Whether married or single, we are called to live in complete contentment in Christ.
Last Christmas, I ordered a pair of cowboy boots online for my little sister Ashley. Since I ordered them a day too late, they were scheduled to arrive a week after the Christmas bustle. I still wanted to put something under the tree, so I wrapped a box and stuck a picture of the boots inside with a promise that they'd come soon. I was afraid that she would be disappointed by the empty box, but she tossed it aside and tackled me with a bear hug for the promise.
I see a sort of parallel with our lives and Jesus.
We're given the Spirit as a "seal"—a guarantee, a kind of promise for eternity with Jesus. Nothing could be better. And He says He's coming soon.
Our lives, on the other hand, are a little bit like a tangible box. We're full of anticipation and curiosity; we want to shake it and peek inside and figure out the contents. Our hope starts to center around what may or may not be inside, and we forget that the promise is where our joy must stem from.
Sooner or later, we always find out that the "box" is empty of the joy we thought it would deliver—and when that happens, I want to be more like Ashley. I don't want to be distracted by empty boxes that will always disappoint. (Isn't everything in this world an empty box compared with Jesus?) I want to be focused on the promise ahead of eternity with Him.
Now how does all this relate to the idolatry of marriage?
I think we will always fixate out of proportion on relationships when we don't know how magnificent our promise really is. We struggle with discontentment and idolatry because we don't really believe that Jesus is good enough and delightful enough to satisfy us all the way through old age without a husband. And this internal doubt that Jesus is sufficient drives us to pursue alternate, substitute joys.
But marriage, like everything else, is an "empty box" in the end. It wasn't meant to satisfy our heart's greatest longings. And yet many of us are living as if the most significant thing in the 70-something years we might get on this planet is finding a partner to share 50 of those years with. It isn't that looking forward to marriage is idolatrous and unspiritual; it's just that any man apart from Jesus makes a bad savior. Marriage is wonderful—it's just far too small a thing to live for.
We need to internalize a few key truths:
Truth #1: We were not ultimately created for marriage, because marriage is too small. We were ultimately created to enjoy Christ forever.
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1–4, emphasis added).
Truth #2: We were not ultimately created to have all our longings satisfied in marriage. We were ultimately created to be satisfied in Christ.
The discontented single will become a discontented spouse. Singleness is not an unfulfilling "season" to muscle through until we achieve a certain level of contentment where God can finally reward us with what we've wanted all along. Contentment in Christ is to be our lifelong pursuit and joy, single or married.
Truth #3: All marriage is incredibly temporary.
Jesus said that the relationship between man and wife will not exist in the new heavens and earth: "When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; but are like angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25). But if marriage passes away, it's only to be replaced with Someone infinitely better. If we won't be fixated on marriage then, why should we fixate on it now?
Truth #4: Marriage is only a shadow of the things to come for all believers, when the Church is united with Christ as His holy bride.
The Bible is full of wedding imagery to describe our union. In Ephesians 5:25–32, Paul says that marriage is a reflection of Christ's relationship with the Church, and Revelation 19:6–9 describes the preparation necessary for the wedding feast of the Lamb. Are we getting ready for that wedding every day?
Truth #5: Jesus wants all His followers to be kingdom-minded.
As citizens of the heavenly kingdom, our priorities are to be the King's priorities. There are spiritual realities hovering just outside our realm of vision right now that would topple us over in awe if we could see them. Are we engaging in these spiritual battles, or are we passively sitting on the sidelines with the crowds and watching? Men and women and children are dying without knowing Christ—and we know Him. We have a mission to accomplish while we're here.
But there's good news: If the thought of a lifetime of singleness is still demobilizing, we have yet to grasp the riches of knowing Christ! That shouldn't be discouraging, but heartening. There are treasures in knowing Him that we have yet to discover and unearth. There's an answer for our heart's restless longing. There's an obsession worthy of all our energy and thoughts. All we need to do is rediscover how magnificent our promise really is.