Here is an excellent article by our friend Jennie Chancey.
“Thus goes everyone to the world but I, and I am sunburnt. I may sit in a corner and cry, ‘Heigh-ho for a husband!’”
~ Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing (Act II, scene i.)
Today’s single Christian woman is often made to feel that she should be just like Beatrice, sitting quietly in her corner and waiting for “Mr. Right.” I know; I used to be in that corner. An “old maid” at 23, I watched dozens of friends get married and start families and felt sometimes like a second-class citizen among all the blushing brides. I had been brought up on the principles of courtship and maidenly virtues and really wondered if there was a role open to me in the Church and in society as a single woman. After all, the Bible clearly tells us that “The woman was made for the man” (I Cor. 11:9) and is intended to be his helper (Gen. 2:18). Throughout the Bible, the woman’s orientation is geared toward the men in her life, whether a father, a respected elder, a husband or a protective brother.
I bounced back and forth between contentment as a single woman and frustration with my desire to be a wife and mother. I finally told my parents that I’d decided not to marry at all, since, apparently, no good men were forthcoming, and I was tired of just waiting around, crying “Heigh-ho for a husband” (not aloud, grant you!). My parents had always encouraged me to be content in whatever state the Lord put me, but they had also spent years equipping me to be a capable wife and mother. I could cook, keep house, sew, decorate, paint and organize to beat the band. I loved children and babysat all I could. But I still felt like my life was in “limbo” compared to my married friends. Little did I realize how many single friends felt they were in the same boat.
“Singles Enter Here”
There are thousands of single women of all ages in the Church today who feel like they are stuffed into odd corners or categorized into “support groups” for other singles. Unfortunately, this only adds to the feeling that there is no role for the single woman other than that of waiting for The Man to come along. Granted, marriage is “honourable in all” (Heb. 13:4) and definitely a calling for which God will equip the majority of us, but there must be something better to do than twiddling one’s thumbs before marriage. What if Mr. Right doesn’t come along for twenty years? Or forty?
Fortunately, there are some folks out there these days who are starting to rethink the single woman’s role and find inspiration in the very passages usually held apart for married ladies. One such person is Jennifer Lamp, whose book, His Chosen Bride (available from GraceWorks), takes the Proverbs 31 woman as a role model for the single lady, applying each verse beautifully and aptly. Lamp points out that single women are united to their Heavenly Bridegroom and should consider Proverbs 31 in that light. Seen this way, the passage offers great scope for the single woman, showing her that her services are needed in her own family, in the Church and in society. As St. Paul writes, “There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband” (I Cor. 7:34). This doesn’t mean that married people cannot focus on God’s work, but their orientation is going to be different because of the many duties they have toward their spouses, children and in-laws. The single woman is “free” in this sense to concentrate on many families and give of her time more liberally than the married woman often can.
The “Ministry” Mindset
Naturally, when we talk about the single woman’s “ministry,” thoughts of grand missionary trips overseas pop into mind. While mission work is definitely important, the Bible shows that the woman’s “mission” is primarily oriented toward others in her own immediate community and radiates from the home. Think of Dorcas, who sewed garments for the poor (Acts 9:36-40) and Lydia, who invited the entire church to meet in her home (Acts 16:14,15). Unfortunately, our culture worships high-profile, “glamorous” jobs and looks askance at anything that might be construed “mundane,” “demeaning” or “lowly.” But this thinking is contrary to what Scripture clearly teaches us. Jesus said over and over again that “whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26b,27). And His example was so clear as He washed His disciples’ feet, touched lepers and reached out to the lowest social strata all around Him. The Lord of the Universe washing feet! And we think that the only “real” ministries in the Church are teaching, traveling to foreign lands and converting massive numbers of people to Christ. I think it’s time to reconsider that notion.
