[NOTE: This is a guest post from Noelle Goodlin. She is theMILL Women's Pastor. She has a Masters in Counseling, a B.A. in Psychology & Literature and a husband named Jacob.]
I don't know about you, but I love hearing people's love stories. As a single person, it encouraged me to hear the ups and downs of other people's courtships -- especially when it ended in marriage. Those stories re-kindled my sometimes flagging hope that one day I would find my life partner too.
In a subtle way, I suppose my interest in others' stories was my way of searching for a formula which might help create my own. I had fully anticipated meeting my husband in college. College came, college went -- no prospects. A couple of years after graduation, I met a man and fell in love, certain that he was the ONE. We broke up, I cut my hair off as an act of mourning. Back to no prospects.
As I hit my mid-twenties and inched toward thirty, I began to wonder if God really cared about this matter as much as everyone told me He did. To be honest, nothing really indicated that He gave it the time of day. So I took matters into my own hands, probing people's relationships and reading books, searching for the key to success. Flirt more? Play hard to get? Several ideas were batted around but one consistently floated to the surface in my Christian circles. It went something like this: "It was when I didn't care about getting married at all that my husband showed up." I don't know how many times I heard some variation of this theme. So I tried my very hardest not to care. I would look in the mirror (not really, but you get the idea) and say, "Self, you don't care if you ever get married. You don't want to get married. You are perfectly content to live alone the remainder of your life."
It didn't work. No matter how hard I tried, I could not kill my desire to get married. The reality was that I cared very much. If I was honest, deep down I really wanted to get married and have a family. And no amount of effort was able to banish the wish. Why? Maybe because marriage is created by God and the longing for it is God-given. That makes sense if you look at how things started: God created Adam and put him in the garden. But God saw that it was not good for him to be alone and so he told Adam to name the animals and look for a mate. It's almost laughable -- bears, cheetahs, and giraffes as a companion for Adam. God is no dummy -- He is all-knowing and he knew that Eve was coming. Do you think he was caught off-guard that an animal didn't satisfy Adam's longing for companionship? I highly doubt it. So why take Adam through such a process? Perhaps God needed to teach Adam about his longing for marriage and how to trust Him, Creator and Father, in the process so that, when he found it, he would be ready.
And what of this rumor that marriage comes to us when we no longer care about it? I suggest that it is not about achieving a state of indifference but rather that the desire finds its proper resting place. It may sound like verbal semantics but the implications of these ideas are quite different. Song of Solomon gives a pretty strong argument for the power of romantic longing and sexual desire; yet, it also issues the caution of being careful to not "arouse or awaken love until it so desires." Then what are we to do?
As Christians, we are invited to live a God-surrendered life. Any desire -- God-given or flesh-derived -- is to be submitted and entrusted to our Heavenly Father. Marriage is godly and wonderful. Nothing is wrong with it and, unlike sinful cravings, you probably won't be able to kill your longing for it. That doesn't mean, though, that we allow it to rule us. The word arouse as used in Song of Solomon implies a choice to stir the pot, if you will. The Message translation says, "Don't excite love, don't stir it up until the time is ripe." What does that look like?
Unfortunately, it's probably not formulaic. God seems to love working things out in the hearts of his children through relational, trust-oriented methods. Psalm 37:4 does come to mind: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Rather than claiming this as an if/then statement (that would be formulas talking again!), what if we approached it as a prayer: "God, I want to be married. At times, I feel like it consumes me and I am helpless to do anything about it. But I love You and choose to trust in You. I believe You care about the things that matter to me. I believe You are a good Father who wants what is best for me. You are Lord over this area of my life and I leave it in your hands."
Four years after I began to wrestle with these ideas, I married a wonderful man. I never lost my desire to be married and, to be honest, I never stopped wrestling with it. The choice to trust God with my future was, and is, a daily one. Indeed, life seems full of these deeply placed longings and subsequent vulnerabilities which push us to greater points of surrender and letting go. That is where the growth is and, for that reason, I am thankful for the process.