Have you ever wondered if you would be able to be content in your current status as “single” even if that were to be for the rest of your life? What if I were to tell you that marriage isn’t what you think it is and that your current struggle with contentment really doesn’t have that much to do with singleness or marriage? Can you honestly say that you don’t wonder if having a spouse and family wouldn’t meet some of your deepest needs? Would you really believe me deep down if I said that even the most amazing Biblical marriage can’t fill that longing ache you feel in your heart?
How do I know you might be thinking some of those same questions? Because I’ve wondered them too. I pondered those deep thoughts in my twenties as I wanted to be married then. I ponder them now again at 31, this time as a widower. The love of my life, Sarah, is gone and I am married no more. My heart aches now in a way that no words can truly capture.
Sarah and I met on eHarmony in February of 2012. I was 25 at the time and Sarah was 26 and we both had a crooked path to arrive there. She had been on dating sites for many years and had experienced the heartbreak of a broken engagement while I had never before been in a serious relationship despite my attempts. In the following eight months we had a special long-distance romance filled with countless long emails, late night phone calls, far-too-short weekend visits, and joyful edification of mutual growth in Christ.
After a seven-week whirlwind engagement due to my changing military deployment projection, Sarah and I were married on October 6, 2012–the most joyous day of my life up to that moment! Our glorious honeymoon phase was interrupted as I deployed a short ten weeks later for almost four months leaving my new bride behind in a new place, new church, and new home. That challenge stretched and grew us in countless ways.
As time went by, God brought countless joys as well as numerous trials. Sarah was a cancer survivor having experienced thyroid cancer at the age of 21 and had gone through other health trials and surgeries in the years before I met her. In the first three years of our marriage, we experienced the agonizing sorrow of grief from the loss of three children through three separate first-term miscarriages. Sarah’s health continued to decline over the course of our marriage and medical answers eluded us. By the middle of 2016, Sarah was mostly homebound as her strength and energy failed so I became her caregiver while continuing to work fulltime. Then, in March 2017, a medical crisis landed Sarah in the hospital from which followed a cascading sequence of events in which we lived in hospitals across two states for the next six months. Finally, in late July, the doctors said there wasn’t much more they could do and we made the decision to enter hospice. Sarah stepped into eternity on August 27, 2017, as I held her hand and bid her an earthly farewell. She was only 32, and we had been married just under five truly amazing years.
John Piper writes in This Momentary Marriage that “being married in the moment of death is both a bitter and sweet providence. Sweet because at the precipice of eternity the air is crystal-clear, and you see more plainly than ever the precious things that really matter about your imperfect lover. But being married at death is also bitter, because the suffering is doubled as one watches the other die… The shadow of covenant-keeping between husband and wife gives way to the reality of covenant-keeping between Christ and His glorified Church. Nothing is lost. The music of every pleasure is transposed into an infinitely higher key.”
As I have taken much time to reflect, pray, and write in the months since Sarah’s death, I realize even more how true those words are, especially as they relate to the transcendent nature of Christ and His Bride, the Church. That desire for marriage ultimately points to our relationship as Christians with our Savior. When we consider marriage and unwanted singleness, we do so under the shadow of that fundamental relationship.
The Lord has taught me much in the years since I was single in my mid-twenties until now about contentment in each season of life, and it starts with the foundational understanding of what is true versus what I so often feel. Our worldview of all things, including marriage and singleness, must be grounded in Biblical doctrine. If we fail in this, we will fail in all else.
This is the first part of a five-part series on what God has taught me about joy and contentment, especially in the seasons of unwanted singleness. I pray it will minister to your hearts even as it already has to mine.