Hopeful or Hopeless?
About the Guest
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Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have two children and live in Minneapolis.
Marshall Segal knows that most singles want to get married. Segal encourages young women to wait on the Lord and keep their eyes open for men who love godliness.
Hopeful or Hopeless?
Bob: The average age at which young people are marrying today—it’s 29 for young men; 27 ½ for young women—why are these young people waiting so long to marry? Marshall Segal says it’s because many of them are disillusioned about marriage.
Marshall: And I think divorce is the factor here—that more and more young people are coming from homes, where the only picture of marriage that they’ve known up close, is really hard/really painful; probably the most painful thing in their history. They’re looking at that and they’re saying, “Wait. Why would I want all of that? Why would I want to walk into that kind of pain? Why would I sign up for that?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, February 23rd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What can young singles do to deal with the ambivalence they feel about marriage? We’re going to talk about that today with Marshall Segal. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re talking about singleness this week, although Marshall Segal, who’s joining us, doesn’t talk about it as singleness. You picked the phrase, the title of your book, Not Yet Married, because you think singles need to be thinking in those terms; right?
Marshall: Yes, so that’s a great question. I’ve gotten a lot of push-back on the phrase, as you might imagine.
Bob: Yes, right.
Marshall: I understand it, and I probably would have pushed back on it—
Bob: —as a single person.
Marshall: —as a single person—or at least, earlier in my single years—because it seems, on the surface, to identify you or define you by what you’re not.
Marshall: And I think that’s the weakness in the phrase. That’s something I had to wrestle with; for five years, I wrestled with: “Is this a helpful way of talking?”
I have four reasons, if you don’t mind me giving—
Bob: I’ll let you give your four reasons; but let me, first, introduce you to our listeners. Marshall is a writer and managing editor at Desiring God, lives in Minneapolis. He is now married and has written this book called Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating.
So what were your four reasons?
Marshall: Yes, so I’ll give the four. The first one is: I believe that there are many single people in the church who really, really, really want to be married. Just culturally—in America, at least—people are getting married later and later. And so I think there are a lot of young people in the church, who are getting married later than they thought, and now starting to wonder, at 28, 29, 30, 35: “Am I ever going to get married?”
And so I do think, while some people are going to be put off, initially, by the phrase, I hope some people—I think, in my better moments—I would have seen it and resonated with it, that: “I want it! I want it so bad!” I’ve wanted for as long as I knew what marriage was/what a husband and wife were; watching mom and dad: “I want that.”
Secondly, I believe—and the trends are hard to follow exactly where this is going, but I still believe—that most single people in the especially, are going to get married one day, even if that’s not totally on their radar right now. And I think, for an increasing number of single people in the church, it’s not on the radar.
Marshall: But I still believe they’re going to get married one day—that’s for biblical reasons—and then, just from experience/just watching; eventually wanting to experience marriage, have children, and things like that.
So, if the majority are going to get married, I think it’s a fine way of talking about singleness, to say, “Even if you’re not thinking about this right now, and you don’t even really want to think about this right now, you probably should be preparing yourself, in a way, in Christ, that if God calls you to this—probably in a way that you didn’t expect—that you’d be ready for it; that you’re not stuck, at that moment—at 27, 28, 29—on your heels, trying to think about, ‘How will I fulfil this calling God’s put on my life?’”
Third, I think there’s an increasing number of young people—and this is just anecdotally from my experience working with young people—that are disillusioned with marriage. And I think divorce is the biggest factor here. More and more young people are coming from homes/broken homes, where the only picture of marriage that they’ve known up close is really hard/really painful; probably the most painful thing in their history. They’re looking at that, and they’re saying: “Wait! Why would I want all of that? Why would I want to walk into that kind of pain and regret? Why would I sign up for that after everything that I’ve seen?”
And then, the fourth reason may be the most important for me; and that’s
Revelation which says, “Let us rejoice and exalt and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” And so, we are all not yet married. If you are in Christ, you will be married one day.
