If y’all didn’t know any better, you might’ve thought I went missing from The Table. However, much has been on my mind with all that is devastating the world and my personal struggle to stay focused on Jesus, active in the fight for social justice, and satisfied in my singleness. Except I’m not. I am naturally adept at schoolwork. I am skilled in eliminating distractions to accomplish tangible goals. However, I am ill-equipped at fooling folks into believing that being single in seminary is a pleasurable experience. I would love to paint a pretty portrait of being satisfied with Jesus alone. I’d love to pretend that I never desire physical intimacy or that I’m never anxious to know who I’ll spend the rest of my life with or that I never experience a tinge of jealousy every time I log onto facebook and see a newly engaged couple (yesterday, I spied three). But I’d be a boldfaced liar. What people fail to tell you about seminary is that most students here are middle-aged, married (or engaged), with several kids under the age of seven. They fail to relay the message that many references to self-care, putting family first, and everything else will be geared towards married people. They fail to inform you that seminary will make you feel the most single you have ever felt in your life. If you’re not married, you must be engaged or looking to be by the time you graduate. The “ring before spring” race to the alter is all but uncommon, as many male students feel pressured to marry to position themselves as viable candidates for pastoral roles. Others, overcome with being singled-out in their singleness, may accept the first man to bend his knee. But seminaries (and mine in particular) also have high divorce rates. So many seminary wives are Rapunzel clones, stuck in their apartments with their children or working while their husbands are living and learning in school. Seminary husbands are rarely acknowledged (but that’s another post).
I’m no fool. My discontentment in singleness is not so cumbersome that I am willing to marry the first man who offers a ring. (Besides, the kind of ring I desire requires planning!) Nor is it devastating enough to simply marry for sheets (sex) or forfeit the characteristics of a man that I truly desire. But I do worry. With a legacy of singleness in my family, my unfortunate enrollment at predominately white schools in less than urban cities, and white America’s fixation on exterminating Black people (via the school-to-prison pipeline, militarization of the police, gentrification, etc.) I get antsy. Now, there are some folks reading this who are eyerollin and lip-sippin saying “She’s only 23. She’s young and has all the time in the world to get married” or “She’s 23! Enjoy your freedom! Your 20s are for fun!” Let me be clear: My 20s are not for mindless rendezvous, nights that I cannot recall, or extreme selfishness. I was designed with purpose on purpose and so I choose to live that way. My 20s are for learning, traveling, making meaningful art, building Godly, constructive relationships, and setting the foundation for the rest of my life. That includes thinking about marriage. No freshman in college is ever told “don’t think about what you want to major in or when you want to graduate, you’re only a freshman!” It is the same thing with endeavors as serious as marriage. I will not wait until I’m middle-aged to develop standards for relationships (romantic and otherwise).
But even in all of my planning and forward thinking, I cannot control God. I cannot coax Him into sending my mate when I feel I’m ready for him. I get so sour-stomached when I watch (Black) Christian women who truly desire to honor God with their bodies and relationships, be suckered by women (and men) in ministry who capitalize on the singleness and marriage desires of others. They post photos of their happy marriages on their nice marriage blogs and write posts that suggest “if you pray a little harder, read more scriptures, change your attitude, or dress more modestly, your Adam will wake up!” But I know women who are Spirit-filled and sanctified virgins in their thirties, who, though not perfect, have strived to center and honor Christ…and are still single. God can and will send our spouses when He feels it is time. Though some heart-changes and character refinement is likely and necessary, no marriage preparation is one size fits all. I know happily married couples who were seeking the Lord and were introduced to their spouses out of the blue as well as couples who were living jacked up lives as carnal Christians but married and became Spirit-filled by God’s grace. There are also couples who were unsaved and came to Christ together. This is all to say that God is creative and can bring folks to Him and to each other in a variety of ways.
So how does that ease the hearts of those of us who feel we are called to marriage with no potential mate in sight? In some ways it doesn’t. We can rest assure that God is God and that His judgement is best. But that doesn’t necessarily calm our hormones, soothe the tender ache to become a mother (or if you are a mother, to have an in-house father for your children), or the longing to do life with someone. Let’s face it: we get tired of looking at our girlfriends, finding dates for the next wedding, or doing everything “right” and still coming up single. May I suggest a few things: 1. Reflect on your history and fears 2. Review your standards & revise your list 3. Go on dates 4. Give it to God. These suggestions are NOT a to-do list to get a husband. However, they are, in my experience, good reflection and navigation tools.
REFLECT ON YOUR HISTORY & FEARS
When I consider my own history, I find that I was always the friend who rarely had a boyfriend. My best friends were ALWAYS in relationships, frielationships, situationships, or had sex buddies. When I wasn’t negotiating my own traumas and abuse, the relationships I did have (when I wasn’t trying to imitate my besties and just “talk to” someone to not be lonely) were not short-term. In both my high school and collegiate days, I valued serious long-term relationships. There are awesome and not so awesome things about this pattern. On one hand, I (thought I) knew what I wanted and only dated people I thought fit my criteria. I avoided much heartbreak, pregnancy and STI/STD scares. On the other hand, I was so focused on only dating men I thought I would marry that I missed social opportunities with guys–opportunities to really develop friendships and learn how men feel, think, and operate. If you grew up with a father, father-figure, or brothers, you were privy (for better or worse, depending on their character) to these things by virtue of proximity. In examining my history and that of the women in my family, I found that I have a fear of being single forever because so many of the women in my family are and were unhappily/bitterly single and struggling single parents. This fear is magnified in seminary, where to be single is to be pitied. Some people are happily single and love single-parenthood. That’s great for them! However, that is not what I desire or the ministry to which I am called. Having identified my foundational fear, I searched for how it translated to God. I realized that I did not trust God for a marriage partner who was perfect for me. I’d think of all of the qualities I desired and become discouraged, believing no men like that existed. But God is bigger and better than my list and my imagination. I often struggle to remember His grandeur. Distrusting God leads me to take matters into my own hands and end up with men who are marriageable but are not for me or to resent and decline men who want to date/befriend me.
