first dates, five or six premature first kisses, five or six devastating breakups. I didn’t experiment with marijuana or go through a drinking phase. My drug of choice was more socially acceptable, even encouraged. I was recklessly trying to feed my heart’s hunger for God by running after romance and intimacy.

I began each new relationship under the banner of “my pursuit of marriage,” but much of it was really just my pursuit of me. I loved the idea of marriage, because I thought marriage would fill and complete me. But because I was looking for love, happiness, and significance mainly in marriage, singleness turned into a nightmare some days. Singleness felt lonely, waiting for someone to come into my life and never leave again. Singleness felt incomplete, wondering if God would bring my other half or fill the massive, glaring hole in my life (at least it looked massive and glaring in the mirror). Singleness provoked self-pity, wanting what others already had, and thinking I deserved it more than them. Relationships towered above all my idols, so singleness became simultaneously my unrelenting judge and unwanted roommate, reminding me at all times of what I didn’t have yet and what I didn’t do right.

The American-Dream Marriage

The Bible says that people who are fixated on experiencing as much happiness and pleasure as possible here on earth—in a career, in sex, drinking, or spending, even in marriage—are like those who dream they are eating and drinking, but wake up hungry, thirsty, and without anything to eat or drink (Isa. 29:8). The beautiful banquet before their unconscious and closed eyelids— perfectly grilled meats, colorful and fresh fruits and vegetables, bread right out of the oven, the fountain of wine, chocolate filled with chocolate, drizzled with chocolate—is all just a mirage, a cruel figment of a hungry person’s imagination. For the not yet married, the imaginary buffet might feature a good-looking, funny, considerate, and committed spouse, two or maybe three children, the house you always wanted, summer vacations somewhere nice, and blissful married memory after blissful married memory—the American-dream marriage. But every delicious dream must end.

The problem is not that we are hungry but that we’re hunting in the wrong pantry. The cravings deep inside us are a mercy from God meant to lead us to God. God is trying to give us unconditional love, indescribable joy, and unparalleled purpose, but many of us are just trying to get married. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). God wired appetites—intense biological, emotional, sexual, spiritual, unavoidable desires—into every human soul so that He could fill them. He wants us to be full, not empty; to be loved, not lonely. One of my favorite verses in the Bible says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). No greater joy. No expiration date. Happiness and love like this are free—“by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5, 8)—but it is not cheap. It takes patience, hard work, and perseverance—day after day, pouring ourselves into God’s Word, sacrificing for the sake of others in his name, and surrendering ourselves to his will. Paul calls the Christian life a fight and a race (2 Tim. 4:7). It can be hard, and it may hurt along the way, but we’ll never regret it. Jesus may ask a lot of us between here and heaven, but whether we ever get married or not, he will give it all back a hundredfold and more (Matt. 19:29).

Content taken from Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness and Dating by Marshall Segal, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

Kona