Marshall: It will blow away—that day will blow away—whatever your wildest dream is; whatever your wildest ideas of what marriage could be. Even if you’re married—your happiest, fullest, richest marriages—that marriage will blow us away. I want—whether your desires are for marriage or not, whether you feel called to marriage or not—I your life to be shaped by that day/by that wedding day.
Bob: We’ve already talked this week about the pitfalls of the dating experience: your pitfalls/the issues couples go through before they get married.
I’m thinking of the group—and I meet these people all the time—who long to be married, and just nothing happening. It’s guys, who will say, “I ask girls out and they say, ‘No.’” It’s women, who say, “I’m trying to do all the right things and be in all the right places. And, by the way, what I’m observing is that guys are more attracted to the less-godly women than they are to me.” It’s this lonely single, longing to be married, and hopeless. That’s a pretty desperate place for people to be.
Ann: How would you them? What would you say?
Marshall: Yes; there’s a lot to say. First thing I would say to a sister in Christ, who says, “All the Christian men don’t seem to be attracted to godliness but seem to be attracted to physical beauty and less-godly women.” I would say, “I’m so thankful that God spared you that man.”
Marshall: At least, at this season. If you’re going to marry and be committed to someone for decades—to love them, day in and day out, you want them to love godliness. You want them to love you, first and foremost; because you love the Lord your God with all heart and soul and mind and strength. Don’t ever compromise that. If a hundred men come and go, not interested in the least, because they’re not attracted to your faith in Christ, good riddance! Let those men go on to whatever woman they would go to. You wait on the Lord for someone who will love the Lord, more than they love you, and who will encourage you to do the same.
Bob: Here’s what you’re saying in that: you’re saying that marriage to a guy, who doesn’t love godliness, will be harder than singleness feels to you today. You don’t realize that; because you think, “That’s going to fill in some of the gaps for me,” but the loneliest people I know are people, who are lonely in marriage, not people who are lonely outside of marriage.
Marshall: That’s so important!
Dave: Yes, I can remember, a few years ago, I was preaching on the guy you want to marry/these qualities. You know, I listed them in a sermon about marriage. It was to singles; I remember saying, “If you’re single, and you’re a woman, and you’re dating a guy, and he doesn’t have these qualities, I have one word for you.” Guess what it was? “Run!” [Laughter] I yelled it: “Run!”
You know, I can see a few of them sort of looking at me, like, “Yes, but I’m going to…” “He’s going to…” I’m like, “That’s what you think! You’re going to change him after you get married.” Of course, they do in some ways; but the percentage is, “No, they really don’t. You get what you got, so don’t settle.”
Ann: Oh, I can’t tell you the many, many, many women that I’ve talked to that have settled; that were so desperate/lonely; wanted to be married, thinking, “I can change him. I can get him to become more godly, and he will walk with Jesus when he’s married to me.” And they have been miserable at
Now, can God work and do a miracle?—absolutely! But it feels even more lonely when you’re sleeping beside someone, where you are disconnected; and it can be miserable.
Marshall: And that’s why I think it’s important—one thing that’s important to say to single people is: “Spend some time with married people.” It’s countercultural; at least, in my experience, you just don’t find a lot of young 20-something people prioritizing time with families in their church, for instance.
Just a word to families: “If you are married, look for ways to invite single people into your home; because if they can see the dynamics in your marriage, some of the things that they’ve heard in principle will begin to make sense in ways that they never have before. But they need to see it.” And in the opposite way, if you spend a lot of time with married people, you’ll see the dysfunction. If you spend hours with Faye and [me], you’re going to see dysfunction; because all of us are sinful; all of us are dysfunctional. Seeing the dysfunction will help you understand and appreciate how important these principles for dating are: to value the right things/to look for the right things.
