I wish to forewarn you before you commence reading this blog: it is not an easy pill to swallow. In fact, it is a damn awful pill to say the least and I imagine that not a lot else can compare to it for those singletons whose futures are inter-tangled with these facts. Yet that is what they are: facts. Not airy, fairy, pie-in-the-sky speculation, but inalienable truths for our time. This blog is relevant to New Zealand women, although certainly women from Christian churches in the Western world will be able to relate to some of this text. Despite any sense of hopelessness that arises here, as this blog will demonstrate, there is a kind of relief for us sufferers of the man drought, so, if you are willing, please read on.
It first came to my attention about six years ago that something was amiss between the sexes in New Zealand and Auckland in particular. For one thing, it was hard to ignore what was right in front of my eyes in the church auditorium every Sunday: lots and lots of young women, and a sparse scattering of men. Then something much worse happened, my speculation was realised not only by someone with access to actual statistical numbers, but this information was then passed on for the general knowledge-consumption of the New Zealand population. A brutal heading boasting “Man Drought” proceeded consensus numbers detailing the number of men verses the number of women in the 25-49 year age group. In a country holding of a modest populace of 4 million, there are 50 thousand more women than men in this age bracket. Opportunities for single women weren’t looking good to say the least, and I believe something inside of me died that day (specifically, a large serving of hope).
The Man Drought in New Zealand per se is not exactly what affects me, although certainly I feel for all single women in this country who long to be partnered up yet have thus far only been disappointed. What mattered to me the most was the grave shortage of men in the church, after all, this is where pretty much all women I am close to spend their time socialising, and if it wasn’t within the church walls, then more often than not it was with other Christians.
Having grown up in the church, having been prayed for by church goers, having been prophesized over by church leaders, having been the child of a married couple (my parents), marriage and parenthood was just what I was expecting upon reaching adulthood. During my youth, I spent much of my time molly-coddling dolls, whilst dreaming of having real babies of my own one day. I couldn’t wait to grow up, meet that man who would be out there waiting for me, and get married and start a family. This, more than anything else available post-childhood, was what I wanted.
As children, we just assume things will blossom as they should in due course
It never occurred to me during those tender years that things could turn out any other way. During high school, I was semi-frequently scathed by the words or actions of some unrequited crush in the school grounds. My mother told me that Christian boys wouldn’t treat me this way: they wouldn’t lead me on, hurt me and then stride off leaving me in a pained state in their wake. In my final year at high school I learnt, however, that this statement was not accurate either. I’m sure many a Christian woman in the church pews can relate to this passage from Job:
They are distressed, because they had been confident
They arrive there, only to be disappointed
Hope, and then hope dashedUp until not so long ago, I was on a desperate scavenge to find evidence that the imbalance of men and women in New Zealand would soon be resolved. Probably more often than I care to admit, I would run Google searches looking for new statistical information to confirm that, in the words of Bob Dylan, “times they are a changing’”, this time in favour of women. What I found instead was evidence that our female Australian counterparts had it almost as bad as we Kiwi women do, and that certain states in America, particularly New York, also had the same, albeit raw, deal. In short, performing searches via the likes of Google never did me an ounce of good. I am resolved not to carry out this pathetic charade anymore in future, and would urge any other woman doing it to also give it the boot.
In addition to internet searching, I was also on the lookout for events that could improve the man drought predicament. After returning from a trip to the States in 2008, I was greeted back to this little country by news of a worldwide recession. Even people in England couldn’t find work. I did not perceive this news as all doom and gloom, if Kiwis living in England couldn’t find work or were made redundant, then that simply meant, in my estimation, that they would have to return here to the land of the Long White Cloud (note: kiwis are notorious for heading to England for their overseas experience, and since there was not a surplus of females during my schooling years I believe that many a kiwi man headed to Her Majesty’s province, or similar). With the recession in mind, I told myself that perhaps an influx of men was right around the corner - it wasn’t.
Then, in 2011, Auckland hosted the Rugby World Cup, an event that hailed attention on a huge, international scale and that bought in thousands and thousands of tourists set to share in the atmosphere and see some of the games live. Surely rugby, being a rather masculine sport, could assist in alleviating the imbalance of men and women. To conclude, perhaps it did for a short while, but so far as I can tell not too many women met the men of their dreams during those several weeks of testosterone-drenched play offs, thus the disparity remains.
EcclesiastesIn the first chapter of Ecclesiastes we read something that, in my opinion, is exceedingly relevant to the present time:
What has been will be again,
What has been done will be done again;
There is nothing new under the sun.
