Marriage celebrations aren’t always joyful.
There are certainly those overflowing with joy: the older couple reminiscing on their wedding joy, the newly engaged couple dreaming of their own wedding day, the parents of the bride and groom beaming with pride. However, marriage celebrations can also be painful reminders of a persistent suffering – the suffering of singleness. To be sure, there are singles who are not suffering. They are content with their season of life, enjoying the freedom that singleness brings. For others, however, singleness is a burden that they struggle to carry. They long for the companionship of a spouse, to come home to a friend, and the intimacy of love.
You may know exactly what I’m talking about. You enjoy weddings, engagement parties, and celebrating the excitement of matrimony with friends. Yet, there is a tinge of pain – perhaps felt on the drive home or as you hear another couple make vows – that reverberates in your heart. You long to rejoice with your friends, but struggle with this unmet desire.
On top of this, you hear the call of the Bible to rejoice with those who rejoice, but your heart does not feel it. How am I supposed to rejoice while suffering? Can this sorrow and joy exist within the same heart?
The Composite Joy of the Body of Christ
If we are honest, many of us hear the call to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15) as a call to force a crooked smile on your face at an engagement party. We think: “Good for them!”, and may genuinely mean it. However, the dominant tone of our hearts is a deep groan of “How long, O Lord?”
But rejoicing with those who rejoice is not like a forced smile on a family photo. It is an ownership of the joy of another because it sees God at work. The joy you are called to experience at your friend’s’ engagement party or marriage ceremony is not some blind naivete that ignores your own desires to be married. Instead, it is a celebration of God’s good plans in the life of someone who is deeply connected to you.
This means that your joy is meant to be a composite joy. The joy of the Christian is equally composed of the work of God in their own life and the work of God in the lives of fellow Christians. This is what Paul means when he writes that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). The joy of the Christian is a many-membered tapestry that interweaves the threads of our lives with one another.
So then, the engagement party or marriage ceremony of your friend is actually an opportunity to experience real, warm-hearted joy. Most of the time when we find it difficult to celebrate with another Christian, it is not because it is not possible. Rather, it’s because we are not willing to experience joy in this way. We limit the potential moments of rejoicing in our lives to those times when things align to our preferences. The world transforms into the size of a clenched fist that holds its plans, rather than the big world where our happy God is busy blessing his children (Jeremiah 32:41).
How do you see other believers? Are they only a catalyst of despair anytime they get something you don’t have? Or are they a member of the same body as you so that their joy is your joy? Are you soaking yourself in the picture of the church as your family so that the metaphor becomes reality? The key to rejoicing with those who rejoice is to see the victories of others as your own.
Joy and Sorrow Under the Same Roof
But most of us are not dominated by only despair at the engagement party or marriage ceremony. Instead, we often experience a tangled web of rejoicing and sorrow, pleasure and frustration, contentment and restlessness. We rejoice to see God at work, but the desire for marriage aches like a tender bruise being pressed. This isn’t selfishness – it’s a reminder of a unwanted suffering.
Singles often experience unnecessary guilt because they don’t understand the idea of earnest waiting. Earnest waiting happens when the truths of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility meet in some suffering in our lives. When Christians suffer, two responses are to exist in their hearts. First, they are to wait on the Lord. The posture of our hearts is to be one of a weaned child trusting its parent (Ps. 131:2). We are to not take matters into our own hands, but hope fully in our God (Psalm 37:34, 62:5, Proverbs 20:22). For many Christian singles, this is the primary battleground. However, Christians are also to be persistent with the Lord. A wrong application of the sovereignty of God is to assume that we are not to pray for relief from suffering. Although the heroes of our faith trusted God, Hannah prayed for a child (1 Samuel 1:9-18), the church in Acts prayed for Peter to be released from prison (Acts 12:5), and Jesus honors the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8).
It is not sinful to feel the sting of unwanted singleness at a marriage ceremony. It is sinful to allow this sting to translate into a grumbling heart towards the Lord and others. You can be sorrowful and yet rejoice at the same time. You cannot grumble and rejoice at the same time. Do your sorrows roll up into prayer toward the God who knows your needs? Or do your sorrow’s knot up your soul with a complaining heart?
Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing
The pendulum could currently be swinging to either extreme for you. You may be sorrowful, rejoicing, or both. Either way, God calls you to take steps of faith now. Are you sorrowful? Call on friends to partner with you in your prayer for a spouse and for a heart that waits on the Lord. Are you rejoicing? Cultivate a lifestyle that loses itself in the joy of others. Go all out to celebrate the work of God in the lives of others through attending parties, serving on the day of the wedding, and giving your life away for the good of others. In other words: live the Christian life – weeping and laughing, repenting and believing, grateful while groaning.
These truths are not to be exclusively applied to singleness and marriage. The Christian life is full of trials, and yet we are called to rejoice in them (1 Peter 4:12-13). We are not called to merely rejoice with those who rejoice; we are called to rejoice in God (Habakkuk 3:18, Philippians 4:4). This rejoicing in God is the bedrock to rejoicing with others. In singleness, and a million other sufferings, our hearts must be confident that he does not withhold good things from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11).
The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing.