I am a 35 year old African-American woman. I had my first—and last—kiss (or kisses, depending on how you count) five days after turning 34 and had my only boyfriend in the summer and fall of 2004. I am a few months into recovery from heartbreak by being unseen when I’d at least hoped to be considered before being rejected. I wrote this for me as much as for you. If you are reading this I prayed for you.
At the start of this, I stared down an intimidating page of weighty and raw questions, many of which I was unsure of the answers to myself. I implored God for wisdom and tenderness beyond what I possess then journeyed into the troves of scripture. As a guide for myself, I wrote the words from Jude 1:23 in my document header, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” This catechism is my imperfect mercy for us both.
As I wrote, I took breaks to worship, confess, and give thanks—breaks I encourage you to take as well. I’ve included the passages of scripture (proof texts, if you will) that inspired each answer below it and encourage you to take time to read them, pray through them, and meditate on them. There are 31 questions so if you wanted to, you could work through them all over a month.
The underlying assumption of these questions and answers is that our aim is to lead surrendered lives, that we let God be god, the idea at the heart of being a Christian. Each of the four sections of the catechism deal with a “jurisdiction,” if you will, of God’s sovereign reign in our lives: over our status, our self-image, our sorrows, and our futures. These are all his to shape and define.
I prayed this would read like the arm of God stretched out over a slumped shoulder. Yours, perhaps. If you’re reading this sore, I pray you feel his unburdening embrace.
Part I: God’s Sovereignty over My Status
Q1: What is the chief end of my singleness?
A: To have my soul so consumed by the delight of loving and being loved by God and so mesmerized by His singular sufficiency for my deep thirst for love, acceptance, belonging, and significance that it testifies before the world to the preeminent excellencies of God as Lord, lover, and friend.
Ps 73:25-26, Ps 27:4, Ps 63:3, Isa 54:5-6, Isa 29:13, Jer 29:13, Ps 37:4
Q2: What is our only gain in singleness or marriage?
A: We have no gain apart from knowing Christ. The freedom of singleness and the intimacy of marriage are a waste without His working through them. They both flourish or flounder to the extent Christ is known through them.
Ps 16:2, Phil 3:7-11
Q3: What is our certain calling?
A: Blessed are we to be called to that which also fulfills our deepest longing: to have no gods before God and to love him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. To have no higher allegiance than to God Most High, to seek no other end of all our actions but making His glory seen, and to have no deeper affection than for Christ who is our life. Whatever our lot, we have all we need to fulfill this calling through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.
And the second calling is like it: to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Ex 20:3 Matt 22:39, Luke 10:27, 1 Cor 10:31, 1 Peter 1:6-7, 2 Peter 1:3, Col 3:4, Matt 5:16
Q4a: What happens when we idolize marriage?
A: We grieve our Beloved, who is jealous for our hearts, and expose ourselves to needless disappointment, for the sorrows multiply of those who chase after other gods. But one of the greatest mercies God can do for us is to teach us the difference between God and all not-Gods, and thus make us connoisseurs of the divine with a taste for the eternal.
Ps 96:7, Isa 41, 44:9, 57; Jer 8:19, Ps 16:3, Luke 12:7
Q4b: How can we know if we idolize marriage?
A: We have been mastered by our desire for marriage when we can conceive of no good apart from obtaining it, if we are willing to go deliberately against God’s will to secure it for ourselves, or if we use it and the pursuit of it to serve our glory rather than His.
James 1:14, 1 Cor 6:12b
Q5: How can I grow without a partner?
A: The beauty of salvation and growth is that they both depend on but one man—Christ. To have him is to have all needed. And I, as part of his church, have been promised to him who paid my bride price at staggering cost to himself, to be made holy and cleansed through His word. His zeal for and commitment to my growth exceed even my own and his love leaves no instrument—including singleness—unused to present me to himself glorious, without spot or blemish.
Gal 3:3, Eph 5:27
Part II: God’s Sovereignty over My Self-worth
Q6: What is my true worth?
