An Attitude of Selflessness
Singleness could be for a short season, or it could be for a lifetime. I have wrestled with many questions as I have seen friend after friend get married while I still wait, as I have noticed loving relationships in my own family and in the families at my church.
And sometimes I wonder: If I do marry someday, will it be “worth it” since I had to wait longer? Will I look back on my years of singleness and see that God was using them to prepare me for the challenges of marriage? Will I understand why God has made me wait longer than most of my friends? If I never marry, what will happen to me as I grow older? Who will care for me? Am I missing out on joy because I will never have my own children and grandchildren? Will I have a heritage at all?
Though I have not received specific answers to these questions, God is stretching me to see my life in light of His greater plan. My life alone is not the center of His purpose. Carolyn McCulley addresses a single woman’s “daydreaming” mindset in her book Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?
I’ve often daydreamed about the testimony I hope to have on my wedding day. I want to stand up and say that the long wait for my husband was worth it. I want to say that the Lord is fully trustworthy. I want to give Him all the glory should He give me the gift of marriage. It’s as though I’ve been running a grueling race and having flopped over the “finish line” of marriage, I can stand in the winner’s circle with an inspiring story about the reasons for the delay.
Those aren’t necessarily bad dreams. But they are puny. They start and stop with my individual blessing. I’m rarely daydreaming about how God may be using my life (single or married) to accomplish a grander purpose for numerous people. This finite creature has finite plans. But our infinite God has infinite plans to accomplish His purpose of redemption in our generation and beyond.
Upon reading this, I was struck with conviction. How self-focused to think that my singleness is all about ME. That God’s purpose in my singleness is for my benefit alone. Before I read the above section, that is what I thought. Surely God must have a purpose in this…(for me). There is no doubt that God does have blessings for me in singleness, but He is also working a greater plan: One that goes beyond me. One that, through me, influences all the people I interact with on a daily basis. One that stretches past my own power and comprehension. One with an ultimate purpose of God’s glory. And through God’s greater plan, I am blessed!
God’s blessings in and through Naomi’s life in book of Ruth has given me more insight into this perspective. In Ruth chapter 1 we meet Naomi, a woman who had to leave her homeland because of a famine and who then lost her husband and both sons in death. Her sons had married Moabite women, neither of whom had borne any children. Naomi saw no future for herself as a widow and had no future to offer to her daughters-in-law. She was hopeless and bitter. It seemed as though her life held no purpose and no more blessings.
So Naomi told her daughters-in-law to return to their own families. “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:11-13).
In God’s good and sovereign providence, Ruth stayed with Naomi despite the situation. But Naomi continued to see her life through this perspective. Though she believed that the Lord was sovereign in her life, she believed only in what she could see. Since she saw no further blessings, she was without hope. “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21).
But God was still working, and it was more than what Naomi could ever have imagined. At the end of Ruth chapter 4, Ruth married Boaz and they had a child named Obed. God turned Naomi’s hopeless emptiness into a wonderful blessing. “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life, and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him’” (Ruth 4:14-15).
Carolyn McCulley comments on the deeper conclusion of this story:
I trust that Naomi joined the voices of these women when they praised the Lord for the reversal of her financial and relational losses. God had kindly provided for these two destitute widows against tremendous odds. That was noteworthy enough, but these women could not have known the bigger picture. This child was Obed, who became the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of Jesus. Both Boaz and Ruth are listed in the opening genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew—a fulfillment of their words about Boaz, “may his name be renowned in Israel!”
Naomi and Ruth undoubtedly were encouraged by what the Lord did for them in their lifetimes, but I suspect they would have been shocked to know how God worked through them to bring about His glorious plan of redemption and salvation.
…God is still working—let’s never forget that. What we can see of our circumstances is not all that is there. Whether we are single or married, God is working to glorify Himself through those circumstances, and only He knows the best way to accomplish His plans. At any given time, we can’t see the grand panorama of His grace. But, secure in the reality of it, we can rest in the promise that still echoes across time: “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose … I have spoken and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:10-11).
I still remember the day I read the story of Ruth with this perspective and contemplated McCulley’s words. It was a summer afternoon, and I was feeling lonely, sitting on the couch in my bedroom next to the window. It was that day that my perspective on my singleness changed. What is the bigger picture? How is God working for others through my singleness? Suddenly I began to see how my life could bless others because of my singleness: in my teaching, in my relationships, in my church. Instead of asking how God is going to work for my individual benefit, what if I begin to ask Him to reveal how He is working through me for the benefit of others and for His ultimate glory? The Lord had begun to transform my heart into an attitude of selflessness and service.