After reading Ecclesiastes, Natasha decided it was time for a new prayer:
Dear God, could you please remove the sun and create something novel?
I am willing to forgo future sunbathing sessions if you grant me this.
Why, you may ask, do I think this is relevant to us in the present generation? I’ve spent years praying about the shortage of men, and pressing in to God for guidance or an explanation (like I’m owed one), as I’m sure many a Christian woman have. I’ve not felt His peace when dwelling on the notion that men will (frankly, miraculously) appear and the drought will be over. This doesn’t serve as a guarantee that I will never marry. It also doesn’t mean that none of my twenty or so single, Christian female friends will never marry either (all of my female friends are single). It does, I think, mean that the problem at large will remain. Not long after this passage came to mind (I feel God brought it into my awareness, by the way), it occurred to me that, if nothing is new, then somewhere there must be resources describing past shortages of men. If such information does exist, then there must also be details on what was the outcome for the women affected by this disparity. I found this information; I’ll lend you the gist of it…
Social Trauma Post World War OneAn article titled “Condemned to be Virgins: The TwoMillion Women Robbed by the War” by Amanda Cable details the gender imbalance in Britain post the First World War. Based on a book describing the subject, this text reads not unlike many of the conversations I’ve had with single women in the church. “They dreamt of love, marriage and children”, the article begins, but such hopes were to be dashed.
I’d like to point out a vital difference between this passage and the teachings Christian women tend to receive. Never have I heard a speaker blatantly preach from the pulpit declaring Christian women won’t all end up married. Never have I heard them directly address the glaringly obvious shortage of men in the church pews (surely, from their risen platform, it is somewhat obvious). Smaller groups discussing the subject, often hosted by married people, tend to offer replies like “God doesn’t care about numbers, He is bigger than digits” in relation to the gender disproportion. I stopped feeling comforted by such idioms a long time ago. Yes, God is bigger than numbers, yet unlike the insinuation from well-intentioned speakers, it doesn’t automatically follow that God’s way of resolving this is by pairing us all off. Also, thinking logically about it, unless God can start making new, grown men from clay again, this imbalance will remain. I don’t believe the large number of men who shifted away from New Zealand was a God-ordained thing, I believe it was a man-ordained thing, and God cannot make men do what He wants them to do (nor can He make them marry those who He has chosen for them, more on that later).
New to the church cell group, Sharon knew she’d found the right place
when she quickly realised there was not a man in sight
Back to my initial point. In contrast to church teaching, this article describes how during a school assembly one day, a British Senior Mistress mustered up the strength to make a harrowing proclamation to her female pupils: only 10% of you will ever get married. Her subsequent statement was just as hard hitting: “This is not a guess of mine. It is a statistically fact” (Cable), (italics – mine). My heart hurt for these war-time women, and a deep empathy for how they must have felt upon hearing this resounds within me. Unlike kiwi men who have left our shores on their own accord, these women would endure permanent singleness because their potential suitors were dead. Many years on from this Bournemouth High School assembly, statistics revealed that a whopping 35 per cent of women in their reproductive years never married (Cable).
One girl who was present during this post-war announcement, Rosamund Essex, later wrote a book where she recalled that disturbing declaration. In her book her school Mistresses words were touted as ‘prophetic’ (Cable). The word ‘prophetic’ resonated in my mind for some time after reading the article. Countless times I had hoped for a prophetic word for the women in my social circle, yet even as Christians we were without such messages worthy of our thoughts.
No hope vs false hopeSome months ago whilst once more considering how the church dispenses a blanket notion that we’ll someday all marry, I found myself wondering: what is worse? Full on, yet ultimately false hope – the kind of hope derived from putting all your hope into one specific outcome - or reasoned hope, where more than one avenue is considered? Had the church suggested to the likes of my friends and myself as part of the church body some time ago that it was likely not every member would marry (for any number of reasons), then perhaps the disappointment we are experiencing now wouldn’t be so soul-wrenching and utterly unexpected. As it were, I don’t think it ever occurred to me during my younger years that my status of being single would continue well into my adult life. After careful consideration I am at a point where I consider that perhaps reasoned hope, that is hope which is not dead set on one particular outcome only but which considers other outcomes are jointly plausible, is better than full on, albeit false, hope in this area. Why? Because false hope is a hope that will always disappoint.
