Once upon a time, I dreamed that God would write my love story. I imagined the white dress and the blue flowers. I pictured my little sisters, arrayed in yellow as bridesmaids. My mind’s eye strained for a glimpse of the groom’s face, but all in vain — I hadn’t met him yet.
I thought marriage would bring me fulfillment, and so I prayed for a husband while I waited for my life to start. Thankfully, God met me in my ignorance and showed me how wrong I was. He has better plans for me than writing my love story.
It is only when God writes our love story — the story of Christ and His church — that we begin to live as we were created to.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners” (Psalm 1:1).
I was 13 years old when I first read a book on courtship. From those pages, I learned that God had the perfect husband already picked out for me. To me, it seemed that if I focused on my relationship with Christ, if I waited in contentment, my future husband would one day come into my life like a knight-in-shining-armor. It sounded like a fairytale, and I was enchanted. Like so many in my generation, I got down on my knees, gave my love life to God, and kissed dating goodbye.
I equated the promise of courtship with the promise of Psalm 1 — avoid the sinful path of dating, and you will be blessed with a godly marriage.
I did everything in my power to keep my side of this bargain, but when I finally entered into a relationship, it didn’t last. I amended my approach and tried other models of courtship and biblical dating. I went through several relationships of varying seriousness. My experiences taught me much, but left me single. At first, I couldn’t understand. Where was the love story God promised?
“All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence” (Psalm 73:13).
In his book The Psalms and the Life of Faith, theologian Walter Brueggemann suggests that the Psalms reflect the spiritual journey of our lives. We begin in a place of orientation, where everything makes sense. Life is good and goes the way we expect it to. And then, one day it doesn’t. We enter disorientation, where life doesn’t fit our notions of reality. Brueggemann writes:
Human persons are not meant for situations of disorientation. They will struggle against such situations with all their energies. Insofar as persons are hopeful and healthy, they may grow and work through to a new orientation.
I struggled for some time against the light God had begun to dawn on my path. It took years for me to surrender to the reorientation of my steps.
Finally, I opened my eyes to a new and ancient reality — my story was never about me.
“For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).
Before our beginning, Scripture tells us, God planted a garden. Then God created man and placed him in the garden to tend it. The commentators of the ESV Study Bible explain:
The overall picture of Eden … suggests that the park-like garden is part of a divine sanctuary. The man is put in the garden to work it and keep it. The term “work” (Hb. ‘abad … ) denotes preparing and tending, and “keep” (Hb. shamar) adds to the idea. … Later, the same two verbs are used together to the work undertaken by the priests and Levites in the tabernacle (“minister” or “serve” [Hb. ‘abad] and “guard” [Hb. shamar] … ). The man’s role is to be not only gardener but also guardian. As a priest, he is to maintain the sanctity of the garden as a part of a temple complex (53).
The garden was God’s; its purpose was God’s glory. The role of mankind in God’s young drama was to act as priests in this lush temple.
All too quickly, Adam and Eve forgot their lines. “Did God actually say,” queried the serpent, and the allure of the spotlight blinded their eyes. They gave up their priestly role to become gods themselves. But, instead of rising, they fell. They died, and brought death to all of creation. God sent them out of the garden, but the serpent’s curse carried a seed of hope: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15).
With Abraham, God began the process of restoring mankind to its proper role. He established the nation of Israel, saying “and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6a). God brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey, and they built a temple to His name. Yet, in time, Israel too fell away. And like their ancestors, God sent them out of the land, but not without a promise of hope: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5a).
In his The King Jesus Gospel, New Testament scholar Scot McKnight writes that this is the Gospel: “the Story of Israel that comes to completion in the saving Story of Jesus, who is Messiah of Israel, Lord over all, and the Davidic Savior” (131). This is good news — where death reigned, life was born:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
This Gospel is the love story God promised to write.
In Christ, the Messiah, God began a new creation, with a new priesthood (Hebrews 2:17). And once again, He has offered us a chance to be restored to our role in His grand story.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
As we follow in the steps of our High Priest, we are called to love as He loved, by laying down our lives for each other (1 John 3:16). Like Adam and Eve, we are created for good works (Ephesians 2:10). To that end, God has equipped each of us:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, emphasis mine).
In her book Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?, Carolyn McCulley points out that Paul uses the same Greek word for “gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12:4 as he does in his 1 Corinthians 7:7 discussion of singleness. McCulley explains that singleness, like all gifts, is for the church:
Spiritual gifts are given for the common good. The good news is that the singleness is not about you — either your good qualities or your sinful tendencies. You have a ‘gracious endowment’ that is for the good of those around you! … Friends, we have to stop here and ask ourselves if being gifted for the benefit of the church is important to us. This passage from 1 Corinthians 12 shows us that singleness gives us a context for the other spiritual gifts we may have and is a resource to be faithfully administered (30-31).
It’s not that the desire for marriage is wrong. On the contrary, marriage is part of God’s very good creation. For most people, God will satisfy their desire for marriage in the here and now, calling them to a relationship meant to testify of the love between Christ and His church. For others, however, God may use the unmet desire for marriage as a means of grace. He may give some people the gift of singleness — either temporarily or permanently — because it is best for His bride.
When I was a little girl, I asked God to write my love story. Instead, He has written me into something much greater. Through the tides of loneliness that still roll into my life now and again, I have felt God’s longing for His people. Through the brokenness of relationships in this world, God has opened my eyes to the depth of our need for a Savior. And as I’ve leaned into Him, He has given me a glimpse of His heart.
While my life has remained barren of husband and children, God has been faithful to fill it with opportunities to be salt and light. While I still pray for marriage, I trust God with my future. I doubt I’ll remember this hope differed when my eyes finally catch a glimpse of His face, at my death or His return.
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6).
Copyright 2013 Candice Gage. All rights reserved.