Are You On The Path to Life or Death of Your Heart?

Can we just dive in?

You know when you’re chatting with a friend and out of nowhere apparent a question is tossed out by one of you and w-h-o-o-s-h you’re off on a life giving talk about something significant. I think we’re there. We’re the kind of friends that talk about everything under the sun. So let’s dive in to expectations when it comes to singleness and marriage.

I have shared before I expected to get married at 27. I didn’t expect (or really want) to be a go-to person on singleness or the cautionary tale. While I said from a young age I’d be okay not being a mom, deep in the recesses of my being I assumed I would be … because that’s how many stories play out.

Many.

Not all.

Turns out, not mine.

If you’ve signed up for the retreat this weekend (and if you haven’t there’s still time. Go do it now while you’re thinking of it) you’ll watch a recording made from the Velvet Ashes Live event in early February.  It’s on the topic of expectations and release.  In the feedback, it was clear that, of course, what single ladies struggle with is the expectation to have a husband.

One of the tender, complicated areas for singles on the field is this tension between wanting to be faithful to the call, yet wondering if / how it conflicts with the potential to be married.

*****

We will return to that in a moment, but as conversations go, you know how something pops into your mind? As I’ve been thinking of how our expectations around marriage are formed when it comes to

  • who gets married and
  • what it says about you if you’re not married and
  • when is a good time in life to get married and
  • how do you decide what to look for in a mate and
  • red flags to watch for

I’ve been thinking about my nieces who are in their formative years. Unbeknownst to them and very age appropriate, expectations are being laid in their tender young hearts about marriage. They are 13, 11, 9, and 7 so “boys” are not yet part of daily conversations, but “when they get married” or “when they are a mom” is.

I think back to how my own expectations in this area and what formed and informed when it came to the expectations around marriage.

I see the fingerprints that come from a relatively stable, supportive, fun family. We had chaos, but most of it was from outside factors. (For instance, my dad got a rare blood disease in the early 80s and nearly died. It was a long road to health.) I wasn’t raised in fantasyland, but I was raised in safety, security, and privilege.

So, when a young woman leans in and says, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I don’t mind and I know where we are going: being single on the field for the long haul.

I do not want to be caviler or all stiff-upper-lip with you, as I’ve shared before, we all have limits. Whether you are single or married or have loads of children. None of us has everything. Each path comes with freedoms and limitations. In our chat today I’m filtering “limits” and “freedoms” through the lens of “expectation.”

The deepest expectation I’ve brought with me from childhood wasn’t to be married.

I expected to lead a significant life.

The path to significance, for me, could have gone through marriage and motherhood. But it didn’t depend on it. So, as life has played out differently than I expected in my early 20’s, I have (so far) no deep regrets. I am leading a significant and meaningful life. I am in relationships. I am loved and valued by children. I am helping people. I am having fun. I am a supportive family member and friend.

You might say, “That’s all rosy for you. But I want to be married. I expect to be married.” I affirm those are good desires! Cry out to God about them. Share with him. Let him know! Marriage is good and honorable and fun and meaningful. Go for it.

But.

But I also might gently ask you if marriage is an idol. What if you don’t get married? Can you find an expectation behind your expectation that leads to life for you? Can you live with a limp? Can you take that ache with you as you still engage life?

We’re the kind of friends who talk. We’re also the kind of friends who sit together. This week, let’s sit together before God and ask which of our expectations lead to life and which lead to death through the slow burn of resentment. And if you’d like, let’s also talk about this at the Velvet Ashes Live Chat during the retreat. 

For now, what are your thoughts as you read this?

23 Comments

  1. Kay Bruner April 14, 2015

    My thoughts, as I read this?  Amy, YOU.  YOU.  I am so grateful for you.  Thank you for being you.  For the sorrow and disappointments and loss, my prayers and love for you.  For all the joys and accomplishments and blessings, my gratitude!

    1. Amy Young April 15, 2015

      Thanks Kay … and I’m grateful for you and that we are becoming true friends. I like that.

  2. Jenny April 14, 2015

    Thank you for this post, Amy.  It is such a beautiful way to have hard conversations about many things when we get below the issue itself and are challenged to explore why that brings about reactions in our hearts, what lies below the surface which can be a scary place for many of us, or at least for me!  A conversation about what in my heart brings life or death began a huge change in the whole way I live and i’m glad for this nudge to go there again.

