I’m not sure when it started. Maybe it’s always been there, the pressure. I remember getting ready for my parents wedding day and being told by guests that one day I too would have a pretty wedding. I was four. At that time the golden, shiny ribbon woven in my braid proved more interesting than the ceremony. I remember not having a date to my first dance and feeling the pressure then. Like having a date would validate that I was one of the pretty girls (Because apparently men get to decide that as well – even middle school boys). I remember in my not so golden and shiny moments as a teen my mother saying things like, “I pity the man who has to live with you someday.” Like my worth always depended on having a plus one. That not having a plus one meant that I was minus something. That relationships were all apparently performance based and therefore my responsibility. No pressure. …….
My senior year of highschool I had to memorize Proverbs 31. (To this day I still roll my eyes whenever verses 10-31 are even referenced. Like “Oh great, not this lady again…”) The pressure kept growing. By the time college rolled around, I had a clear idea of what society expected of me, secular and Christian alike. 1. Get married. 2. Have children. (I assume #3 is ‘Then die’ but first thing’s first I suppose.) The college still has a saying, ‘Ring by Spring’ – a mantra to remind folks of that unspoken goal of getting engaged by the last semester of your senior year. (At 22, you’d think an internship or job would be more important….)
I’ll address this to church because every church I’ve gone to has been hyper focused on marriage (heterosexual marriage only – I’ll get to that in a moment.). The secular world is accepting, even encouraging, of women being single and child-free… (childless sounds deliberately negative, as if to say ‘you are less without a child’)….but only to a certain point. To be single in a church, it feels like being benched on the sidelines. Like the most a single woman can hope for is to be the equipment manager or water carrier (a support or a student), until married and then can get promoted to be a first string Christian woman. As if a woman can only reach a certain level of spiritual growth and Christian maturity until she fulfills the role she was “created for.” (Eyeroll) Because you can’t be settled until you’re “settled down”, right? So then a woman must be therefore, unsettled and undependable until that lucky day when a man slips a ring on that specific finger of mine.
Please don’t misinterpret me. I’m not trying to bash women who are mothers or dismiss the hard work and joy of being a parent. I’m not trying to belittle the importance of healthy, godly marriages. What I am saying is there desperately needs a shift in focus. When did we start categorizing people into ministries based more on their relationship status and less on where they are in their Christian walk? (I.e. Singles Groups AKA Marriage Prep or PreCouples, where the focus is how to get the members hitched and single no more. Or roles in ministry groups) If I’m to be judged, why not on what is or isn’t in my heart and less on what is or is not on my left hand. My purpose, a women’s purpose is more than using her reproductive system, even in a godly way. Because what if a woman can’t, or is unable? Is she now less of a woman? Is she now less of a Christian? And even when married, what if a woman is unable to conceive or bear children? What if the couple decide they don’t want children (because it’s a very difficult physical, emotional, mental and financial lifetime commitment that shouldn’t be expected of everyone to make.) Is her worth diminished? Is the marriage no good, if the purpose of marriage is for children? (Marriage is for holiness not happiness. Another favorite, I think from John Eldridge though I forget who and if, what book.)
I left a certain church after 9 years for several reasons – but this was definitely a factor. Certain members of the church were very outspoken against homosexuality. (That’s an understatement. Judgmental and downright hateful would be more accurate. ) Why? Because there’s a couple verses that say a man should not lie with a boy the way he would a woman. (Forget the multitude of verses about showing love and mercy and not judging others. In fact, Jesus says the greatest commandments are to love God and others – that all of the law is summed up under that ….but I digress) Homosexuality is not a sin. (” But Nelle, aren’t you cherry picking the Bible?” Yes! We all do! The difference is that I’m honest about using the Bible as a guide and a tool and not as God. I would also want to cherry pick in a way that makes me more loving and accepting of others than creating division and harm based on sexual preference because my faith and how I treat others is not based on sex. 😉) The church was very outspoken on couples living together before marriage and having sex before marriage. A result of this becomes losing people from the church who would have otherwise been involved and/or having a couple who may not be right for each other or ready for marriage rushing into marriage. Making a lifetime commitment because you want to have sex or think you should because of how people in the church view you and treat you is stupid. And yes, I know – “But Nelle, the Bible says marriage is good!” Yes! But the problem with that particular church and many churches in the U.S is that it’s not about having a godly marriage it’s about getting people married. If it was about marriage – then they’d concern themselves with divorce. But they don’t. Because everybody makes excuses for divorce or just doesn’t mention it. (See we all cherry pick scripture! Because it is a guide and a tool – a history of how God loves people not a list of rules.) According to the Bible, divorce is a sin. It’s also a forever sin unless you remarry the person you divorced. The only excuse for divorce is if your partner commits sexual infidelity. (If you sleep with someone else and then divorce your spouse – divorce is still a sin for you.) The children’s pastor had an affair which ended two marriages and then married the man with whom she cheated on her husband. Her daughter, who rushed into marriage at the ripe old age of 19 (Because you know, she’s so smart and mature) is also divorced. (You’d think if you, your spouse, and your other child have all been through a divorce – you might have prepared your kid a little more to not take marriage so lightly and to not rush.🤔) Now the children’s pastor is also getting divorced from her 2nd husband. A mother daughter divorce, cute, huh?(But as long as they aren’t gay right? As long as they weren’t single their whole lives, right?) The church is so hypocritical of this that not only are they absolving any and all accountability but rewarding the now repeated offense by giving the Children’s pastor a house. (By ridding of their missions house – a place to care for the mission of God and give a home to missionaries the church supports overseas) Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. My point is that our attitude and views on marriage drastically need to shift – that it’s a choice and a blessing and not mandatory or a goal. Because we worship Jesus – a young, brown skinned, Middle Eastern, single man and not Mr. Christ – a white American middle aged man who is married and a father of 3. Well, don’t we?
