Principles to Live by Whether Married or Single
By LESLIE LUDY
In the years since When God Writes Your Love Story was released, many Christians have responded enthusiastically to the beautiful, hope-filled vision of Christ-centered romance portrayed in the book. It is truly amazing to receive letters from married men and women who read the book in their early teen years, surrendered their love lives to Christ, and then experienced the joy and fulfillment of a God-scripted love story.
But there is another camp of Christians who scoff at such an idea. They tell us things like, “That’s just not realistic. A God-scripted love story can’t happen for everyone. Stop getting people’s hopes up — they’ll only be disappointed.”
I understand where this mindset comes from. In a world where heartache is far more common than happily-ever-after, it’s easy to give up on the idea of lasting love, believing that it’s just a fairy tale that can’t happen in real life. Many of us have been rejected, abused, or overlooked by the opposite sex, and this often leads to the feeling that “true love can happen to everyone but me.”
Though not all of us are called to be married, we are all called to surrender each precious area of our lives to Jesus Christ — including our love life. And each of us — no matter if we are married or single — can experience the amazing beauty of following God’s pattern and letting Him write our story.
If you’ve ever struggled with skepticism toward the idea of a God-scripted romance or felt like that kind of message doesn’t really apply to you, I’d like to encourage you with three key principles from God’s Word. These aren’t just keys to a Christ-centered love story, but keys to a Christ-centered life — and they are important for each of us, no matter our relational history, and no matter whether we are called to be married or single.
Key One: Make Christ Your First Love
When we are single, we often believe that we will only be happy once we meet Prince Charming and settle down in a cute house with a white picket fence (I know I certainly struggled with this mindset during my single years!). I can’t count the number of single women I’ve met who build their entire lives, thoughts, and emotions around the pursuit of a guy, instead of the pursuit of Jesus Christ. They think that once they find a husband, they’ll find the inner peace and fulfillment they long for, overlooking the fact that Jesus Christ alone can meet the deepest desires of their heart.
As women, it’s tempting to both idolize and idealize our marriage hopes and dreams. But this is a dangerous mindset because it keeps us from finding the perfect satisfaction in Jesus Christ that He intends for us to have. And if we expect marriage to solve the deepest needs within our soul, we’ll only be placing unhealthy, unrealistic expectations upon our future husband and harming our marriage in the process.
Remember, when we are in relationship with Christ, we have everything we need for happiness right now, whether we are married or single. As Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Marriage is not the answer to unhappiness. Happiness can only be found in a balanced relationship with Jesus Christ. When you belong to Christ, you can be happy with or without a husband, secure in Christ alone.”
Of course, God puts a high value on marriage. It was after all His idea in the first place. The majority of us are called to be married. And there is certainly nothing wrong with desiring to be married, preparing for marriage, or taking steps toward a romantic relationship with someone as God leads. The problem comes when we place our marriage dreams on a pedestal, putting contentment on hold until that season of life finally comes. Or, if we are married already, it’s often tempting to cling tighter to our husbands and children than we do to Jesus Christ. God calls us to love our husbands and children (see Titus 2:4), but He calls us to love Jesus Christ even more. (See Luke 14:26.)
If marriage and family (or the hope of marriage and family) have claimed more of your affection and focus than Jesus Christ, ask God to change your heart. Take a moment to remember where the deepest source of fulfillment is truly found: in Him! Even if you are called to a lifetime of singleness, you can still experience the greatest love story of all time — a beautiful, daily relationship with your Heavenly Bridegroom. (For more on this subject, I encourage you to read my books Sacred Singleness and Authentic Beauty.)
Key Two: Choose Surrender Over Selfishness
With the popularity of Internet dating and match-making reality shows, our culture’s focus on “finding that special someone” has grown stronger than ever. And as a result, there is much confusion and debate about how Christian singles should go about finding a romantic relationship. Here’s a sampling of some of the hot relational issues swirling around in our churches these days:
Is Internet dating okay? After all, God can’t steer a parked car, can He? We need to be proactive in finding a spouse!
Why shouldn’t women pursue men? Guys need a healthy nudge every now and then, so a girl needs to drop a few hints!
What’s so wrong with dating around — isn’t that how you find the right person? How will you ever discover what kind of person you are compatible with unless you play the field a bit?
Is it really such a bad thing for a Christian to get romantically involved with a non-believer? I mean, it may be the only way the other person will ever hear the Gospel!
All of these questions seem to expose a deeper root issue in our Christian culture today — placing personal happiness above God’s glory.
Now don’t get me wrong. Just because someone desires to be married doesn’t automatically mean he or she is being selfish. The desire for a human love story was given to us by God. But when the pursuit of our own happiness becomes a higher priority than surrendering our lives to God and trusting Him with each detail of our lives, we are missing the mark.
Most of the common debates about how Christians should date center from a mentality that says, “How much can I pursue my own desires and get what I want, and still remain on God’s good side?”
