Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Romance, interrupted

I recently shared an article1 on Facebook that was one woman’s perspective on her marriage after one year together. She starts it with the startling assertion “My husband is not my soul mate,” and continues from there to defend that, even after growing up believing and praying that God would bring her the perfect mate, the man she eventually came to marry doesn’t always bring her the relationship she expected to find. She loves her husband dearly (don’t get her wrong) but after all of her pining and praying and waiting and book reading, the man she married is different than the portrait she drew in her mind as a girl. From this she concludes that maybe, just maybe, we have created a lot of hype about our One Soul Mate that is unwarranted and, dare we say it, unbiblical? After all, God reiterates promises about the kind of person He wants to make us into, not the height, hair color, and youth pastory-ness we will find in the man/woman of our dreams.

I didn’t agree with all of this author’s conclusions about God’s will in our lives, but at the time didn’t clarify my position. The discussion generated on Facebook attacked some of these points, like the implication that we should reduce God to an impartial observer to our free will. I also disagreed in simply following the principles of Scripture as though a personal God exercises no creativity in our lives (all you need is a good Christian and you have God’s stamp of approval). What really prompted me to share this blog post was her admonition that no matter what process you went through to find your spouse, God’s best or not, you had an obligation as a believer to commit to that person and love them as Christ would have you.

Three years ago I was in the position of deciding God’s will for my romantic life. Through a series of events I found myself in love with a non-Christian, uncertain what God wanted me to do. On one side I had friends who were pressing me to leave him, on the other I felt like the responses to all my prayers to God was to give Jose a chance. What was I supposed to do? I remember one night I couldn’t sleep so I surfed the internet looking for similar stories of people in my position.

One of these was of a woman who fell in love with a non-Christian when she was young, and they married quickly. It didn’t take long for her life to be filled with frustration when her husband didn’t share her interest in spiritual matters. She quickly concluded she had not chosen God’s best. This woman bucked against it for years; she fought to involve him in church, to save him, to change him, and every effort made only ended in more frustration for them both. They were married for 40, angst-filled, years until he abruptly died. A comment in her conclusion stood out boldly:

…gradually my attitude towards Bob is changing too. I can see that he was as much a product of his upbringing as I was of mine. I can see that because I let bitterness over the areas that divided us saturate me, I overlooked the very real good qualities he had…. He was a loyal family man. In fact he said once that in his eyes “loyalty” and “love” were the same thing. His only interests were his family and work. He didn’t find work very fulfilling - he worked to provide for his family. He never talked about the Protestant work ethic - he just lived it. He never drank, smoke, or frequented clubs. He used to bring home all his pay, and would only keep out $20.00 for himself. This would cover any haircuts, his fortnightly lotto ticket (the only gambling he did), and minor items like nails, fuses, batteries. When we lived in the country, if he were late home there were only two possible reasons; he was at the jeweler’s getting his watch repaired –again – or he was at the barber’s. Once we moved to a capital city, the only times he was late home was if his commuter train was late. He showed as much care and concern for my side of the family as he did for his own, and Christmas presents for both sets of parents and siblings were identical. On three occasions when my mother needed rescuing from her own tragic domestic situation, we never discussed whether we should take her in; we just went up and got her.

How can I possibly be talking about the same man that I’ve just been complaining about?
Any negative statement I’ve made about Bob is the truth. Perhaps I ought to qualify that a little. It was the truth as I perceived it at the time, because I focused on my own problems and my own misery, instead of focusing on Christ. [emphasis mine] 2

Reading her story at the time had the effect of sobering me once again to being cautious about merely following my feelings to decide my romantic fate. My own story, with its many twists and turns, demanded that I eventually break up with Jose until he was ready to commit to Christ. It also demanded that a few of my Christian relationships be cut off for a time until I was making that decision to please God, and not man. My love story is not over, however. Jose and I have a lot of growing together as a couple that still involves grace on both ends: As a seasoned believer, I have to remind myself to be patient as Jose discovers what God means in his life. As a new believer, Jose has to reconcile my internal beauty that initially attracted him (his words, not mine!), with my equally insensitive, selfish nature.

Hosea is a famous Old Testament prophet who was asked—by God Himself—to marry a prostitute. God used their marriage as an illustration of the imperfect relationship between Himself and the nation of Israel. Ups and downs, God had a purpose for this couple. Over and again Hosea was exposed to disappointing heartbreaks, but was asked to show redemptive love to a spouse that was far from ideal. This is not the most often recited love story in the Bible, and yet it makes a dramatically counter-cultural point: Happily ever after, at least the biblical kind, doesn’t come wrapped in a tidy package. Biblical “ever after” instead portrays messy people colliding, desperately clinging to grace in order to glorify God.




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