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October 15, 2015

good and not good

A few weekends ago we attended a farewell dinner for a good friend. We spent the evening around a rug on the floor of our friend's oversized bedroom, in the shadow of the suitcases and a bachelor's simple belongings stacked in the corner. There we ate homemade Indian food, drank chai and watched Asian cultural dance clips on YouTube, and at the end, said a sad goodbye.

At some point in the evening, perhaps because we were in a bachelor's apartment, a teasing comment was directed at my husband, implying that he misses being single. My husband acknowledged that yes, his single years were good ones, and then there was a bit of a hubbub, as if I should and would be upset at him for saying that it was good to be single. 

I considered whether that comment should upset me. It didn't take me long to realize that I'm OK with him saying that his single years were good, because mine were, too. To say your single years were good is not to say that your married ones aren't. Much of the joy and contentment my husband feels with his married status has to do with the fact that he cultivated a joyful and contented heart when he was single, too. Singleness served a good purpose in his life, and so does marriage now. His trust is in the goodness of God, not the goodness of singleness or marriage.

Yes, his single years were good ones. When he was single it cost 50% less to go to Prague and there weren't two sets of parents to call and fly to visit. He had fewer commitments and could be at church events more nights of the week. The bills were lower; he had more superfluous income to give away, or to spend on the pile of sports clothes that mostly languish in the bin above the closet now that he lives with a less-sporty spouse. Things didn't disappear unexpectedly like they do now ("Have you seen my sunglasses, Julie?" "I haven't seen my bike kit in months..."). The house was quieter—he didn't have a wife who liked to interrupt his train of thought. If he left the kitchen clean, he came home to (surprise!) a clean kitchen. And last but not least, the olive oil and shampoo lids were screwed back on securely after they were used! (Tightening lids is apparently not my spiritual gift).

And yes, my single years were good, too. God gave me community that grounded me in good doctrine and good works. He allowed me to develop my talents (fun!), and also realize some of the things I'm not good at (not so fun!). I got to spend lots of time teaching kids God's Word, which is something I love to do. He gave me the opportunity to travel more than most, and to cultivate deep friendships with singles and marrieds alike in a way that might not have happened had I been chasing toddlers. And did I mention that I got to live in Asia with Asians for almost two years? People sometimes say that they don't see their own selfishness until they are married, but I was put in enough awkward situations over the years that I was given the painful gift of seeing my flesh. I began to realize that "apart from [God] I have no good thing" before I married at age almost-29.

In our churches it is often emphasized that it is "not good for man to be alone," and we encourage marriage much more than celibacy, although Scripture is clear that marriage is not for everyone. And the much-quoted verse from Genesis bout what is good should also be balanced with the fact that "no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless." For our blameless single friends (that is, our friends who are walking with God and are unmarried, whether they wish to marry or not), I cannot tell them that marriage would be a good thing for them right now. In fact, at the moment it must not be. There is a profound (though sometimes painful) peace found in trusting in the never-ending goodness of God.

Yes, for us, our single years were good and profitable ones, and I've realized that my husband and I need have no qualms in acknowledging that in front of each other. We both struggled at times with singleness in a fallen world, but we will struggle with marriage in a fallen world, too. The worst season of our singleness, if we may put it that way, was simply when he and I realized that in the providence of God we had "found the one whom our soul loved". Then, singleness became for us not good, and after many googly-eyed Skypes and few months with our heads in the clouds, we made not good into good by means of a weddingNow marriage, with all its delightful and difficult moments, is God's good thing for us. 

By faith we know and accept this: God is good and what He does is good. Let us exhort one another to trust in the goodness of our great God, marital status notwithstanding. Even when we struggle to call our condition or that of another "good", let us call Him good. That (not the presence of a band on our left ring finger, or the lack thereof) makes all the difference.

"The LORD is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made."

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