Right now I’m reading a book on singleness, but before you groan and think “Here we go again! Another lame book about dating…” I want you to know that it’s one of the best books on singleness I’ve read. It’s a recently published book entitled “Now and Not Yet” by Jennifer A. Marshall.
What is refreshing about this book is the intellectual perspective with which she approaches the subject. Rather than merely addressing the feelings associated with singleness, and then proposing how to fight those feelings, Marshall looks at where the feelings come from in the first place.
Specifically, she pinpoints the disconnect between our expectations of marriage and the reality of marriage. While the culture of dating and marriage has changed since our parents’ generation, our expectations of dating and marriage have not adjusted accordingly.
When our parents were young, the average age of marriage was 21, but now the average age is 25. Unfortunately, most young women, especially in the South, still hope to get married shortly after college, even though that is no longer norm. What results is disillusionment, disappointment, bitterness, and despair when things don’t work out the way we planned.
I find Marshall’s assessment to be both accurate and insightful. Her explanation will hopefully wake women up to the world in which they live so that they stop conducting their lives in a false construction of reality. Marshall’s book is a great correction for us all, and we do well to ask ourselves if we our expectations of life line up with what’s realistic, as well as what is God’s truth.
In addition to her helpful perspective, I especially love the title of the book itself: Now and Not Yet. The reason I find this title so helpful is that it actually provides us with a theological perspective on singleness. It broadens our perspective on the topic by comparing the state of singleness to the state of being a Christian. “Now and not yet” perfectly summarizes what it means to be a Christian in a fallen world–Christ has conquered sin and death, and we have been saved by grace, but these two realities have yet to be completely fulfilled. Christ has conquered sin, yet sin persists in the world. As a result of these conflicting realities, we find ourselves living in a state of in-between–we experience parts of Christ’s victory, but he has yet to return and bring the victory to its completion.
There is still pain and suffering in the world, and there is still sin and strife. Our salvation is a reality *now,* but the fullness of our salvation is *not yet.* And so we wait.
It is the same with singleness. On the one hand, we are whole in every way because Christ is sufficient for us. All our needs are met in Christ, and that is enough. However, we are also waiting. As Marshall puts it, we are desiring marriage to “deepen life, not to escape it,” but we are desiring it nonetheless. So in the same way that we as Christians find ourselves in a state of “now and not yet,” so too with our singleness.
With all of that in mind, the way that Christians should live in the waiting is similar to how singles should live in the waiting. Just because we know that sin will persist in this world until Christ returns does not mean we should throw up our hands until that day. Just because we know the ending does not mean we are to sit and do nothing until that inevitable ending comes.
Yes, sin is still present in the world and will continue to be present for awhile, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight it. On the contrary, God calls us to be warriors in a spiritual battle. This portion of God’s salvation history is no less important than the ending.
If the ending was all that mattered, then God would cut straight to it. Clearly, He has more in mind than mere victory–He has something to accomplish here and now, so we would be foolish to miss out on it because we are too busy looking ahead.
In the same way, we should be careful not to waste one season because we are too busy looking ahead to another. Yes, marriage is a wonderful gift, but it is no more wonderful than the gifts that God has for us today. If this period of time was worthless, then God wouldn’t have included it in our lives, so we must be wary of squandering it.
It is ok to hope for marriage in the same way it is right to hope for Christ’s quick return, but the purpose of that future hope is to shine new light on the present. We can have strength, courage and boldness today because we know of what is to come. Similarly, singles can have strength and boldness today because we know that God has great plans for us in the future. That reassurance does not mean we should waste the present, but instead maximize it.
Being a Christian means living in a constant state of “already and not yet,” and it can be excruciating at times. Sometimes we simply want this hardship and waiting to be over. But, God has chosen not to end the sin in this world just yet, and I want to find out why. God is not arbitrary, so He has a specific purpose in having us wait, and I don’t want to miss out on that purpose.
In the same way, God has not ended my singleness for a reason, so instead of pining away for the “not yet,” I intend to find out what blessings He has for me “now.” At times a person’s singleness can feel just as oppressive as worldly sin and suffering, but our Redeemer God works mightily through both, so I can’t wait to see what He does through me.