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Heart on Hold

Navigating a series of "almost" relationships can be wearisome. But this inconvenient process may also be the very means God is using to mature you.

In one of the Mitford novels by Jan Karon, a single woman tells her pastor about her mother’s homespun wisdom for finding a husband: “You don’t go huntin’, you let ’em kind of go by you in a parade.”Jan Karon, At Home in Mitford (RiverOak: Colorado Springs, 2005), 270.

Touched by her obvious longing, her pastor replies, “I’m going to ask the Lord to start the parade!”

Recently, it seems, God has started that parade for me. While it’s great to know there are so many godly guys out there, the maybes and the almost-relationships stir up longings I’d rather keep asleep while I wait. The receiving (and even the giving) of rejection that’s necessary when I can’t honestly pursue marriage with someone: It hurts. And the desire to honestly consider any potential spouse God brings my way means a process that keeps my heart excruciatingly on hold … repeatedly and so far without results. Without results, I should say, for my marital status, because there are already results in my heart. I believe this inconvenient process is the very means God is powerfully using to mature me.[1]Romans 5 assures us that tribulation results in proven character. Lamentations 3 assures us that God doesn’t willingly afflict us, and that it is good for us to wait and to bear the yoke in our … Continue reading

If my life were a novel, I’d be speed-reading ahead by now, impatient with the plot twists and ready to get to the happily-ever-after. Yet I’m not being a martyr when I say there’s something really sweet about getting to encourage you while I’m still in this awkward spot. If we were face to face, I’d say: “Don’t worry! God isn’t holding out on you. There’s maturity and joy in singleness, too.”

In “One Single Day,” I said that my single years are a definite loss, yet definitely not a waste. My math was a little off, because God equates all our earthly losses to one enormous GAIN. That gain is knowing Jesus like I’ve grown to know my best friend: by sharing the sufferings — and the resurrections — in our lives.

Gold is meant for the crucible, right? Seeds are meant to fall into the ground and die to produce fruit. And a disciple is meant to know his master and to become more like him. Think of all the sports movies you’ve ever watched, and you’ll know this means relentless discipline and unflinching trust in your coach.

“Rather than seeing marriage as a cosmic competitor with heaven,” writes Gary Thomas, “we can embrace it as a school of faith.”[2]Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy? (Zondervan: Grand Rapids,2000), 266. His premise, that every part of married life has potential to make us holy, is invigorating to me because I can apply it to my singleness, too.

So what have I learned in this stage?

Pay attention.

Even potential relationships can be tests of your attitude, the genuineness of your love, and your level of trust in your mentors and in God. Ask: What does my response to this situation show about my maturity? What does it reveal of my beliefs about myself? About other people? What can I learn from others’ mistakes and from my own?

Don’t selfishly brush people off. Make multi-faceted decisions about who you will consider as a mate. Factor in the Bible, your emotions and intuition, the counsel of the Holy Spirit and others, and the results of prayer and observation.[3]There is biblical precedent for using sanctified common sense in matters of the heart and for requesting God’s personalized direction: Genesis 24:10-21, Numbers 36:6, 1 Corinthians 7:39 Focus on character first. And give a little grace. You’re still growing; so is this potential mate. Asking you out by text might be a sign of immaturity, but don’t deprive yourself of a solid person by clinging too tightly to rules of thumb.

Not all suffering is God’s will for you, so do ask Him to guard your heart from unnecessary disappointment. Decide where you will embrace healthy risk and where you can keep the door closed, with a clear conscience.

Don’t treat potential relationships as a standoff: “I’ll be vulnerable when you will.” By your actions and attitude, say to the other person, “You are worth a fair chance, because you are valuable to Jesus.” Focus on giving, not getting. Whether or not this encounter lands you a mate, investing in a child of God is investing in the kingdom of God. Seek the kingdom first.

Enjoy the privilege of getting to know this person, who uniquely reflects God’s character, without becoming possessive or jumping to conclusions. Recognize that this potential relationship is not all about you, nor is it all about marriage. Ask: What is God doing?

Recognize that wisdom often arrives incrementally and not as an instant download. I marvel at the grace God has given one friend to hang onto a slow-moving relationship — and the grace He’s given another friend to release a potential mate. Pay attention to the grace He’s giving you. At the same time, heed the roadblocks and red flags.

