Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Here’s Carolyn McCulley on why singles should focus more on doing God’s will than on finding a spouse.It’s Monday, June 25, and this is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Here’s Nancy.

Carolyn McCulley: We’re not going to get to Heaven and have the Lord look at us and say, “Great! You finally flapped over the finish line of marriage. I’m so proud of you!”

It’s going to be irrelevant. What we’re going to be commended for is whether or not we faithfully stewarded what He gave us. That is why we’re going to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Do you ever find yourself, as a woman who is unmarried and maybe a little bit older, thinking you would have been married by this time? Do you find yourself having some conflicting emotions inside and maybe wondering, “Does God really know what He’s doing? Is He really in control? Can I trust Him with my desires? Has God forgotten me?" Things you probably wouldn’t say out loud, but maybe you wonder from time to time.

Well, our guest this week has wrestled with some of those questions, and she shares honestly out of her own journey what God has been teaching her.

Her name is Carolyn McCulley. Carolyn, welcome back to Revive Our Hearts.

Carolyn: Thank you.

Nancy: You’ve written a terrific book called, Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? The subtitle, which is so important, and we want to talk about that today, Trusting God with a Hope Deferred.

Our single listeners are going to be very blessed by this discussion this week. But as I read this book, I thought, “This isn’t a book just for singles. There’s a lot of wisdom in here for women—whether married or single—because God’s ways and God’s truth apply across the board to the issues of our hearts.”

We all have to learn to trust God when hope is deferred, and you’ve given so many fabulous insights into how to do that, some fresh ways of looking at the will and the heart of God.

We’re going to get into that this week and talk about the issue of singleness—how to trust God when it looks like maybe He’s not going to come through on the plans that we had in mind.

But before we jump into that, Carolyn, you have a testimony of God’s grace and His mercy in your life that I want our listeners to hear.

I think your life is such an example of a woman who didn’t always think biblically. There’s been a transformation in your life, and you’ve become what we call around here a counter-cultural woman.

You are part of what we want to believe that God will do through the whole ministry of Revive Our Hearts, and that’s one of the reasons our hearts have connected since we first met a number of years ago.

But take us back. You did not know Christ as a child, and you were not raised in a home where you were being taught the Scripture, as I had the privilege of being.

Carolyn: Right. I was raised going to church. My mother was very faithful to take us to church. I participated in the rites of that church, but my own heart wasn’t affected by the gospel.

I had not repented. I had no concept of the need for a Savior. I was very performance driven, and when it was time to be concerned about sins, I couldn’t even think of any.

I would think, “Oh, I stole two cookies from the cookie jar.” I had no concept of my own heart or my need for a Savior. My mother was faithful to try and instill that, but it didn’t happen until I was older.

I did have one brief experience as a teenager. I attended another church’s youth group, and they were the first to lay out the idea of “making a personal decision for Christ.”

So I did—but unfortunately, I didn’t receive a lot of solid teaching there, and I don’t believe I was truly regenerated at that point. My own journals—when I go back and read them, are still full of a gossipy, proud, divisive young woman who now is beating other people over the head with her Bible.

Nancy: So you made a profession of faith, but there really wasn’t the fruit or the evidence that you had been converted.

Carolyn: No. Then, unfortunately, there was no discipleship. It was just, “Make a decision, and now let’s just walk around enjoying being Christians.”

The concept of serving was missing and discipleship was missing. There was a scandal in the church at that time, unfortunately, and the youth pastor was being inappropriate with a number of girls.

By the time he got to me, I told the senior pastor, and it became a very difficult situation to live through.

The end result was my heart was not regenerated. I decided I’d seen the full spectrum of Christianity at that point and had seen nothing but hypocrisy. Of course, there was nothing but hypocrisy in my own heart as well.

I left, and I went to college at that point. Throughout college and the ensuing years of my twenties, I lived for myself, and I had a very worldly viewpoint. I lived a very sinful lifestyle.