It reminds me of that ever-popular discussion from my youth group days: “How far is too far?” As Christian teenagers, we always wanted to know how much pleasure we could get away with and still call ourselves Christians. We should have been asking an entirely different question: “How far can I possibly go to please God in this area of my life?” Having that mindset would have immediately cleared up our confusion about how to conduct ourselves in romantic relationships. But we wanted to have it our way, so we were constantly playing with compromise and coming up with elaborate justifications as to why our behavior was acceptable in God’s eyes.
Not much has changed since then. Entire books have been written that provide today’s Christians with spiritual-sounding reasons for why surrendering our love lives to Christ is unnecessary and legalistic, and why we should be free to pursue relationships the same way the rest of the world does (within reasonable moral boundaries of course).
But once upon a time, Christian men and women understood what it meant to lay down everything for the sake of Christ — including their desires for marriage and family. Like Abraham surrendering Isaac, they willingly laid their most sacred and priceless blessings upon the altar before God. They realized that if He desired them to be married, He would make it clear in His own perfect time and way. But He must always come first, and He must always be implicitly trusted.
Throughout Christian history — in recent decades and in ages past — men and women entrusted their romantic desires to Him, declaring that obedience and surrender to God was of far greater importance than their own personal desires. For some — like Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, and John Hyde — this commitment meant giving up marriage completely in order to serve Christ without distraction. For others, it meant stepping into marriage for the glory of God, not merely for their satisfaction and fulfillment. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, Oswald and Biddy Chambers, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, and Rees and Elizabeth Howells are just a few examples of couples who chose to put the glory of God above the pursuit of personal happiness.
“A man’s love for a woman ought to hold her to the highest,” Elisabeth Elliot wrote. “Her love for him ought to do the same. I did not want to turn Jim aside from the call of God, to distract his energies, or in any way to stand between him and surrender. This was what I understood real love to mean. Purity comes at a high price. Sometimes the sacrifice makes little sense to others, but when offered to Him it is always accepted.”
How different is this attitude from the “do what makes you happy” approach we are so accustomed to these days. Most of the common questions that swirl around modern Christian relationships today are automatically answered when we focus on the glory of God and not our own selfish whims.
No matter how our selfish, fleshly side feels about it, laying everything on the altar before our King and allowing Him to do with our lives whatever He sees fit is where true Christianity begins.
Our desire for marriage must be no exception. Let us not fall for ear-tickling messages that require less than absolute abandonment to the One who gave His very life for us. He took up His Cross, and He asks us to do the same.
Never forget: on the other side of surrender we will find the greatest joy!
(For more on this subject, I encourage you to read my book Answering the Guy Questions, and the article “Guarding Feminine Mystery” available online.)
Key Three: Receive His Restoration
By the time I caught a vision for the amazing purity and breathtaking beauty that marked a Christ-centered love story, I honestly felt like it was too late for me to ever experience it. Sure, I’d technically kept my abstinence commitment, but my purity had been forsaken long ago. I’d allowed the treasure of my heart, emotions, and body to be trampled time and time again. I knew I was unworthy of a God-written love story.
But then, in His gentle, tender, patient way, my King began to show me that I could be completely washed clean, restored, and made new. If I was willing to repent and receive His forgiveness, I could be set free from all the baggage of the past, cleansed from all the impurity I’d allowed into my life. And I could experience the fullness of a brilliantly pure, God-scripted love story, through the power of His redemption. It seemed almost too good to be true, but it was exactly what He promised.
God-scripted love stories are not just for those who have never compromised. In fact, the very reason that Christ sacrificed everything for us was to offer us the chance to be restored, washed clean, and given a hope and future (see Luke 5:32).
If you feel that you’ve “gone too far” to experience a truly pure and beautiful God-scripted love story, let me assure you that it’s never too late to be restored and made new by His amazing cleansing blood.
Repentance means turning and walking the other direction. Once you awaken to the fact that you are heading over a cliff, simply stop, turn, ask God’s forgiveness, and then, by His grace, head in the other direction. There is no reason to look back or second-guess your position as His child. You should not expect a second-rate version of romance. Once you have been restored by Him, you are clothed in His righteousness. You are entitled to all the benefits of His amazing Kingdom. Your forgiveness is complete. Your sin is removed as far from you as the east is from the west. It is finished!
Don’t try to add to His sacrifice by improving yourself before you fall at His feet in repentance. Simply come to Him, in all of your sin and weakness, and let Him wash you clean and make you completely new. Don’t focus on your unworthiness. Rather, fix your eyes on the awesome power of His conquering, redeeming, transforming blood, shed on your behalf. And then, watch in wonder as He renews, restores, and redeems this area of your life! Remember, He gives us beauty for ashes and peace for despair (see Isaiah 61:3).
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Beautiful, God-scripted love stories are more than possible in real life, even in today’s world of heartbreak and disillusionment. But it all begins with the decision to take up our cross and follow our King — even when the path is difficult. And whether He allows us to experience a human love story or not, every act of surrender and step of obedience that we take will be completely worth it … because He is worthy of our everything.