My Savior, My Spouse?
If you're one of those singles who finds comfort in Isaiah 54:5—"For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name . . . "—you should probably stop reading this column and go reread that passage instead. I'll catch you next time around.
But if you're one of those singles who reads that verse with equal parts confusion and consternation, read on, kindred. You're in good company.
Maybe part of what "bothers" me about this verse is the timing of when it's quoted to those of us without a spouse—usually right after we've expressed loneliness, a desire to be married someday (perhaps someday soon), or sadness over the end of a relationship.
The quoters mean to be encouraging, I know, and sometimes this verse does offer a needed reminder that God is always with us; he's a relationship constant in a world of frequent moves, shifting friendships, painful divorce. And he offers not just any relationship, mind you, but intimate relationship. God desires the kind of close interaction with us that sparks comparison to that of a husband and wife. He's not a distant, cold, ambivalent God; he's an up-close, hands-on, how-was-your-day, cares-about-the-details kind of God. At least when we let him be that kind of God. And yes, sometimes hearing this verse reminds me of all these wonderful truths.
But most days, when this verse is directed specifically at singles, it can be guilt inducing. You feel lonely? Just cling to Jesus. You want a husband? Jesus already is your husband. Isn't he enough for you?
Well, yes . . . and no. Yes, Jesus is my foundation, my savior, my hope. He's the friend I chat with when my eyes first open in the morning, when I'm in the shower, when I'm driving to meet a friend for coffee, when I'm washing dishes in my pj's. He shapes my paradigm, and on my good days, he also shapes my spending habits, my words, the way I spend my time, and the thoughts in my head. He's the only one who knows all my countless quirks, neuroses, failures, and mistakes—and loves me perfectly anyway. But . . . .
Our need for companionship
As a friend said to me on the phone the other day, "Jesus can't change my oil, watch a movie with me on a Friday night, or offer me a hug at the end of a tough day." Amen, sister. Sure, he can accomplish these things—through the expertise, arms, and overall presence of his kids allowing him to work through them. And that's my point—this requires the presence of people. Not in place of God—but being God to us in those moments of need for help or human companionship.
A mid-20something friend of mine recently told me the story of what happened when she moved out of her parents' home for the first time. She had lofty visions of "just me and Jesus" in her first solo home, and instead experienced something closer to desperation and depression. "I learned the hard way we weren't designed to be lone rangers," she said.
I learned this lesson the hard way, too. I was startled a while back when I realized I was keeping God at arm's length. Part of me was reluctant to embrace him, to have long chats with him in my solo home because it felt kind of claustrophobic. Some of the "your maker is your husband" teaching had convinced me that godly singleness was akin to some kind of spiritual solitary confinement. And that just seemed lonely on a whole different level. If that's what God was offering and desiring of me, I wasn't sure I wanted it. Either I wasn't a good enough Christian for this to be fulfilling, or God wasn't enough to meet all my needs. And neither of these possible truths felt very good.
It's that lone ranger mentality, that "just me and Jesus" determination we sometimes feel pressured into—either from external or internal voices—that worries me. For some singles this works well—and God bless them for that. But the majority of us, especial us people people, need something different. A just-me-and-Jesus mentality can set us up for failure, when in reality, "just me and Jesus" needs to look different in our life. We need Jesus' presence not just in our prayer times, Bible reading, and worship, but also in the hands and feet, words and presence of our Christian friends and family. We need community. We need the body of Christ.
Let's face it, if Jesus as spouse truly was enough, there would be no marriage. If he's supposed to be enough to meet all our needs, why do some people get him as a spouse—and a real-life, skin on, 'til death do us part companion? And I'm not sure if Jesus as Lover captures in full the role he was designed to play in our life. Sure, this acknowledges his loving, caring, compassionate side—but what of his majestic, omnipotent, God of the universe side?
"It's not good for man to be alone . . . "
I felt a kinship to author Jennifer Croley, a British divorcee, when I read about her similar struggle in her book Missing Being Mrs. She wrote about how when her marriage ended, a lot of her friends told her, "Well, at least you've got God." So when she still felt lonely, she also felt guilty for these lonely feelings.
But when she prayed about it, she felt God direct her to the Garden of Eden, when God said of Adam, "It's not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18). She sensed God asking her when he said this of Adam. Her answer birthed a spiritual epiphany—for her and for me:
"He was in the Garden of Eden, in paradise, with everything he needed, before the fall, when he was still in full, constant, walking, talking fellowship with God. And even then God himself says, "It's not good for man to be alone." . . . Human beings need God. They also need other human beings. God himself says so. So don't feel bad if you feel lonely . . . . [God] knows it's not good for you to be alone too much."
What does that combo of needing God and human beings look like? Well, in my life it looks like the comfort I received after my last breakup—which came not just from Psalm 30 and tearful worship times at church, but also in sympathetic phone chats with my friends Kathryn and Lori, chocolate and movie nights with my friend LaTonya, flowers from Cindy. These people were God's comfort and companionship to me. And when I'm overjoyed at the latest accomplishment of my brilliant little nephew, I thank God yet again for bringing him into our family—through an international adoption, no less—and I also show pictures of this cute little miracle to just about anyone who'll humor me.
This balance isn't always easy to maintain. This isn't license to let friendships or romantic relationships take the place of God in our life. I know many singles struggle to keep the search for a spouse from being an idol to them. But I've learned life at the other extreme of the continuum isn't a cake-walk either. And it isn't what God requires of us.
The One who's our all in all also created us as relational human beings. I'm learning in my continuing journey through life with him that sometimes he meets me in silence and solitude, and sometimes he meets me in human hugs or high-fives. And that precious balance, I'm oh-so-grateful, is enough.
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My Savior, My Spouse?
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