Today I recorded an interview with Mary Ashley Burton of the Fishers of Men Podcast. The podcast explores Christian dating, relationships and singlehood in a post-Christian context.
She called me from LA – 8pm Thursday her time, 1pm Friday my time – and we chatted through my lunch break. I really enjoyed the conversation, as Mary Ashley is in a very similar boat to me. She’s Christian, single and wants to get married.
Honestly, it felt more like a chat with a kindred spirit at a party or over coffee than an interview, but I guess that’s essentially what it was.
Of the many things we discussed, one was the tendency of many Christians to idolise marriage and the family, as a reaction against the feministic postmodern culture of our time. One of my readers brought this up in a comment a couple of weeks ago:
I think that there is also a sort of idolisation of marriage and family occurring right now. This is no doubt in response to the destructive forces that have attacked the family unit over the last 100 years. But I think that as a Catholic community, we’ve possibly over-corrected a little. I have heard Catholics make some borderline heretical statements about marriage and those who aren’t married.
I don’t think we need more singles events. I think we need more interpersonal connections across groups within the church. I’ve seen singles groups, married groups, even “dating couples” groups. It’s highly categorised. I think it would be good for couples, families and singles to mix more.
I think this is spot-on, and something Mary Ashley and I agreed on wholeheartedly. This may sound like a strange thing for me to say, given I’ve publicly stated my own great desire for marriage.
I want to get married because my heart yearns for it. Plain and simple.
But I’ve long since divested myself of the illusion that marriage will fulfil me or solve my problems. After watching my sister and several of my dearest friends get married and start families, I’ve come to realise that it’s no picnic. As my friend and fellow writer Philippa Martyr has said, marriage is two sets of people’s problems.
I’m not trying to strip marriage of all its romance, because I believe romance is an important ingredient in an ideal marriage; but it’s not sweet nothings and rose petals all the time, and I think it’s important for young Christian singles to realise this.
American chastity speaker Emily Wilson recently posted this on her Instagram:
I want to make a loud and clear declaration here. Marriage and motherhood are not the pinnacle of a Christian woman’s life. My heart just aches at the amount of women I speak with who are burdened and discouraged by the false notion that marriage and motherhood are the be-all and end-all of Christian femininity. I watch too often as this leaves single women and married women without children feeling inferior or behind. This is just what the devil wants, women believing the ugly lie that if they don’t have those things, they have nothing. This is, truly, a lie from the pit of hell disguised to make radiant, wonderful women feel purposeless and lost. Each woman’s life has a different purpose and timeline and each of our vocations is a facet of our lives – it is not who we are. I’m not firstly any of the titles I hold. I’m firstly just me. Emily. And what a colorful tapestry are the life and gifts and unique purpose of each and every woman – single, married, or religious – that light the Kingdom of God ablaze in our world here and now. Marriage and motherhood are beautiful things, but surely not the summit of it all. A life lived as a woman surrendered in the hands, heart, and will of God the Father? Now that is the heart, the pinnacle, the be-all and end-all of femininity.
But this doesn’t just go for women, it’s important for men to recognise too. The preoccupation with marriage and family so many Christians have today is truly unnerving and sometimes a little unhealthy. There exists an attitude that your life is not really worth living, or that it hasn’t even begun, until there’s a ring on your finger.
I’ve laboured under the influence of this attitude most of my adult life and it’s caused me, and no doubt others, a great deal of suffering. I don’t think those who perpetuate this stereotype realise just how damaging it can be.
When you have a deep desire for an intimate connection with the opposite sex but you’re sacrificing that desire every day to remain faithful to God’s will and teaching, that’s hard enough; when that is compounded by external pressure to transform your life in a way you have no real control over, that is enough to push anyone over the edge. We seem to treat getting married like it’s some sort of achievement when it’s really just one possible path your life can take.
The real achievement is remaining true to your beliefs and values and following God’s call when He makes it – especially when this involves acting against your personal desires and wishes! That is a hundred thousand times harder than saying “I do”.
We need to stop telling women that getting married and starting a family is the summit of their existence. Obviously good marriages and families are beautiful and crucial for the flourishing of our world, and I want to get married as much as the next girl. But I’m not. Does that make my life any less meaningful than that of my sister, who is a wife and mother?
When women buy into the lie that their lives aren’t valuable or fulfilled if they’re unmarried or childless, it only creates misery, frustration and desperation – the sort of desperation that is driving women to abandon their values for the sake of a man.
God calls us all to serve Him in different ways. Some He calls through marriage, some He doesn’t. We should be encouraging our fellow Christians to pursue His will, not guilting each other for failing to live up to an imagined ideal.