I confess that when I first picked up this book I had my doubts about the use of Proverbs 31 as a guide for singleness, and about aspiring to be a good wife being the most helpful approach to take in singleness. However, it’s true that Proverbs 31 is written by a mother to her son about the qualities of a virtuous woman and that what’s noble in a wife is noble in any woman. And so as single women we can strive after these qualities (yet at the same time being careful to avoid that works-based mentality to marriage that we discussed earlier, ie viewing this as a recipe for marriage and not a guide for godliness in singleness).
I found page 54 of this chapter particularly challenging, on how we are investing our singleness in God’s kingdom and our view of God in giving it to us—and whether we think he has been harsh and ungenerous to us in our gift and so little is required of us. I think one possible outcome that can subtly issue from this is for us to lay claim to the advantages of singleness, but to view those as personal freedoms to do what we like when we like without considering others, sleep as long as we wish etc with an attitude along the lines of ‘well I didn't get marriage so I am going to indulge myself’, rather than as the opportunities we have to serve God and others. That’s not to be harsh and suggest that as single people we deprive themselves of pleasure and rest (and after all, there isn't much point in me getting up at the crack of dawn on Saturday just because!) but to remind us that we find our consolation instead in Christ (and that singleness is not a second-rate gift) and pause to think about how we are investing our singleness in God's kingdom. As my friend Tim Adeney, who blogs here, has said, in one of the most sympathetic yet exhortatory sermons on singleness I have heard yet (which may be available in print sometime soon):
The opportunities and freedoms singleness brings are to be taken up by ... everyone who is single. Just as the responsibilities afforded by marriage are to be taken up by everyone who is married, not just those who feel up to the job ... And sometimes I am concerned that many of us are tempted to use the freedom singleness brings for our own good, not for the good of others. What we need to realise is that the life of a disciple of Jesus is to live life for the sake of others. This is true for both marrieds and singles. The difference between us won’t be whether or not our lives are for the sake of others, but the degree to which we can choose which others. We shouldn’t see singleness as a way of avoiding responsibility, but rather as the freedom and opportunity to take on a different set of responsibilities.
I found much else to ponder and discuss in this chapter, but I thought I would here mention contentment in the wait. I was not entirely convinced, initially, of the definition of contentment on page 56: 'When we experience changes-the pressures of life, the heat of sin, the cold drafts on loneliness, the damp chill of disappointment, the pitch and roll of shifting circumstances—but we keep a steady pace, we are exhibiting contentment'. But I did find it a very encouraging definition for those times when I don’t feel especially joyful about singleness. I do think we need to aim for joy in our singleness (issuing from Philippians 4:4 and the fact that the grounds for our rejoicing is not our circumstances—and the quote from Jerry Bridges given on page 61 and the later section titled “Count it all Joy” points us there), but as page 59 discusses, even when we weep and have one handful of tissues we can glorify God by pressing on. And as Philippians 4 states in verse 13, soon after verse 11 on which this section is based, we can do this through Christ who strengthens us.
The other section from this chapter that jumped out and grabbed me was that on the role of humility in contentment, and similarly, the role of pride in self-pity. The quote from John Piper on pages 59-60, and the rest of page 60, was certainly convicting. We will feel sorry for ourselves when we feel like we deserve more and have been overlooked or forgotten (in the same way that we will be angry about our singleness if think we ought not to be and others perhaps aren’t helping us). And the remedy for this is, as always, the gospel; reminding ourselves of the 'depth of the abyss of our own sinful natures and of the curse from which we have been freed by Jesus ... [and] ... the splendour of the heights to which we have been raised' (Don Carson, Basics for Believers).
I would love to hear which parts of this chapter you found especially apt and/or helpful. I don’t know how I have overlooked these until now, but I have discovered Carolyn McCulley’s own discussion questions for this book here. So I will end with the questions for this chapter (and I have gone back and added them to the posts for previous chapters) for further thought:
Is it Self-pity or Grief? This is a great article from Carolyn McCulley that looks at the legitimate grief of singleness and how that compares to self-pity.
Basics for Believers by D. A. Carson. This is such a good little book, essentially an exposition of the book of Philippians. I wanted to write out the whole of chapter four, which is based on chapter four of Philippians.
You Can Change, by Tim Chester. Once again a good read for internal adjustment, based on the idea that behind all our negative emotions there is a lie.
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