Marriage, Sex and Babies VS Singleness, Celibacy and Barrenness
It is scary approaching another birthday as a single woman. This Boxing Day (2011) I will be 29 and the countdown to 30 will begin.
I have wanted to get married since I was about 9. And I always imagined I’d have children in my twenties. That’s nearly impossible now. If I’m not pregnant in about three months, my dream of bearing children in my twenties will fail and I will have to settle for having them in my thirties. (Considering that I am single and a virgin who is trying to wait until marriage; falling pregnant is highly unlikely.)
Personally I’ve really struggled to enjoy being single. I have dreamt about having someone there to talk to; to share my life with; to laugh and cry with. I imagined dates to places like the rotating restaurant in Sydney; to the movies and the beach. I longed for a man’s affection, to be held in his strong arms and feel safe there.
In my adulthood, as I have shared this struggle to remain single, I have felt very misunderstood many a time and been given contradictory advice. Here are some of the things I’ve heard over the years:
If you didn’t want it so much, it would just happen.
Stop looking for it and it will find you.
On the other hand: You could pray harder: bang on the door: be persistent!
Maybe you should put yourself out there a bit more.
It’s possible you’re giving off the vibe that you are too desperate!
I met my husband when I was disillusioned and angry at men – I have experienced both of these emotions to no avail.
I rejected my husband numerous times but he just kept pursuing me and then I finally fell in love with him! – No one has pursued me like that.
Maybe it’s what you want that’s the problem: my husband is nothing like I imagined he’d be.
Others say they had a list and got exactly what they wanted.
You just need to focus on God – I do believe I have done this too.
You don’t need a man! – What do you say to that one?
God is all you need …
The first and last sayings are the ones that have frustrated me the most. In a nutshell: Try not to want it. Try not to need it. That is the message I have received. I have particularly heard this from my Christian friends, most of whom married extremely young, probably to quell their own marital and sexual needs and desires. My own mother for example, who married at nineteen, told me I wanted it too much. She didn’t understand my loneliness.
Sometimes it’s really hard to be single or alone. It’s difficult to watch friends get married and feel like you’re being left behind. It’s painful to be told that you are supposed to be an independent career-driven woman! It’s a struggle not to have sex before marriage when you’re a 29 year old virgin – or perhaps you’re a 40 year old virgin – or maybe you’ve had sex before, found that wasn’t quite the answer you were looking for, and then commenced the struggle to remain celibate for the last five or ten years as you waited for a spouse – then again you could be sexually active and currently single, reading this in the hopes that I have something useful to say. Well I hope for your sake I do and I don’t pass judgement on your sexuality since I am a sexual being myself.
Not only am I single, not only am I a virgin (albeit not a sexually perfect one), but I am also a Christian and I have felt all my life that the church expected me to be happy to be single and not to express my desires or needs in this area … because God is apparently: All I need … Churches sing these very words over and again, and I feel condemned because I want and need a companion. Did not God himself create me to need one?
Let’s look at the Bible shall we:
Genesis 2:18 It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.
Proverbs 12:4 A worthy wife is a crown for her husband.
Proverbs 14:1 A wise woman builds her home.
Proverbs 18:22 The man who finds a wife finds a treasure and receives favour from the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 Two people are better off than one for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls the other can reach out and help.
Song of Songs 8:6-7 Love is as strong as death its jealousy as enduring as the grave. Love flashes like fire, the brightest kind of flame. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can rivers drown it. If a man tried to buy love with all his wealth, his offer would be utterly scorned.
Isaiah 62:4 You shall no longer be termed forsaken … For the Lord delights in you and your land shall be married.
1 Corinthians 7:2 Each man should have his own wife and each woman should have her own husband.
It would appear that God is all for marriage.
Then there is our desire for sex that is shamed as well. Please pretend you are not a sexual person, you neither want sex nor need a sex-life to make you happy.I suppose this is true – a person can lead a fulfilling life without ever experiencing the most physically intimate connection of love-making. But an obvious majority of the world ‘want’ it and many desperately so. People have been known to kill for it, abuse it, become addicted to it, buy it, sell it, share it, give it and some even to wait for it!
Here are a few verses pertaining to our sexuality:
Genesis 2:25 The man and his wife were both naked but they felt no shame.
Ecclesiastes 4:11 If two lie down together they will keep warm.
Song of Songs 1:2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for your love is more delightful than wine. (I’ll make an assumption here that the word for ‘love’ in this context is ‘eros’ pertaining to sexual love.)
Song of Songs 5:1 Eat, friends, and drink, drink your fill of love!
Song of Songs 3:1,4 One night as I lay in bed, I yearned for my lover … when I found my lover I caught him and held him tightly.
(Not to mention the numerous other verses in Song of Songs that depict breast, ‘mandrakes,’ ‘opening the door’ and ‘dripping with myrrh.’)
