I attended a Christian university and let me tell you, “Ring By Spring” is only partially a joke. People get engaged left and right all through junior and senior year, especially. That’s a lot of pressure for everyone, male and female alike. And being a person who didn’t get engaged while in college was something that created a bit of heaviness in my heart when I think about my marital status. Now, almost four years later, I find myself employed at that same Christian university and…you guessed it…still unmarried. If I thought the pressure was high and the expectations were overwhelming as a single 21-year-old, I surely had no idea what it would be like for a single, professional, almost-25-year-old. There are so many deeper threads to this particular issue, both for me personally and in general, and obviously this one blog is not going to be a thorough exposition of them all. But in this month of Cupid hyper-saturation, this can’t go un-talked about. At other times in life, I have looked at other women and compared myself by their weight, their height, their body shape, their skin, their hair, their eyes, their makeup, their teeth, and their wardrobe. In the last few years since college, I have added another point of comparison that has shot to the top of the list when I make a new female friend – is there a beautiful, shiny ring on that finger of her left hand? I didn’t add this comparison consciously, but it is definitely on the list now and is something that enters my mind way more often than I would like to admit. (it is a whole other issue that I now look at a guys hand to see if he is married, as well, but that is a topic for another day)
I’ve got a lot of friends who are married or engaged. A large majority, actually. And at some moment, I started looking at my friend’s engagement and wedding rings and attributing a certain amount of value to their lives that I felt mine was missing out on. All the questions that people had innocently asked me about why I wasn’t dating or married started to be questions that bounced around my head day after day as I looked down at my naked ring finger. I wondered, as so many single people do, about my engaged and married friends – “what do they have that I don’t?” and “am I doing something wrong?” These questions get Christian-ized as well, and become “what does God want me to learn that I haven’t yet?” and “is it because I have sinned in this way or that way?” These questions all aim to answer the question of why us single people “don’t deserve” the value that our engaged and married friends have. Which, I have come to realize, is the wrong question. There are so many problems with this way of thinking, and it starts with my misconstrued attribution of value that judges someone else in the kingdom as more valuable to God than I am because they are connected in a sacred relationship with another human being in a way that I envy. And there is something to say here about the fact that many of my friends have been joined together in marriage with great Christian men, and that is a GREAT thing! And it does mean that they have a relationship in their lives that I cannot understand. However, it does not de-value my life experiences, nor does it indicate that there is something wrong with me that I must “fix” before God will “reward” me with a husband. Changing how I think about “singlehood” and what that means for me as a human, as a child of God, and as a young woman, has been integral to so many parts of my life that were being infiltrated by this wrong belief about my value. More than anything, it has taught me about the value of contentment. And as Paul writes to the Philippians, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13, NIV) I am reminded that even Paul learned to be content. And I am learning. Slowly but surely.