How long is it wise to wait for a broken relationship to be restored?

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How long is it wise to wait for a broken relationship to be restored?

Feb 22, 2010 |John Thomas
Question

I am 23 years old. One year ago, I was living, working and studying in the Middle East. While there, I met a young, God-fearing woman who was also doing the work of the kingdom in that dark place. Over a five-month period, we became very close friends, but due to cultural norms never spent time just the two of us, only in groups of other believers.

In the spring, I began to fervently pray about pursuing a relationship with her. In mid-summer, after we had both returned to our respective homes in the United States (remaining in close contact via telephone), I finally expressed my interest in pursuing a deeper relationship with her. She eagerly explained that she had been desirous of the same and had been waiting for some months for me to lead and pursue her. Thus began a long-distance relationship, under the guidance and blessing of our parents.

She returned to the Middle East in the fall while I stayed in the U.S. to work and complete my undergraduate degree. We talked on Internet video chat at least twice a week, and often four or five times per week, for hours at a time. The distance was hard, but we were committed to each other and to having a relationship that honored God in every way.

By November, I was certain I wanted to marry her and saw the hand of God in bringing us to each other. I spoke to her father on the telephone, and over several conversations over the course of a few weeks, received his permission and blessing to propose to her. She flew to my home and spent 10 days with me and my family during her Christmas break, in which time I proposed and she enthusiastically said "yes!" We then visited her family for 10 days before I had to return home and she to her work in the Middle East.

Less than three weeks later we had the first noteworthy miscommunication/conflict in our relationship. We both used words and said things in ways that we would come to regret.

After several days of frustrating phone calls, we took two days to just breathe. I emailed her, expressing my sorrow over the situation, asked forgiveness and sought to work together to strengthen our relationship and communicate better in the future.

The following day, she called me. The first thing she said was, "I got your letter. I forgive you, but I can't marry you." The rest of the conversation was a blur. She offered a few "reasons" that didn't make sense and refused to answer any questions. Her father then contacted me and instructed that I cease all communication with her, and if I had anything to say, I should speak to him.

Here is my dilemma: I love her. I don't know why she ended the relationship (the conflict was minor, from my point of view). I promised her when I proposed that I would fight for her, that I would love her and that I would give myself totally to building a godly relationship with her. But I've been instructed not to contact her. So how do I fight for her?

I have spent nearly a month praying, fasting and coming into a deeper and more intimate relationship with my Savior than ever before. And I am more convinced than ever before that God brought us together for a reason. He does not delight in the suffering of His children, He does not delight in the pain of sin and broken relationships, and He can restore. This I know is true. But do I continue to fight for her? If so, how?

She is an adult (25 years old). She submits to her father's spiritual authority and as such, where our relationship is concerned, so do I. I have spoken with him several times, but he has offered very little encouragement toward restoration. In the absence of any contact from her, what can I do? Scriptures on fasting, praying and especially waiting on the Lord are constantly on my mind and in my daily prayers. But how long is too long to wait? How long is too long to hope?

Some friends and family suggest I "just let her go." Others admire me for fighting but admit that they wouldn't. I know that God could have another woman "out there" for me ... but my heart tells me that I don't want to love any other woman. So I am torn. The waiting seems endless.

Psalm 27:13-14 is my constant encouragement: "I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!" So how long is it wise to wait and pray for this relationship, to believe in restoration? Your thoughts would be deeply appreciated.

Answer

You are doing exactly what you should be doing. You're handling yourself with a lot of emotional maturity and trust in God's goodness. You're being intentional and not passive. You're letting God use the situation to reveal more of His heart to you, and, as you noted, you sense a greater connection with Him as a result.

All things being equal, it seems highly unusual that she would break off an engagement based on the first significant miscommunication. Let me give you some of my thoughts about that.

First, it could have caused her some shock to discover the ugliness that can boil to the surface between two people, even two people with such strong affection for one another.

I remember when my wife (then soon-to-be fiancée) and I had a similar first fight. I can't even remember what it was about, but I do remember being stunned that it happened. How could two people who love each other so deeply be capable of such hurtful words and actions? I thought we were different than all those other couples!

The simple answer is that despite belonging to Christ, we still wrestle with what Scripture calls the flesh, and the flesh is capable of some shocking ugliness. Of course those kinds of boil-overs shouldn't be a daily occurrence, but it does happen once in a while, even in a healthy relationship.

We all know about the flesh, but when that junk comes roaring up to the surface for the first time in the most significant relationship you've ever had with someone, it can be deeply disturbing, so much so that it might cause you to question the entire relationship.

Doubtless you and others have tried to encourage and comfort her with these same words, but if not I throw them out there for everyone's consideration.

Second — and speaking of others — I do think it is significant that her parents appear to be supporting her decision without any indication — at least none that you mention — that she is acting unreasonable.

Her parents are in all likelihood aware of those facts of the flesh I mention above, so it makes me wonder if there's more to what's going on than this single event.

At this point my thoughts turn to those "other reasons" you mention she shared with you that didn't make sense to you. Whether they make sense to you isn't the main issue. They make sense to her, at least for now, and that has settled the issue from her standpoint.

At this point I advise that you get as clear as you can on her reasons for not wanting to marry you. You might write those down as best as you understand them to be.

Then contact her parents by phone and let them know you simply want to do your best to get total clarity on why, from her standpoint, all this has happened so that you haven't missed anything. I'd ask permission to contact her one more time personally. If they say yes, great. If not, then do this with her parents.

Check your list with their list. If something comes to your attention that you think could clear the fog, then pursue it. If there are no new revelations, then let them know that you love her deeply, that you want to do all that is within your power to reconcile and contend for her heart, but that you also want to be honoring to them and to her by respecting their request to not contact her, as difficult as that will be.

Let them know that you are leaving the communication line wide open for them to be in contact with you should there be any reason for it, and that you hope there might still be some chance for a change of heart down the road.

Then loosen your grip, and leave it in God's hands.

I wish I could tell you how long to wait, but I can't. It might be a month, or six months or a year. I just don't know. God has His timing. I can only tell you that if you keep in step with God, I think you'll know it when it's time to no longer contend for this relationship.

If nothing turns with her, then over time you'll feel a release and discover the ability to have affection for someone else. I know that sounds hard to believe at the moment, but it's true.

As a final piece of advice I'd say stay close to a mentor, someone you trust to give you good counsel, and keep him up to speed on how your heart is doing with all of this. You really need a sounding board to help you think this through as it progresses.

And please keep us posted.

Blessings,
JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2010 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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