1 Corinthians 7:9 It is better to marry than to burn with passion
I am single but I desire to marry. I am celibate but I desire to have sex. I am childless but I desire to procreate.
I don’t doubt that there are many married couples who desire to have children with as much desperation as I have desired to get married. I too desire to be a mum. To have a baby look me in the eyes and love me simply because we belong to each other. To know that I helped create that little person and share unique and intimate bonds with them. Even to have those sleepless nights where my nipples become a suckling tap for my hungry, needy, baby who desires to be fed with the same urgency that I desire to someday fall pregnant.
Many barren women have undoubtedly been given contradictory advice too:
I fell pregnant when I gave up trying.
Give it some time.
Try a new position.
Maybe there’s something wrong with you – you should have yourself looked at!
You should be grateful you don’t have children – they’re hard work!
But no matter how many times you are told not to want it or not to need it, or that there is something wrong with you or that you should be grateful for what you’ve already got, the desire for a child only grows within your bosom and you want it more with every tick of the clock! As a 29 year old woman, I have certainly thought about my expiring body clock.
Be assured that God is all for procreation:
Genesis 1:27-28 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them: be fruitful and increase in number.
Deuteronomy 28:11 The Lord will give you prosperity … blessing you with many children.
Psalm 112:2 Their children will be successful everywhere. An entire generation … will be blessed.
Psalm 113:9 He gives the childless woman a family, making her a happy mother.
Psalm 127:3-5 Children are a gift from the Lord … How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
Proverbs 31:28 Her children arise and call her blessed, her husband also and he praises her.
Isaiah 54:1-3 Sing O childless woman … for the desolate woman now has more children … enlarge your house; build an addition … for you will soon be bursting at the seams!
So many barren women in the Bible were healed: Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel in Genesis; Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel; Elizabeth in Gospel of Luke.
I want to give us permission to desire and to need these three things: marriage, sex and babies. By receiving this permission, we can be set free from the lies that keep us bound in fear that God doesn’t want us to marry, doesn’t want us to have children, or tempts us with sex without fulfilling our sexual needs. Many of us fall for the ill-conceived idea that we are not really loving God enough, because if we did, we wouldn’t want these other things so desperately. This is simply not true.
God created us with needs and desires:
Psalm 20:4 My he grant you your hearts desires and fulfil all your plans!
Psalm 23:1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 84:11 The Lord will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.
Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Bask in your permission to want. To need. To desire. Even to long. But don’t let the emotion overtake you. Sometimes in our lack, we can become out of balance in our desires. Sometimes they rule over us.
A friend said to me recently that I needed a new mantra. So he gave me one:
It is painful to be single but not unbearable.
This simple sentence has set me free. This sentence gives me permission to admit that it is a struggle to be single – to admit that I lack and I long. Singleness is not want I want or what I need. But also to keep in mind – in balance – the fact that I have survived 29 years and I will survive as long as I have to.
Now, I don’t believe that God just wants us to survive life or to accept defeat. I wouldn’t have poured out an offering of promises above for us who await the fulfilment of our desires if I believed that desire served only to taunt us. I understand that not all longings will be fulfilled this side of heaven as we live in a sinful world and we will all suffer many things in our lifetime.
Conversely, hope is what keeps us alive. Hope in God’s promises, that he understands our suffering, that he gave us desires, that he longs for our fulfilment – though sometimes not in the ways we expected it – this hope keeps us from drowning in self-pity, condemnation and unrequited longing.
Hope can set us free from worrying about all the things we might be doing wrong – scaring potential relationships away, feeling ashamed over past sexual mistakes, using the wrong sexual position to fall pregnant, or this concept that God is all we want/need and we mustn’t be loving God enough if we have other wants and needs.
Be released from the heaviness of your desires. God has given you permission to need and to want. Place your hope in His promises. Remember how far you have come already and that you can make it in His strength. And let go of the guilt of your failings. He forgave them before you were sorry!
My advice is that you claim some the promises above for yourselves. Speak them over your life – type them up and read them regularly. Find a new mantra if you need one. Speak other positive words over life such as:
I accept that singleness / celibacy / barrenness is a season that will not last forever.
I do not have to pretend to be fully content in my loneliness / lack / longing / need.
I receive God’s contentment as I wait.
God does not punish me with loneliness or want me to be alone forever. I am never alone because I have God and God will provide a husband for me.
God does not punish me for my past, present or future, it is all forgiven.
I accept that I have sexual needs and desires.
I accept that it is not a sin for me to want to get married / have sex / fall pregnant / adopt.
It is painful to be single / celibate / childless but not unbearable.
I hope this is helpful to you. I can’t promise anyone that we will always get what we want or need … but have hope that God understands the struggle. Let him guide you in what verses and mantras to claim over your life. And know you are not alone in your struggle …