Prolonged singleness raises some pretty deep questions and personal insecurities, as we see in an email question today from a female listener to the podcast named Rebekah. “Pastor John, to be married is, in a sense, to be cherished. The New Testament talks about cherishing within a marriage. So if I cannot get married, and my singleness persists, does that mean God made me to be less cherishable?”
Let me see if I can say something helpful and true and encouraging to Rebecca. First, by distinguishing between not being cherished and not being cherishable.
She’s right that Paul describes one of the aspects of husband’s love as cherishing a wife. In Ephesians 5:28–29 he says, “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” I want to be realistic and empathetic with Rebecca in agreeing that not to be married means that there are kinds of experiences that are unique to the marital relationships which she will not have.
She is putting her finger on one of them; namely, there is a unique kind of cherishing that happens between a husband and a wife that happens nowhere else but in marriage. It’s part of what marriage is. If we are not married, we don’t taste that peculiar kind of human cherishing. That’s what I mean by the phrase not being cherished. That’s true. That happens.
“A unique kind of cherishing happens between a husband and a wife that happens nowhere else but marriage.”
But not being cherished in the unique way that a husband cherishes a wife is not the same as not being cherishable, any more than not being hungry is the same as not being fed, or not being brave is the same as not being commissioned for battle, or not being competent is the same as not being employed, or not being pretty is the same as not being noticed.
The difference in all these pairs is that being hungry or brave or competent or pretty or cherishable are real, objective, undeniable, important traits about a person. Whether anybody else recognizes them or commends them or responds to them or embraces them — or not. This means that if a hungry man is not fed, he’s still hungry. If a brave man is not commissioned for battle, he’s still brave. If a competent person is not employed, he or she is still competent. If pretty girl is not noticed, she’s still pretty. If a cherishable single woman is not cherished in marriage, she’s still cherishable.
God Writes Our Story
Which I think might lead to Rebekah to ask this: Why wouldn’t then a hungry person be fed? Why wouldn’t a brave man be commissioned in battle? Why wouldn’t a competent person be employed? Why wouldn’t a pretty girl be noticed? And why wouldn’t a cherishable single woman be married and cherished?
In answer to those questions, surely we must finally say what the psalmist says: “Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep” (Psalm 36:6). In other words, the ways of God are higher — mountain high, like the unapproachable Alps — and deeper than the unfathomable ocean.
Why does this hungry man get fed and not that one? Why does this brave man go to war and not that one? Why does this competent person get employed and not that one? Why does this cherishable woman find a husband and not that one?
God’s judgments are a “great deep”.
God Fills the Gap
Even though God does not answer that particular question, he doesn’t leave us without profound and wonderful help when we are perplexed about the turns that our lives take. Paul was a single man, an unmarried man. I think he renounced marriage because he knew that his life would be so filled with dangers and suffering and beatings and stonings and shipwreck and imprisonment, that marriage was simply not part of God’s call on his life.
“If a cherishable single woman is not cherished in marriage, she’s still cherishable.”
Paul went without the kind of intimacy and the kind of sexual satisfaction and the kind of friendship and the kind of companionship and the kind of cherishing and being cherished and all the other relational uniquenesses that marriage gives. He went without them all his life. He gave us a glimpse into how precious Christ became to him in those losses. He said that he counted all his losses as nothing compared to the preciousness of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord.
There’s a special kind of knowing and enjoying the Lord — I daresay there is a special kind of being cherished by the Lord — for every person who embraces Jesus as their supreme treasure instead of murmuring about the treasures we’ve lost. God makes it up. He makes it up to us in ways nobody can know except the person who experiences it with him in that particular relationship.
Paul heard the Lord say to him in a very intimate way, “My grace is sufficient for you in your pain and losses. My grace is sufficient for you” (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). Then it was near the end of his life when he said, “The Lord stood by me” (2 Timothy 4:17). There is a kind of intimacy with the Lord Jesus — the creator of the universe — that only those know who hold fast to him in the midst of sorrow and pain and loss.
So, my answer to Rebekah is no, you are not less cherishable. Your circumstance is designed by the mysterious, unfathomable, wise, good, sovereign God. And best of all, experiences with Jesus awaits you that no one else is going to have.