    1. Amy Young April 15, 2015

      Thanks Jenny — I know the church and people mean well when they say, “just wait,” but I think that’s one of our modern day heresies. God did not promise marriage or children or getting into this school or having that job. We are to wait upon him, not upon an event. But he also likes to give good gifts and all of the above are good! Very good. It’s hard to hold all of this in tension, isn’t it :). I love that we are group of sojourners who are trying to do this together :)!

  3. ErinMP April 14, 2015

    This has really made me think about something God has convicted me on–I do view significant men or marriage as idols in a sense. There are a few things I look for in men/hypothetical future marriage that I need to, well, not, I think. Still working it out, but this has made me pause and think about where my heart is at! Thanks for always sharing so much of your heart and vulnerable places in your posts, that means a lot to girls like me. Not everyone is that real!

    1. Amy Young April 15, 2015

      Erin, I love your comment … while there are certainly things to be worked out while we are young, there are always going to be things to work out :)! It’s wonderful and at times exhausting, isn’t it?!

      1. ErinMP April 15, 2015

        Yes! But I did find it weirdly freeing after I realized that there always would be something, so it was a no-pressure process, a journey, with my Best Friend, as opposed to a deadline guilt-laden task-sheet. Big differences in outlook, and makes it wonderful even when exhausting!

        1. Amy Young April 15, 2015

          It is weirdly freeing! Removes that pressure that we HAVE TO GET it done now and lets us sit back and try and enjoy the ride :). Can I have a window seat?

  4. Lisa April 15, 2015

    I had a similar experience–was ok with not being married and expected a significant life. It’s a long story, but after spending one year on the field, I don’t feel like I can go back anytime soon. So I’m 35 and single and feel like I suddenly have neither thing hoped for: neither marriage nor a significant life. I think significance–in either venue! I don’t mind which, I said!–can also be an idol. It was for me. Still in the middle of this.

    1. Amy Young April 15, 2015

      Lisa, thank you for honoring us with a  piece of your story. I’ve been thinking about this since I read it a couple of hours ago — I know for me, I’ve also had to untangle the idea that significance is related to location. Country X is “significant,” Country Y is not (for whatever reason — too ordinary, too rich, too white, too whatever). I think you’re definitely on to another idol when we link “significance” to something outside of what God says is significant — Himself, people, and the fruit of his spirit.

      I’m in a phase of life where I don’t live in a particularly interesting place and much of what I do is quiet and unseen. After being in a significant — ha, the word! — leadership position that was very public, this is a new phase and I’m learning to redefine and maybe, hopefully, get more at the essence of what God thinks is significant.

      That being said, I am moved by the amount of loss you have sustained and know that we only know the tip of the iceberg. I’m sorry for it and hope that in writing your comment and the prayers of those who have read it, you, at least, feel slightly less alone.

      1. Lisa April 15, 2015

        Thanks Amy. Thanks for thinking this through with me. I love that you wrote that you have a significant life, referring to a “small” life, behind the scenes. It’s totally a location thing, and a strategic thing, for me. I am trying to learn to be ok with living a small life, while grieving the big dream that may or may not be restored.

         

  5. Ginny April 15, 2015

    Youch! That one hit home. I am 38 and have been overseas for a total of 6 years. Both times I moved overseas, I “gave that one to God” and kept moving forward. I have had a lot of phases over the years (stateside or abroad): contentment, crying out, embracing, gratitude, hope, crying out, release, crying out. I love living overseas…a lot. I have amazing friends and “family” here that support me in every way. I am definitely living out a life that I feel is significant. Your paragraph there is exactly me. However, I’ve also been here long enough (and left once already) to know that I would rather not do it single. I am in a crying out phase, again, for better or worse. Thanks for challenging me today. You articulated your thoughts beautifully.

    1. Amy Young April 15, 2015

      As did you! (Articulate beautifully, she said, awkwardly.) Don’t you love how we are not static? Okay, at times it is maddening that we don’t just land on an emotion or state and stay there. But the good news is when we are in “harder” phases, we have the hope that we won’t always feel that way.

