Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In God's Timing...

Don’t Pretend to Be Happy
Chapter Seven of “Why isn’t a pretty girl like you married?” by Nancy Wilson

One of the many temptations for unmarried women is to pretend to be happy. Now before you throw this book across the room, let me explain. I think that unmarried women should be happy, of course, and I know many who are. Contentment is required of us all, and unmarried women have much to be thankful for.

But here is the temptation: if you are struggling with contentment, longing to be married, and not always being thankful for your unmarried state, it is easy to want to hide it from everyone else. If you admit that you want to be married, you may think (wrongly) that you are admitting a weakness or a fault. Or you might not want to seem like a marriage nerd, always on the lookout for “him.” So you pretend to be doing fine when, in fact, you are not doing fine. You may even convince yourself (while dogmatically telling others) that you don't really want marriage right now, that you're not interested in a relationship because you don't have the time. But we all know that if God sent the right man along right now, you would happily drop everything in a heartbeat. And we would commend you for it.

Imagine a conversation with a sweet Christian woman who is in this kind of jam. You run into her and ask how she is doing. She then falls all over herself telling you how much she loves her job, how busy she is, how much traveling she is doing, how she really doesn't have any time (or need) for a social life. Or she tells you about her classes, when she'll have her degree, and all the wonderful job possibilities waiting out there for her. Now I'm certainly not saying that she is lying about all this. Don't get me wrong here. But I am saying that it is possible that this is all just a very hollow cover to make you think she is “happy, happy, happy all the day” when she would really like to cry and say she hates all of this. She might really want to tell you that she is miserable, frustrated, and lonely traveling by herself, that she wishes she could be doing something that would give her more fulfillment and make her feel more a part of the body of Christ. But this, she thinks, would be admitting defeat, and so she convinces herself that her career is all she wants after all.

Part of the way to freedom for women in this bind is to help them see, first of all, that it is not only okay, but positively healthy to want to be married. There is nothing in the world wrong with wanting to be married. It is only wrong to be miserable about it. And wanting to be married does not equal discontent. Many women are feeling a false guilt about this. It goes something like this: “If I were truly godly, I wouldn't want to be married. I would be happy to be unmarried for the rest of my life. But I do long to be married, therefore I am not rejoicing in the Lord, and therefore I am guilty of sin.” But you can confess false guilt all day long and never feel forgiven. God forgives real sin not our imagined sin.

God created marriage, and He has given women a desire for marriage. This is good. I suggest that an unmarried woman thank God that she longs to be married. Thank Him that He has given you these desires, and ask Him to keep you and protect you in them. He wants to take up our burdens, so you can ask Him to bear the burden of your longing for marriage. He will do it. This requires faith and courage: faith that God will do what He says, and courage to walk with Him through this time. Each of us needs faith and courage if we want to please God, so rejoice in the opportunity He is giving you to grow in both these areas.

And God does not disapprove of His children wanting things. He invites us to ask Him for good things, and marriage is a good thing. We simply must remember in all of life that we are to cultivate gratitude and contentment, knowing that God rules the world, that He loves His children and delights to give us good things. We may ask God for marriage, but we must do it with gratitude in our hearts.

Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

This is a spectacular promise. We are to be careful for nothing. Nothing. In fact, Peter tells us we are to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us (First Peter 5: 7). But the verse right before is important in understanding how we cast our cares: Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” We bow and submit ourselves under God's mighty hand, and He lifts us up in His perfect time. We throw all our cares on Him, and He carries them for us. He is obviously far more capable of carrying them than we are anyway. Jesus said,

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11: 28-30).

We come to Christ in prayer with all our cares and longings. And we make our requests to Him with thanksgiving. We thank Him for His care for us, for His love for us. We lay our burdens down at His feet, and He promises rest for our souls, and peace of heart and mind. That is an easy yoke. And what a trade off: we give Him our cares and He gives our souls rest. These are promises for all of us, for the married and unmarried alike.

