For 34 years I believed that since marriage was a picture of the gospel, there must be some mysterious element of the gospel I would never understand unless I was married. I believed there was some super secret club of those who understood the gospel fully, and the closest I’d ever come was standing on the margins, alternately looking in at The Married and back at my single self, trying to see what I was missing.
First, I reasoned, I was missing a husband. Second, I was missing consummation. And third, I was missing the covenant. I added these up and surmised my understanding of the gospel would be partial, incomplete and unresolved until heaven, or marriage, whichever came first. While my addends were right and my sum was correct, the math I’d done to arrive there was terribly wrong.
I was without a husband, sex and the covenant of marriage, but the lack of those did not necessarily equal a lesser understanding of the gospel. And my understanding of the gospel was still partial, incomplete and unresolved until heaven—but it was not because of my singleness. It was because of my humanness.
My understanding of the gospel was still partial, incomplete and unresolved until heaven—but it was not because of my singleness. It was because of my humanness.
I met my husband standing by Connection Central at the Flower Mound campus, and we were married less than six months later. I imagined I would finally have access to the parts of the gospel that had always felt inaccessible to me, but was surprised to find I was still just as selfish, just as sinful, just as prone to wandering as I had been in my singleness and though the gospel was still just as true, my full grasp was still incomplete.
My marriage didn’t make the gospel more true to me. In fact, marriage in some ways tempered my ache for the coming King. All my years of being single had taught me to long more, hunger more and treat chastity as a sort of fast not waiting for a husband, but waiting for the ultimate Groom, Christ. But in marriage I’ve often felt the itch of my longings more satisfied by my husband than by God. When I’m lonely, he’s there. When I’m lacking, he tries to provide. When I’m fearful, he tries to comfort. When I should be looking to the Savior as my ultimate companion, to the Father as the ultimate provider and the Spirit as my ultimate comfort, I settle for merely looking to my husband.
In many ways I understood a more intrinsic truth of the gospel in my singleness than in my marriage: We are all still waiting, regardless of our marital status, for the return of our Groom, for the marriage feast and for an eternal life together. My prolonged singleness was preaching a more inclusive truth of the gospel than my marriage—which is merely a picture of the covenantal love between Christ and His bride.
In my lack of a husband, I learned to long for my better Groom.
There were ten thousand times I wished for a partner with whom to share my life. Since the age of 18, I lived with over 38 different roommates—every kind of personality and characteristic, but none of them were my best friend or the person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I felt the lack of a partner at weddings, on holidays and weekends, in times of grief and times of joy. I wanted to share my life with one person but understood God never promised any of us a spouse. I had to learn there was someone aching with me, grieving with me, enjoying me and loving me—even if this Someone was less tangible than I wanted. I learned in my ache to ache for more of Christ. I wanted to know His character more fully, to know and communicate His love more fully and to enjoy Him more fully. Because I did not have a husband to attempt to fill those gaps, I ran to God.
In my lack of sex, I learned nothing on earth satisfies but Christ.
The pervasive lie that sex satisfies (even if we cognitively know it doesn’t) is one easily believed by those practicing a life of chastity outside of marriage. It can feel like a constant itch needing to be scratched and it is easy to look with envy at those getting it. One of the best lessons the Spirit taught me in my singleness was the physical relief of sex would always dissipate and the longing would return. I knew this must be true in marriage as well, and so I learned to ask what it meant to trust this lack of satisfaction to Christ. God does not promise everyone sex. He does not promise everyone ease, joy, comfort or release in sex either, and so He must be better than sex. He must be better than everything I thought might satisfy on earth. I had to learn to bounce my gaze to Christ in those moments when the itch felt too much to bear in my aloneness.
In my lack of covenantal marriage, I leaned into church covenant.
I have been married for three years now and have only taken my marriage license out once—when I needed to change my name. But when I was single, I was often a table leader for Covenant Membership classes at our church and would consequently walk through the membership process with about 10 women every semester. I was looking at my covenant to our church family nearly every week, reading through it, praying over it and recommitting to it as I read it with those women. In this time I learned the covenant I had made and was remaking every week was more eternal than any marriage covenant I might someday have with a husband. These brothers and sisters with whom I walked, lived, wept, prayed, praised and confronted were my eternal family. And I was getting to share life with them right now. I didn’t have to wait for some someday family to experience covenant. I was immersed in it right then. And, even more, this living, breathing organism, the Church, was just as single as I was, even if they were married on earth. We were all collectively waiting for our better Groom.
And we still are.
I still see through a glass dimly. The gospel still feels difficult for me to grasp, understand and fathom. Marriage didn’t make it easier. I am only satisfied by the knowledge that one day I will see my truest Groom face-to-face. I still feel incomplete, unresolved and unsanctified, and that is because I am. Marriage didn’t make me more complete and doesn’t make me more sanctified than I was in my singleness. Life does those things and it takes all of life to work through them until we are united with Christ.
Paul said the mystery of marriage is how it illustrates the gospel, but the gift of singleness is one in which we all partake, regardless of our marital status: We groan for the culmination of all things, the coming of our Groom and our eternity together.