Dave: I remember, in college—just became a follower of Christ—and there was a young man, actually married, on the campus that was pouring into me. You know, you think it’s got to be a missionary or a pastor. No; this was a student, who was a couple of years older—married; lived in married housing—and he invited me over, as a brand-new Christian, to have dinner with their family.
It’s exactly what you said. I could take you to that apartment; because I remember being marked, thinking, as I got in my car to drive back to my dorm, “I think I’ve just witnessed the first Christian marriage I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Dave: It gave me a vision of: “That’s the kind of woman I want. I’m not going to settle for anything different, and I want a marriage like I just saw.” They were about: “Bring these students in here. Show them what Christ can do; what Christ does.”
Ann: Well, I remember when you were telling me. Dave and I started dating, and he talked about this couple on campus. He said, “I want what they have, and what they have is Jesus in the middle of their relationship. I’ve never experienced that before, and I want us to have that.”
Marshall: Right, and that’s because we treat Jesus like a box to check in our dating process.
Marshall: “He says he’s a Christian,”—“Great!” “Now we’re working on chemistry: ‘Am I physically attracted?’ ‘Is he funny?’ ‘Is he going to make a lot of money?’” There are so many other boxes that are all the world—
Ann: So true!
Marshall: —like anyone in the world checks.
We try to check Jesus—boom!—“Okay, that’s good. He’s going to heaven, so we’re going to be good on that front.”
I just want to say: “I want Jesus to be the ink for all the boxes; like I want Him to be the main thing for the person that you might marry. And this is important!
just did a Q &A recently, and I was shocked! It was an hour-and-a-half Q & A. There were four separate questions about dating non-believers. I was shocked by that; I just didn’t expect it. I think it’s the same principle, walked further:
We’re talking about a guy or girl, who says, “Yes, I love Jesus,” but then they seem to prioritize the wrong things; they’re looking for the wrong things.
Now, we’re talking about someone, who says, “I don’t know who Jesus is,” or “I do know who Jesus is, and I don’t want anything to do with Him.”
Now, we’re trying to decide: “Well, can I date this person with the hope of moving them towards Christ?” It’s the same kind of thing/the same logic that walks you down that road. I just want to run the other direction, just like you said, and say, “Look for someone for whom Jesus is the main thing. That will be the main ingredient in a healthy, happy marriage for decades.”
Bob: We’ve got listeners, who are going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah! I’ve heard that. I’m still lonely. I’m still…"
Bob: Yes. “I know all of this stuff, and I believe it; but what do I do about the pain of today?—where I just am lonely, and want somebody to know me and to love me, and it’s just not happening? And, by the way, I’d like to have babies, and I don’t have much time left there.”
Marshall: The Lord brought me to a place, in my mid-20s, of extraordinary brokenness—and I would say—loneliness. It’s different from the kind of person that you’re describing, so I don’t want to/I’m not going to pretend to relate to somebody, who’s saying, “I just want a relationship. I’m not scared of break-ups anymore; because I just haven’t ever been in a context, where I’ve been able to break up with someone.”
I’m not going to relate to that person and understand their pain, because I started dating early and dated, really, throughout, with major breaks to pursue the Lord along the way. But I do believe the Lord brought me a different route to a similar feeling of loneliness and despair. In some ways, I felt, instead of going back to Stage One at the end of each relationship, I felt further back than Stage One. I didn’t feel like I was starting over. I felt like I was another mile past the starting point each time, because it felt like: “I don’t want to go through this again!” “I don’t want to make the same mistakes!” “I don’t want to hurt anyone!” “I don’t want someone else to hurt me!” That’s not to belittle the pain that someone else feels, having not been in a relationship; but just to say, “I felt some of that.”
I do think part of the turning point for me was texts like Philippians 3/Paul says, “I count everything as loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake, I suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” I just read, in my devotion, Psalm 27:4: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all my days, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.”
