“If you aren’t married, get immersed in the type of work God wants you to do,
the calling He has placed on your life.
That’s the best way to find the best one—live your mission now,
and see who ends up living it with you.”

Some friends posted the above quotation from the last issue of Revive magazine on Facebook, along with an encouraging note that it was “great advice for singles.”

I’d like to offer a different perspective.

As a 40-year-old single woman, I’ve heard a lot of formulaic dating advice. “Stop looking, and God will bring you your mate,” or even, “God will bring you someone when you learn to be content with your singleness.”

But these well-meaning words can plant false hopes in hearts, and even lead people to believe lies about God’s sovereignty and purposes. This is probably why, when I first read the quote above on a Facebook post, a wave of emotions flooded my heart and mind. I felt hurt and frustrated. Single and living overseas for the sake of the gospel, I just couldn’t keep scrolling past this post without speaking up on behalf of singles, especially us “older singles” who long for marriage and children but are weary of counsel from well-meaning people that only leaves us empty in the end.

Now, is there wisdom in the advice given? In context, sure! I think meeting your spouse through your calling and ministry work is a much better (and safer) option than going to the local gym or Starbucks to try to pick up a date. It even sounds better than trying your hand at online dating; which, by the way, I’ve tried and, while there are some good guys out there, I could write a book about all the crazy ones I met despite their great profiles. And I have friends who have met their spouses through their ministry callings and others through online dating.

But marriage is not a promise from God. It’s a gift.

The Bible is full of wonderful promises from God, but there is no promise or formula in Scripture that says: “Abide in Me + Live out your calling = Marriage.” If there were such a formula, then after nearly twenty years of ministry—of living my mission—and still being single, one would conclude that there’s something desperately wrong with my life and walk with the Lord!

And that’s why I think the “formula” misses the gospel.

Marriage is not to be our goal in life. Living out the Great Commission is. We cannot make marriage the goal or reason we do ministry in any context. As Tim Keller reminds us, “If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning of life, and identity, then it is an idol.” Formulaic thinking about marriage or any good desire is a slippery slope toward idolatry.

Do I want to be married? Absolutely! Marriage is a beautiful picture of God’s love for His bride, the church. I’ve dreamed about being married and being a mom since I was a little girl. Then I became a Christ-follower, and I realized that, as much as I desired to be married, there was more to life’s purpose than marriage and children.

And there’s just as much beauty in singleness as it displays God’s love and grace in ways that marriage cannot.

Married or single, we all have unmet desires for good things. I have married friends who are struggling with infertility, some who are waiting for their adult child to turn to the Lord, and a wife desperately wanting her husband to turn away from sin so their marriage can be restored.

Every stage of life is full of good desires that require a season of waiting, even if it be twenty years or longer. When it comes to waiting for good desires to be fulfilled, our counsel should point more to Christ and knowing Him rather than a formula that may well lead to disappointment.

We are called to know Him and to make Him known (Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:7-8; 26:18), and we don’t have to wait for our circumstances to change to begin fulfilling that Great Commission.

While I cringe at dating advice that has left me ring-less, I cringe even more when I hear about singles wasting their lives by waiting for marriage. I know so many people who were pursuing ministry opportunities overseas, but they changed their mind because they were afraid they’d never meet a potential spouse. Or, they feared living alone in a foreign country.

I am not innocent in this matter. Living in Southeast Asia is hard, sometimes scary, and often lonely. Before I came over here, I actually told God that I would only be willing to live overseas if He brought me a husband first, because fear and doubt so gripped my heart. Yet here I am, single and living overseas for nearly three years now.

But I could not and cannot do it apart from faith in God and trusting in His promises. Promises like, “The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6) or, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). These are promises we can hold on to!

When asked how to know God’s will, John Stott, the bachelor theologian, aptly mused, “Go wherever your gifts will be exploited the most.” No formula. Use the gifts you’ve been given, for the good of others and for the glory of God. Should God choose to give you other gifts, such as marriage, then see how that can be used for His glory too.

 

Jill Henry calls Michigan, Indianapolis, and Southeast Asia all home. She has spent most of the past twenty years in full-time ministry—on staff with Life Action Ministries, then with two local church ministries, and currently with an organization in Southeast Asia. Jill longs to make Christ known to those who have not heard the Good News. She loves a good cup of coffee, used book shops, and Michigan football.