I was the kind of person that worked on honing my maternal skills since I was big enough to hold a baby doll. Soothing a crying baby or singing a sleepy toddler to sleep seemed ingrained in me. As I got older, I did what I could to learn how to be the God-honoring, Spirit-led kind of wife and mother, should that day arrive. I knew I had a lot of growing to do, and I was more than willing to make the sacrifices marriage and motherhood required. Now I get giddy sharing about solid biblical material for children and family.
“You’re a natural,” my friend recently said. I was holding her young son and clicking away at the computer in my office while she was preparing to feed him. I froze, unsure how to respond to the comment. Inwardly, my initial reaction ranged from “A natural what?” to “What if that’s never part of my story?” Outwardly though, I remained silent. Perhaps even disappointed.
So far, being a “natural” has landed me as a single woman in my thirties with no kids to boast of.
Does that still make me a natural?
It also makes me think about the well-meaning relative or friends who have said, “You’re going to make a great wife!” I’ve received this comment from both married and unmarried. Sometimes for singles, though, going to church week after week or to event after event alone might make the hearers question that statement.
I know people mean well when they make remarks to someone about making a good spouse or parent. In fact, I’ve taken those compliments to heart before. And that just might be the problem. They became rooted in my heart along with my desires set on matrimony and maternity. What’s wrong with taking a compliment about making a great mother or wife to heart? More than we realize if it only points us to “one day” or “some day.”
“One day” or “some day” might not happen for everyone. At the least it could be delayed longer than we would like. But if it doesn’t come, pointing others to one day or some day sends subtle messages that say certain skills and characteristics are meant to climax at marriage or motherhood. If I don’t marry and bear children, then those skills are at a loss.
I don’t buy that message any longer.
And I’m refusing to let that “day” become an idol in my heart. Peter, speaking of being stewards of God’s gifts, writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:10-11, ESV)
The gifts we have been given – even those that bear maternal or marital qualities – are meant to be a blessing for the entire body of Christ, not just for a spouse and kids. Right now I am not in the stage of life where I am a wife or mother. But that leaves plenty of room for me to be a good friend, neighbor, roommate, daughter, sister, aunt, coworker, etc. When I look at it that way, it’s not so limiting.
Singles and women without children, you are in no way limited in using your God-given gifts simply because you aren’t married or don’t have children. Your circle of influence in using those gifts may look different than what you’d prefer, but they aren’t restricted. That circle may include your niece and nephew or your friends’ children instead of ones that call you “mommy,” but you can still use it to serve others as God intended.
Church, help root the singles in community so that they have the opportunity to exercise their gifts and flourish in them. Let them know they are being a blessing to more than just a husband. Feed them with the truth that God’s steadfast love really is better than life (Psalm 63:3) – even better than the life of marriage and motherhood they may have always dreamed of. Encourage and affirm their gifts without assigning a title or status like “mother” or “wife” to it.
To the unmarried and those without children, resist the temptation to grow bitter because you don’t get to exercise those gifts on “your own” family. Remember that you are part of a much larger family in the body of Christ. Your gifts matter. Refuse to resent the ones that have families but never struck you as the nurturing type. God did not waste his gifts when he gave other people spouses and children. He holds them accountable for the gifts he gave them. Be a good steward of the gifts God has given you. Instead of harboring the “Lord, what about this man?” bitter attitude that Peter had (John 21:21), keep your eyes focused on Jesus one step at a time.
So what is a person to do with their desires for marriage and children? As beautifully described in Seasons of Waiting by Betsy Childs Howard, bring your longings before the Lord. The desire for a spouse and children are not in and of themselves bad or wrong. At the same time, realize it may not be part of the story God has for you, but we can trust his story is a good one.
Grace, a gifted writer, encourages us all to let go of the “natural” and normal expectations in place of grasping hold of God’s story. I find it hard to grasp hold of his story, let alone to see my story in his story, while I’m holding on so tightly to the pen. I have to release my grip and yield it to him instead of writing my own dream story.
The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see how my story needs redeeming. My natural-ness is swaddled in skin and a sin nature eager to exert itself more often than I’d like to admit. I need reminders to long for the day of Christ’s appearing. That’s the “some day” my heart wants to look forward to.
Do I think I strive in vain trying to develop good skills working in the kitchen or with children? No, I don’t see them as a waste. I don’t believe God does either. What I’m learning is that more important than trying to look like a “natural” in the sense of motherhood and matrimony is conforming to the image of Christ. And God’s word shows us all how. “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18 ESV).
Colossians 4:6 speaks of gracious speech that is seasoned with salt. If we are not careful, our words will leave a bad aftertaste or be spiritually unhealthy to our hearers. One of the best ways you can guard the single friends or people you know who are serving overseas is by guarding your mouth. It seems simple, yet there are subtle ways we fail to do this.
We say unhelpful phrases like, “There’s something in the water.”
One major temptation is to share every story you know of someone who found their spouse while serving overseas. Someone shared story after story like this with me and concluded with, “There’s something in the water.” Looking back upon more years of singleness than I anticipated for myself, I fought the temptation to think God has given me an empty cup. Or perhaps no cup at all.
I had been fed these stories in my younger single years to the point that I began to crave them, standing at the barren, idolatrous cisterns I had hewn out for myself and remaining parched. When our conversations are grace-filled and seasoned with salt, we leave singles thirsty for Jesus, not wanting to dig out broken cisterns that can’t hold water.
We fail to ask the right questions… or any questions!
The first time I lived overseas, one question nationals loved to ask was, “Do you want to stay here and get married?” I was ten years younger, at a stage of life where I could brush it off with a joke if I wanted. In some areas of the world, not being married at my age is not taboo. In other areas, the societal pressure to marry is stronger. Asking good cultural questions can give insight into how we can best support them in their singleness will also learning about other cultures. Consider a question like, “What are the cultural views of marriage where you’re living?” (If you have more, I would love to hear them!)
I write this as someone who is learning from the unhelpful things I have heard, said, and allowed to feed my heart. I also approach this as a learner. Together we can begin being a healthier sounding board for singles. For reading more on this subject, I highly recommend I Don’t Wait Anymore by my friend Grace. Her insight has been very encouraging and refreshing for me and many others. She writes so well!