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Single Life

On March 29, 2016

"What am I doing wrong?" I wondered for the hundredth time. 

Yet another friend had announced her engagement to one of the men in our church's sizable group of young adults. I'm good at math, so it didn't take a bout with the calculator to figure out that, in my late 20s, I was well-past the time I thought I'd be getting married.

I was active at church. I had been a leader in our young adults group and in the missions department at our church. I prayed. I studied the Bible. I was faithful in trying to live a Christian life.

Wasn't I supposed to be able to look around, see who was running the race beside me, and head off to marital bliss-land?  

"What is wrong with me?" I wondered for thousandth time.

Before long, I was past the "what am I doing wrong?" phase. I'd zoomed into "it must be me" land.

My friends had settled down. I had not. I had quit my job, headed off to do full-time missions work, and finally returned to the US. And by that time, I'd reached my mid-thirties.

Like I said, I'm good at math. So I didn't have to whip out the calculator to figure out that the biological clock was ticking. Why did I have such a hard time making dating a priority?

A friend asked me when I was going to stop working so much and get serious about looking for a husband. But I loved what I did. I didn't want to stop what I was doing, put my life on hold, and look for a guy.

Maybe that was what was wrong with me.

As far back as I can remember, I assumed I'd grow up, go to college, and meet my knight in shining armor. We would get married and do all the American dream things that little girls in rural Appalachian towns dream they'll do.

Maybe, we'd own a little farm. We'd certainly have kids, maybe a few boys. But college came and went and though I dated several great guys, none of those relationships lasted.

"Okay," I thought. "It'll happen at church."

But it didn't. Well-meaning friends told me all manner of things about how God must be teaching me something (it appears I'm a slow learner). Or--my favorite--if I could just delight in the Lord, when I least expected it, God would bring "the man" into my life.

I tried that. I tried to delight in God more. I tried not to expect someone to show up. Still, no magical marriage.

The advice from my culture--less rural Appalachian and more conservative, complementarian-style evangelicalism--was that, in order to be fully female, fully feminine, I needed to find the man I was made for. I needed to guard my purity and my mind, to keep my heart (not to mention other areas) for him alone. I needed to be feminine, look feminine, and act feminine to win this manly-man over.

I am "feminine." I do look feminine. I sometimes act feminine. But I act according to my definition of feminine, which doesn't often match up with church culture's definition.

You see, I'm intelligent. I've got a few scores to support that claim, along with a Mensa membership if I'll ever shell out the one hundred dollars for their test and dues.

I am a scientist by training, which fits me well because I think logically and spatially. I am also an athlete by nature; I've always enjoyed being active and playing sports.

My personality type is more common in males than females. I am a leader and a very logical person. I am also not overly warm and fuzzy. I'm not super into the emotions that women are supposed to be all about.

I am actually quite happy with who I am. I'm sad that I spent so many years of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me and trying to conform to who someone else said I should be.

It was a waste of my time and emotional energy to change myself into someone more acceptable to the Christian community and culture in which I lived.

It is ridiculous that I still struggled with including the line about Mensa in this article because my culture told me that it was not okay for women to be smart, and it certainly wasn't okay to talk about being smart.

My church culture was more concerned with telling me what was wrong with me than with affirming the woman that God has made me to be--imperfections, gifts, intelligence, and all.

Churches often try to tell women how to be women without considering the whole range of God-inspired possibilities. There will always be outliers to the model they create.

Truthfully, there will be a lot of outliers. There will be many women who, like me, don't fit that narrow model. We are too independent, too "bossy," too smart, and too set on doing things the way God created us to do them to ever comfortably fit into narrow gender roles.

So the church, in demanding conformity to these stereotypes, silences our voices. We are pushed to the edges because we do not marry or, if we do marry, because our marriages don't look like our church's narrow ideal. Maybe the wife is more of a leader in the relationship. Maybe the husband stays at home with the kids. Maybe the couple chooses not to have kids.  

Regardless, it is clear that the church does not know what to do with us.

It tries to blame us. We are not being submissive, we are not following Christ, or maybe we are hiding sin.

The truth is that I'm not hiding sin any more than the next person. I am trying to follow Christ. I'm trying to be submissive to God. 

I know I have rough edges that need to be smoothed out.

But I don't think that God has been preparing me for marriage my entire life and will reward me with a husband when I pass some hidden test.  

It is very possible that I will never marry. A story today on NPR's Fresh Air stated that there are now more never-married women than married women in the US. I may never leave those ranks.

I still look, though. And I still have days when I need a dose of Sense and Sensibility to get my romance fix. But I'm okay if I don't marry. Marriage isn't my ultimate goal in life, nor is it my highest way of honoring God. I am not less of a person because I am single, because I am smart, or because I am a leader.  

Instead, I am the person God made me to be. Rather than carefully crafting pigeon-holes for women's gifts and identities, the church should let go of the rules and regulations on being a "godly woman" and recognize that God made us in all shapes and sizes, with all manner of gifts and intelligence. 

When we are allowed to run the race that God has set out for us, we run better than when we are weighed down with the baggage of a complementarian church culture that denies the vast creativity of God.  

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