Pornography and Marriage

No, Singleness is Not a Punishment

I think this is why I’m still single. I don’t think God will ever allow me to get married. Not after what I’ve done.

Before you run away, this is not another post on how “singleness is a gift” and how marriage will happen if you “are just content” or “just trust God enough.” I saw my share of those posts as a single woman and they just aren’t helpful.

Singleness can be hard. Very hard and I’m not here to discredit that or ignore the fact that sometimes it feels like torture to watch all of your college roommates get married, or to be a bridesmaid in 20 different weddings, or to lead a single’s Bible study and watch the members partner up and move on.

Those are very real moments of grief and frustration for some.

I have an entirely separate post waiting in the wings on how we, as a church, have idolized marriage and often preach some form of the prosperity gospel when it comes to relationships. But today, I want to specifically address a fear I see from so many young women:

God is punishing me with for what I’ve done.

God is punishing me (with singleness) because of my years in pornography.

God is punishing me because I slept with one of my boyfriends.

God is punishing me because I sent nude photos to that guy.

God won’t let me get married until I stop masturbating.

I’m never going to be good enough to get married.

This is what I deserve.

And if that’s you, I want you to know, I hear you. I hear your hurt and your heart.

I also want you to realize the voice you’re listening to isn’t God. It might be your well-meaning Aunt Margaret, your best friend, your pastor, even your parents. You might have people in your life saying these things to you. You might even be saying them to yourself. But at the core of all of it is shame.

So today I want to speak to that. I want to call out the voices of shame in your life and remind you that shame is a liar.

Your singleness is not a “punishment.”

I get it.

I didn’t get married until I was in my early 30s.

I didn’t even go on a real date/have an actual “boyfriend” until my late 20s.

As a single 30-something, I didn’t need to be told to just be content. I didn’t need more platitudes and “Galentine’s” parties. I wanted answers.

Why am I still single?

Why am I not good enough for anybody?

Why isn’t God granting me this desire?

Doesn’t He see me? Doesn’t He care?

Why won’t any guy just give me a chance?

What is wrong with me?

There are plenty of you who have struggled with pornography and are single.

Thanks to our purity rhetoric and our twisted view of grace, you’re hearing a message that says you are single because of your past. What “man of God” would ever want to taint his own spotless reputation by loving a woman like this?

(Oh, you mean what man of God would… love like Jesus?)

There is a growing feeling and fear among young, single Christian women that singleness is their punishment for struggling with pornography.

We have made marriage some indicator of faith and that’s a problem.

This is what happens when we treat marriage like some trophy for good behavior or a reward for “loving God enough.”

I fell into this trap. As a single 30-something, I felt like my marital status was some form of martyrdom. While at a writer’s conference in Switzerland, I shared my views on singleness with the group.

I literally had a mission statement for singleness. I had written it a decade earlier. For those years, I had held on to it, repeating it to myself, trying to convince myself that singleness was a gift, not a curse.

I said, “If I’m still single right now, that must be the best place for me to serve God. When I can serve Him better married, then He will let me get married.”

My singleness felt like a punishment, a payment.

The truth was I wanted desperately to be married and I wasn’t sure why God was holding out on me. I had spent years trying to convince myself this was best, much like plugging your nose while drinking cough syrup. This is for the best. There has to be a purpose. Pretend it’s candy…

And I think that’s where some of you are right now.

You’re believing that your singleness is “for the best” and you’re writing a condemning narrative as to why.

It’s better that I’m single because I’d probably be a horrible wife.

It’s better that I’m single because I don’t have any self-control.

It’s better that I’m single because I don’t deserve to be loved. 

For me it was, “It’s better that I’m single because this is the best way to serve God. Besides, no man will want to be associated with me.”

This is a way we cope with uncomfortable situations. We do it all the time with other things too, like grief. A friend loses someone in their family and we offer some pithy saying about heaven needing another angel. Instead of sitting with them in their grief, we throw fortune cookies at it in an attempt to make everyone feel better.

We don’t talk about it much, but I believe there is real benefit in “grieving” singleness.

That runs counter to the “contentment” argument so many of us hear.

If you want to get married and that desire hasn’t been realized yet, there is hurt there. There is disappointment, and when we don’t bring that to God and wrestle with it and heal and grow, what we’re left with is a false narrative to try to explain it. We become Job’s friends or the disciples asking Jesus whose sin caused a man to be born blind.

God, we feel, has abandoned us. He has disappointed us. He has let us down. And when we have those feelings they cause a short circuit with our faith. They clash. They don’t make sense.

If God is good and delights in giving us good gifts, then why do we keep getting skipped in line? There has to be a reason! We need an explanation.

Our brains and hearts are always seeking to make sense of things. We try to make sense of our fallen and broken world by stitching and gluing whatever pieces together we can. If we desire marriage, but aren’t married yet, and God is good so it’s not His fault then it has to be mine. I earned this.

Obviously I’m still single because I still have sin in my life.

Obviously, I’m still single because I slept around...

Obviously, it’s wrong that I desire marriage.

And every last bit of that is shame.

Think about it. What is it doing? It’s telling you that you are unworthy of love, not only with another person, but with God. It’s telling you that God has relegated you to the corner. It’s telling you that you have no purpose, that you are only a problem, a lost cause.

And none of that is the Gospel. Not a word.

It’s about so much more than whether or not you’re married. It’s about whether or not you truly believe you are forgiven, or even forgivable. Whether you believe you are loved, or even lovable. Whether you believe in grace.

