Sunday, July 22, 2007

Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Book Review

I recently finished reading a book on singleness. It's not the kind of book that I'm usually drawn to. I read hard-hitting theology, meaty fiction or compelling non-fiction. I particularly avoid this genre because experience has taught me that I roll my eyes approximately three times per page (I suppose that shows my own degree of sanctification ... but I digress).

Historically, I find myself thinking that these books are written by women who are trying to convince themselves that they're okay. I could summarize them as: "I'm okay. I'm Okay. I'm OKAY, right? Okay? Anyone? Anyone?"

Carolyn McCulley is different in Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? Trusting God with a Hope Deferred (title is courtesy of her pastor, Josh Harris). She is not a single woman in search of identity and meaning; she is a woman whose identity and meaning are rooted in Christ ... and her situation happens to be "single." As I said, I usually avoid these books, but I actually sought this one out after reading an article online about beauty and later learning that it was an excerpt from this book.

Carolyn McCulley examines the single life in biblical categories that transcend the "single Christian woman" genre and that show that the whole of Scripture speaks to me, as a daughter of God who happens to be single at this stage of my life. And so the book slides back into a genre that's more comfortable for me: hard-hitting (but imminently practical) theology.

As hard-hitting theology, McCulley makes five points that I consider for essential for every identity=Christian-situation=single woman out there. Seriously: I'm working on internalizing this list:
  1. Trusting God with a hope deferred.
  2. Contentment while we wait.
  3. Faithfulness to sow for the future, even when we're in tears.
  4. Graciousness to rejoice when others receive what we would like to have.
  5. Humility to pray to be a blessing, rather than to receive a blessing.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I've already recommended this book generously (I'm sure there are a few people who are sick of hearing me talk about it; good thing I've finished it!) -- I think it's essential reading for every Christian-woman-whose-situation-is-singleness, and also for people who are in a position to counsel or encourage single people (e.g. there's a humorous list of things NOT to say to single women at weddings).

Here are a few more brief reasons why I recommend this book so highly:

* She is Gospel and Christ-centered. what Christ accomplished through his life, death and resurrection has a direct impact on the way I live my life as a single woman. She tells us how and models it in a humble and humorous way.

* She emphasizes the sovereignty and the goodness of God in our singleness. Remember: these two characteristics of God go hand-in-hand! I think single people are particuarly susceptible to believing the world's lies about relationships -- especially less-than-subtle hints to "broaden our horizons" and then we'll find a man. Carolyn reminds us that the Lord of heaven and earth is our horizon ... how much broader can you get?!!!

* But while encouraging trust, she does not encourage apathy. She deftly, honestly and biblically maneuvers through the "singleness as a gift" passage by the New Testament's second most prominent single guy (Jesus being the first): the Apostle Paul. Your singleness is a gift to the church, not something akin to a birthday gift that you can trade in for a better color if the original doesn't really suit you. Singleness is a call to wise stewardship, which involves investing ourselves in Christ's body in ways that we are uniquely suited to do. She emphatically rejects the lie that we are of less use ot God or to the church -- but in such a way that I was convinced Scripturally, not under the impression that she was trying to convince herself!

* She also offers highly practical advice, both for now and to sow for the future. This ranges from cultivating womanly skills by learning from older women, to counsel to invest for the future, use money wisely and even to buy a house (debunking the "you're giving up hope if you buy a house" myth).

* There are two sections that I would specifically commend: the one on modesty/beauty that first intrigued me, and a passage on speech, especially what our grumbling says about our view of God (okay, it doesn't hurt that she quotes The Peacemaker in this chapter!).

I think what I appreciated about every page of this book is that I was at once affirmed, encouraged and challenged. Affirmed to see that I've already been doing some of the things and cultivating some of the thought patterns that she commends. Encouraged because I was consistently reminded where my deepest identity lies -- in a loving Savior who will withhold no good thing from me, and who cares about the smallest detail of my life. Challenged because there's so much room for maturity -- Carolyn helped me identify several specific areas of thought patterns and serving others where I can target change in the short run.

In the long run? Who knows -- God willing, I'd love to be married and enjoying the fruit of the seeds that I'm sowing now. If not, I have a godly pattern set out before me -- through this hard-hitting theology, a hermeneutic for reading Scripture for a lifetime of biblical womanhood, and through the examples of the women around me, made more recognizeable through this book -- to keep living a cross-centered life, whatever my situation happens to be.

... Carolyn McCulley blogs at "Solo Feminity."
... Another Sovereign Grace-r just published a book called When Sinners Say 'I Do' that looks interesting ... kind of a book about the other side of the "great divide."


Rachel said...

Hey Molly,

Thanks for the book review. I'm going to get this one because it sounds really awesome--for all women who need an identity rooted deeply in Christ.

Anonymous said...

Great post. And I could go on for hours...I can't WAIT to start writing about this on my blog. "buy a house" myth? Never heard of it. Seems steeped in traditionalism to me.

Captain Sensible said...

I am sorry, but I have to disagree with you regarding this book. In my opinion it has "the appearance of wisdom", but when you actually examine the theology behind it, it is full of the trendy teaching regarding "the gift of singleness" that has only surfaced in the last 30 years or so (since the Living translation introduced it in the 1970s). There really is no Biblical precedence behind all this "wait on the Lord" and "trust in God for your spouse" when clearly there are problematic issues both within and outside Christianity which are leading to the situation we are experiencing with large numbers of circumstantially single people.
She also seems to confuse the sovereignty of God with "God's will". Yes, God is sovereign; yes, He can and does work everything for good, but that is not the same as saying that everything that happens is "God's will". Clearly, that would be attributing sin to "God's will" and justifying all sorts of wrong and unbiblical behaviour.
I really would recommend reading the Debbie Maken book: "Getting Serious About Getting Married: Rethinking the gift of singleness".
Only once you have read that, and examined the trendy new teachings of Carolyn McCulley against what Christians have believed for 2,000 years, can we honestly examine what has gone wrong with the contemporary church and why we are seeing the fruits we currently are.
Thank you for considering this comment.