Rev. Bruinsma is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan.
“Let’s talk about dating!” was the suggestion I made at the beginning of one of our Young People’s meetings. There followed a little laughter and then silence.
“OK, let’s talk about not dating.” A little more laughter and some more silence.
We never did pursue the subject, since our meeting was canceled in order that our Sunday School could practice for its Christmas program. It probably should have been pursued, and perhaps still can be – in all our Young People’s Societies. But then, maybe it is too touchy a subject. Dating is a difficult area of life. It is fun . . . and yet it can cause plenty of heartache. There are rules, both spoken by parents and unspoken by peers…and yet there are no rules. “All is fair in love and war!” – so it is said.
But if heartache belongs to those who date, even more is this true of those who would like to date but seldom, if ever, do. One of the greatest fears a Christian young person faces is: Will God fulfill my desire to marry? Here is the hard fact: Most of us, but not all of us, are going to find a life’s mate. There maybe some who are not so much troubled by that, because marriage is to them not such a vital part of life. But, to most, the prospect of never marrying is a painful one. I want to marry . . . but perhaps I will be one of those who are left behind.
Neither is this a foolish or unwarranted fear. It is not one the answer to which is: “Oh, come on; what a silly thing to worry about!” It is a legitimate fear because it flows out of the noble and highly honorable desire to find a godly spouse with whom we can establish a covenant home and family. In contrast to the wicked who would rather live in wantonness and fornication, covenant young people want to marry because they see in marriage security and happiness. They have witnessed that in their own families. They have observed the love of God in the various relationships found within the home. They have been a part of a home and family where mother and father love each other and bestow that same love on their children. They reflect on the good times they had in their own family, even though they may not be too quick to admit it. Covenant youth see for themselves, firsthand, what has been preached to them from childhood on, that God chooses to carry on His, covenant friendship in the generations of believers. For that reason, in the heart of covenant youth is the knowledge that marriage is the first step to a life of happiness and contentment. As active members in the church they want a piece of that inheritance which God gives to covenant families.
Now, it is true that there are legitimate exceptions to this rule. The apostle Paul was one of them. He saw no necessity in his life to marry; and the Lord used him mightily as a single man. In fact, Paul went so far as to render this advice to single men in I Corinthians 2:32-33: “But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” This same advice Paul gives to young women inverse 34 of this chapter. There are those, therefore, that for one reason or another choose not to marry. These have no fear of single life, but on the contrary view it as favorable.
But it is safe to assume that this is the exception to the rule. Most young people, both men and women, look forward to a rich, rewarding life within the marriage bond. They take seriously the Word of God when it teaches them, “He that findeth a wife, findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor with the Lord” (Prov. 18:22). Or, “God setteth the solitary in families” (Ps. 68:6). So, the desire to marry is noble and good.
But though it may be one’s desire to marry, it is not always the will of God for him or her to marry.
This can happen in the life of a young man, first of all. He may repeatedly ask for dates and be turned down. Or he may go out on dates, yet find that it never seems to “click” with him and his dates. He then becomes discouraged and dates less and less. As he grows older there are fewer young women available to date (Or are there? Maybe he should open his eyes!), and as a result he begins to fear that the single life is in store for him.
The scenario is worse in the case of a young woman. A young man has a job and career he can pursue which will keep him busy enough. A young woman, however, may go through high school with no other desire but to marry. But no one asks her out. Or if a few do, then these do not ask her again. All of a sudden she finds herself out of high school, somewhat out of circulation, and still with the simple desire to marry and raise a family. She becomes discouraged and oftentimes desperate. What should she do? How frightful life seems to be with no prospects of marriage on the horizon.
What often complicates all of this is that these young men and women begin to judge their value as a person in light of whether they are married or not. They begin to feel inferior, worthless, and undesirable. “Why doesn’t anyone want me? Am I that bad? What did I do wrong? And what can I do to change things? There is no way I want to go through life single!” How hard and long we can agonize over such questions!
Are there solutions to this fear of living single? Yes. Maybe not exactly the solutions we are looking for, but solutions nonetheless.
These solutions are not to be found, however, in some of the sinful ways which spiritually weak young people in their insecurity might pursue to avoid the possibility of living a single life. In the first place, the solution is not to be found in popularity. Too often a young person convinces himself that if only he can be popular, then he will be able to go out on all kinds of dates with whomever he pleases. Somehow he must impress his peers and show them that he is “bad.” If I am a young man I might reason to myself, the guys that seem to get all the hot” girls are the ones who throw parties, get drunk, and even go so far as to commit fornication. That must be the solution to finding a girl to marry. Or, if I am a young woman, I might be led to think that the only way I am going to catch a guy is by doing these same things. I have to act as if I am enjoying myself at these drunken bashes. I might even have to give myself to the sinful lusts of some ego-inflated goon who likes to brag about his exploits, because if I do not I may be left behind. No one is going to want me in the end and I will never get married!