I was a party girl, and I had gotten my degree in journalism and a minor (at that point) in women’s studies. I was a teaching assistant at the University of Maryland’s Women’s Studies program, and I embraced the whole feminist philosophy.

Nancy: So, they weren’t teaching biblical womanhood at the University of Maryland at that time?

Carolyn: No! Not at all. I just remember being angry all the time, and angry because it was a position of wanting to demand from men respect and cherishing, but coming at it from a point of anger.

Nancy: What were you angry at? Or why were you angry?

Carolyn: I can’t say that I was angry from any personal experience. It was just the doctrine, if you will, that is poured into you over and over and over again about the way men treat women.

I also grew up in the late 60s, early 70s. I can remember clearly the tennis program—I don’t know if you remember Bobby Riggs vs. Billy Jean King—but I remember being thrilled when she beat him in sports.

It was just the sense of competition. She won the tennis match, and I thought, “We’ll beat men wherever we go.” It wasn’t much for cultivating respect; that’s for sure.

Nancy: So, you were on this pathway to pursuing the world—pursuing its ways of thinking—with a feminist mindset and a heart that was very far from the Lord. How did the Lord begin to draw your heart in?

Carolyn: Well, my middle sister, Alice, had become a Christian in college, and she just loved on me. She would come and spend time with me and be faithful to me and pray for me, and I would entice her to party and do all sorts of things.

Instead of being a good big sister, I was always offering temptation. Shortly before my thirtieth birthday, she and the man who is now her husband went to South Africa to study at a Bible college.

My policy is: If somebody moves abroad, I’m going to scrape together those pennies and go visit them because that’s the cheapest way.

So I went on vacation knowing that we’d have to go to church, because that’s what they were all about, but I figured, “That’s only one day out of seven. I can deal with it.”

When I was in South Africa, I heard the gospel for the first time, and I was highly affected. But I also knew I’d need to change, and I wasn’t sure I could do it.

So in the week that followed, I asked my sister and brother-in-law a lot of questions, and they were very gracious about answering the questions, just waiting to see what would happen.

During our last week in South Africa, we went to see my brother-in-law’s former pastor because he had come in from the United States to preach at a small church in Capetown.

In walked the man who’s now my pastor, C.J. Mahaney. I saw him with all his passion for the Lord and all his—to me—authenticity. I could relate to him and his sense of humor.

I thought, “Okay, now, I can follow this man as he follows Christ.” So when I got home, I called his church. I was living in Richmond, Virginia at the time. I called his church up in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and I said, “Do you have a church you know of in Richmond?”

They did have a sister church there. So I went. I went with the idea that I was adding church to my schedule. I had no idea that God was going to upend my life and use the wonderful people of that church to disciple me and to change my whole life.

Nancy: So you just appeared at this church and introduced yourself?

Carolyn: I did. I was the only visitor that day!

Nancy: Were you a little different from what they were accustomed to there?

Carolyn: Oh yes. Very different. The Lord had graciously done a lot in my life. So prior to attending church, I had given up a lot of party habits. I had quit smoking. I wasn’t doing drugs any longer.

So it was easier; my habits were ended. It was easier to accommodate myself, but still, here was this very conservative church who took their Bible seriously.

I can remember meeting with my pastor and his wife in the first two weeks of coming. I’d trained as a journalist, and I was working in media. So I thought nothing of asking some very direct and hard questions of them, like, “What are you doing with my money?”

Toward the end, my pastor said, “What are you reading in your Bible?” I said, “Well, I’m going through Ephesians now, and I like it.

He said, “Well, what are you learning?” I said, “Well, I like everything except that submission part,” and then started cracking up, “Ha ha ha,” like I expected everyone to think that was as funny as I did. Submission—ha!

Nancy: Was that new to you when you got into the Scripture?