And then, took me to Martha and Mary, which I thought was interesting for today. Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, looking up at Him, loving Him, listening to Him. Martha’s frantic; she goes to Jesus and says, “Jesus, can You just tell Mary to help?! Can’t You see that I’m working so hard, and she’s just sitting there?” And He says, “Martha, Martha,”—He says her name twice.
The kind of person that’s asking this question—that’s feeling this inner turmoil, restlessness, despair, loneliness—I just want to say, “Bob, Bob,”—He said her name twice—“I want you to hear this.” He said, “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will never be taken away from her.”
That last phrase was the new phrase for me this morning, as I thought about our time together, and about this kind of person that’s asking this question and hurting deeply. I just want to say, “What you have in Christ—the one thing is necessary—one thing you’ve asked of the Lord and sought after—that you have in Christ, by the gift of the Spirit, that will never be taken away from you.” It will these short 50, 60, 70 years are over, it will prove—to be so much more precious than you realize now, even in its sweetest moments; the fellowship that you have with Christ.
I know that people are wary of: “Use this season to date Jesus.
Marshall: “Go in your relationship with Jesus.” I know that! And I know that that can come across trite.
Ann: —pat answers.
Marshall: —or pat; yes. I think those, who have tasted it—and for me, I had to go low through a number of break-ups and failures to get there—but those, who’ve finally tasted what it means to say, “One thing I’ve asked for…”—he didn’t say: “I’ve asked to dwell in the house all the days of my life and get married,” “…and have a child,” “…and have the job I wanted,” “…and live in the city that I wanted to,” “…and have the ministry I wanted to look a certain way and be a certain number.” It says, “One thing…” And Jesus said to Martha, who was so busy trying to serve was serving Jesus!—"One thing is necessary, Martha.”
I’ve gotten a lot of help personally, in my darker days, from the story of Joseph. I wrote an article about this called “Love the Life You Never Wanted.” If you go back and read the Joseph story, and think about how much of his story went the way he didn’t want it to go—I mean, 13 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit—think about that—
Marshall: —how lonely that felt! He’s not dating anybody—[Laughter]—13 years in prison!
But it says, twice: “The Lord was with him.” For me, as I read that, and then read how that whole story goes, I thought, “The good news of this story is not that Joseph becomes, you know, right-hand to the king of Egypt/to Pharaoh. The good news of the story is that the Lord was with him.”
I think that, if you can start to preach that to yourself, early and often, and get around other people, who can preach that to you, knowing that the Lord is with you: “He wrote this part of your story. This story wasn’t left to somebody else; He wrote this part of your story. He loves you, and He’s with you.”
Ann: I remember at a conference. A very wise and godly woman was speaking—Elisabeth Elliot—she can lay it down, man! [Laughter]
Ann: She’s pretty
Ann: There was a woman there that, at the end of her segment, there was a question-answer time, and this woman raised her hand. She was in her 30s; and she said, “Elisabeth, I’m single; and I really know that God has called me to be married. I’m not sure what to do in the waiting.” And Elisabeth, without a second thought, said to this young woman, “Are you married right now?”
And the woman said, “No, I just said I’m single.” She said, “God has called you to be single then. Today, you’re single, and so He’s equipped you and called you to be single. Live today what God has called you to be in. He has so much in store for you today. Stop looking at tomorrow, because He has something today while you’re single.”
Ann: That’s pretty harsh.
Marshall: —unless you think that only applies to singles. We’ve talked about it already—
Marshall: —but, in a few years, if you get married, and you’re around a lot of other people that are married, you’re going to start to see people—husbands, or wives, or both—who would rather be single.
Marshall: may not say it; but everything in the life says, “I’m in this, because I promised; and there’s nothing else that I’m going to do.” And at that point, you say, “You know what? Are you married?”
Marshall: [They] say, “Yes.” “God has called you to be married.”