The rightness or wrongness of a relationship becomes increasingly apparent as time goes on. When you reach a crescendo of evidence, it’s time to choose.

Know when and how to release a relationship possibility.

Be unselfish about how long you keep the other person’s heart on hold. Like a book you’ve reserved at the library, if you’re not going to read it, then release it to someone who will.

How do you release someone? Be prompt. Be direct. Give the gift of closure. I once thought I had discovered a clever way to turn a guy down. In the end, I caused him greater pain because he didn’t get the hints, hoped longer, and needed more forceful communication. (Feeling smug? It might be a warning sign.) On the flip side, don’t be willfully blind to differences between you. And be respectful of the other person’s deal-breakers, even if they don’t make sense to you.

If you meet a guy or girl who communicates well, then thank them! Rather than contributing to the numbers of walking wounded, let’s build one another up. If you have hurt someone else (I know I have), then ask for forgiveness. This isn’t a contest where we can’t risk showing weakness. We’re family first, and potential lovers second. If someone has hurt you, give them the benefit of the doubt. Healing from that hurt is hard enough. Do yourself a favor, and keep bitterness out of the mix.

As part of the process, choose confidants! Choose them wisely, avoiding those who encourage you to be selfish and impulsive. Then invite their reality checks. When I was confused about whether a man was interested in me, I asked a married friend. Her reply: “Hang onto your heart. He’s just unusually friendly.” Her advice stopped my merry-go-round of infatuation and released me for more fruitful relationships.

Falling in love is God’s gift, designed to catapult me joyfully into huge life changes. Sometimes that change is marriage, and sometimes it’s simply deepened channels for love and trust in my heart. Knowing this can help me release a relationship, without ruing the investment I’ve made.


  • Expectantly. “Hope,” says Max Lucado, “is not a granted wish…. It is a zany, unpredictable dependence on a God who loves to surprise us.”God Came Near (Zondervan: Nashville, 2004), 65. When prayer is a genuine conversation with God, He corrects my desires as needed, aligning them with a plan that’s exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think. That’s a lot of superlatives.
  • Communally. Inviting others to pray on my behalf makes them participants and fellow rejoicers in what God is doing and provides essential support when I’m disappointed. Meanwhile, praying for other singles helps rescue me from the misery of self-pity and self-focus.
  • Strategically. I asked God to show me how to pray, and He seems to like answering step-by-step requests. For instance, as part of praying for clarity about whether it’s a good match, I ask for the next clarifying conversation or experience to occur.

I’ve begun to think that relationships are like tiny green plants; they have to be nursed to maturity, every small step bathed in prayer. As humbling as that level of need may be, it’s actually quite normal, because ultimately, every God-centered relationship is a miracle.

At my age, the odds are against me finding a mate. But while I’m aware of statistics, I’m not subject to them: God is writing my story. He has led many of His disciples into miracle territory. And guess what?

We know the Maker of miracles!

Remember how Jesus waited until much too late for Lazarus? To his sisters’ sorrow over the fatal delay, Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

Mary and Martha passed through the crucible and came out pure gold. They believed in Jesus, who is the Resurrection — and they saw His glory.

Dear friends, your excruciating, humbling, puzzling delay?

It can be a grandstand for God’s glory and a priceless way to know Him more.

Copyright 2014 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.


1 Romans 5 assures us that tribulation results in proven character. Lamentations 3 assures us that God doesn’t willingly afflict us, and that it is good for us to wait and to bear the yoke in our youth.
2 Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More than to Make Us Happy? (Zondervan: Grand Rapids,2000), 266.
3 There is biblical precedent for using sanctified common sense in matters of the heart and for requesting God’s personalized direction: Genesis 24:10-21, Numbers 36:6, 1 Corinthians 7:39

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About the Author

Elisabeth Adams

Elisabeth Adams has lived in five states, one Canadian province, and the captivating city of Jerusalem, where she studied historical geography and Hebrew. As a freelance writer and editor, she loves hearing and telling new tales of God’s faithfulness. Most of all, she wants to keep a quiet heart.


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