Most of the time, single women are urged to go out and get a regular job, since there is obviously “nothing else” for them to do. This could not be more false! When I used to read the Proverbs 31 woman passage with my mother, I’d ask, “Mom, where does she get all those ‘maidens’ to help her out?” Today we have thousands of “maidens” who are at a loss for what they can do as a ministry. Ladies, here is one that is crying out to be filled! I’ve known large families who have unmarried women come and live with them for weeks, months or even a year at a time to help out with homemaking, cooking, daily organization and more. Freed up from such tasks, stay-at-home moms are better able to concentrate on their primary ministry to their husbands, children and younger women. And what a training opportunity for the women who live with them! Hands-on, daily work in the home among likeminded people is ideal. I only wish I had thought of doing this when I was a teenager. The young women who have performed this ministry tell me it has blessed them and enriched them in ways they could never have imagined. Today, stay-at-home moms are made to feel guilty if they cannot “do it all,” but you’ll find that the Proverbs 31 woman was great at delegating tasks. To whom will the Proverbs 31 women of today delegate tasks if all the single women are running away from home-based ministry to seek “more worthy” occupations? I wish I had asked myself that question ten years ago.
Scripture also holds midwives in very high esteem (Ex. 1:17-20) and shows what a wonderful ministry they have to the women around them. Many women are gifted in this area and called to medical ministry. It is my personal belief that women are best suited to serve as birth attendants and to take care of “women’s health” issues. I know of one godly elderly woman who was not called to marry and has served a small rural community as a nurse practicioner for over fifty years. She is a gentle, kind and wise lady who truly loves the women and children she serves. Her outreach to the poor has been especially helpful where she lives, and she has shown the love of Christ to countless people. Nursing is something toward which women are often naturally oriented. Keeping order and cleanliness in the sickroom is an honored “profession” that goes back hundreds upon hundreds of years. I know of several young women who have apprenticed with midwives or served as birth attendants in the home and in the hospital, bringing comfort to women and skill to the tasks at hand. Helping to usher life into the world or to care for women’s health needs is something that will always be necessary. A woman who has a specific gift for or interest in medicine may certainly want to consider this avenue of ministry.
Yet another important “job” often overlooked is the command to “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Ex. 20:12). The single woman has a very unique opportunity to make this commandment especially beautiful for her parents. One thing I loved doing while I was at home was working with my father as his research assistant (he was a historian and author). I was able to help him build his own business while sharpening skills that he desired to teach me (thorough research, writing, editing and more). The daughter at home has a fantastic opportunity to honor her father by supporting what he does. If she cannot offer that support directly, she can do it by showing him respect for his job as breadwinner and teaching younger siblings to respect and honor their father as well. The same is true when it comes to honoring mothers. Learning alongside her mother, the single daughter can (and should) eventually take tasks completely off her mother’s hands (as should other siblings). My mother trained her children to do the laundry by the time they could stand on a stepstool and reach the knobs on the machine. She taught all of us to vacuum, mop and dust at an early age. By the time I was eight and my brother was six, Mom really didn’t have to do laundry or much of the housework any longer. She was able to focus her time on teaching us at home and creating fun projects for interested little minds. Single women have a great opportunity to bless their own families in this way, and this ministry is every bit as important as preaching to crowds of people. In fact, it is what makes preaching possible. Christianity lived beautifully is what makes the message appealing and draws the crowds. When the family is going in ten different directions and each member isn’t oriented toward the others, the world sees chaos and disorder. It doesn’t make for much of a message.
