It’s a mundane Monday morning and you’re scrolling through your Insta feed. The first little square that appears is a shot of a beautiful couple standing on a beach in some exotic faraway land …
Let’s just randomly call them Betty and Jughead for no particular reason. They’re a hot couple that have been together since high school. Everyone knows it’s love, twue love, and they’re destined for selfies in front of sunsets for as long as they both shall live.
‘He completes me,’ writes Betty, followed by #marriagegoals and #livingthedream.
It alludes to a line made famous by the 90s hit Jerry Maguire. But the message that someone else ‘completes’ us doesn’t just come from Hollywood. Churches, too, can give the message that it’s impossible to be truly content as a single. This happens in lots of unspoken and unintended ways—like the fact that couples are more likely to be invited to the pastors’ house than a single.
Or that social situations are often aimed at couples.
But is life really some kind of video game where getting married gets you ahead two or three levels?
While we’re always happy when our friends find their own Betty or Jughead, the idea we’ll never be ‘complete’ without someone else sends some unhealthy messages—even about why we should get married in the first place.
The Disney Dream
From childhood Disney films to the latest Netflix rom-com, our cultural narrative is that our own Mr or Miss Right will sweep us off our feet, and be the special someone who gives us a sense of full satisfaction and fulfilment in the world.
But, in reality, there are no perfect men or women. So, there’s never going to be a person that has the ability to completely meet all our needs and desires.
Christian writer Frank Powell puts this quite brutally in an article from Relevant magazine. ‘If you are empty, broken or insecure and you believe a spouse is the silver bullet to your problems, buckle up. It will be a bumpy ride. You will never be able to enjoy the beauty of marriage if you think your spouse’s job is to complete you.’
Marriage was never created by God to dissolve our personal issues—if anything, it’s going to bring them bubbling to the surface!
While this may sound very doomy and gloomy, it’s actually good news. Marriage isn’t about superficial Instagram #goals. It isn’t intended to make us eternally happy. Marriage is about two flawed individuals coming together with the aim of creating a space of love and commitment.
That is so much deeper than the ‘love’ you feel when you see your crush walk into the room.
The Stranger We Marry
In his book The Meaning of Marriage, American pastor Timothy J Keller says he has spoken to thousands of couples—many who say, ‘Love shouldn’t be this hard.
It should come naturally’. He goes on to use the analogy of a professional baseball player. ‘Why should a baseball player expect to be able to hit a fastball naturally?’ Or why should a writer expect to ‘naturally’ complete a great piece of literature?
‘But playing sport or making art is not the same thing as falling in love with someone you’re compatible with!
If you find the right person, it should come naturally.’
But this narrative is a lie, says Keller. He references Duke University ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas, who says it’s destructive to think marriage is about personal fulfilment and happiness—this follows the assumption that there is a ‘right’ person for us to marry, and if we look hard enough we’ll find them! Yet this doesn’t acknowledge that, in reality, we never actually marry the ‘right’ person.
‘We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change,’ Stanley says. ‘For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.’
Biblically, any two people who choose to marry are both broken and sinful. Why should selfish, immature, and generally imperfect people suddenly become angels when they fall in love?
Ultimately, marriage is tough because it’s a reflection of the gospel—a covenant that is about forgiveness, sacrifice and commitment. We express to our spouse the same kind of love that God has expressed for us and his people—a love that is perpetually in a state of grace and forgiveness.
‘This is the only kind of relationship that will transform us,’ Keller says.
Contedness in Every Season
If you’re single and over it, that’s okay. God has hardwired us for love and intimacy. But the Bible is also quite clear about learning to be content in whatever season we’re in.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul says: ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances’.
Here, Paul is saying that contentment is not something that comes naturally, but rather it is a learned skill. Paul wrote this while in prison, so he was walking the talk when he describes choosing joy and contentedness, even in the most unjust circumstances.
Regardless of what chapter of life we are in—married, single, divorced or widowed—we can always find things to be thankful for. That might sound cliché, but it’s actually a gritty and real way to live. It’s way easier to think, ‘If only I was … then I would be happy’. It’s easier to live in this fantasy. It’s a lot harder to choose gratitude within the reality you’re facing right now.
This certainly doesn’t mean it’s wrong to desire change. But, rather, we can learn and practise being satisfied until God brings the change.
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God,’ says Philippians 4:6–7. ‘And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
Instead of praying for the perfect partner, pray for peace in whatever situation you’re in today.
‘Don’t instill, or allow anybody else to instill into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.’