A: I am made in the image of God, redeemed by the perfect blood of Christ, and am the current dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. I was adopted into the Royal Family of royal families, was searched for and brought back to the flock by the Good Shepherd, and enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit of comfort, freedom, and truth. I am rejected by men yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, as co-heir with Christ reigning in this life and in death, I’m Immanuel’s sacred playground. I, yes I, am crowned with glory and honor and held as a royal diadem in the palm of my God.
Gen 1:26, Eph 1:5-7, 1 Cor 3:16, 1 Cor 6:19-20, Luke 15:4, Ps 8:5, Rom 5:17, Rom8:17, John 14:16, 2 Cor 3:17, John 16:13, Isa 62:3-5
Q7: Am I seen?
A: While weary-souled we cry, “Notice me! See me! Love me!” God stoops down, gathers us under the corner of his garment, draws us near and whispers tenderly, “I do, my beloved, I do. I am El Roi, the God who sees. My eyes are open day and night toward you for I have set my name on you.” But it is often the case that we, after catching our breath on his knee, bound back out to chase after the world’s affirmation, like a child after bubbles, and so miss him calling to our backs, “Notice me! See me! Love me!”
Ps 18:35, Ezekiel 16:8, Ps 34:18, Hosea 2:14, Gen 16:13-14, Gen 22, Gen 29:32, Gen 31:42, 2 Chron 6: 20, Ps 11:4
Q8: Why wasn’t I chosen?
A: Not because I am deficient but had the intimate and transcendent wisdom of the Giver of every good and perfect gift found it best for me it would be so. He who numbers both the stars in the night and the hairs on my head and before whom all my longings lie open can be trusted to allot me a pleasant portion. For I have entrusted my choosing to the one who chose me first and best and whose book contains all my days.
1 Pet 2:9, Deut 7:6, Ps 33:12, Hag 2:33, Col 3:12, 1 Thess 1:4, Rev 17:14, Eph 1:4, Ps 38:9, James 1:17, Ps 139:16
Q9: Am I worth loving?
A: Marriage is not the only context in which one is loved so it is unwise to conflate being loved with being married. The love of man never makes us worthy; it is incidental at best. But in Christ we understand the correct ordering of love and worth—we are not worth loving but loved worthy. Worthiness is the inalienable privilege and unassailable reality conferred to us in Christ. Where else can we find such an emancipating love as this?
All true love is grace and we are the better for it, freer. The self-serving counterfeit makes us its slave.
Rom 5:5-8, 1 John 3:1, Gal 4:7, Rom 8:30, Eph 2:3, 8; Deut 7:6-9, 1 Cor 1:26-30, Ps 8:4
Q10: Am I beautiful?
A: I am riveting, drawing the gaze of Beauty himself wherever I go. I am more than what man sees in me and especially more than I see in myself. I am the apple of God’s eye. I am precious and honored in the sight of the All-Seeing. I am the deliberately and fearfully fashioned work of the Craftsman of craftsmen, infused with His image. I am His imagination run wild. I am a partaker of the divine nature and am radiant with the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. What a sight am I!
Ps 139:14, 2 Cor 4:6, Zech 2:8
Q11: Am I past my prime?
A: All we in Christ have our prime still ahead. As we mature in our knowledge of Christ, are able to comprehend more and more the depth of his love for us, and are transformed into his likeness as we see him more fully as he is, we press forward on the path to our final perfection, “peaking” as we more closely resemble Christ and grow in our lived conviction of his great unwavering love for us.
1 John 3:2, James 1:4, Heb 6:1, Phil 3:14, Phil 1:6, 2 Cor 4:16, Eph 4:13-15, Eph 3:19
Q12: Has God forgotten about me?
A: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” Even these may forget, yet God will not forget me. Behold, he has engraved me on the palms of his hands; my walls are continually before him.
Isaiah 49:15, Deut 4:31, Ps 139: 7-12, John 18:9
Q13: What makes me whole?
A: The wondrous cross of Christ alone.
Q14: What is the praise of man?
A: A snare and deception. We ourselves attest that as finite, fickle and short of sight we often mispraise: we overpraise the undeserving, underpraise the worthy, and praise superficially—getting distracted by the surface and missing the substance.
Gal 1:10, Prov 29:25, 1 Samuel 16:7
Part III: God’s Sovereignty over My Sorrow
Q15: How long, O Lord? (Or, will grace run out before my need of it?)