The picture of the perfect Christian woman in the Bible is Proverbs 31 lady, right? And her entire existence is being a wife and mother. So why shouldn’t every Christian woman? Nevermind that we’re called to be Christians, not Proverbians. (Proverbial Try-hards?) Men have Jesus. (Though He was single……? Just saying) Women have Proverbs 31. Though Proverbs 31 didn’t have a name….because she was an idea….written by a king named Lemuel. Honestly Ms. Proverbs just seems overworked, and not human. When does she sleep if her lamp never goes out at night? When does she have fun? Does she have friends? When does she play with her children? When does she have time to have sex with her husband? “A wife of a noble character who can find?” Well no wonder no man can find her, she’s too busy to get married! “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”…and yet there is no mention of her worshiping, talking to, learning about, or loving God in the entire passage. Does she ever have fun? Does she ever crack a joke? …..And yet this idea is used to bash over the heads of Christian women as a standard they should uphold. This woman never existed. She is a fantasy, an idea thought up of from the mind of a guy – not God. If you are a woman, then you were made in God’s image. You, just existing, are an incarnate idea from the Creator as is.
This stigmatic obsession on singlehood is – like most things in a patriarchal society – a heavy double standard. The fact that my single male peer is called a bachelor and I a spinster simply because of anatomy is pretty ridiculous. A bachelor sounds great. I assume upon hearing the term that he who is a bachelor lives a glamorous life of daring adventure, relaxation, and charming parties without the responsibility of having ‘an old lady’ or ‘ball and chain’ burdening him. Something completely opposite of my assumed life as a spinster. A life where I’m assumed to spend my days knitting sweaters for my fleet of overweight cats, having an unhealthy obsession with harlequin romance novels, and lonely nights of crying and overeating while watching only Nicholas Sparks movies in my granny underwear (that I knit myself of course). A pitiful existence, sub par to a more joy filled life I would have if only I had a ‘provider’ and ‘protector’…..someone to care for… (besides my fleet of fat cats of course).
As a woman, both inside and outside of the church, those seem like my only options. To have a man, or to long for one. To be a spinster or to be a wife. Those are my only paths. Like I can be anything I want to be, married or die alone. ….ummm? Well given the options….
I understand that the majority of people get married at some point, and the majority of people have children eventually. But when did that become the focus? What if God blesses me in other ways? What if His plans for me don’t include wedding bells or baby rattles? Why is the first question always am I seeing anyone/am I married (or the assumption and just the question ‘who or where is my husband’?) and why is the immediate response always ‘don’t worry, you’ll find someone’? So if God’s plans for me don’t include a husband its somehow wrong? Or there’s something wrong with me? Or its a punishment of some kind to be single? ……(Forget that Paul writes that its better for unmarried women to stay that way….. ) How am I more a credible, mature Christian when married than not? Christ loves and views me the same. His purposes will prevail anyways. And isn’t that the point? Doing God’s will? Growing closer to Him?
The church needs to stop telling people directly or not that the picture of a Christian life is marriage and children. Because the perfect picture of being a Christian lies within Christ (who did the Father’s will as single man.) Marriage should be a way (out of many) to enhance the Christian walk, not a destination.
I have no solutions. Only my perspective. Maybe I will see things differently IF I ever get married. I think marriage and babies are wonderful blessings, and celebrate both. But so is a sole dependence on God and God alone. I celebrate marriage and parenthood. I just believe neither are absolute necessities for Christian maturity and shouldn’t be emphasized as the end all and be all. Or valued more than any other perfectly godly and righteous path.