An unmarried woman can come to Christ in prayer with all her requests, but she must do it with thanksgiving. Of course she cannot be thankful if she thinks it is sinful for her to keep asking for marriage over and over. But if she realizes that it is not a sinful desire after all, she can ask with joy, anticipation, and thankfulness, living without anxiety because she has found peace and rest in Christ. She doesn't cease to desire marriage and children. But she does quit faking it because now she really is happy. By confessing the right sins, she can start anew.

So you'd like to be married? Good. Don't worry about it. And don't worry about worrying about it. Do you have a great job? Good. Rejoice that God has given you good things to do. Are you in school? Good. Study hard. Are you lonely sometimes? Don't worry about that either. Loneliness is not a sin.

This kind of contented attitude is only possible if you are deliberately taking on the easy yoke of Christ and learning from Him, our meek and lowly Savior. Jeremiah Burroughs, in his wonderful book The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, defines contentment this way: “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.” This is victorious Christian living. He also points out that when we are troubled by our circumstances, we should listen to the grace of contentment speaking to us: “O under, under! Get you under, O soul! Keep under! Keep low! Keep under God’s feet! You are under God’s feet, and keep under his feet! Keep under the authority of God, the majesty of God, the sovereignty of God, the power that God has over you! To keep under, that is to submit.” And, I would add, to be under God is the only safe place, and surely it is the only place where contentment is possible.

Without this humble attitude of contentment, it is easy to become unhappy, and then there is a host of other temptations. One of these is to look for happiness in all the wrong places. For example, if a woman has a job that she likes, it is possible for her to throw herself into it for the wrong reason, and that wrong reason is that she is trying to find meaning, identity, purpose, and happiness in her job because she thinks that will keep her from being sad over not being married. But as we've seen above, the only thing that keeps us all from being sad in any kind of hard circumstance is contentment in Christ. A job won't meet our emotional and spiritual needs, no matter how great a job it is. If you pour yourself into “ministry” in the church, expecting that to “meet your needs,” then you will be sorely disappointed. These things are not designed by God to satisfy our souls in that way. Again, only Christ can put us right. For that matter, marriage won't satisfy us either. Any time we look to a created thing to do what only the Creator can do, we are guilty of idolatry. Marriage is a created thing, and it is good. It is a means of glorifying God; it is not an end in itself.

Learning to be content while you are unmarried is a terrific advantage. Married women struggle with contentment like everyone else, so if you have learned to do this now, you will be able to apply it to your whole life. And I believe that if you are a discontented unmarried woman, you will certainly be a discontented married woman. Marriage simply amplifies all that we are; it doesn't change our nature. It is like turning up the volume. If you are a prone to be self-centered while you are unmarried, marriage will just increase your opportunities to demonstrate this kind of selfishness. That is why you should determine to learn contentment before you are married; otherwise you are just postponing the lesson. The book of Proverbs has a few things to say about the state of a man who lives with a discontented woman: it would be better for him to live in a corner on the roof than in a big house with a brawling woman (21: 9); living with a contentious woman is like putting up with a constant dripping; a man would be happier living out in the woods or in the desert than with a cantankerous woman (21: 19).

Paul says he has learned contentment. If the great apostle had to learn this lesson, so must we. It does not come naturally to us. Let me quote this section from Philippians 4: 11-13:

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Notice that Paul has learned to be content in all kinds of circumstances. He sometimes had all that he needed and more; and at other times he suffered great need. How did he manage to be content through all this? Christ enabled and strengthened him. This famous verse "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" appears in the context of a discussion about contentment. That is the key to being contented women: looking to Christ who strengthens us. That is the promise. We cannot look to ourselves to find contentment. That would be profoundly discouraging. We cannot look to our circumstances as the source of contentment. They change too much. But God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never leaves us or forsakes us. He carries our burdens and leads us through all kinds of circumstances, whether it is in times of plenty or times of want. It is okay for an unmarried woman to identify with the "want." She does not have to pretend that she is ambivalent toward marriage. I think that half the battle in learning contentment is recognizing where we are "in want" so that we can effectively deal with it.