Self-Reflection Questions: What are you afraid of in your singleness and why? How does this fear translate to your relationship with God?
REVIEW YOUR STANDARDS, REFINE YOUR LIST
I have a type-A personality. I make lists. Often. However, no matter your personality type, everyone should have a written list of non-negotiable standards for your desired mate. Some folks may warn against doing so, claiming that it puts restrictions on God and the potential marriage partner. But I’d like to re/vise the concept of The List. Make no mistake about it, God is going to be God, list or not. Quite frankly, the list is not for God; it is for us. God is clear about His standards. We are not. We need reminders. Every now and then I spy a fine Blk man and become too blinded by the crisp grooming of his beard that I forget my standards. So, I write them down for a constant reminder and for my prayer life. Lists should not be superficial, long, or general. They should reflect the core of what our hearts truly desire in a spouse. Finally, lists must be given to God with an open hand. God does not abide by our lists, but will honor what we desire if our desires align with His. Moreover, God is a creative God, so the gift may not be packaged the way we expected. Finally, lists shouldn’t demand a host of qualities that we do not/are not striving to possess or complement. This is not a list of a dream person or twin to make life perfect but to endure the terror of life with. Difference. I have included my list below. It is broken up into three sections: non-negotiable qualities (like if you ain’t got em we ain’t a we), necessary qualities (like if you ain’t got em but are on your way to gettin em we might could be), and flexible qualities (like you ain’t Denzel but that’s okay just don’t think you’re Denzel!)
List of my Husband’s Qualities
Non-Negotiables (like if you ain’t got em we ain’t a we)
- Deep belief in the basic tenants of Christianity and the Word of God as the infallible and inerrant final authority
- Has (or is seeking) a home church which he attends regularly
- Reads the Bible regularly and reverently for direction, knowledge, and character-development
- Honors my (and His own) purity before the Lord in mind, body, and spirit
- Involved (or working towards involvement) in youth, young adult, men’s, pastoral, or artistic ministry in a leadership capacity or other consistent, valuable and real way
- has a heart for ministry and innovative ideas to meet the unreached and wayward
- Is confident in his manhood and thus, does not need to use hate speech against women or the LGBTQI community to assert his manhood
- Sure of his identity and position in Christ
- Views leadership as a responsibility and privilege not a right or dictatorship
- Makes decisions that are God-led and based on the welfare of the family
- Committed to learning me: my character, fears, insecurities, love language, needs, and deep passions
- Committed to learning more about the Lord and loving
- Committed to trying new things
Necessities (like if you ain’t got em but are on your way to gettin em we might could be)
- Committed to some form of social justice (i.e. food justice, racial justice, fighting sexism, economic oppression, etc.)
- Invested in Kingdom-minded social reform (i.e. infiltrating systems as God’s earthly ambassadors to reflect God’s glory across the nations)
- Knows the depth of a wife as a good thing
- Adores children; views them as a blessed privilege and responsibility
- Open to adoption in addition to traditional conception
Flexibles (like you ain’t Denzel but that’s okay just don’t think you’re Denzel!)
- Loves/ willing to travel (for ministry and to simply see the world)
- Loves/prefers natural hair (or at the very least respects it)
- Is artistic (or deeply appreciates art)
Self-Reflection Questions: Do you have standards? If so, what are they and if not, get some! Do your standards reflect the person(s) you entertain? Are your standards accurately represented on your list? Have you made a flexible item a non-negotiable (are your priorities straight)?
GO ON DATES
So some super conservative Christians feel that one should not date unless you are seeking marriage. Been there, done that. I feel differently. Allow someone to take you out. Have a good time. Make a friend. But always be clear in your intentions. If you’re going out with a guy that you’re actually interested in, acknowledge that and see where he is. If you’re not romantically interested in him but suspect that you’re in his life for a purpose (to speak life into him, evangelize, etc.) become his friend but don’t lead him on. If you’re only interested in a free meal, save your coins and buy your own! Don’t use anybody. Recently, I’ve gone out on a few dates with a guy who I am not romantically interested in. I was opposed to it at first, but through the experience I am learning new things about myself, what I want, how I should be treated, and what I need to work on. I’m also learning more about men. In addition to this, I’m sharpening my evangelism skills and am able to be exposed to the city of Dallas. A man who loves Christ doesn’t necessarily mean he will love you or that you’ll be compatible.
GIVE IT TO GOD
Everything else seems doable but giving it to God. So often I’m like, “Okay God I gave it to you and you ain’t did diddly!” Then I “take it back” only to realize I never submitted to Him in the first place. That’s when I must confront my fear and mistrust and assess my sense of wholeness in this season of singleness. I can’t tell anyone how to completely give it to God. I’m learning to fully submit in one area of my life or another nearly every day. I say that at its core, it’s an issue of resisting rebellious flesh. To do so, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, suited in prayer, washed in the Word, and positive in our position. A relationship does not complete me; I’m a whole person. I have work to do, art to make, ministries to develop, souls to win, and stages on which to get my life!!! Singleness is not a sentence; it does not define or diminish who I am. Perhaps God is not finished getting my husband together. He knows I like well-crafted, finished products and He is not a last-minute God. So in the meantime, I will not sulk. I will dress well just because, hang out with the girls, accept dates from a nice guy or two, and live on purpose in my singleness.
Keep your heels high & standards higher,