It's no secret that marriage is on the decline in the United States. The most recent Census revealed that 32 million Americans are now in single households, and that married people are no longer the majority. Some are single by necessity or life circumstances, others by choice or career aspirations. And then there those who are functionally single but married to themselves. Yes, I'm talking about self-marriage, complete with marriage ceremony, commitment papers, and vows. A recent CNN article points to a segment of single people who are choosing to "marry themselves" rather than another person. These are hardly lonely, disconnected people who simply cannot find a spouse. Instead, they are choosing self-marriage to show how happy they truly are as singles. As one woman put it, marrying herself allowed her to see that all the love she needed was inside herself. "I started discovering that the love I need, it's in here," Nadine Schweigert said, pointing to her heart.
As the article states, this is hardly a developing trend. It is doubtful that people will begin seeing "Karen and Karen Are Getting Married!" invites arriving in their mailbox this summer. But before we begin writing these people off as a fringe movement in self-love, we should note that Christians just as easily embrace false notions of what it means to be single.
My mom once told me about a girl she knew in college who would pluck petals off a flower, slowly reciting, "He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me." On the occasion that she would end with "he loves me" she would exclaim for the entire dorm to hear, "He loves me! Jesus loves me!"
Jesus, in her mind, was her boyfriend.
It was not uncommon at my conservative Christian college to overhear girls say that Jesus was their "boyfriend" until God brought the right man along. I once had a girl tell me she could not hang out on a Friday night because she had a "date" with God. In our churches, many of our praise and worship songs border on the "love song" language, leading many girls to equate those warm and fuzzy feelings that come with attraction with Jesus. This is a dangerous place to be. Not only is it an incomplete picture of who our Christ is, it also sends the message that the girls (and women) who are truly devoted to Jesus equate contentment in him with a romantic relationship with him.
Just as self-marriage misses the mark for what God designed marriage to point to, "marriage" to Jesus misses what his work accomplished. Marriage to Jesus while waiting for a husband can often trivialize our Savior in a way that makes him more like a sweet boyfriend who takes us out on dates, rather than the God-man who paid for our sin on the cross. Jesus did not accomplish redemption to marry us individually. He died for the church corporate, of which we are apart. His death accomplished something much greater than simply meeting our deep-seated desires for a significant other. That is what Paul is getting at in Ephesians 5:22-33 when speaks of the mystery of marriage.
Calling Jesus our boyfriend hardly fits for single Christian men either. Very few men want to envision a Jesus who holds their hands, meets their felt needs, and dates them. And who could blame them?
So what are we to do? The reality is that in some church settings there are just as many singles inside the church as there are outside. How do singles respond to the growing trend without embracing an ideology rooted in self-love or marriage to Jesus?
We need to recover a robust vision for singles, accepting them as they are and acknowledging their value to the local congregation. Many single women struggle with contentment in this season of their lives, and it can be tempting to either claim Jesus as their boyfriend/marriage partner or embrace a self-marriage mindset in order to mask the deep desire they feel for a husband.
Yes, Jesus walks with us through our trials. Yes, he is an ever-present help and comfort in our loneliness. Yes, he meets every need we have. There is no denying that we have a Savior who sympathizes with us and walks every painful road we face. But he is so much more than a nice guy who buys us the occasional bouquet of flowers and tells us we are pretty. He is the Savior of the world. He is God. And we must not treat him as any less.
But if the warm and fuzzy feelings about Jesus aren't your thing, it is easy to fall into the trap of acting like you don't need marriage, or that marriage is for people who are weak and need companionship. I used to be that person. I scoffed at the "Jesus is my boyfriend types" but I had no problem acting like marriage was really no big deal. I was fine by myself, even sinfully self-sufficient at times. God most certainly calls some people to lives of celibacy, but the self-marriage idea is not in that category.
Marriage is a good thing. It was God's idea. In fact, it was so important to him that when he created humanity, he created a married couple. Marriage matters because it tells a story of something much greater than our individual marriages. When we call Jesus our boyfriend or husband or enter a self-marriage, in spirit if not formally, we are missing a crucial piece of the story. Our marriages are meant to point to Christ and his unrelenting love for his Bride, the church. And regardless of our marital status today, if we are in Christ, we have already been united in the greatest marriage of all—the one that secured our salvation. Unlike those who choose self-marriage, whether married or single we have all we need in him, not in ourselves.
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