My Story: When Marriage is Viewed as Selling Out

I had always heard those stories of people being “called” to missions, then meeting someone, falling in love and never actually going.  Or, even worse, going and then returning home…for a man (dun, dun, dun).  After being “called” to missions myself during a conference at 16, I knew I never wanted to be that girl.  I hardly dated in college, wanting to keep myself freed up to be able to go on the mission field.  I even broke up with one guy a few years later, telling him, “I don’t want the ‘white picket fence’ kind of life because God has called me to missions.”  After going overseas, I was a bit dismayed when I was placed in a city with one female teammate and only two other foreigners in the entire city, both in their upper 50’s. How was I going to meet the godly, single man who was also called to my specific people group in my tiny corner of China? (seriously)

So I tried online dating.  “At the very least, you’ll be encouraged by how many matches you get!” another single friend encouraged me.  I signed up for EHarmony, filled out my profile and waited for my numerous matches to encourage me that if I tried hard enough, I really could find Mr. Right.  But nope.  Just one match.  (It just may have been the fact that I checked the little box, “Am not willing to leave my current location (China) for someone...”).

After that, I came up with a Grand Plan.  I decided the best thing for me to do would be to marry a Chinese American.  Perfect.  That way we would already have both cultures in common.  So I picked the ONE single Chinese American in our organization and dropped a few hints….nothing.

I finally gave up the search, which is of course when I met someone who was out of the question: a guy from Chicago (the city I had dramatically exited with tears, commissioning and prayer meetings five years previously)—an actor with no “calling” to live overseas.  Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong.  This was not The Plan.  I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that I was “leaving for a guy,” so I said I was taking a “home leave.”  When we soon got engaged (3 days after I flew back from China), I was actually nervous to tell people.  I knew what they’d be thinking…I thought you were “called."  You sure are quick to abandon your “call” as soon as you meet a guy.  Don’t you need God more than you need a husband? Did you mishear God’s will for your life? Why are you selling out? 

No one actually said any of these things, but I knew what they'd be thinking because I had thought the same things about others in the past.  I felt ashamed of "forsaking my call" for something as "weak" as marriage. 

I think part of the problem was that throughout all my years of singleness I had fortified myself with verses affirming my marital status.  1 Corinthians 7:32-35 seemed to portray married people as distracted and bogged down by the world and single people as holy and completely sold out to the Lord.  Isaiah 54: 5 called the Lord my "husband and maker," which I took literally and thus felt completely guilty about when the Lord wasn't enough of a "husband" and I had to replace him with an earthly husband.  When I feared I would never have children, I found comfort in Psalm 17: 13-15 that seemed to say that people with children would have their "portion in this life," while  those who didn't have children would be satisfied in the Lord.  With these verses, I was impenetrable.  I wasn't even open to the prospect of God bringing a man into my life.  So when I met the Actor, I was completely blind-sided.  I really think it was the only way that I would have let down my guard.

Fast forward ten years, after lots of grieving over the loss of China (weekly tears for the first year), running parallel to the joy of an incredible husband and two devious, yet delightful children, I’ve come to these conclusions:

1.    Life is seasonal.
2.    Our calling can become our idol.
3.    God can and does use any state of being—single or married—to refine us and make us holy.
4.    Being a missionary isn’t the ultimate expression of your love for Christ.

I’ll unpack these a bit more in some other posts, but for now I will comment on #3.  1 Corinthians was a huge stumbling block for me as I found myself falling in love, but as a married woman, now I think:  Am I more distracted than I was when I was single? Yes.  Do I need to worry about meeting my family’s needs?  Yes.  Am I more worldly?  Possibly. But the ultimate question is this:  Do I love God less? No.  And more importantly, does He love me less?  Absolutely not. 

So far, marriage and missions have been mutually exclusive for me.  Grief, loss of identity and loss of purpose are just a few of the emotional pits I have found myself scrambling out of in the past five years of re-entry, but I have slowly found more peace about "leaving my calling."  One help was reading in Matthew 22, which includes the parable of the marriage feast and Jesus answering the Sadducees’ incessant questions on marriage in heaven. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that He seemingly skirts their questions about marriage and instead reminds them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind.  It turns out that marriage wasn't the issue at all--the issue was always about God having ALL their hearts.  Marriage can certainly muddy the waters of devotion, but nothing can change His love for me.  In fact, it gives me a pretty good forum to work out that second command to love my neighbor as myself.

Have you ever felt that singleness is viewed as more holy than marriage?  Have you felt guilty about leaving the field to get married? How did you reconcile your “call to missions” with your “call to marriage”?

Linking up with Velvet Ashes.

Photo by:  "Sandra and the ring" by Lbartley - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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