Questions Single Women Can Ask Themselves
As the single woman looks around for ways she can minister to her family and to the Body of Christ, she should keep several things in mind. First of all, “Is what I am doing honoring the Lord, specifically in the way He wishes women to honor Him?” The best way to ascertain this is to make a thorough study of the women of the Bible and see how God used their femininity for His glory. The unique role of the woman isn’t less important than the man’s, but it is different. Next, “Is this work going to call for me to do things that should really be done by a man?” We honor men when we step aside and let them do the jobs for which they are best suited. Our egalitarian culture would have us believe that men and women can do the exact same jobs equally. Plain old common sense, backed by good research, shows that this just isn’t true. Women firefighters struggle to lift hoses and ladders or pull dead weights from burning buildings while men (with their God-given upper body strength), can undertake these tasks with apparent ease. This kind of work is not safe for the women involved or for the people who need the help of able firemen. Our post-modern culture wants to emasculate men and masculinize women. Go against this folly by undertaking a ministry that is distinctly feminine. Finally, “How can I use my time as a single woman to the greatest advantage for God’s kingdom?” The answers to this question are many. For starters, the single woman has more time for reading and study. A broad liberal arts education and in-depth Bible study should be available to every woman. A good education, based upon a Christian worldview, builds a woman in her God-given calling and makes her even more effective. That doesn’t mean you need to go off to college, either. I did, but I wouldn’t repeat it. Four years away from home and real ministry is a waste of time and money if you can read, find godly mentors and follow a regular course of study on your own. There’s no excuse for stupidity in our day of 24-hour internet access and live tutors available around the globe on any topic. I’ve learned more and read more since I graduated from college than I ever learned there. And I’ve been able to go deeply into areas of study which were only touched upon in my major classes. A good education is one that builds the mind without building the ego. Besides study, the single woman has time to teach young girls (perhaps mentoring a few if she has special skills or talents). She can run a home business as well, concentrating on an area of talent or specialization. Many times, a friend will say, “You’d really be good at…”. Why not see if that talent might be one the Lord could use to bless others? There are single women running a variety of excellent home-based businesses, including sewing for others, cooking and delivering entire meals to customers, baking pastries and/or decorating cakes, arranging flowers, coordinating weddings, running weekly “mother’s day out” programs, hostessing fancy teas for ladies’ groups, catering, writing, editing, designing websites and more. The opportunities are boundless when you really start looking!
Some women reading this might be older widows who are now wondering what they are supposed to do. When life has been oriented around the husband’s calling for many years, it can be hard to feel out a new direction. St. Paul clearly teaches that the older women are to “train the younger women …” (Titus 2:4). One cry I hear constantly from young women around me is, “Where are the godly older women who should be teaching us?” Sometimes they are busy with their own families, but often we find that they are sitting quietly, feeling unneeded in Christ’s Body. How many churches shuffle their “seniors” into classes for the “old folks” and segregate them from the young people they should be mentoring? Sadly, the majority of churches do this. While older ladies and gentlemen should have ample opportunities to fellowship with one another, they certainly shouldn’t be placed where they are unable to train those who are coming up after them. What a fountain of wisdom we have within the Church if we’d only tap into it! Older single women (even those who have never been married) have much to offer us. They are often the best ones to teach us contentment and patience.
There are ample opportunities for ministry for single women of every age and station in the Church, the family and society. While the vast majority of us will go on to marriage and families of our own, there are some who will not and who are called to remain single for life (I Cor. 7:7-10). Even if she is preparing and hoping for marriage, the single woman should not feel that she needs to be watching and waiting for Mr. Right while the world goes by. The principles of courtship are excellent and do prepare women for godly unions, but they should not cause us to lose our focus on what God would have us do today. Josh Harris makes this point beautifully in many of his talks and in his books. The whole point of rethinking our approach to male-female relationships is to get us to focus on something other than male-female relationships — namely, to focus upon the Lord’s unique calling for singlehood. Look around you. There are needy people right there within your own families, in your church and among friends and strangers. What can you do as a single woman to glorify God and serve Him right now? How can you honor and obey your Heavenly Bridegroom and bring “him good, not harm, all the days of [your] life?” (Prov. 31:12). Instead of crying “Heigh-ho for a husband,” consider crying out to your Heavenly Husband, Who knows your needs and has wonderful work for you to accomplish!
Mrs. M. L. Chancey