Tuesday, August 2, 2011

a single suggestion

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a young single friend about some of the challenges she and other single Christian women face as they look expectantly toward marriage. This summer marked eighteen years of marriage for me. You might think that my thoughts on being single were growing a little dim at this point, but that has turned out not to be the case - raising two teen-aged daughters has sharpened my perspective quite a bit. I look back on my own time of being a single adult woman and pray that my daughters and my young single friends will ask more from that time than I did.

I’m not one to dwell on regret. I’m pretty good at letting the past be the past, at allowing for growth and maturity to wear down the sharper edges of my experience and personality. So it is not insignificant that I say the following: I regret how I handled being single.

I could blame my parents – maybe they didn’t outline clearly enough for me the appropriate boundaries for male-female interactions outside of marriage. I could blame my circumstances – maybe having four brothers gave me a level of comfort around men that was taken as flirtatious instead of just friendly. I could blame garden-variety immaturity. But if there’s one thing more pointless than dwelling on regret, it’s dwelling on where to lay the blame.

I’d much rather spend time…umm…limiting the amount of blame that can be laid at my door.

So, here is what I wish I had done as a single person: I wish I had acted like I was already married.

Let me explain.

As a married woman I am careful not to spend time alone with men who are not my husband. This is partly to guard against misconceptions, but it’s also to guard against weakness. I’m not interested in opening the door for trouble. Having watched infidelity play out in other peoples’ marriages I’m under no illusions that mine is bullet-proof, nor that my craving for attention from other men is dead simply because I got married.

As a married woman I guard my speech around men who are not my husband. This is a hard one for me because I love to use humor to put people at ease. Teasing or sarcasm so often communicate flirtation, and innuendo invites disaster. Social media and email add another layer of complexity to the problem.
As a married woman I think hard about what I wear around men who are not my husband. Looking nice is not a crime. Dressing to intentionally attract the attention of men is (see related post). I dress so men will look me in the eye.

As a married woman I think twice about my body language around men who are not my husband. I avoid even the casual physical contact of a hand on an arm or shoulder.  I hug like there’s a beach ball between me and the recipient, and then only when it’s completely unavoidable.
As a married woman I guard my thoughts about men who are not my husband. If I find myself idealizing the appearance or admirable qualities of a male acquaintance or even a movie character, I confess and set aside those thoughts. If I find myself fantasizing about “what if” or “íf only” scenarios, I shut that dangerous thinking down.

These may seem like fastidious guidelines, but I hope they reflect the high regard in which I hold my husband and my marriage – and the low regard I have for my own self-control. Even as a married woman I know that my desire to be noticed and appreciated by other men still prowls around waiting to pounce – even though my marriage is strong and fulfilling. I think I naively thought that desire would go away once I found “The One.”
Here’s the reality I want my girls to understand: The world is full of men-who-are-not-my-husband, but the world was full of those men before I ever met my husband. I wish I had had the wisdom to recognize this, and to live like I was married even before I was married: to guard my time, my speech, my dress, my thoughts, my actions jealously for the husband-who-was-to-come.

I say this as a woman who went into marriage having done nothing more than kissed men-who-were-not-my-husband. That’s pretty weak fuel for remorse by our culture’s standards, but regret follows me just the same. I regret every kiss that was not given to my spouse. I regret every flirtatious word, every thoughtless touch, every incautious proximity, every ill-chosen outfit, every over-entertained thought.

So, what do my married-girl guidelines have to say to the single girl? Do yourself and your future husband the favor of embracing them now:
·    As a single woman, be careful about spending time alone with men who are not your husband.
·    As a single woman guard your speech around men who are not your husband.
·    As a single woman, think hard about what you wear around men who are not your husband.
·    As a single woman, think twice about your body language around men who are not your husband.
·    As a single woman, guard your thoughts about men who are not your husband.
Though these guidelines apply a bit differently to the single woman, how much leeway she grants herself with them will set the tone for her relationships with men. The question for the dating Christian single woman, the question for my daughters will be this: What will you give to this man-who-is-not-your-husband? Don’t cheapen yourself with the legalistic gymnastics of “How far is too far?” Ask instead “What is my motive for the thoughts, words, and actions I am choosing in my interactions with men?” If you can answer that question without shame you are more likely to stay on safe ground. If you can answer that question without shame you are more likely to attract a man you'll want to keep.

Scripture describes the church as a bride awaiting a husband-who-is-to-come. That bride is admonished to keep herself pure, to live as though she is already the wife of her bridegroom. To me, this is a powerful image of what being a Christian single woman should look like. Whether a husband is ever in your future, a Husband is certainly in your future. Honor Him now in eager expectation of meeting Him soon. Think like a married woman whether you ever become one or not, guarding your heart from sin whether married or single.

7 comments:

  1. As usual, you hit the nail on the head. Thank you so much for sharing this, Jen. You are a blessing!

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  2. SO good!!! I am going to have my girls read, as well!!

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  3. Thank you for this thought. I heartily agree!

    When I was sharing this insight with one of the girls (I teach high school Sunday School), she found this a little hard to grasp as she was so far from thinking about being married to someone.

    So I tried explaining to her (she has known me for five years) by way of giving her some examples of activities or behavior that I should be engaged in knowing that I am married.

    I'll keep thinking about how I can make this clearer for them. Thanks, again.

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  4. You are awesome! Its almost like you are saying the exact same thoughts in my head. I have read many blogs but yours is brilliant!!! totally enjoy every single word.
    I am going to save this blog for when my daughter is older.
    thank you!

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  5. So WONDERFUL! I feel like I am commenting on all of your blogs but so many of the things you are talking about I have been growing in and coming to understand more fully over the last year or so! Although I have infinitely more wisdom to gather, the Lord has definitely been working on me to understand the full extent of the joy and limits of singleness. One thing that I have done, that I wish I would have done earlier in high school, is write a letter to My Future Husband, whoever that may be and whenever he may come into my life. This sits in my room as a reminder to make wise choices when it comes to any of the bolded circumstances that you outlined above! I would recommend it to any growing woman.
    Mrs. Jen, thanks for being a vessel that God can use to put his desires into words that many women, including myself, can understand.

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  6. Thank you so much for writing this. I, myself have been struggling with issues of singleness and how to be preparing for my husband-to-be, this totally helped me to see what is important and how to glorify God, in everything that I do. Thank you!

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