Working and waiting: what’s a single woman to do?
This time, I’m jumping ahead a few years and focusing on those who are finishing up a college degree, are not in a serious relationship, and are once again at a crossroads in life.
My basic advice would be to look for a job in a place where you will have a good church. And start your search based on churches. Jobs come and go, but your church is going to be the key to your spiritual health. It’s where you will be fed from God’s Word and convicted of sin. It’s where you will serve others with your spiritual gifts and find counsel and accountability. It’s where you will find fellowship and community. And it might even be where you meet your husband.
So, assuming you have identified a potential church or churches, you can begin to search for a job. Ideally you’ll find one in your field, one that pays decently and allows you to use and further develop your abilities. But even if you don’t find your ideal job, be faithful and diligent in what God does provide. Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”
This is not to say that you can’t look for something better, or move on, but it does mean you are to be thankful, diligent, and content wherever you are. I’ve seen some young ladies float idly by at this stage, seemingly waiting for a man to rescue them from having to work. Remember, though, that a godly man desires an excellent wife, like the one in Proverbs 31. And that ideal wife is a hard worker. You don’t become this woman magically once the ring is on your finger. It’s something that takes years of practice.
Diligence, though, is not the only consideration. Consider how you can glorify God in your job. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Are you being salt and light to your unbelieving coworkers, clients, or customers? Do your words show you love God foremost? Does your conduct demonstrate that you believe His Word?
And remember that you cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). Love for your job (or the money, reputation, etc. that the job gives you) will compete for your love for God and his kingdom. I faced this struggle right away in my first “real” job. Thankfully, there was an older teacher at the Christian school where I worked who noticed me working late one night and told me to go home. He reminded me that there were more important things than the demands of my job, and that if I didn’t learn to establish right priorities, I would continue to struggle, especially when family and other pressures of life came along.
As you work, grow in your ability to manage the finances of your household. Again, look at Proverbs 31 and notice how wise this woman is regarding money. Hopefully, if you have been careful and wise from the beginning (see my first post), you are not in debt right now. But if you are, don’t despair; you simply must make it a priority to pay it off. This is your responsibility. And speaking of responsibilities, if you are not yet in the habit of tithing, make sure that you are honoring “the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Prov. 3:9).
Second, figure out where you lack financial expertise and get help in these areas. Maybe you need help in setting up or living within a budget. Or maybe you could learn to be thriftier. Or maybe you need to learn more about insurance, taxes, or investing. These will be helpful not only to you right now, but also to your family in the future.
Finally, I’d advise you to consider how you can use your current financial situation to save for the future and be a blessing to others. Since you don’t have a family to provide for, it is likely you have money (perhaps a good deal of it) that you can put aside. Be like the ant in Proverbs 6, which saves for the winter. And, be generous in your giving. Read 2 Corinthians 9, which describes how God has enriched you for the purpose of being able to give to others. So cheerfully give to particular needs at church, missions, or other needs you come across, for “God loves a cheerful giver” (vs. 7).
WHAT ABOUT GRADUATE SCHOOL?
If you are anything like I was at age 21 or so, you’ll wonder if graduate school is a good option for you. Like undergraduate education, higher education options can be pretty diverse, so I can’t speak to every situation here. However, I would highly discourage most young women from jumping straight into graduate school after finishing an undergraduate degree.
Why? Well, in general, most people benefit from getting real-world experience before continuing in academia. Doing so is very helpful in giving purpose to your graduate work and helping you see how it will (or won’t) fit into your life. In my case, I applied for an MA in Spanish literature straight out of undergraduate school and was (by God’s mercy) denied. Instead, I took a job for 2 years and then re-applied to the same university (but different department) and was accepted. Looking back at my original statement of purpose in applying, it’s pretty obvious why I wasn’t accepted. I had little sense of why I wanted to be in graduate school. It just seemed like the thing to do for someone who was good at Spanish literature. The second time I applied, I had a wealth of life experience and recognized the gaps in my expertise. I had a clear purpose for returning to academia, and consequently picked a path (linguistics & teaching) that was a much better fit for me.
But beyond that, specifically, as a woman, you have to seriously count the costs of graduate school. In particular, a PhD or similar program is going to consume 5-7 years of your life and will set you on a very specific track. The commitment that it takes to succeed in a graduate program is greatly increased from an undergraduate program. Beyond the classes (which are often a good deal harder), you are expected to attend conferences, present at conferences, engage in research, publish articles, etc. The pressure can be quite intense. Professors are counting on you to carry forth their reputation, so they may invest in you with certain expectations. The time and pressure this requires can easily carry you away from church and other priorities in your life, such as having a family. And even after these intense years consume your 20s, there will be further consequences once you finally finish. Maybe your field is so specific that you are tied to finding a job in one of a small handful of places that would hire you. Maybe (especially with, say, law or medicine) you will be obligated to work for a certain number of years to pay off your educational expenses. For many women, this means being unable to have a family until their late 30s, or later—or never. You must count these costs before making such a large commitment.