Marriage is just the cover story.

Do you feel that your singleness is “proof” that you don’t yet deserve love?

Shame tells you that something is so wrong with you that even God is disgusted with you. You’ve messed up so much that there is no coming back.

So, we take the Rapunzel approach, if you will.

We lock ourselves away in a tower (of shame) and get a pet dragon (of defensiveness and anger) and then sit there in darkness and isolation believing this is what God has asked of us. This is what He requires of us, and once we have spent an appropriate amount of time in our dungeon, He’ll suddenly bring along a knight in shining armor (who we somehow won’t scare away) and that knight will slay the dragon, scale the walls, and save us from ourselves.

That’s the narrative we have cooked up in our heads and hearts. Someday my prince will come, until then, this dungeon is the best I deserve.

How I wish I could reach into your life right now and pull the blinders off, flip on the light switch, and show you that the “god” who has been keeping you locked away is no god at all. It’s a decrepit, deceitful, weak, defeated liar and your pet dragon is setting your tower on fire- with you in it.

Marriage is not a reward for good behavior.

Can I let you in on a secret? None of us have earned marriage. No one. I don’t care if they went to seminary and spent 10 years on the mission field. I don’t care if they were two pastor’s kids who grew up in church and never looked at anyone sideways in their lives. No one has earned this.

We have to break away from this mindset that marriage is some privilege reserved for the holy and put-together. That marriage is some right of passage for the “pure.”

When we idolize it like that, we perpetuate a shame narrative. Those who don’t have it “don’t deserve it” and that’s wrong.

Marriage is two messed-up, broken sinners stepping into covenant with each other and with God. Anyone who paints it differently is lying. It is not the “achievement” you get when you love God enough.

You are not dirty for desiring marriage.

Another issue we can run into as women who have sexual struggles is feeling bad for wanting marriage. This is such a perfect illustration of how shame sticks us in no-win situations.

You’re trying to understand why you’re still single, feeling it’s a punishment. But then you also feeling guilty for wanting “out” of that “punishment.” There is no winning. There is no way out.

When we desire marriage, we question our motives. Is it because we just want to have sex? 

Then we chastise ourselves saying, “Well, obviously I’ll never get married until I want to get married for the right motives.” When we try to figure out what those are, we end up back in the fortune cookie mentality of throwing platitudes at it. And even though it’s something we desire, we’re afraid to express that desire, hope for it, or pursue it.

That’s when marriage also becomes some sort of chore, and we surrender ourselves to being pawns in the hand of an ultimate chess master instead of beloved children.

After I shared my “singleness mission statement” while in Switzerland, a German author leaned in and said,

“What are you talking about? What if you just choose to get married because God delights in giving us good things? Why does it have to be something you do for God? What if you desire marriage because it is a good thing to desire?”

It was a shock to my system. I had no comeback, unless I wanted to paint God as an evil, manipulative, controlling slave driver, not the tender, loving, God of grace I believe Him to be.

Singleness is not a punishment.

When we grow up believing that marriage is the prize, everything else is a failure. And many of us try to reconcile our singleness by blaming it on something in our past that has, essentially, disqualified us. We’re out of the race, so to speak.

But that isn’t the message of grace.

Do I know why some amazing, God-honoring, attractive people never get married? I have no idea.

I pray good strong Godly marriages for absolutely anyone who wants one and it’s really hard to watch dear friends of mine move through life praying that same prayer and wondering why God hasn’t answered.

It feels so unfair. I grieve it with them, just like I grieve the struggles of infertility some of my friends face when I know they would be great parents.

I don’t have an answer, but I do know this. It’s wrong for me to blanketly assume that it’s because of some sin in their lives. And I’m also not going to sit there and tell them not to worry about it. They are wrestling. They are grieving, and a good friend holds space for that.

I don’t know why you are still single.

There is no fortune cookie answer. But I can tell you that God is good and He is kind, and He isn’t afraid of our hurt, our disappointment, or our questioning.

Desiring marriage is a good thing. It isn’t dirty, wrong, or sinful, and if that is the desire of your heart, express it. Contentment isn’t some form of numbness. It’s a trust. I can trust God and still wonder why things are the way they are. That’s a theme that is common throughout Scripture (hello, Psalms? Ecclesiastes?).

One of the most helpful and powerful pieces of counsel I ever received in my singleness (besides my German friend essentially asking me what was wrong with me) was from a friend, Mary. She had also gotten married in her 30s and as I approached 30, I shared with her how I was trying to manage singleness basically by pretending marriage wasn’t a thing.

I had stopped asking God because it hurt too much when He didn’t seem to answer.

And she said to me, “Trusting God doesn’t mean you don’t still desire things. Hannah trusted God but she still petitioned.”

(Read 1 Samuel 1 for that story.)

If you’re struggling with singleness, feeling it’s a punishment for your past mistakes, I want to encourage you to press hard into grace and keep petitioning. Your tower guard and pet dragon will both tell you it’s pointless and you just need to shut up and do your time. But you know what? They have no power over you. None.

Welcome to the land we call freedom.

Stop listening to those other voices, even if they’re your best friend. Press in to God and pursue His heart. There’s a world outside of that tower you’ve trapped yourself in. There’s an abundant life He has promised us. There is forgiveness, healing, and grace. There is freedom. Freedom to heal, to grow, to enjoy good things. Freedom to love, hope, and have relationships- with God and with other people.

Stop living like you’re being punished and start believing you are beloved.