Carolyn: Oh yes. I viewed it as being very antiquated, and so, my pastor just leaned forward with big eyes. Later on, I came to learn that as a sign of, “Wow, we’ve got a live one here.”

He said, “Do you like to read?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Have you ever read a book called, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood?”

Nancy: Great book, but it’s a heavy one.

Carolyn: A big, heavyweight! He recommended it to me, so I bought it, and I was offended by it the first time I read it.

Nancy: Because? Some of our listeners may not be familiar with the book. What might offend a young believer who came out of that background?

Carolyn: Well, it was the pride in my heart that reacted to an illustration that women were trying to be like men, and they cited weightlifting as an example.

I flung the book across the room, saying, “I’m not weightlifting to look like men. I’m weightlifting to strengthen my bones and lose some weight, and this is a silly book.”

That was my pride, reacting to an illustration and missing the point. Years later, I went back and as the Lord was working on my heart, I thought, “This is great material—very helpful.”

Nancy: What are the key things God used in those early years to change your thinking about what it meant to be a woman, about marriage, and about relationships? What did God use to bring about that early change in your thinking?

Carolyn: Well, I remember that my very first impression of the church was, “There are men here, and there are men my age here.” I was used to churches where the men had abdicated any kind of responsibility.

Certainly, I had never seen anyone modeling servant-leadership. This was a new phrase to me, and I had to work to understand what it meant to carry the responsibility, to lead and direct people into following what the Lord would outline in the Bible—but doing it from a position of serving people.

It just blew my mind. There was no framework for me to be able to reference that. The men in that church reminded me very much of my father and the quality of men in that generation—very different from the men that I had been relating to outside of the church.

So, I saw the fruit of biblical teaching in the lives of these people—it was written across their lives! That spoke to me first, and then I came to understand the doctrine.

Second, the Lord did a major work in my life regarding my position on abortion. I had been very strongly pro-choice, pro-abortion, and I had never bothered to even try to understand the other position and the other side.

I didn’t even know crisis pregnancy centers existed. I had no idea anyone was putting the money where their mouths were, to try to serve women in that position with unwanted or unplanned pregnancies.

When I came to the Lord, I knew that I was going to need to change on certain things. I opened up the Scripture, and I saw what He had to say about sexual immorality, about the value of life, about marriage. And I said, “Okay. I’ve tried for a certain number of years my way. Let’s see what it’s like Your way.”

At first, I held to a very initial position of submitting myself to the Lord, But the reserve was still there, along with skepticism: “I’ll try it Your way for awhile,” but soon I came to see His way is the right way.

Nancy: It’s been over ten years now—what a process and a journey for you, of continuing to live out that surrender to the Lordship of Christ.

Now you’re in your forties. I’m a little bit older than you, in my mid-to-late forties now, and did you ever imagine when you were in your twenties that you would still be not married and in your forties?

Carolyn: Oh no! That was a “fate worse than death.”

Nancy: What was your dream as a young girl?

Carolyn: Well, I didn’t have a plan as an unbeliever. It was just going to happen sometime. I can even remember writing in my journal in my early twenties, thinking, I don’t want to marry the man I was dating at the time.

I didn’t want to be locked into that. I didn’t have a vision for marriage until I became a Christian at 30. Then I saw biblical principles lived out in my church, and I received great teaching about marriage.

Suddenly, the hue and contour of what a biblical marriage should be was spelled out, and I wanted it, and I wanted it bad.

Nancy: And you waited.

Carolyn: Uh-huh.

Nancy: Did you do any searching or hunting? Were you tempted to go pursue something?

Carolyn: Always with the little “deer-hunting headlights” up, just in any meeting, “Can I find him? Can I spot him?”

Nancy: Did you ever think, “Maybe I have?”

Carolyn: Oh sure. We always think we’ve found something that would be good.

Nancy: Did you ever communicate those thoughts or intentions to one of these perspective “deer in the headlights?”