Bob: Well, and I remember—it was another setting—but Elisabeth Elliot said, “People will always ask me, ‘How do I know if I have the gift of singleness?’” And she’ll say, “Well, are you single?” And they’ll say, “Well, yes; but I want to know if I have it like for a lifetime?” She says, “Well, nobody knows if you have it for a lifetime. All we know is you have it today, so you have the gift of singleness today.”
Ann: So be faithful in it.”
Bob: —“and live out the gift of singleness.”
But if you want to know if you have it for a lifetime, we’ll know, at the end of your lifetime, whether you have it for a lifetime. [Laughter] Don’t try to forecast that for today. Yes, we’d like to know.
Our mutual friend, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, thought she had the gift of singleness for a lifetime until she met Robert Wolgemuth. She realized, “Oh, I don’t.” And she had to, in her late 50s, be open to God changing the direction and changing the course. And now, she has the gift of marriage.
Well, I know what we’ve talked about here says easy and does hard. Listeners will hear this, and they’ll go, “Yes; I’ve heard this before. It’s living with it with joy that is the hard part of it.” So, when the joy’s not there in your singleness, any suggestions on what you do?
Marshall: Yes; I would say one of the keys is that no one is calling you to be joyful about singleness. I think that’s maybe one of the things that’s a misconception that gets perpetuated by well-meaning married people, giving advice—like me giving advice to single people—the joy is going to only be found in Jesus. And the same recipe for your joy now, no matter how long the Lord has you single, is going to be the recipe for joy in marriage.
Marshall: So this is preparation for whatever God calls you to tomorrow. If He calls you to 25, 30, 50 years of singleness, the way that you pursue joy—“One thing I’ve asked of the Lord”—the way that you pursue joy now, as you go to prayer closet to be with the Lord, to linger in His presence—and then give your life: your gifts and everything He’s given you—give it freely to others in the name of Jesus. The way that you pursue joy now is going to prepare you to have joy in the next season, whether it’s singleness or marriage.
Bob: So here’s what you’re saying, and I think this is key: “If today, you say, ‘Okay; I’m single. I’m going to find my joy in Jesus’; if you’re thinking, ‘but when I’m married, then I’m going to find my joy in my spouse,’”—
Dave: And the truth represent three marriages/six people. I know this about us, and I know it just from what you two have been saying, you’re not finding your joy in your spouse, although she’s incredible; I would say she’s amazing.
Ann: Thanks, honey!
Dave: I didn’t joy in her as a single man, and I’m not finding joy in her as a married man. Even though I’m sure singles would say, “Well, it’s easy for you to say, because you are married.” It is not it’s harder.
Dave: If you don’t find it as a single man, you’re not going to find it as a married man. The only place you’ll find it is a ruthless pursuit of Jesus!
Bob: Yes; we have a lot of listeners, who listen to FamilyLife Today. You guys know We have a heart for singles; because we want singles to find joy in the season that they’re in, and we want them to be thinking about and preparing for that season God might have for them—the season ahead—if that includes marriage.
I this is what you do so well in your book, Marshall; you point people in that direction. The book Marshall has written is called Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in & Dating . We are making book available this week to FamilyLife Today listeners who can support the ongoing ministry of FamilyLife Today.
And, by the way, let me just say, “Thank you,” to those of you who have been long-time supporters of this ministry. Some of you are monthly Legacy Partners. We thank you for your regular monthly support; that is such a gift to us! Those of you, who are Legacy Partners, thank you for that. And those of you who, from time to time, make a donation to support the ministry, we’re grateful for your support as well. You make practical biblical help and hope available for other couples/other families. You are investing in the lives, and marriages, and families of so many people every time you donate to support FamilyLife Today; and we’re grateful for the partnership.
Again, when you donate today, we want to invite you to request your copy of Marshall Segal’s book, Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. our thank-you gift to you when you make a donation. You can do that, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate: 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about Marshall Segal’s story of his courtship, and how he met his wife, and what you guys went through/the issues you went through as you began to think about marriage. That all comes tomorrow. I hope our listeners can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with some help we got today from Bruce Goff and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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