I thought that for this post, rather than discuss those things to look for in a potential marriage partner, good as I thought those sections were, I’d focus on those things that relate to us now as single women, whether or not we have any relationship possibilities (I’m aware that this chapter may cause some of us a certain amount of grief, because we have no experience of tested, noble men who have been or are being intentional). However, leading into that I was challenged to pause and think about how it is that we relate to those single men that we do know and whether or not we give them differential treatment depending on which category we have them in (page 91) and the ways that we can be encouraging all the men around us as brothers (page 93). I am sure that there have been men that I have spared very little time, and scarcely a thought, for because they just fell in the "no way" slot, without me even necessarily being conscious of it. As Carolyn points out, that is being self-centred and un-Christlike in how we treat others.
Where I really had to stop and think about my interactions is when I read (page 93) ‘It’s tempting as singles to simply avoid those people who irritate us or whose weaknesses always seem to spill out whenever we’re around. But that’s not carrying a concern to see our brothers (and sisters) in the Lord grow and mature in Christ’. How true that is. It also won’t help us grow in our own maturity in Christ. There is a sense in which oftentimes as single people we have no compulsion (ie they aren’t our husband’s friends, or our in-laws) and no accountability to work at particular relationships with people we find difficult. It was challenging to think through: a) if it is sin that irritates us, we could seek to see that person conformed to Christ; or b) if it is just personality traits that annoy us then we could work on being more inclusive, accepting and more loving.
Flowing on from this I thought that the paragraph on page 99 and the suggestions in it were great:
A single adults, it’s easier to be oblivious to our sins and so be cavalier about confession. It’s also easy to withdraw when we’re offended and not seek reconciliation. In effect, singleness seemingly provides the “option” of avoiding the hard work of self-examination, repentance, confession, and reconciliation that is required in a godly marriage. This is deceptive. Unconfessed sin has a destructive effect on a single adult’s life, as well as upon relationships within the church. So while we may have to work harder to practice this spiritual discipline, it’s possible. One sure way to grow is to invite people to ask you questions about possible sins they observe. Another is have an accountability partner with whom you meet regularly to reflect on your life and to confess sin.I found the idea of having an accountability partner to point out my sin a little daunting (and I guess I would want to have it rooted in the security of a loving relationship, as would be the case, one would hope, in a godly marriage) but I am certain I would reap great benefits in my sanctification. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was single, wrote: a single person "needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him[her]". And this is largely the reason why he wrote the book Life Together, because that is what the church is for*. This section also made me recall that those times when someone has asked me a confronting personal question, where they had a good reason for doing so, in the midst of my surprise I have felt strangely warmed that they cared enough to ask, for my own good - and I have observed the same response in others (and indeed, we should be very thankful to those who are willing to do this!). There would be much value in such interactions and I think it’s a great suggestion that we endeavour to establish a relationship in which we can allow another Christian to show us areas where they think we could grow in holiness.
On sexual temptation and chastity
Carolyn mentions sexual temptation in the further study section of this chapter. In my own experience sexual temptation for single women is talked about basically never and, from what I have gleaned from others also, more often that not when lust is mentioned in preaching it is stated or implied that it is primarily a male problem that women won’t necessarily understand or struggle with. One consequence is that women who do struggle in this area feel like a freak and don’t seek help. That’s unfortunate (and I also suspect it is just not so rare and freakish). Unfortunate also is that I haven’t been able to unearth any material specifically helpful (if you know of any feel free to leave an anonymous comment). But I would suggest that if you are finding this difficult you do talk to someone.
Another consequence is that women can feel complacent or let off the hook altogether over this kind of temptation, because what we hear is that it’s a whole lot worse if you’re a guy. That may be true, but it doesn’t mean women will never have battles to fight in this area and we need to not be unprepared to fight them.
All that said there are differences between the sexes in the nature of attraction and temptation and it is good to be aware of other ways that women can compromise their integrity or create unrealistic expectations (in the same way that pornography can do so) for future relationships. I flicked through a book of poetry in a shop just last week that I’d considered buying and I had to return it to the shelf, knowing that feeding myself on that—albeit beautiful (though a little explicit in places!)—material would be a long way from helpful. I think therein lies my poison. And here is an article from the BBC news providing evidence of the ways in which romantic comedies can spoil your life love. Yes, romantic comedies! There’s a lot more that could be said here, but we need to assess and learn our weaknesses on this one.
Here are Carolyn's discussion questions for this chapter:
*Taken from the foreword to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem, which is also a great book to read if some of the ideas of submission in the chapter were foreign you you.
On the point of chastity, I haven’t read the book Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity but it comes recommended. Similarly, Every Single Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Heart and Mind Against Sexual and Emotional Compromise, looks promising (I've skimmed through the version of this book not specifically for single woman, which had some helpful things to say). And here is a short piece, well worth reading, by Elisabeth Elliot on virginity.
When You Don't Have a Better Half: Encouraging Biblical Roles as a Single Woman by Carolyn McCulley, from the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website.
The Hindrance of a Hint by Carolyn McCulley. This is a good article on communication and to what end we employ it.
Humility That Attracts and Encourages by Carolyn McCulley.
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