Carolyn: No. I didn’t have a whole lot of opportunity in my church, when I lived in Richmond, Virginia. The church was very small. So it was a lot more waiting on the Lord at that point.

It wasn’t until I moved to a larger church in Maryland, six years ago, that assumptions began to take root. “I’m here. I’m among hundreds of single people.”

Nancy: Then you found yourself a few years ago going to your twentieth high school reunion. What were some of the thoughts you faced as that day approached?

Carolyn: Oh, I really did not want to go.

Nancy: Why?

Carolyn: Fear of man. I was worried about my own reputation. I was worried I’d show up like the big high school loser. “Twenty years? You haven’t gotten married in twenty years?”

I didn’t want to go because I was focused on myself. I almost refused. One of my friends challenged me and said, “Well, what are your motives in not going—in not reconnecting with people who knew you once as a very angry, self-centered, feminist type? Why wouldn’t you want to go and talk to them?”

"Ouch! Okay then. I guess I’ll go.” So I went—I was going trusted God for His grace to get through an evening of constantly being made aware of the fact, “Oh, you’re still single?”

Nancy: You list in this book some questions that are “un-helpful” questions that sometimes singles get asked. What are some of those questions?

Carolyn: “Why aren’t you married?” I love that question. You want to answer back with obnoxious answers like, “Well, do you think it has anything to do with burying my date in the basement?”

But you can’t. Or you can’t respond back by saying things like, “Well, why are you still so obnoxious in asking questions like this?”

I think the reason people ask that question is because they can’t find a reason. They can’t see something to them that’s obvious why you shouldn’t be married.

So they’re just curious. They don’t mean to hurt, I don’t think.

Nancy: You suggest in your book that there’s a better question to ask than, “Does God really know what He’s doing? Why am I still single? Can I trust God with my desires?” What’s a better question to be asking?

Carolyn: “What is God doing with and through my singleness—now?”

Nancy: How did you come to realize that was the question you needed to be asking?

Carolyn: I think it was because my pastors were so good at building into us the purpose and the value of the local church. They taught us to understand that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

If God is sovereign and in control of our lives, His purpose and plan is being worked out. If that is true, then my singleness is not an accident, and my singleness is not without purpose.

Nancy: What do you do when you have the desire—the desire is not in-and-of-itself wrong for marriage, but year after year, friend’s wedding after friend’s wedding, God doesn’t fulfill your desire?

What happens when He doesn’t grant you the desire of your heart? How do you keep from becoming demanding and bitter? How do you trust God when your hope is deferred?

Carolyn: I think the most important thing is something my pastor, C.J. Mahaney, once said to me, “God has already met your greatest need. He has already spared You His wrath and judgment. Why not trust Him for a much lesser need in life?”

“He knows what you need. He knows what you want. He’s your heavenly Father.” So I think in meditating on God’s character, and in meditating on His faithfulness in the past to us and trusting Him for our futures, that is just one of many ways—a broad application here about how to avoid bitterness.

Nancy: What you’re pastor was really saying is that marriage—a spouse—is not your greatest need.

Carolyn: This is one thing I tell women: “We’re not going to get to Heaven and have the Lord look at us and say, “Great! You finally stepped over the finish line of marriage. I’m so proud of you!”

It’s going to be irrelevant. What we’re going to be commended for is whether or not we faithfully stewarded whatever He gave us. That is why we’re going to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

It’s not going to be because we did or we did not get married. That is a short gift for this age, and it will not be repeated again in Heaven.

While our church is rightly swimming against the culture in reclaiming the high value of marriage—in promoting the high value of marriage within in churches—we singles need to remember, that is just one avenue the Lord uses in glorifying Himself and in sanctifying us and conforming us to the image of His Son.

Nancy: For those of us who are unmarried, the question Carolyn is challenging us ask is: “What is God doing with and through my singleness? What is God’s purpose, God’s plan, God’s desire, for the common good of the church?”