Burroughs suggests in his book that instead of trying to get our circumstances up to match our desires, and therefore finding contentment, we should instead be striving to get our desires down to match our circumstances. What this means is that the unmarried woman seeks to be satisfied with God in her life now, while asking Him to provide a husband in the future. She doesn't have to quit "desiring" marriage; rather, she must have an equally great desire to rejoice in the Lord now.

One of the ways an unmarried woman can guard against discontent is to closely oversee her thought life. She must guard against envying couples and not allow herself to indulge in unkind or ungrateful thoughts about any of her sisters or brothers in Christ. (This would include thinking that "He must be crazy to go for a girl like her.") She must not be resentful when a close friend gets engaged, but rejoice with those who rejoice. She must reject the temptations to jealousy and competition. If an eligible man befriends several women in the same group of friends, they each must keep from developing a competitive spirit. The contented spirit is in a better position to reject all these temptations to ungodliness, but a woman who is already discontent will be drawn more easily into these other sins. Burroughs says, "The devil loves to fish in troubled waters." In other words, a woman who already has a bad attitude (discontent) will be an easy target when it comes to other sinful attitudes. But once discontent is dealt with, other sins will be more readily identified and temptations more easily resisted.

Of course, once we attain contentment in one situation, we most certainly will be tempted to become discontent again, either over the same issue or over a different one. This is a lifelong struggle called our sanctification. We must remember that, "He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1: 6). Chapter four of Deuteronomy enjoins us to "take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently" (verse 9, AV). Later in the same chapter we are reminded again to "take heed to yourselves" (verse 23) and "take careful heed to yourselves" (verse 15). Why do we take heed of our souls? "Lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God" (verse 23). We all must take care to watch ourselves and take heed or pay attention to the state of our souls. How are we really doing? The unmarried woman must not kid herself about how she is doing. If she is happily unmarried and trusting God for her future, she is able to be a productive, fruitful member of the church community. She is free from thinking hard thoughts about God ("Why is He doing this to me?"), and she can enjoy God's people without bitterness or envy.

A discontented woman is also very vulnerable when it comes to receiving attention from men that she knows full well are wrong for her. She rationalizes. If she is longing to be married and has an impatient, discontented heart, she will be more likely to consider someone who will make her far unhappier than she is now. A contented heart clears the mind and protects good judgment. A woman who has been thinking of nothing but "marriage at any cost," will be more likely to respond to the first man who comes along, even if he is entirely unsuitable. There is one thing worse than not being married, and that is being married to the wrong guy. I have spoken with a number of unhappy wives over the years, and I have asked many of them, "Why did you marry him?" Some women confess that they knew it was unwise at the time, but they went forward with it anyway. Don't make such a costly mistake.

One of the best antidotes to keep discontent away is to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. We are to be a grateful people:

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His trust endures to all generations. (Psalm 100: 4-5)

The unmarried woman should adorn herself with gratitude to God for everything all the time. Yes, this requires grace from God, but He loves to bestow His grace upon us. He always enables us to do what He requires. He commands us to be full of gratitude: "And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians 3: 17). Spurgeon uses this example in teaching on contentment: "I have heard of some good old woman in a cottage, who had nothing but a piece of bread and a little water. Lifting up her hands, she said as a blessing, 'What! All this, and Christ too?' " But if you think, "I cannot thank Him for my unmarried state. I will thank Him for my job or the weather, but I will not thank Him for that," then you have identified your root problem. Confess to God your lack of thankfulness for all things, including the fact that you are not married, and ask Him to give you a spirit of gratitude, thanksgiving, and rejoicing in all things. "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4: 4). You are where you are on purpose. He knows what He is doing. This is not "Plan B." Submit to His good plans for you and thank Him for all He is doing. Then you will be in a position to ask for more. Yes, this takes faith, but that is what being a Christian is about: walking by faith in a good and holy God.


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