Everyone has an ideal. Whether married, divorced, single-and-hoping, or single-and-running, everyone has a picture of how marriage should look. Time and glimpses into actual marriages have taught me that the reality of marriage often differs from pre-wedding expectations. In some ways, reality is better than the fairy tale; in others, it falls short.
I am grateful for the glimpses of real marriages that help me find a balance between optimism and realism. I am also thankful (at times begrudgingly) for God, who is not shy about throwing His two cents in where needed.
His boldness caught me off guard recently as He volunteered the following statement: “Marriage is not a retreat.” Then, before I could scrunch up my face and fire back, “When did I say it was,” He took it a step further: “And it’s not a reward.”
Always one to back up His word, God informed me that while I would never include those words in a definition of marriage, I slowly developed a view of singleness that assigned certain erroneous attributes to the institution.
Not a Retreat
Of course marriage is not a retreat, I thought. You do not pack a few bags, ditch the responsibilities of everyday life, and find a serene place to chill. Who thinks that? No one.
However, what if you have a list of chores and responsibilities you dislike that you have made into a “honey do list” for your future spouse? What if your desire for marriage has a heavy focus on the ways it will make your life easier? What if the reel in your head plays ice skating dates and beach vacations in slow motion, but fast forwards through the day to day? When you put it that way, it starts to look an awful lot like a retreat from life as you currently know it.
Unfortunately, marriage is not a retreat; it is a ministry. It is a lifelong opportunity to practice unconditional love and service. It requires continuous work, dedication, and sacrifice. You will likely gain responsibilities. However, as with any effective ministry, there should be enough passion, purpose, fun, communion with God, and shared responsibilities to keep it from always feeling like work.
Not a Reward
Apparently a ring, gown, and exchanged vows do not equal #winning. When I consider many of the conversations surrounding marriage, that is exactly how it is often framed, particularly among women of faith: as a reward for “time served” in singleness.
In single women’s defense, we did not arrive here on our own. Countless books, sermons, and even singles ministries have been coaching us on how to get to “I do.” Most women have taken the “season of preparation” seriously, faithfully focusing on doing the right thing and becoming the right person.
Yet no one plans to train forever. Everyone expects it to pay off with a win. And if enough time creeps by for it to look like that will never happen, the next logical step is to throw in the towel.
I know many women who are that point: tired of “losing” and convinced that they have wasted time trying to do the “right things” and be the “right woman.” Because that’s the natural progression of thought when you consider marriage a reward for what you have or have not done.
Yet the truth is, no matter how long you have been waiting, it would not take long to find a single person who has waited longer. No matter how holy you have been, there will always be someone who is, frankly, holier than thou. No matter how pretty you are, there will always be someone prettier. No matter how many characteristics you have of the Proverbs 31 woman, no matter how close you are to displaying the 1 Corinthians 13 description of love, I guarantee we can find someone who does it better.
On the other hand, there are plenty of married people who encompass very few of the qualities mentioned above. There will always be someone who played by none of the rules and still “won.” There will always be someone who did nothing according to the book and still came out “on top.”
If you run those stats – which is what you will do if you hold some deep-rooted belief that marriage is a reward – you will wonder why some people have what you feel they did not earn and why you do not have what you feel you are owed. The disconnect will frustrate you at first. Over time, it will make you bitter. Eventually, it will destroy your faith.
Yet the beautiful thing about refusing to consider marriage a reward is that it takes the pressure off. You can work on becoming the best you without striving for perfection in order to prove yourself ready or worthy. A pledge of purity can be more about your love for God and less of a means to secure a ring. You can live a joy-filled life now without feeling cheated by what has yet to happen or growing fearful of what may never come.
Like marriage, this post has not unfolded as expected. I wish it were more of a pep talk, but in reality it is (hopefully) a balance of truth and optimism. Because although marriage is not a reward, I still consider it a blessing; and though it is not a retreat, I still believe it to be a covenant in which the heart can find rest. Though people have good and bad experiences, I still believe marriage to be inherently good. And while I have no checklist to get anyone to the altar, I hope that everyone who desires to embark on this ministry of love will one day have the chance.
SheryLeigh is a woman who loves God, words, and people. She is currently living and loving as an author, blogger, poet, and spoken word artist in the Washington, D.C., area.
A communicator by education and trade, SheryLeigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Howard University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University.