Always a guest, never a bride (Guest post)

I asked my sister to write a guest post for Love Month because I think her perspective as a single woman is valuable. At first, Anna shied away from the prospect, thinking that she had little to share that I wouldn’t have already shared–but I think you’ll agree that her story adds greatly to this month’s topic.

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It seems like I’ve been attending weddings all my life. It all began with my mother’s siblings. Many of my friends attended their first wedding as a teenager, but I can remember 10 different wedding that I attended before age 16. As a child, weddings were a time to see cousins and eat cake. I was happy to celebrate and occasionally had a role to play: flower girl, punch server, gift receiver. During my teenage years I spent some time dreaming of what my own wedding would be like, who my bridesmaids would be, what colors and songs I would choose. But that wedding never came about. Many of my high school and college friends are married, and half of my Physician Assistant class got married during the time we were in school. Still, there is no relationship for me. Am I destined to be single for the rest of my life? Always a guest, never a bride?

Two weddings stand out to me. The first was that of a close high school friend. She had been dating for several years, but when I heard of the engagement, bitterness filled my heart. I remember driving home from a card party, sobbing, desperately praying the words of a song that “just happened” to be playing.

“All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough.” Enough by Chris Tomlin

I didn’t believe at that point that God was all I need. I was envious of my sister in Christ, bitter that “life was passing me by.” Absurd, I know. I was only 19!

The second wedding has not yet occurred. It is that of my brother and his fiancée this summer. Here I am, 26 without a man in sight, ecstatic that my little brother is getting married. When I heard the news, I screamed with joy. I actually woke up one roommate and thoroughly scared the other one with all the racket! There was no thought of myself in that moment, no sorrow that I would be attending another wedding as a single woman. What a difference in my attitude!

Paul admonishes the church to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) While this includes outward actions, most of rejoicing with people has to do with the heart. My ability to rejoice with my friends in their marriage depends directly on my trust that God IS all I need.

Contentment in singleness while attending weddings is difficult. I don’t like RSVPing for one, being pushed to the front for the bouquet toss, not having a dance partner. I do wish to be married one day! But if that was my focus, life would be miserable. I could waste time searching for that “perfect someone”, but I would miss out on the purpose God has for me today.

A turning point for me was reading Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? by Carolyn McCulley. Carolyn encourages women to regard singleness as a gift from God and to find purpose in fulfilling a unique role in the church. I encourage each person, male or female, single or married, to read this book. If it doesn’t apply to you, it will help you in relationship with the single women you know.

Is contentment in singleness easy? No, it is a constant struggle. I doubt I will ever be completely content with my singleness. I am not promised I will ever be married in this life. But I do know one thing. There is coming a day when I will be dressed in white awaiting my Bridegroom. “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:6-7

Always a guest, one day a Bride!

Accepting the proposal

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I wrote a half-dozen “Love Month” posts before I figured out in my head how exactly I wanted to lay out this whole “Love Month” deal.

And I’m sure some of you are thinking “What the–”

It’s not the standard way to begin a discussion of love and dating and “relationships”.

But I am convinced that it’s the only way to do love, dating, and relationships right. We can’t understand love unless we know the love of God (“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” I John 3:16) We can’t find a mate without the express favor of the Lord (“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the LORD.” Proverbs 18:22) And we certainly can’t figure out how to be married properly without knowing Christ’s love for His bride (“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…” Ephesians 5:25)

I’ve begun the discussion of relationships with a discussion of the most important love relationship in ANY person’s life, whether single, married, or (as my mom put it in a comment a few days back) “somewhere in between”. Unless we are actively participating in THAT relationship, all of our other (human) relationships are merely play-acting, like little girls dressing up in high heels and pretending to be married, haranguing their imaginary husbands on the phone.

Beginning tomorrow, we’re going to shift gears a bit–but I don’t want us to shift focus. All of what we speak about in the upcoming month–in fact, all that we speak about for the rest of our lives–should be placed into perspective by placing it into the context of Christ and His great love for us.

Because this concept–no, not a concept. Because this relationship is so vital to our understanding of the next several weeks’ discussion, I want to make sure that you have an opportunity to become a part of this relationship.

The Bible makes it plain that all of us were born into slavery to sin.

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;”
Isaiah 53:6

“…they are all under sin.”
Romans 3:9

As slaves to sin, we deserved only death.

“For the wages of sin is death…”
Romans 6:23

We were cut off from relationship with God.

“But your iniquities have separated you from your God.”
Isaiah 59:2

In fact, we were practicing open rebellion against God.

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.”
Romans 8:7

Yet God loved us nonetheless and pursued a love relationship with us. He pursued us even to the point of laying down His life for us, dying in our place.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:8

Having taken the punishment for our sins, He now offers us freedom from bondage to sin–and an invitation into a love relationship with Him. He has done all the work, has presented His proposal. We have only to accept His gift and enter into the love relationship with Him.

