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The land of the lost men.

A friend told me recently that as women came to faith in one part of Southeast Asia, they were told there might be persecution.

They were also told that one thing they might face as a part of their new faith is that there weren’t many men who were believers yet, so they might be signing up for a life of singleness.

That thought has settled into the depths of my soul, and I thought — that’s possibly something that should be happening here too — bringing up our girls to actively lean into Christ alone no matter what, but also to be prepared for the fact that following Jesus could mean not finding a Christ-following husband.

Because the numbers are staggering.

*****

The hot cider steamed on the stove, and I scooped another ladle’s worth, curling my fingers around the mug as the warmth crept through the porcelain and made it to my hands. In the next room, a dozen single women in their 30s crowded around a table, eating and swapping stories.

As I leaned back against the counter, the friend who was in the kitchen with me told me about the country she’d lived in overseas, how she’d loved it, how it had been difficult as a single woman … and how she was hoping to go back soon.

I nodded … I knew what she meant. I’d been to her country before. It’s a hard country to live in, even harder if you’re a woman alone. But she was answering the call. Jesus had become immeasurably sweet to her through this journey.

This kind of conversation … this is our generation’s reality.

******

“I don’t think I’m bitter yet, but I feel like I could be one day. And I don’t want to be.”

That confession spilled out of my friend’s mouth as she sat in the corner of a local coffee shop, knees pulled to her chest. The emotional weight of her words hung in the air and made both of us 30-somethings sink deeper into the well-worn floor cushions.

For years now, on the other side of the table behind that cup of coffee, the face has changed but the plot follows a well-worn path. Girl after girl, woman after woman spills over with the deep struggle of her soul — that her life hasn’t gone the way she thought it would. She’s been forced to forge a different kind of life than the one she would’ve chosen for herself, the one she’d always thought was just around the corner — the one she thought was God-designed.

For some, that unexpected life — a life without marriage and a family — has brought deep valleys they have yet to pull out of. It’s brought questions for God that they can’t seem to let go of. For others, even though it’s hard sometimes, their single life has forged a path that’s made God sweeter than they ever would’ve imagined.

This truth is certain — the story God writes for us, the one He creates in the ashes of our dreams is the one that will help us know Him the best. And it’s good. He’s the whole point of our story here, not marriage. In Him and Him alone, there’s joy and life to the full. Forever.

That’s the truth we stake our lives on. That’s where we lock our gaze. It’s all for our good and His glory. A thousand times yes.That part is not a tragedy. It’s an unfathomable gift.

But can we talk about something for a minute?

Where. Are. The. Men.

For months, maybe years, I’ve been hesitant to write this. And even after I wrote it, my finger has hovered over the post button for a while, until this report was posted yesterday by The Gospel Coalition, pulling data from this study. At one point, the TGC article says this:

Stone also finds that when looking at religious attendance, the gender ratios get more severe. Unmarried women are unlikely to find eligible men in their churches—or even in their local area. “Even expanding this scenario to assume that same-denomination churches in a region are a single dating market,” says Stone, “you can expand to five or 10 churches and still end up with a single-digit number of men who meet the basic demographic criteria and aren’t currently in a relationship with someone else.”

I don’t want it to sound like the answer to the single woman’s need for God is a sea of more good men. I don’t want to make it sound like women can’t live in their gifting as singles and be fulfilled — that’s the life I’m hoping to live every day that I wake up. And there for sure may be some who aren’t looking to get married at all. But I also with a little bit of trembling think it might be dangerous not to notice the gaping hole in the Church all over the place. Are there good men in the Church? Absolutely. Strong, Godly men, many if not most of them married. I’m grateful for every single one I know. But are there as many of them as there are women? Not even close.

I don’t want to heap blame on anyone — to be honest, I have no idea what is actually to blame. I think it might be a number of things all stacking up to the reality we have now.

But no matter what’s causing it, the numbers show that it’s real. For a while there, I thought it was my church, or my city. But as I’ve traveled around and visited with churches, small groups and mission-sending organizations over the past three years, I feel like it’s everywhere. Groups upon groups upon groups of single women. Dozens of them being commissioned out to serve overseas. A lot of them signing up to be foster moms all by themselves.

And the men just aren’t there.

As I’ve met with groups of single women — sometimes three in a coffee house, sometimes 15 in an apartment, sometimes 100 at a church — in nearly every scenario, these questions bubble to the surface:

What about my desires?

Has God forgotten me?

I don’t understand — why hasn’t He brought me someone yet?

From a spiritual standpoint, I always share what I believe in the depths of my soul — God Himself is all we need. Husbands were never meant to be that. If we have a husband, that husband is meant to help us know God better (and vice versa). But God is the prize, not marriage. He hasn’t forgotten you — in His infinite love, in the midst of the brokenness that’s in this world, He’s drawing you through this pain to lean totally on Him.

But from a practical standpoint, I also think … statistically there aren’t even kind of enough. Like not even close. That’s just the reality of our generation.

I remember at the small Christian college I went to, we joked a lot about the 3-to-1 girl-to-guy ratio. Now I feel like it’s more like 40 to 1. I’m not saying there are zero — but I am saying that it’s dramatically disproportionate.

It’s like our generation of single believing women has found itself in the land of lost men. They exist — census data tells us so. But they’re absent from the Church. In the city where I live, I know dozens of women in their 20s and 30s who are trying to chase after Christ and nip bitterness at the root before it grows. And traveling around the country in recent years, I’ve loved meeting other women doing the same thing, housefuls of women chasing Jesus. It’s messy. It’s not perfect. But we’re trying.

I just look around and wonder what happened … when did it happen … and what will happen to families and the Church in another generation or two if it keeps going this way? At the end of the TGC article, writer Joe Carter says the Church “must also find ways to ensure that young men are brought into the church and discipled in such a way that they have a biblical view of sexual ethics.” He also writes that “if we want spiritually healthy Christians families in our churches, we should do more to help create the pool of marriageable disciples that make such families possible.” I wonder if this isn’t what’s needed — to see it almost as a crisis of discipleship.

I had a conversation about it with a friend a few months ago, and she said that on a recent trip to Southeast Asia, she’d heard that as women were being led to Jesus there, they were told persecution might follow, persecution from their family or from their community. But they were also told that one thing they might face as a part of their new faith is that there weren’t many men who were believers yet, so they might be signing up for a life of singleness.

In the months since we talked, that thought has settled into the depths of my soul, and I thought — that’s possibly something that should be happening here too — bringing up our girls to actively lean into Christ alone no matter what, but also to be prepared for the fact that following Jesus could mean the hardship of not finding a Christ-following husband.

Is Jesus worth it? Yes. Is marriage everything? No. And that’s where I focus my heart every day as I get up, and every Tuesday night as a small group of young, single women meets in my house. I talk with pastors sometimes and urge them to encourage their daughters and the young girls in their church to grow up to be women who love Jesus wholeheartedly and just want the life He has for them, whatever it may look like.

But is the state of the Church what it should be? I believe no — how could it be? What about the vast lostness of our men? And what does that do to families and the Church?

It’s a question worth us asking.

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