There are two things that I know to be true:
- “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3:16
- There is not a single verse in the Bible that guarantees that I will be married or have children.
It is only in very recent years (months if I am being brutally honest) that I have begun to reconcile myself to the second of these truths. You see, at the ripe old age of nine I was entirely convinced that my career, the fulfillment of all the gifts and talents I possessed, would be found in marriage and particularly motherhood.
This isn’t unusual in the average evangelical or reformed circles that I run in now, but growing up in the neighborhood I grew up in, and being the product of parents whose marriage didn’t make it until death before the parting, that aspiration was considerably unusual. It was honestly pretty bizarre. And while my mother raised me to love the Lord, and always encouraged my desire for marriage and motherhood, she certainly wouldn’t take credit for my adamant and clearly articulated relational goals.
Yet, as uncommon as I was among my peers, I was no less certain that getting married and having children was what I was created to do. Not much more and certainly not less. Now, at the not so old or ripe age of twenty-six , and based on the twenty-six years of singleness I have at times enjoyed but mostly endured, I can say with confidence that I may have gotten it wrong.
Thanks be to God for the maturation that comes from good teaching, great mentors, and playing the eye witness to many a messed up and unhealthy relationship, because they have put the whole thing in perspective. Marriage does not begin, end, or fulfill any one man or woman’s purpose in this life. I am thankful that I no longer view that as my one sole vocational calling and therefore no longer feel void of meaning and purpose because I am not married or mothering in the way I had always thought I would be.
I have been privileged to do and see quite a lot, to grow and develop a ton, and to understand myself and my God more fully, all because of the gift of my singleness. But when I pop the pills of 2 Timothy 3:16 and Psalm 127 at the same time I can’t help but feel the slightest twinge of heartburn in my chest. Because I am suddenly reminded that, even though I have no husband or children to speak of, and even though I may never have a husband or child to speak of, somehow there is something in these verses that still applies to me.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
And the temptation is to pour the same old lies down my throat like bottom shelf vodka. “Wow, I guess no rewards for me.” Or “Sheesh better keep my head low when I duck through the gates…gotta avoid that shame.” Or “Girl you aren’t getting any younger.” And the even greater temptation to look around at the wonderful, beautiful, smart, God fearing woman who have five, ten, even twenty years more of marriage-less and childless life on them and compare my story to their story, or compare their story to that of my twenty-four and twenty-five year old married friends, becomes all too real. Because how do you look at a bunch of verses like this and not feel a little bit excluded, embittered, purposeless, meaningless, unseen and unloved by God? I mean doesn’t the word say he knows our heart’s desire? I have wanted this since I was nine years old for crying out loud. Seriously, cut a sister a break.
Lies. That’s all that is and I know it. And in his grace the Lord pours these truths into my glass instead:
- Jesus never married and never had children in the flesh
- Jesus said that his brother and sister and mother are any and all those who do the will of His Father in heaven.
- Because Jesus’ death on the cross, I have been given a family that is eternal and I have an important role to play in its nurturing and development.
So family and children in the biological sense can’t be the only way in which one fills their quiver. Parenting is discipleship, discipleship is the great commission, and the great commission is a command for all those who follow Jesus. So my quiver will be filled, must be filled, if I am obeying that commission. I have the creativity inducing, challenging yet beautiful, opportunity to figure out what that looks like in this season. In this season it is youth ministry. Soon it will be my new professional role as a child care provider. And it is also woven into the everyday practice of prayer for those whom God has given me to love and steward in all the different relationships he has woven into this chapter of my story.
So perhaps I wasn’t wrong after all. The deep intimacy that some feel in marriage is a gift made available to me through Christ. And while I don’t always love it, it is my singleness that has made that gift more tangible and more sweet. And the role and responsibility of motherhood, all of its challenges and gifts, are offered to me in Christ as well.
I have already been given the privilege of nurturing, teaching, discipling, and loving many people who have – by some mystery of the Spirit – looked to me for “mothering” in the faith. Do I still pray that the Lord would give me more traditional “fruit of the womb”? Absolutely. But no matter what life looks like, no matter what form or shape it comes in, I have already been given the greatest reward. And my defender, Jesus Christ the Righteous, will never let me be put to shame.
Alexis Stanford lives and works in Northern Virginia and is a member of The Falls Church Anglican