Will you accept His proposal?

Maybe you’ve already believed in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that’s as far as you’ve gone. You’ve seen salvation as “fire insurance”, but haven’t truly entered into a love relationship with Christ. He still desires that relationship–He paid the price for that relationship.

Will you accept His proposal?

I urge you to spend some time with God, tell Him that you accept His proposal. Enter into that relationship.

That relationship will change your life.

It has certainly changed mine.

The Errant Bride

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The New Testament picture of Christ’s pursuit of the church seems tame perhaps (except for the heart wrenching climax where Christ lays down His life for the bride and then rises again to betroth Himself to her–okay, so maybe it isn’t so tame after all!)

But the Old Testament gives us another example of God as husband, as lover, as pursuer–this time, of Israel, who happens to be an errant bride. While the New Testament story focuses on Christ’s courtship of the church, the Old Testament story tells us more about the bride, the bride who continually turns her back on her husband to pursue other lovers.

Let’s hear the story as told by God through Ezekiel’s mouth. Israel was an abandoned daughter, born and left to die in an open field, with the umbilical cord uncut, struggling in her blood. God took pity on the foundling daughter and spoke life into her, and cared for her through her growing up years. “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8) God married Israel, washed her, anointed her with oil, clothed her with the best, fed her with the best–and she became renowned as the beautiful bride of the great King.

Yet this bride let her beauty go to her head, and began to accept the advances of the men who wooed her. She slept with all and sundry, giving to her lovers the beauty and the clothing and the food that her husband had given her. She even took her children, God’s children, and sacrificed them to her lovers.

No longer satisfied with the men who came to gaze upon her, she now went out actively, pursuing new lovers. A brazen harlot already, she sunk to new depths, paying men to have sex with her.

And God was angry with a holy anger. His rage burned against His wife who had played the harlot with many men. In His anger and His jealousy, He brought judgment upon her.

But yet, even then, His love for His errant bride is unabated. He calls their marriage covenant to mind and reestablishes the covenant again. He provides atonement for her sins.

Hosea tells the same story, but with added detail. Israel, the harlot, has gone after her many lovers–and each time she strays, God pursues her to bring her back.

She claims that her lovers are the source of her food and clothing and goods–even though it is her husband, God Himself, who has provided all these things. So God strips her of them all. He takes away His provision, He frustrates her goals, He dogs her every step. And when she is at the end of herself, come to nothing because of her wickedness, then God says, “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness and speak comfort to her….And it shall be, in that day…that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘My Master.'” (Hosea 2:14,16)

She returns to her husband for a time–but soon she is back to turning tricks. And again her husband pursues her, tracks her down, even buying her back from the slavery she has sold herself into in her quest to satiate her lust.

Ever the errant bride, she returns again and again to her lovers–but her Husband, ever faithful, pursues her again.

Beyond the Fairy Tale

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So you get my point about the fairy tales. You can see the sin, fallen-ness, rescue thing. But you’re still skeptical about the whole “Prince and Princess fall in love” bit. You think I’m over-romanticizing the Bible, turning it into a fairy tale.

Sure, I’ve taken some creative liberties with the story of redemption–but the idea of God pursuing us as a man pursues a woman is not new. In fact, it’s found all over Scripture.

Both Jesus and John refer to Christ as being a bridegroom.

When some people came to John, telling him about how Jesus was baptizing people and how people were coming to Him, John responded without jealousy: “He who has the bride is the bridegroom, but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.” (John 3:29) John likens himself to the best man at a wedding where Jesus is the groom. John is ecstatic that the groom has arrived and the wedding approaches.

When others complained to Jesus that His disciples did not fast like the disciples of John did, Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.” (Luke 5:34-35) Jesus asks, “Why would you make the groomsmen fast during the celebration leading up to the wedding? When the groom leaves, then the groomsmen will fast.” It is clear that Jesus is speaking of Himself as the bridegroom, and His disciples as the groomsmen.

Paul also picks up this theme in I Corinthians 11:2 “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Like a father, or perhaps a matchmaker, who has arranged a match between Christ and the Corinthian church, Paul is rooting for the relationship to work. He speaks of his fear that somehow the bride will call off the match, “falling in love” with another man.

Let’s put the pieces together. We have Jesus, arriving on the scene, announcing that He is a bridegroom. He has paid a great bride-price, laying down His own life. The church is now betrothed to Christ–and Jesus has ascended to heaven. “In My Father’s house are many mansions….I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2) Jesus is now in heaven, preparing the place for His bride–but He has promised that He will return. “I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:3)

The very end of Revelation tells the end of this glorious story. “‘Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints….’Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'” (Revelation 19:7-9)

Someday, the home shall be prepared, the groom shall return, the bride and the marriage supper shall be ready, and the story will draw to a close. The happily ever after will begin. Until that day, we–the church, the bride of Christ–wait in eager expectation. “And the spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say ‘Come!’….Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:17, 20)