I originally sort to see this comparison as a distinction between no hope and false hope. Having thought about it in greater length however, to cease hope in something completely is not a goal to be aimed for. It is wise to pray for the things we would dearly like in life, and if we really were to eradicate all traces of hope then I think the practice of faithful praying for something that is Godly and good (such as a husband) will be lost and buried along with our dollop of hope.
Let me share with you something else that has come to mind these past several months. As Christians (or people of any belief system), we all know of a person or persons who have suffered from cancer. The Christian sufferers and those close to them will undoubtedly pray for healing and for the treatment to be a success. In short: they pray to be free of this hideous, invasive disease. Yet we all know that some Christians do get healed – be it through deliverance prayer or through chemotherapy – yet others don’t and consequently die. So, if we except that some Christians with cancer do live whilst others die a premature death, then how is it that we jointly believe all Christians who desire to get married will get married? This is but one comparison that could be made here; I use it only because most of us will, during the course of our lives, have lost someone to this disease (similarly, most of us will also know of women and men who simply never found a spouse).
God has got it all figured out, girls – your husband will still be taller
than you even when you are sporting high heels on your wedding day.
But what about the scripture that says “The Lord will give you the desires of your heart”.I’m not going to spend a lot of time of this passage, but I will make a couple of remarks on it. Firstly, as I was typing it into the Google search engine, I’d barely gotten three words entered when it offered the exact verse at the top of the list of possible searches. This tells me that a lot of people are well versed in terms of this piece of scripture. In relation to marriage, I will share what a close friend of mine once told me this verse means. My friend believes that this verse, which in full reads “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” and is found in Psalms 37:4, means that the desires we have in our hearts are there because the Lord put them there. In other words, if a desire we have (assuming it is in line with God’s word) is in our heart, it’s because the Lord purposefully placed it in there. There seems to be a common tendency for Christians to think this means God will then give to us whatever those desires might be. The bible, however, doesn’t go on to say that. Rather, it goes on to say we should commit our ways to the Lord and trust in him, and in terms of what the Lord will do for us, it says this: “He will make your righteousness shine line the dawn, the justice of the cause like the noonday sun”. Not quite that same as getting exactly what we want now, is it?
Advice from well-meaning married folk: “She obviously never got married because…” and so forth
There have been a few occasions now, mostly during all-female hangouts, when the question of why some women are still single by the time they reach, say, middle age has arisen. The most popular answer (according to my own remembrance survey) that is offered to this question is that there is “obviously some unresolved issue or problem that she has which means she’s never been able to progress to marriage”. Again, based on my own observation, it seems that some single Christian women even like this answer. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is because it means that our fate is in our own hands in so far as we can gain marital status if we simply work out our problems. I myself used to think this was most likely the case, but then I learnt a new theory whilst taking a paper in Psychology last year (isn’t it interesting what God can use to expand our minds? A bible verse here, an academic lesson there…).
The lecturer described how, as human beings, we have a tendency to blame other people’s undesirable outcomes on some supposed character flaw that they bare. The example went something like this: you invite a friend over for dinner, and she arrives twenty minutes late. You quietly think to yourself something along the lines of “well, if she wasn’t so disorganised”, “if she wasn’t so casual about everything, she might actual be here on time” or similar. The point is you blame her for the undesirable outcome of arriving late. Your friend, on the other hand, being the owner of the outcome, is more likely to be thinking “How was I to know there would be so much traffic at this hour”, or “If it wasn’t for the truck that had broken down I’d have been on time”. In contrast, the friend blames her lateness on the situation, NOT on a personal disposition.
You can possibly already see where I am going with this. It can be easy for some people to look on at single women of a certain age and say that her prolonged status of being single is the result of something dispositional. This may be true of some women, but I personally don’t believe it is the case for the majority in the church. I believe I am correct in saying that most Christian women who are single currently are not single because of something dispositional; rather, they are single because of the situation. The situation is, of course, that there is a huge shortage of men (approximately 1 single man to every 3-4 single women – again, this pertains only to Auckland, and numbers will vary slightly from church to church).
One last thing about receiving advice from married people. These folk will almost always give advice in accordance to their own marriage-abounding experience. If they were out actively searching when they met their future spouse, they will tell you to get out there and do the same. If they disbanded the proactive approach in favour of patiently waiting when the would-be spouse arrived, they will suggest this is your ticket to success also. I will say but one thing on the matter: every person’s experience will be slightly different, and you won’t know what method will work for you until you can look back on it in retrospect. If you feel at peace with what you are presently doing, don’t abandon it because of well-intentioned words from others. Consider that you are right where the Lord wants you, and that whilst this may or may not result in partnership, the Lord has got you there for a reason, whatever that reason might be.
