Monday, January 12, 2009

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye - Pt 3

Chapter 4 - A Woman of Noble Character

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:

  • Do you identify with the idea that there are two paths for femininity, depending on marital status? If so, how has that expressed itself in your life?
  • What verses in this Proverbs 31 epilogue do you identify with? Which ones challenge you to grow?
  • How would you evaluate your investment of your "talent" of singleness? Have you buried it, or are you investing it? What does that look like in your life?
  • Of the five areas listed in this chapter as necessary for a noble character, which would you say God has changed you the most in? Which would you say you still have the most to grow in?
  • What practical steps can you take now to change in those areas?

  • Further reading

    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.

    Click here to make a comment, ask a question or read the comments.


    A Linguistic Life said...

    I have gone through Isaiah chapters 40-42 as suggested (haven't quite got to the others yet as there's such a lot to think about just in these ones!), and found these verses helpful. They may even have been mentioned in this discussion before.
    'Why do you say, O Jacob,
    and speak, O Israel,
    "My way is hidden from the LORD,
    and my right is disregarded by my God"?
    Have you not known? Have you not heard?
    The LORD is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
    He does not faint or grow weary;
    his understanding is unsearchable.'
    Isa 40:27-28


    Ali said...

    Oh, good on you Claire. Yes, they are great verses! Trusting to God's good sovereignty is one of the hardest things (for me) ... and to think that one day we will know what he was up to in all the minute details all along ...

    Wendy said...


    Thanks for all your posts up till now, I am enjoying reading each chapter and then seeing what you have to say on it. The part that struck me most in this chapter, which is relevant for anyone, was her comment about contentment - the difference between a holy complaint and a discontented complaint - is that one we complain to God and the other we complain of God (p57). It is a good reminder that in all things in life we should first turn to God, trusting him and his plans for us.

    On another note, I am finding in this chapter and in the ones to follow that it seems to veer between encouraging women in their singleness, but also preparing them to find a partner. I am married, but I wonder if this is bothering some single readers? On p63 she suggests that one should pray to be a good wife. I understand that we all should be praying to be more godly women, but is it possible that for someone who is single and struggling with it, even the act of regularly praying to 'be a good wife' may add to feelings of resentment? I'm not sure if others agree with me, it was just something that struck me over chapters 4-6.

    Thanks for all your work in the posting.

    Ali said...

    Thanks Wendy,
    Yes, I liked that point on contentment also, and wondered whether we are always aware that our complaining about our circumstances is, essentially, complaining against the God who gave them to us. I’ve been trying to remember that point!

    As for the rest, I agree. I actually wondered why chapters 4-6 were in a book on singleness in some ways – I felt like the dating rules were almost redundant for me and in reading the chapter on the qualities to look for in a husband I did have the thought ‘well if I knew any noble, tested men (who were being intentional towards me) I would probably not be reading this book’ and felt mildly discouraged at the end of chapter 6. You’ve hinted at what feels to me to be the tension throughout book. I know that Carolyn stated earlier that preparing to be a wife is really just growing in godliness (as in that quote on page 50), but then I got confused in the application because much of it is very much about preparing for the actual state of marriage. Then I had to ask myself well, what is the real difference between preparing for marriage and growing in godliness as a woman? (I haven’t answered that yet!) And, as I mention later in the post on Chapter 7, should women ever be living in preparation for marriage? And if they should then when should single women stop doing so? Perhaps it would be more helpful to speak in terms of godliness (and praying for godliness) rather than marriage preparation so we weren’t fostering a mental state of mind that could be very disappointing ... I’m still mulling over all of this but thanks for your comment.