A: Should my window for childbearing slam shut in my face, should I suffer another holiday fusillade of questions from well-meaning kin, should I be the last single woman standing among my friends, or should my yearning batter my faith to its brink, yet may Yahweh quicken my heart to rejoice all the more in him from the valley. He will rise to calm my chronic ache, to remove my sense of shame, and to be my longsufferer-in-arms. Blessed are all who wait for Him. Because of his steadfast love, I overcome. As long as day and night continue at their appointed times, the mercies needed for each day will greet me anew each morning. Nothing is as certain as splendid or as enduring as the faithfulness of my God.
Ps 13, Ps 119:22-23, Isa 54:1, Hab 3:18, Jer 33:20, Lam 3:22-23, Isa 30:18
Q16: What is our power over despairing thoughts?
A: That the God who hears my every cry of distress and discerns my thoughts from afar has provided relief not just for assaults from without but also for those from within. Because he desires truth in the inmost places and for me to know his rest, He has divinely empowered me to take every rebellious, hope-denying, truth-distorting, God-obscuring thought captive and make it obedient to Christ by His indwelling spirit, the guide to all truth. The venomous and unrelenting arrows of the enemy are no match for my Sword and my Shield.
Ps 139:2, Ps 51:6, 2 Cor 10:5; Ps 94:11; John 16:13; Eph 6:16
Q17: What is our comfort in sadness?
A: That the God of all comfort who upholds the universe and everything in it sits beside me in heartache, that he does not willingly bring affliction on his children, that he has collected all my tears in a jar and recorded them in his book, and that because of his mercy I will never know free-falling. The promises of his Word give me life. Whatever the source of my sadness, God can make heavy light. Tears before long will cease and day will break carrying joy in its warm rays.
2 Cor 1:3, Heb 1:3, Col 1:17, Ps 34:18, Lam 3:22, 33; Ps 56:8, Ps 119:50, Ps 30:5, Matt 11:29
Q18: Does God even care that I’m hurting?
A: Scarcely is affliction mentioned in the scriptures without God’s seeing or hearing being close by. In truth, he knows of our pain before our lives even reach that frame. Before we call he answers, mid-cry he inclines his ear. It is impossible for God to be unmoved by our wounds because they moved him to the cross. He bore our grief and carried our sorrow before we even knew of our need. Let us be careful to sweep the debris of all other attachments from our hearts so the way may be clear for him to come quickly to our aid to deliver us from our despair and doubt.
Q19: Who does my jealousy hurt?
A: Jealousy singes the soul of the one harboring it and defames the character of our Bridegroom.
James 3:14-18, 1 Cor 3:3, Prov 14:10, 1 Cor 13:4, Gal 5:25-26
Q20: What power has sin over us?
A: None except that which we concede through disbelief in the character and promises of God. Sin’s victor has come and in Christ we are new creations. The old has passed. Sin is no longer our master.
Rom 8, James 1:14
Q21: What is God’s special care for the broken hearted?
A: As a child getting a shot holds a parent’s hand before the prick of the needle, so God, at our side before the first puncture of our heart is even complete, offers us his hand to squeeze through the pain, and to wipe the tears from our eyes.
Ps 9:9, Ps 18:2, Ps 37:39, Isa 25:4, Nahum 1:7, Ps 31:7
Q22: Does the Lord bring us into the desert to die?
A: God the Father led his Son to death so that His Spirit could lead us, all terrain, to life abundant. The Highway of Holiness runs through the desert and if you would avoid the desert you must avoid it too. By faith we can take hold of the life held out to us since Eden. Rather than shrinking back and being destroyed, we have faith and watch the desert blossom and the wilderness burst into gladness before us by our new sight.
Ex 3:7, Ex 4:30, Deut 26:7, Hosea 13:5, Isa 52:3, Isa 35
Q23: Why does God take good things away?
A: Everything we have is for our good but not everything good is ours to have. He gives, takes away, and gives in the taking away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
Q24: What ought I to do with my unmet desires?
A: The invitation to cast our cares on the Lord does not expire so let us not weary of laying them at his feet. If we are patient with our friend who asks us over and over for prayer, how much more patient is the Lord who bears our burdens with us.
