Her eyes go down to the ground, she speaks even more softly. I know its coming. The most common question I am ever asked.
“Can I ask you something personal? If you don’t want to answer that’s OK.”
“No worries. You can ask me anything, “ I answer.
“Why aren’t you married?”
And there it is.
Kind women usually follow it up with comments to relieve the awkwardness they are feeling like “you are so lovely” or ”you have such a beautiful face” or “you are so kind”.
I used to feel that awkwardness as well because let’s face it; it’s a good question … why aren’t I married? (I can see my single sisters applying this to themselves and nodding). It has been a source of pain, of self-reflection, of bewilderment and of low self-esteem on and off for many years. So how can I explain something I don’t understand, something I hate talking about with someone for whom it is culturally and spiritually shameful?
Most Muslim women (and men I presume) just assume I am married with children. However, as soon as they realise I am single I am asked the dreaded question. Some wait till they feel they know me better – but most just ask. After all, this is a strange situation.
I realised pretty quickly that when asked the dreaded question I had to do more than shrug my shoulders. I realised I had to think about an answer not just for my sake but for the sake of the single women I mentor and work with as they seek to come up with their answer too.
I’ve also become aware that these Muslim ladies think its safe to talk with me about marriage, maybe their own difficult marriage… there may be a question behind their question. So I don’t want to be trite or be a walking talking theology of marriage.
I want to be authentic and communicate my humanness in it all. I feel loneliness and aloneness despite understanding truths. But I also know God’s goodness and the intimacy of walking through life with him. I want my Muslim friends to know that most of all.
I want my answer not only to be authentic but to point them towards the authentic loving God. I want my friends to understand that marriage is a good gift from God. After all, marriage is meant to be the most beautiful picture of Jesus’ love for his people (Eph 5:22-32). I want them to know that singleness can be the most beautiful picture of our dependence on and fulfilment in Christ (Col 2:9-10). More than that, it is meant to be a picture of how all God’s people will live in his presence for all eternity with the bride no longer an individual woman but God’s beloved people ( Matt 22:23-33; Rev 21:1-4).
Whatever situation God has given us, whether marriage or singleness, it is his gift to us to be used for his glory, for his purposes. Our lives are all about honouring God – whatever our relationship status (1 Cor 7:1-11; 29-31)
I want to help my friends see that life is not simply about marriage and children – as important as they are. It’s about knowing God. Intimacy of relationship is completely found in God and specifically, in Jesus Christ. I want to challenge those whose culture and faith keep their eyes too much on the physical here and now and I want to encourage and redirect others who despair of such a culture and such a faith.
After all, according to our Holy Scriptures, what is marriage? The union of a man and a woman that is a re-enactment of the pure commitment and devotion God’s people have for Jesus Christ; and a re-enactment of the sacrificial love – even to the point of death- the King of all Heaven has for his people. As I see the marriages of my friends who are followers of Jesus that’s what I should be reminded of. They are meant to encourage me and give me joy. And usually they do!
And what is my role in the body of Christ as a single woman? I am to demonstrate complete dependence on Jesus Christ – and not on the people or things of this world. I am to model what life will be like for everyone (those married or single now) for eternity… a life of complete fulfilment in Christ and intimacy with our Father and Maker.
God enables me to do this as his Holy Spirit lives in me and empowers me. God enables me to do this as I serve others and bring honour to Jesus, seeking only to please him. He gives me different and often more opportunities to do this than my married sisters might have. He gives me opportunities to flex my dependency muscles on him alone, with no husband to share the burden or the joy with.
These are the things I want to share with my Muslim friends now. These are things I am eager to share with them… I want them to know that following Jesus isn’t just a change of religion or belief system. I want them to know Jesus Christ. I want them to know what it is like to walk with God whether married or single. So that is my focus, whatever question I am asked.
“Why aren’t you married?” she asked. Children were running around us at a playgroup I run in a church hall. We were surrounded by about 35 Muslim women. “Do you want to be married?”
“I’d love to be married”, I said. “But so far, God hasn’t given me a husband. There have been men who have wanted to marry me but I haven’t wanted to marry them. “
“Well, for people who follow Jesus, marriage is more than an agreement between families. Marriage is a good gift from God that he takes really seriously. It’s a picture of how God loves us. So I need to make sure the man I marry takes God as seriously as I do. That he is devoted to God and that we share the same commitment to honour him. “
“Yes, you need to love God together.” She looked a little confused… this was new information for her.
“In the Injil we are told that marriage is a picture of God’s love for us. The husband is to serve his wife – even die for her. And she is to make him her no 1 priority. So I need to respect and give my whole self to him, and he is to give his life for me… just as Jesus gave his life for us. So marriage is not something we do for convenience or to avoid loneliness or even to have children.”
“Don’t you get lonely?”
“Sometimes but all followers of Jesus are one family…” She interrupted me…
“Yes… I see that… you have many friends and family…you are such a good person… you can do so many things for other people. So this is good.”
“It does have a good side… but married people do good things too! I have learnt to rely on God. There is no one else to rely on (she laughs nervously, I suspect she doesn’t either) … so I depend on God alone… and he is with me every step… this is how it will be forever in paradise“
“Will you pray for me?”
“Of course… what would you like me to pray for?”
“My family, my husband…. “
When I can have conversations like that – that actually lead somewhere- I pray that my Muslim friends will ask me… “Why aren’t you married?
Image 1: http://www.initstimeblog.com/2017/08/a-year-later-singleness.html
Image 2: https://www.oikoumene.org/en/press-centre/news/christian-and-muslim-women-dialogue-takes-shape
(c) When Women Speak … January 2018
In 2008 Anna Shean moved from 14 years in church ministry to an area of Australia which has largest and most diverse multicultural population of Sydney. Here, she connects with Muslim women and equips individuals and churches to do the same.