      I hope it came through that having the desire to — be married, be a mom, have more children, whatever — are to be honored! God wants to know what we want, what’s hard in our walks, what we’re really enjoying.

      My hope is also — and I mentioned above — to come gently against the modern message that if you wait God will deliver. That is not promised 🙂 … I know why it’s easier to “preach” that message, but we don’t always get what we want. I sense I’m about to start babbling — my mom’s a widow, not her dream, I have two friend’s carrying babies who have serious health issues and will die after birth, and I know you have your examples too :). This is not to say God can’t be trusted. He can. He just can’t be reduced to a simple formula. Okay, more than you bargained for!

  6. Sarah Hilkemann April 15, 2015

    I didn’t want to read this today honestly. I have been praying and praying for God to take away the desire to get married because it hurts too much, and right now it hurts a whole stinkin’ lot (like it feels like a knife through the heart sort of ‘whole lot’). I keep asking God, “Why does this have to be my story? Why are You answering others’ prayers for a husband and not mine?” But I don’t want to make marriage an idol. I don’t want to become so focused on my lack that I miss what God has for me right now. So, I love you, Amy, but I’m not sure I’m to the place today yet to say I appreciate this post. Maybe soon, I hope. 🙂

    1. Amy Young April 15, 2015

      Oh Sarah, I love you too 🙂 … and I love that you’ve shared in such a public forum a bit of yourself. As I said above, (and if you’re reading the expectations book, I profoundly appreciate the upcoming chapters on our expectations about God), God is trustworthy, but not predictable like a math problem. Even in complicated math problems, if you just work the steps, look out for errors, and put in the time, you’ll get the result. So, how do we live with this tension of trustworthy but not predictable?

      I thin a big piece is just what we’re doing — we’re talking about it, we’re leaning into it, we wrestling with it. And I know you know this, but the wrestling won’t go away if you get married … it just might shift to a different arena. Bottom line, God is going to be pursuing our hearts and expectations in every phase of life.

      For today, I’m sorry that that which you long for and is good, seems to dangled in front of you like a carrot you’ll never get. God doesn’t play games with us, but I know it can seem that way at times. Hugs my friend. Hugs.

      1. Jenny April 15, 2015

        As a married woman, Amy, I am SHOUTING AMEN about wrestling the expectations thing again and again.  You are right that getting hitched doesn’t take it away.  I have a good husband and still have so many unmet longings in the marriage arena because of my own expectations, and it is in these broken places that God often meets my heart, or at least gets my attention.  And I love that we can join as sisters, married or single, can spur one another on to finding LIFE.

         

        1. ErinMP April 15, 2015

          Thanks too for the married women for posting their/your input… and reminding us there is struggle even when we have someone “waiting at home,” just different struggle. We hear “marriage is hard” every day yet I know I for one still romanticize it as, yes, but THEN I’ll ALWAYS have someone who… [fill in the blanks; wants to hear about my day, affirms me, helps me, etc. etc. all selfish things]. I know I make it very black and white in my mind. I’m sure there are those enormous blessings, and I love hearing about the HAPPY marriages and happy parenting stories (having not been raised in an overly happy home), but also I need to remember that 1. the guy doesn’t solve everything; this isn’t a Disney movie 2. seasons of being single has struggles, too, but also things I probably couldn’t do for God if I was married (like up and move whenever I want or feel called to, staying out late at youth ministries, taking little-pay but rewarding jobs because I only have myself to worry about, heck spending my whole day basically just thinking about what I want/feel called to! Or watching chick flick marathons on amazon insta video when I have a vacation day…) 3. The wrong timing or wrong guy would be a whole other category, it’s better to enjoy a God-ordained season of being single and wait (if it’s in His plan) for the right man for me (not perfect, not an idol, Erin!) than to rush it…or waste time wishing I had something that wasn’t right for me right now. And to spend this time doing His will and preparing myself for being a good family woman, including being aware of the struggles one will face in marriage…to avoid the “This isn’t what I expected, I’m running” attitude I (and others) get.

          Those are just some of my thoughts! I haven’t even touched on why I sometimes make guys and future marriages idols (see Disney point!).

  7. Ellie April 15, 2015

    This week a single friend posted a blog about singleness which resonated with a lot of our mutual friends. I am struggling with it but it’s hard to put into words. I wrote a post a while back called “everyone’s got stuff”

    http://themeaningofgo.blogspot.com.es/2015/03/everyones-got-stuff.html

    and I think that I’m struggling because I know the struggle and pain for her and for many of my friends is or has been real and hard, but I think it’s really important that when single we don’t see marriage as the holy grail and happy ever after pill.

    I am happily married to my husband of 15 years and it has been very hard work, I know that that those years are something that can’t be taken away from me and it is a tremendous blessing, but it’s hard to explain to single friends the hardship that comes with that side of the coin, both to get here and in our lives now, sometimes related and sometimes not related to our marriage, and I sometimes feel that I’m not allowed to struggle because “it’s alright for me because I have someone at home”.

    I think as always Amy, you have stirred us to think and share and I thank you for not making it black and white.

    1. ErinMP April 15, 2015

      I like your line “Perhaps much as it is now but with more arguing and less loneliness? ;)” on the post, and how you point out people have demands on your time (I know I’ll struggle with that the most when I get married, since I am super…independent). But I think it’s so great they also have demands on your heart, and you obviously have a happy healthy family!

      1. Ellie April 16, 2015

        Thanks for reading the post and your kind comments Erin. That really means a lot to me. I was scared to comment because I think it is a sensitive subject and I don’t want to be mis-heard as not being understanding of the real and felt pain and gap.

        Thanks for sharing some of your story. You’re so right about the Disney thing.

        (Ironically?) I wasn’t ever planning on getting married – and particularly not to my husband as I thought he was quite “stuck up/critical” when I first met him (a case of “Pride and prejudice”? – He thought I was aloof!) but God and he got in under my defences.. defences being the right word as I think I had walls so high even though I joke about my husband having got in “under the radar” it was true.

        It does seem weird and hard that so many of my friends would like to be married when (I think) I would have been content to remain single and used to say I would like to be a nun although that option didn’t really exist in the UK (something which actually is highly valued in our context here in Spain) but I think God really does use things to break us down to pride and selfishness etc. First marriage, now having children in a place with few support networks has been a further growth (read:”painful”!) experience on that front. But so worth it as well.

    2. Amy Young April 16, 2015

      Ellie, thank you for the link! I cheered as I read because that has been the heart of my life message 🙂 … we all have stuff. Are we leaning toward each other? Are we looking for connection points? Are we aware of others’ paths?

      I believe we each have something to offer each other and need each other :)! Thanks for tossing your thoughts into the ring! 🙂

  8. ErinMP April 16, 2015

    Aw, np! I think it’s encouraging to hear from all sides of the marriage lane, at least for me. I find your story especially heartening because, besides being a fan of Austen (what Christian girl isn’t?!?), I have some major walls and hangups going on myself. My mentor used to joke that watching me with guys was like watching someone shoot flaming arrows at someone to see if they kept coming and, if so, how fast they could run. So while I haven’t settled down yet, I do find it heartening to find that God can break down those walls (and use a relationship, in a healthy way, to do so too). You go sister. 🙂 P.S. That’s really funny you thought that about him. Was he really like that or did it turn out he just acted that way as a defense or what have you? (Read: Mr. Darcy lol).

  9. Ellie April 20, 2015

    Thanks Amy, you’re a star. Yes, I really appreciate that about your writing: “messy middle” describes it well, and we’re better when we recognise we’re all in it together!

    Thanks Erin. You know what, I often feel shy to share my story precisely because of not wanting to seem like that horrible term “smug married” but a few times I have people have found it encouraging.

    Your description of the flaming arrows made me laugh..! Yes, I can understand that!

    In terms of critical – he was a lawyer so he is quite “sharp” and insightful about things which as I am an “f” in Myers Briggs – a “feeler” (he’s a “t” – a “thinker”) that has caused us some frustrations in how we discuss things over the years to put it mildly(!) but he is one of the kindest most steadfast people I know and it took me getting to know him to begin to know that, and then fifteen years of marriage to plumb some of the depth of that. We really balance each other out and make a great team – but that has only come with very hard work too..!

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