I once overheard a Christian ask the man responsible for setting him up on a blind date, “So, this is what you think of me?”
The girl — “although really nice” — was not his type (his emphasis making the euphemism clear). They were incompatible — but not because of him. The matchmaker, not foreseeing what was so apparent to the single man, inadvertently slighted his friend with the match. The pick, as he understood it, was a reflection of his potential and worth, of his manhood. He deserved a more suitable partner.
Another Christian man I knew acted similarly. He stood so inflexible upon his preferences that onlookers wondered if God had yet created a woman who could meet them. He, as if for sport, ignored every sweet Christian girl who would show interest because of feverish expectations of whom he ought to be with. He resisted any rumors of interest, because he believed himself destined for what amounted to a Christian supermodel.
Some in the church — not all, or even most — remain single because they cannot find their “type.” By type, they mean more than just (1) the opposite sex, (2) single, and (3) a follower of Christ. They dismiss girl after girl (or guy after guy), looking sideways at future queens of heaven as if squirrels, geese, and alligators were set before them as a helpmate.
Imagine the poem of Genesis if these characters were inserted for Adam. Instead of beholding the first woman and singing “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23), he would have said, “Yes, she is much closer — same bones and same flesh — and I have no doubt she is a really nice girl and all, and while I’m sure we’ll make great friends, I have to say, I’m just not sure she is quite my type.” Imagine if Adam had said to God, “So, this is what you think of me?”
Too Many Flavors
Now, of course, my point is not that you must marry the first eligible Christian in your church. My point is that some reject (or significantly delay accepting) God’s gift of marriage because their standards surpass God’s.
Their lofty preferences, downstream from an inflated view of self, substitute for biblical criteria. They don’t apply Paul’s exhortation to their love lives: “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).
I wager that most of these helpless romantics (helpless, of course, by choice) struggle with pride because they are in fact desirable to the opposite sex. They are in “high demand.” They do possess more options than the rest of us — and seem the worse for it. Like a child at Baskin-Robbins, they cannot bring themselves to say “I do” to any one flavor precisely because it requires forsaking so many other options.
So, they spend years in the parlor, lingering. They date, but won’t marry. Although they may not mean it maliciously, broken hearts trail behind. They have not yet found the cone topped with all thirty-one flavors. Faced with choices, they cannot partake for fear of what if. What if they grow a fondness for white chocolate raspberry later on? What if, in the end, they settle? What if they meet “the one” after exchanging rings with someone else?
The cruelty of options and the tyranny of unrealistic expectations for marriage frustrate them, so they leave empty-handed. Self, in the end, has stolen love from them.
Pride and Prejudice
For years, I too stole from myself. I write this article not to twist the knife stuck in those who struggle with their singleness (and remain so due to no choice or fault of their own), nor do I desire to berate young men for the state of singleness in the church today (as if they were solely to blame). I write this for some who stand in their own way (to Christian men in particular), who do not consider the amazing women right in front of them.
I could have acted both proud characters in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. As Benedict, I could have said, “One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another is virtuous, yet I am well; but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace.” As it was said of Beatrice, it could have been said of me, “[He] cannot love, nor take no shape nor project of affection, [he] is so self-endeared.”
I didn’t fail to take marriage seriously; I failed by taking myself too seriously. She needed to be exotic, beautiful, extroverted, athletic, adventurous, humorous, intelligent, industrious . . . oh, and Christian. And she must be those things, and more, because I quietly deserved it. Until all graces be in her, she would not come into my grace. Marital love was scorned because self was savored.
Does pride, even if it hides amidst a company of legitimate reasons, hinder you from marriage? Does too much self-focus prevent you from answering the wonderful call to covenant? I wish for some of you to be released from the self-imposed holding cell, where you consider all (if not most) Christians below your impossible standards. It is a miserable, lonely place to live.
Now, by saying some have impossible standards for a spouse, does this dismiss standards? By no means. Attraction, common interests, common goals, personality types, and so on, matter. It’s very good to be attracted to the one you marry. I am married to the amazing woman I am because I kept some good standards.
But while such details are important, they are not the end-all for believers. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). We should not, as I once did, flirt to convert women who possess perishable beauty while overlooking God’s women of imperishable beauty (1 Peter 3:4). All flavors are not created equal, and the godly will prioritize accordingly.
Remember, Christians already have the highest standard on the planet when considering a spouse: rebirth. Divine lightning must have struck this woman. Christ must have called her forth from the tomb. Nothing short of a miracle makes her worthy for marriage. This reality, when treasured, is more stunning than any outward physique or natural charm. Who will she be in a thousand years?
Lightning Does Strike
Christian man, if God gives you one of his own daughters to raise children beside, laugh hysterically with, make love to, and travel alongside, she will one day be “a creature which, if you saw [her] now, you would be strongly tempted to worship” (The Weight of Glory, 46). She is cultivating a beauty your earthly eyes cannot yet see without blinding. Marrying in the Lord is never a call to settle.
For the man or woman who is putting too much hope in marriage, and raising unrealistic standards thereby, be reminded that this present world — and its good things, like marriage — is passing away. We can hope to be happy in our marriages exactly because happy marriages are not ultimately our hope. The most desirable spouse in this life will not make earth heaven. The greatest marital bliss won’t inaugurate our eschatology or make the coming glory irrelevant.
Only with the Groom’s descent to earth did he unveil the mystery: God created weddings to join one. Every chill we feel as the doors open to reveal the bride reminds us of our future. Marriage, though stunning, is not about us — we enjoy it without bowing to it. God will make earth heaven when he returns and lives there.
Until then, we can (and most of us should) seek to embrace his good gift of marriage, as far as it depends upon us. Until then, we marry our type — imperfect people, redeemed by grace, made alive in Christ. Until then, we live out the chief end of man in our marriages: to glorify Jesus, knowing that God is most glorified in our marriages when our marriages are most satisfied in him. Two imperfect spouses, one imperfect marriage, pointing to forever with him.