Now, not all higher education scenarios are equal. It’s possible to get a Master of Arts in Teaching, for example, in one year. I also know that it’s possible to get a degree as a Nurse Practitioner while continuing your work as a nurse. My own program (MA in TESOL/Applied Linguistics) was a degree where you could finish in 2 years and easily find a job nearly anywhere in the world. But even so, I faced pretty intense pressure to research, publish, and go on for a PhD. In my experience, entirely too many people are pushed towards graduate school today. It may be because they don’t see any options in their field unless they continue, or because they are bright, and think it’s what bright people ought to do. But whatever the reason, the market is filled with people with terminal degrees who can’t find a job in their field, are saddled with debt, or have given the most vigorous years of their life to a university that simply can’t fulfill their longings or expectations.
If this topic hasn’t yet been on your mind, it certainly will be soon during this time in life.
For some, the danger is making an idol of being in a relationship. They find it difficult to be content while they’re single. They waste time pining for what they don’t have, or they grow envious towards others who have what they want. They may even grow desperate and settle for a man who is not a godly or wise choice. Sadly, I’ve seen many young women shipwreck their lives because of impatience to marry. If this is your temptation, strive earnestly to find your contentment in the Lord, not in a man. Marrying will not fulfill you. Pray (and ask others to pray) for contentment. Conduct a study of contentment in the Scriptures. Read The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.
However, I’ve also seen a number of women at this point be entirely too picky. Maybe it’s because they have unrealistic ideas about marriage or what the ideal man should be like. Whatever the reason, they turn down or put up barriers towards men so long that they find themselves in their late 20s, 30s (or beyond), with most of their fertile years gone, and the selection of decent men greatly reduced. Then, they may live out the rest of their lives in envy and bitterness. Or they grow impatient and settle for an ungodly marriage. Or, they eventually marry a decent man, but deal with the struggles of infertility. If this is your temptation, examine what is truly important in a husband, and start giving the men in your life a chance. Don’t let the ideal of romance blind you to the genuine love you could have with a real, but imperfect man.
There is so much more that could be said here, and even if I tried, I couldn’t possibly address all the particulars of your situation. So seek counsel from godly men and women who know you and the young man in question. If they think he’s bad news in general, or bad news for you, stay away. Or, if they see good things in a man you’re not crazy about, give him a chance.
In this time of uncertainty regarding jobs and marriage, you will undoubtedly do a lot of waiting. This is not the only time in life where God will have you wait, so learn now to do it well. I’ve already tried to show you ways to do this in your job and with your finances. Here are two more ways where you can learn to wait well in this season of life:
As a woman, whether or not you ever have children of your own, God has created you to nurture life. Practice and improve your nurturing skills. On a most basic level, give of your time to care for the children in your life, such as nieces and nephews, or the children in your small group. If you’re not around children much, volunteer for nursery and childcare opportunities. Work alongside godly parents and teachers to observe what they do. Note what works and what doesn’t, and implement this in the ways that you can.
And don’t just think about physical nurturing. Spiritually, you should be nurturing those younger in the faith. Can you name anyone that you are discipling? There are plenty of opportunities, if you’ll have the eyes to see them. Maybe it’s an immature believer at work that you can encourage or challenge. Maybe some of the kids in Sunday School or the high school youth group need extra love or attention. God has placed particular people in your life for a reason—don’t squander what He’s given you. Be faithful in the “little” that He has given you now, so that He can entrust you with more. How do you expect to disciple your own children someday if you are not in the practice of doing it now?
Multiple places in Scripture command us to practice hospitality (e.g., Romans 12:13, I Peter 4:9, Hebrews 13:2). Hopefully, you have had opportunities growing up to observe and assist in extending hospitality to those around you. If you did not grow up in a godly household where this was the case, make it a priority to learn what this looks like.
But even if you did grow up in a godly home (as I did), it’s a different thing entirely to now be in your own home and be responsible for your use of it. There are surely aspects of hospitality where you are weak. Identify these areas and seek to improve them. Maybe you are unaware how to make the environment of your home feel warm and inviting. Maybe you know how to cook for yourself, but are unfamiliar with cooking for a crowd. Maybe you have trouble getting people to talk or open up to you. Observe others who do these things well, ask them questions, and practice, practice, practice.
I’ll add here that the details of your living situation will affect your ability to be hospitable. My first apartment after college was a tiny studio, and was terrible for inviting people over, so I wasted most of two years in this regard. By contrast, my second living situation was in a house with several ladies, and both the location and layout of the house made it possible to do things like host Bible studies, invite neighbors for dinner, and even temporarily house women who were in tough straits.
But regardless of your living situation, there are always things you can do to grow in hospitality. Get in the habit of inviting people over (or, at least, go out with them for coffee, etc.). And I’m not just talking about hanging out with your friends. Invite unbelieving neighbors or coworkers. Invite the widows, fatherless, poor, and foreigners in your community. Volunteer to bring meals to people who are sick, have suffered a death in the family, or have had a new baby.
So, I hope my advice over the last 3 posts has been helpful and practical. If I could sum it up, I’d say, be sober-minded and consider the future. Be diligent and content in whatever situation God currently has you in. Stay connected to a good local church and seek the counsel of godly men and women. And, above all, trust and obey the Lord.
I’ll leave you with some encouragement from Psalm 37:
“Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.” (Psalms 37:6-7)
“The steps of a good man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
I have been young, and now I am old,
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
Or his descendants begging bread.” (Psalms 37: 23-25)