“How can my life as a woman be consecrated to Christ? How can my unmarried life be used to bring glory to Christ? How can I demonstrate to the world that God is good, even to me as an unmarried woman with, perhaps, unfulfilled desires?”

What we’re talking about here could apply, I might add, equally to other unfulfilled desires. It may be as a married woman you have an unfulfilled desire for your husband to be a believer, to walk with God, to be a godly husband.

Or it may be that as a married woman you have a deep, unfulfilled longing for children, and God has not blessed you with children.

In whatever season of life, with whatever unfulfilled longing, the ultimate question is not: “Why didn’t God do this differently? Why doesn’t God give me what I want? Why can’t I have my way?”

The ultimate question is: “What does God want to do with and through my life in this current situation?” All of life begins to look different when we see it through that perspective.

We are going to talk further this week about, “What does God want to do with and through my singleness, or whatever the gift may be that God has entrusted to you at this time?”

Leslie: Singleness is a gift. If you’ve often heard that but had a hard time accepting your “gift,” I hope the wise counsel of two godly, single women has given you some helpful perspective.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been talking with Carolyn McCulley, author of Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? This book will help you approach singleness and marriage in faith—faith that God knows what’s best—faith to serve Him in whatever situation He’s called you to.

Carolyn writes wisely and compassionately about the struggles of a single life and the joys of serving God through singleness.

We’ll send you Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye? when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, and we’ll include a booklet that has helped many singles gain perspective on their service to the Lord.

It’s called Singled out for Him. It was written by a woman who has embraced singleness as a gift, and God has used her devotion to Him in powerful ways. I’m talking about Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Again, receive both of these helpful, wise resources from Carolyn and from Nancy when you send a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts.

You can do that by calling 1-800-569-5959, and when you do, please ask for the book and the booklet. Or you can donate at ReviveOurHearts.com

What do you think of what Carolyn McCulley shared today? Well, you can find out what others think and then respond to them, or share your own ideas on the Revive Our Hearts Listener Blog.

Some interesting conversations happen among our listeners. Get in on it; visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

If you’re single, do you find yourself deciding not to cook or decorate your house because there’s no one to share the food or decorations with? Carolyn McCulley will explain why it’s helpful for singles to do these kinds of things. Hear that tomorrow.

To close our time today, we’ll hear more advice from Nancy Leigh DeMoss. She had a chance to talk to a group of single women in ministry. Here’s one of the questions a young lady asked.

Woman: I’m 30. I’ll be 31 in March, and my parents have just put a lot of pressure on me to get married. Almost every time I talk to my dad, he asks, “Do you have a boyfriend yet?”

What is a wise response to parents? They don’t have a really strong spiritual walk, so, it can’t be in “spiritual terms.” I just need practical things that I can say to my parents, or even let some of the single women here know what to tell their parents if they are feeling a lot of pressure to be married.

Nancy: I think what you are experiencing is probably not unusual. How many of you single women have had something along that line that you’ve had to deal with? A large number!

Your parents love you, and they want you to be happy, and your dads, in particular, want you to be secure. They want to know that you’re going to be taken care of.

I think that if we can hear those kinds of comments as representing a heart of concern—a heart of wanting our best—and in my case, my parents had a good marriage, and my dad’s been with the Lord now for many years.

I can’t say that my mother put pressure on me, but I know she one—wants more grandchildren, and she has three single daughters who aren’t helping with that cause, and two—I think she wants for us to experience what she felt was such a happy marriage and hates for us to be missing out on that.

I think it is important for us to express appreciation for their interest and for their concern. But I’ll tell you, if they see that we are walking in trust—and maybe they can’t understand it from the spiritual standpoint. But maybe they can see that our lives are full—not too full, if God brings a husband—that we are living meaningful lives and that we are walking with joy and peace. Then they may tease, but I don’t think it will be something that’s of core conviction on their part—that they have to “help” us get married!

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.