This certainly is not a solution! God will not bless young people who walk in this sinful way. And even if they get married these sinful actions will haunt them the rest of their married lives. And, believe me, these sins of youth can be awfully painful to a child of God who later in life comes to a deeper understanding of how horrible these sins were!
Is it not true, however, that even though we may not be those who go to such an extreme, nevertheless we still view popularity as a solution to living a single life? We find ourselves attempting to climb this ladder of popularity no matter what the cost to others, and no matter whom we hurt and shun in order to gain a higher place on that ladder. We look down on the “geeks” of our class and join our classmates in making fun of them. Maybe we feel this boosts our own popularity. Then, too, perhaps we are not willing to go to the sinful extremes of others, but we are willing to compromise our own principles when our peers pressure us to walk in sin with them. We simply cannot refuse them when they press us to go with them to movies, a bar, or what have you. After all, if we do not go with them, then we will be considered a geek, and then we will probably never get a date. There has to be a little compromise of our faith, we feel, because this is the only way we are going to be able to catch a guy or girl. And often times (sad to say) this does land us that date. But if we think this is the solution to securing for ourselves a husband or a wife, we are wrong. Can we truly expect God to bless us when giving in to sin and going places and doing things He tells us not to do? This will not assure us of a life’s mate; it will only serve to leave scars that we will carry with us all our lives.
One other solution that many foolish young people may seek, especially as they grow older, is to lower their standards in what to expect in a life’s mate. For fear that they will never marry, a young woman or man may settle for something less than a God-fearing mate. Oh, they may start out with high spiritual standards, but as time goes on and there are no successful dates then that young person begins to lower those standards. They may even consider an unbeliever as a possible mate. Young people, you are precious in the sight of God! You have been bought with a great price, the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and are therefore of great value to God. Never ought you to feel so worthless as to settle for something less than the spiritual best! You may not fully understand it now, but take it from a pastor who has had to deal with damaged and broken marriages: You do not want to settle for an unbeliever or one who is so spiritually weak that you and your children will suffer untold heartache and pain! Especially is that true when we consider that marriage is for life! This is not a solution to single life. Single life is a thousand times happier than marriage to an unbeliever!
The true solution to our fears can be found in one unshakable truth: that whatever God sends us in this valley of tears He will turn to our advantage (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 9).
Ah, yes, your response is anticipated: “Those are nice words and I believe them, but that does not alleviate the pain and the hurt I feel. That does not alleviate my fear that I may be single my whole life when I do not want to be.” I know. But, is this not where our faith really kicks in? First of all, we have to take to heart what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:34: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” This calls for patient, quiet perseverance. We may not look at the future and fret and worry about what may or may not happen. Faith leaves the future in the hands of God.
As young men and women we must continue to live for Christ and remain faithful to His cause and kingdom in this world. We must rely on God. If it is His will for us to marry, He will guide the events of our lives in such a way that we will meet and marry that young man or woman He has chosen for us. We need not fear. Nor ought we to force the issue. We must simply follow the Lord’s guiding.
And that points us to another act of faith: simple, childlike trust in the will of God. How bitter we can become at times when a certain relationship does not work out the way we want it to. How bitter we can become toward the person who broke off what we thought might have been a good relationship. How bitter we can become with God. “Why does not my dating life seem to go the way I want it to?” Don’t you understand, that when we say this we are not viewing the situation through the eyes of faith? Faith looks away from ourselves and at God, and ultimately rests in His will for us. I know that does not make life easier, but it does give us contentment in our way. God’s will is being done for us.
Do not forget either that the Lord’s will for some is that they remain single their whole life (Matt. 19:12). This means that God has a purpose for that person us a single person in His church. If God’s will for us is to marry, He will show us in due time. But until that time we must labor to find our purpose and place in God’s church. A single person is, after all, a valuable and necessary part of the church of Jesus Christ. God has placed in the body of Christ all kinds of members, each having his own function and place in the particular circumstances of life in which God leads them. As members of Christ’s body we all have an important function, no matter who we are. The church would be incomplete without us.
Never ought the fear of being single turn us from our place and function in the church. Never ought that fear take away our joy. God knows what is best for us. And when we are burdened, then we must cast our burdens on the Lord, knowing that He will sustain us. With that confidence all our fear will fade away and be replaced by thankfulness. How is that possible? Because when we trust in God He will make us realize that single life also can be as fulfilling as married life and can bring us great reward.