God does not bestow blessings upon us because of our merit; He does not hand out marriage to A+ Christians and singleness to those who fall short of perfection.
On my dresser, sandwiched between Parisian bookends and treasured volumes, there was a wedding planner. It was a gift for me—for 2013. We expected to get engaged around this past November, but that month found my closest friend and I parting ways instead.
I was seeking God when my boyfriend came into my life, and I’ve been seeking to put Him first all year. I didn’t seek Him perfectly, but I did seek Him, and I did trust Him with our relationship. Yet here I am, single. My reflexive interpretation of the events? “I wasn’t holy enough. That’s why we’re not getting married. That’s why I’m being sent to the school of loneliness.”
Without realizing it, this is what I believed: A husband is a gift we only receive once we reach a certain level of holiness first. It’s merit-system sanctification, you see. If you’re self-centered, you get stuck in the school of loneliness until you learn to really love God. If you’re God-centered, you’re blessed with the love of a spouse. Of course, the lines are all vague. We know that married people have self-centeredness in them, too—but there must be some kind of spiritual difference between us. Because—well, they’re married. That’s one of the heftiest blessings I can fathom. There has to be something they did to earn it.
It’s hard to say precisely where this lie came from, but I suspect it’s chiefly because grace remains difficult for me to grasp. Maybe part of it comes from the counsel I bought into when I was growing up, urging singles to “make God your first love; then He’ll bring you a spouse.” Good advice to love God first (Luke 10:27), but the little word "then" does not belong. The truth is: I am single because God loves me, not because He is punishing me.
Our heavenly Father does not operate on a reward system basis. He does not hand out marriage to “A+ Christians” and singleness to the rest of us. Friends of mine have been getting engaged or married almost every month this year. Why? “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” reminds James 1. These joys are expressions of His grace to my friends—ask them, and they will tell you it has not been deserved. Marriage to a man or woman who loves Jesus is a wonderful grace.
And for me? Mascara is a lost cause these days, and Jesus is no less gracious to me than He is to them. Their marriages are expressions of God’s goodness and love to them; my singleness is God’s expression of goodness and love to me. All His ways are steadfast love and faithfulness (Ps. 25:10). I know this with deeper certainty than I have ever known it.
Behind the merit-system thinking, there’s a layer of pride, isn't there? If I feel like I’m being punished because I didn't deserve a gift, then the unstated flipside is that I can take credit for the things that go well with me—leaving no place for grace at all.
A few months ago, I started memorizing Romans. These verses have taken on even more meaning to me in the past few weeks:
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly . . . For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:3–6, 17)
My heart snags on these words: Free. Gift. Grace. And “Christ died for the ungodly.” He died for me while I was still a sinner. He loved me then. How much more, Paul reasons, if God loves recklessly like that when we’re His enemies, will He show His love to us after we are adopted as His beloved children?
Sister, seek God first because He alone is worthy of your worship. The sentence ends there; there is no then. God will not reward you with the gift of marriage, and He will not punish you with the gift of singleness. That is not His way. He Himself is ours, and He Himself is grace (John 1:14). Whether you marry or remain single, you will be receiving grace.
The second part of James 1:17 is just as important as the first: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (emphasis added).
My circumstances change, and different seasons bring variations of joy and sorrow. I’ve passed the wedding planner on to a dear friend who can use it. But the Giver of good gifts does not change, and He does not remove Himself from us. Charles Spurgeon nailed it well: “Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”