1 Pet 5:7, Phil 4:6-7, Luke 11:7-8, Ps 5:3
Q25: Where is my blessing?
A: Christ died that our emptiness could be filled, that our eyes could see, that our minds could be enlightened, that we could find him glorious, that our hearts could be soft and that love for him might pulse through our entire being. Our blessing is in a poor spirit, in mourning, in meekness, in hungering and thirsting after righteousness, in showing mercy, in a pure heart, in peacemaking, and in enduring hardship for Christ’s sake. If we cannot find blessing there we will not find it anywhere, for even as God has given us all things for our enjoyment they will spoil in our mouths if our hearts are not first full of him.
Matt 5:3-11, 1 Tim 6:17, Numbers 11
Part IV: God’s Sovereignty over My Future
Q26: In what can we put our hope for our future?
A: In the Lord who, seeing all the days of my life before one of them came to be, directs my steps so his good purposes prevail. He makes my lot secure. As he provided manna to the Israelites in the desert, he will also provide me my daily bread. Whether I marry or not, Christ has promised me a life of abundance and his word does not return to him void.
Prov 19:21; Prov 16:9, Isa 55:11, Ps 71:3, John 10:10, Ex 16
Q27: For what can I give thanks as I wait?
A: God carried Israel as a father carries his son through the desert after he heard their cries for mercy and delivered them from the oppression of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm and with great signs and wonders. He guided them safely with the cloud by day and with the light from the fire all night. The Lord turned the bitter waters of Meribah sweet for their thirst. For their hunger, he gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens and rained down on them manna to eat, giving them the grain of heaven. They ate the bread of angels. And they wept that there was no meat saying, “there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
Numbers 14:11, 11:6, Deut 1:31, 26:8; Ex 20:2, Ps 78: 14, 23-25
Q28: Why needn’t we be anxious
A: Our God who neither slumbers nor sleeps directs our paths. He will not allow our foot to be moved. He is the shade at our right hand: the sun will not harm us by day nor the moon by night. I also have available to me through prayer, petition, and thanksgiving the peace that passes all understanding. God is never found unprepared and his plans can not be thwarted.
Ps 121:2-5, Prov 19:21, Prov 16:9, Phil 4:7
Q29: What is success?
A: Neither fleeting riches nor my neighbor’s portion. God has told us in what to make our boast: in understanding and knowing the Lord who exercises loving devotion, justice, and righteousness on the earth.
1 John 2:15-17, Prov 23:5, Ex 20:17, Jer 9:23-24
Q30: Can God’s plan for me really be good if it doesn’t include marriage?
A: It is good to give thanks for yes answers to prayer, commendable to trust when God makes us wait, but it most clearly evidences the triumph of the Almighty’s hold on our hearts when we sacrifice praise in the wake of no. This “if not, you are still good” is God’s highest endorsement, the purest confession we make that he was not made for us but we for him. When to the world our cup looks empty yet we know it to be spilling over it is not delusion but adoration. He is our very great reward and has vowed to never stop doing us good.
Gen 15:1, Isa 45:9, Jer 32:40, 1 Cor 2:9, Matt 7:11
Q31: Can I survive this?
A: The Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial and he, after a little while, will himself restore me and make me strong. When I am tempted he can redirect my path. When I am weary he can refresh my soul. When my heart breaks he can bring sutures and salve to my wounds. Though he may not change my circumstances, he will strengthen my hands. Singleness is survived one day at a time, tomorrow has enough troubles of its own. Today, here in my longing I can toast to God, the gladness of my heart.
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
Because He lives, all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives.”
2 Chron 16:9, Heb 11:6, Neh 6:9, Neh 9:19-21, Matt 6:13, Jer 31:25, 2 Sam 22:17-20, Heb 2:18, 1 Pet 5:10, Isa 65:14, 2 Cor 4:9, Col 1:11, Isa 40:29
Lord, may we be catechized by your truth, for your truth sets us free. You have delivered us from the deception and desires of this world, that we should not be its slave. You have broken the bars of our yoke and made us walk with heads held high. May we not allow ourselves to be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Rather, set our hearts on things unseen. May we live for more. Help our unbelief.