The vast majority of young people today want to get married. The most rigorous and reliable surveys available today put the number in the high 90th percentile. Yet they are waiting longer today to get married than any other generation in recorded history. There are multiple cultural factors influencing this trend, some good and some bad. Yet in this moment, I would like to focus less on social trends and more on the reasons why God might be extending your season of singleness. They may not be what you expect.
I want to do it by looking at your love life through the lens of the Israelites’ journey out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land. Why? Because God will deliberately keep from them what they want for an extended period of time. And, by his grace, he reveals to us his motivations for doing so. I believe if we can understand why God seemingly complicated their lives, we will gain insight into the way he works in ours.
The first reason God may be keeping that relationship from you is, quite simply, you are not ready.
We see this idea in Exodus 13:17. Moses states, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.” Don’t miss that. There was a short, direct route to the land of promise that involved traveling alongside the gorgeous Mediterranean coast. And God did not take them that way. Actually, he took them South to eventually go North! Why? “For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’” God did not fast-track their journey because he knew there were challenges ahead they were not prepared to handle. So he took them the long way because of his mercy, not his cruelty.
The same may be true of you. There are challenges ahead that you are not equipped to handle. When I was in my early 20s, I longed for a romantic relationship with a woman. But every dating relationship I entered quickly became a dumpster fire of confusion and pain. I realized over time that I had some unresolved emotional pain from my childhood that I needed to deal with. I also realized that I had a selfish and simplistic view of what it was to truly, sacrificially love and care for a woman. In short, I wasn’t ready. And the most loving thing God could do for me (and for all women everywhere) was to keep me away from what I desired.
Through the course of their journey through the wilderness, the people of God learned a lot about him, about themselves, and about their purpose in the world. God used the heat of the desert to forge character in his people. He may well be doing the same with you. David spent a decade in the wilderness before he was ready to become king. Your extended stay in what you may consider to be the wilderness of singleness may be God’s great act of mercy in your life.
The second reason why God may purpose for you to linger in this current season is for his glory.
In Exodus 14:1-4, God instructs Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp . . . between Migdol and the sea . . . for Pharaoh will say of the people . . . ‘They are wandering in the land’ . . . and he will pursue them.” God purposefully put his people in a situation where they would be trapped and attacked. Will God lead you into stressful, uncomfortable situations? Yes! Why? He continues, “And I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his hosts, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” Notice that the people of God were put in an uncomfortable situation for the sake of the Egyptians—that they might come to know the Lord. God put them in the middle of an impassable sea and an attacking army, not to punish them, but to position them to be of greatest use in his campaign of making himself known to a world that desperately needs him.
Your extended season of singleness may have nothing to do with whether or not you are ready for a relationship. It might be that God wants you to remain in this position for the sake of his glory in the life of someone else. Rhena Taylor, a single missionary in Kenya, believed this about her own life, saying, “Being single has meant that I am free to take risks that I might not take were I a mother of a family dependent upon me.” Often, singleness affords a flexibility of time and discretion of finances that can uniquely position you to help others know God. Paul declares that singleness exists in order “to secure an undistracted devotion to the Lord.” God may have every intent of introducing you to your future spouse soon, but not before he leverages your current station for his fame in the life of someone else.
The final reason you may be single right now is to deepen your trust in God.
As many of you know, the Egyptians did attack the Israelites. And, in the midst of their crisis, God did show up miraculously, parting the Red Sea so that his people could cross, then closing it on the enemy troops behind them. This portion of the narrative concludes with the verse, “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” Though they had seen many miracles in the preceding days, they still had much to learn about the character of God. Thus the Lord put them in a situation where they had to depend on him for everything. And when he came through, their faith grew.
He will often do the same with us. When we lift weights, we place our muscles under duress because doing so forces them to grow. In the same way, this uncomfortable season may be God’s way of forcing your faith to grow. God may be extending this time when you are not in a covenant relationship with someone else because he wants to strengthen the bond you have with him. He wants you to trust him more. Cry out to him, and watch him provide for you in unexpected ways.
In no way do I want to minimize the pain you may feel as you grapple with singleness. And I want to encourage you: when the people of God cry out to him, he listens, and he cares. Do not be afraid to trust him with your heart. And don’t mistake his tarrying as indifference to your current state. Fight to believe what our Bible declares to be true: that God works all things (even singleness) for our good and for his glory.