Heeding her friend Tammy’s advice, Kylie was sure it was only a
matter of time now before her waiting patiently would pay off and the Fed Ex man would whisk her away to a life of marital bliss
So…….. is there any hope? What I believe we can be sure ofThe realisation that my chances of ever getting married are relatively slim is not a conclusion I am fond of fostering, nor does it leave me with a great yearning to fling my arms open in praise of an all-powerful, all-loving God who seemingly can’t even deliver me and my fellow God-fearing sisters from prolonged singleness. I’ve asked the question that probably many of us have asked at some stage: what’s the point in living my life in accordance to God’s way? In doing so, I am still left despairing in a pond of loneliness, not to mention living out my days as though there is no sexual component to me. It ignores those maternal desires that are being cast to the way-side along with the tick-tocking of the clock. Frankly, this all seems like an impossible bite to chew. Furthermore, what good is waiting for ‘the right one’, if ‘the right one’ isn’t ever going to come along? I feel God has revealed two things to me that cover these concerns.
Firstly, I believe God does have someone, or someones plural (more than one possible suitor in the entire world seems plausible to me) in mind for each of His children. However, God also gave us free will. I’ll again use an analogy here to explain. When applying for a job, God might urge us to take one vacancy as opposed to a number of other roles that are available. We can, however, choose to rely on our own understanding and take another offer instead. Perhaps it pays more, perhaps there appears to be more room to climb the corporate ladder in comparison to the door God wants to lead you through. To be flatly honest (in this analogy, and in the actual subject at hand), perhaps it just looks more attractive! By ignoring God’s leading though, we’ll never know why He wanted us to take one over another, and our abundant-living will be compromised because of it. I propose the idea that God does not force people to marry those whom He has chosen for them; like all things in life, not excluding salvation itself, it is ultimately our choice whether or not we obey Him. To further make the point, I’ve also wondered how many of the men who’ve left this nation were actually called to leave (or how many were called to stay put over there).
Secondly, there is always a reason to do things God’s way, even if it will never amount to what we consider to be a Christian birth-right to us here on this earth. It struck me rather suddenly one night that if we obey God and honour Him with our body, mind and time, and if this does not result in the marriage and family we so wanted here in this world (after all, God is for marriage – he invented it as he saw it wasn’t good for man to be alone), then God has to reward us on the other side. It is that simple. And let us not downplay the fact that the other side is for all of eternity; things in this life are but temporal. The bible makes it clear that those who are first here will be last over there, and those who are last here will be first there (Matthew 20:16). Now that is something to be excited about. This message was further affirmed me to whilst I was browsing through a second hand book store before Christmas (call it shopping on a student budget). Randomly flicking open a book titled ‘The Thorn in the Flesh’ by R.T. Kendall, my eyes fell upon these words:
“And, yet, I feel it is fair to say that, as you resist the opportunities for sexual fulfilment outside of marriage, your reward in heaven will be perhaps as great as that of any missionary leaving home and going to a foreign field. Do not underestimate what it will mean at the judgement seat of Christ when it will show that you refused to give in! In the words of the famous sermon of the late Dr. R. G. Lee, ‘Pay day, some day!’” (Kendall, 29-30)
Closing remarksAs I embarked on writing this blog, I knew there was much I could say on the subject of the shortage of men in our churches today (and on the shortage of men in New Zealand, more generally). I’ve allowed this text to be of reasonable length because I feel that my points are relevant to most women who find themselves perpetually single. In closing, there is one more thing I would like to say about dealing with singleness as a Christian woman, and that is this: each day, take five minutes to feel at peace with where you are at in relation to your goals on this earth. Whether you are dating, or haven’t had a date in years, except that this is where you are at today and thank God for what you do have. If we can integrate this as part of our daily lives, then the struggle of being single, though it may never completely dissolve, will certainly begin to lose momentum and become more tolerable.
At times this life feels long and the loneliness can seem insurmountable. Eternity, however, is a lot longer and promises to be more than fulfilling for those who follow Him.
Reference list:Cable, Amanda. "Condemned to Be Virgins: The Two Million Women Robbed by the War." Daily Mail Online 2007.
Kendall, R T. The Thorn in the Flesh. Florida, United State of America: Charisma House, 2004. Print.
The Committee On Bible Transation. Ecclesiastes, Job, Matthew, Psalms. The Holy Bible, New International Version. Colorado Springs: International Bible Society, 1984. Print.