catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 11 :: 2009.05.22 — 2009.06.05


Got plans?

I recently had a phone conversation with an interesting fellow whom I’ve never met face to face.  My parents have never met him either, but they know his family and therefore had enough reason to believe that I should be in contact with this young and successful man. We made it through the initial awkwardness, and about 20 minutes into our conversation he asked the question, “So Nalini, what are your plans?”  

I wanted to laugh.  But I didn’t.  The truth is that I know enough about my Indian culture to know what he was asking, but I couldn’t let him off that easy.  So I responded with, “Plans for what?  Further education, job opportunities, traveling back home…?”  I really should have thrown in “…dinner ideas for this evening?”  He was quiet for a few seconds but came back with a very matter-of-fact, “Plans to settle down.”  

This conversation wasn’t the first time I’ve been asked that question, which is ultimately about marriage.  My response?  Well, I guess I really don’t know.  I haven’t thought about it much in this sense.  When do I want to get married?  Can I just decide?  I never thought I had a lot of control in that regard.  Oh no: am I single because I failed to make plans?!

It’s an interesting dynamic in which to live — having rather culturally sensitive parents and relatives, but growing up with a mindset that’s not very traditional with regard to set expectations.   I don’t believe I ever thought I’d be 33 and still single, but a part of me asks the question, “Why not?”  I have actually loved this season in my life — I’ve been stretched, challenged, pushed and have grown in ways that I may not have otherwise.  Of course, I’ve never been married, so I can’t say that I wouldn’t be challenged similarly in that relationship, but it has been a blessing to have experienced life as a single woman for this long.  

On the flip side, people have often suggested to me — at times solicited, but usually not — that the way to a happy and successful life is through marriage.  In regard to my parents, I fully understand why they earnestly pray for a “suitable partner” for me.  I understand that for them, their parental duty is not complete and that they feel a great responsibility for my wellbeing.  Since they are not here in the States with me, they don’t have the vantage point of being a part of life on this end and seeing the amazing things that are taking place at work, at church, within the community, with friendships and relationships, in my own faith journey.  I know they worry — good parents often do — and I love them for the way they love and care for me. For that reason, I don’t come back at them with the attitude that traditional ways are backwards, which I myself don’t even believe.  I’ve always done my best to remain respectful and go with the flow as much as possible, which has allowed me to engage in some interesting dialogue with my parents, as well as with friends, about ideas and views of marriage.  

I am trying hard to help my parents, in particular, see that I’m actually a huge fan of marriage.  I have been blessed with a number of friends who are married — some newlyweds and some who have been together for over 35 years.  Many of these couples have allowed me to see the beautiful, and also the messy parts of “life together” and I hope they realize that this has been such a great gift to me.  I love watching my family members in their marriages; they work hard with each other and I respect that.

Our Christian faith is built around such a beautiful image of marriage: Christ and the Church, Christ laying down his life for his Church and the Church working hard to always lift up Christ (yes, an area where we are daily in need of grace).  It’s an overwhelming picture of partnership.  It’s true, I would consider myself a rather strong and independent woman, but I am working to understand what this partnership looks like and what is at the core of phrases like “laying down one’s life for…” and “submit to one another,” along with words like respect, honor, love, and so on.

I remember saying to my father a few years ago that I very much resonate with the idea of being married, but that I couldn’t do it just to fulfill an expectation, whether cultural or family.  I believe my first calling as a Christian woman is to be in relationship with Jesus, and then to be in relationship with community, and if the Lord allows for a spouse in addition to that, then it’s like icing on the cake.  I don’t say that in order to put marriage on some type of a pedestal or to make assumptions that it’s always fun and easy.  On the contrary — I mean to hit on the truth that life becomes so much more rich when we experience the gift of community, whether that be through marriage or another form of accountability, friendship and love.  So much comes into play when living life “for the other” and choosing to love someone, or allowing yourself to be loved, even when it’s hard — and more often than not, it’s going to be hard.  I have learned this to be true in various structures of community around me; I can only imagine what it would be like in a marriage partnership.

I really would rather stay single for the rest of my life than be married to the wrong person simply because “marriage is the next thing we do.”  I’m trying to be careful in how I state this because I don’t want to imply that my idea of marriage is all chocolate and roses.  I know it’s not that, and I know that it’s HARD work and that it can actually be rather invasive at times.  I’ve seen this as I watch people I love and respect navigate their own marriages.  I’ve been allowed the privilege of seeing that such a relationship really is about dying to one’s self and helping the other flourish, and that’s why I’m even more careful about stepping into this very holy institution, because it’s not something to be toyed with or just checked off like a task on a “to do” list. 

Truthfully, another reason I remain cautious about the idea of marriage is because of my own fears and insecurities that I won’t be able to do this well — that I don’t have what it takes to love in a way that requires me to lay down my life daily.  God is teaching me about my own selfishness.  And he has allowed me to be in community where at times I get it right, but more often am in need of forgiveness. 

I have gleaned so much in these years of being single.  Have I always enjoyed this aspect of my life?  No.  But as I get older, I am more and more grateful for this season, and as I mentioned earlier, I love it (for now).  I have learned more about faith, about God, about myself, about being in community, and the importance of the intersection of those relationships.  I have also learned to take initiative: to be the one who makes the call on decisions in my life, to set boundaries and try to live a life of balance, to keep growing and asking tough questions, to never settle, to find accountability structures, to do my taxes and balance the checkbook, to take out the trash and scrape off the ice on the car window, etc.  And as I learn these things, and so much more, and sense God’s Spirit pushing me to step into areas outside of my comfort zone, I get excited about what could be next.  

But I’m also, at times, engulfed by the voices of well-meaning relatives and friends who tell me that I’m wasting time doing these things when I really should be thinking about “settling down” with a family.  Okay, to be fair, maybe they don’t actually use the phrase “wasting time,” but that’s often what is implied. I understand they want “the best” for me, and to them marriage is “the best.”  Thankfully, God wants the best for each of us as well, and God’s best often comes in very unexpected packages.  So, keeping in mind that God speaks even through well-meaning relatives and friends, I’m trying to stay open to the possibility that in my case, the “unexpected package” may very well BE marriage.

I’m not great at it, but I’m working hard to pay attention to God’s voice and am trying to be obedient to what he’s asking of me.  I believe God is allowing me, or maybe prodding me to take some risks at this point in my life.  He’s reminding me that even though he allows me to see breathtaking glimpses of himself and of his power, love and grace right now where I’m at, it’s in that place of risk and complete faith — that place where I am least in control — that God shows up in all his glory.  

And that is a hard place for me to be.  I like being strong and independent, in control, but I’m learning and being broken in a good way: broken for the purpose of re-formation.  And that place of risk is no longer just about things like career, vocation, finances, or friendships; it’s expanded to include the complexities of deep relationships (vertical and horizontal), with the possibility of marriage.  I love the way God is the God of surprise. 

And so to those who ask about “the future,” I guess I don’t really have a great answer.  I haven’t made any plans, nor do I have plans to make plans.  And you know what?  Each day continues to be new, exciting, unpredictable, even somewhat nerve-wracking: an adventure.  And I’m having the time of my life.

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