It began like so many false starts. We were at a church retreat, walking back from a night game of capture the flag. We laughed and talked as his flashlight cast bouncy shadows before our feet. Our steps slowed as the conversation grew more personal. We’d hit it off from the beginning of the retreat, but that night we stood outside my cabin talking for more than an hour.
I’d sensed a growing connection with this guy for several months, and now my hopes seemed to be confirmed. When I returned home from the retreat, my expectations were soaring. My emotions told me that our friendship had become something more. I was sure a relationship was on the horizon.
The first few days hope reigned. But after three days without a call, I started to get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I tried to justify it. He’s busy. He’s taking things slow. He didn’t call because he’ll see me at church on Sunday. These thoughts wafted desperately through my mind, even as the truth sunk in: It wasn’t going to happen.
This wasn’t the first time I had experienced this disappointing series of events, and it certainly would not be the last. In fact, I’ve become quite suspicious of my intuition — particularly regarding whether someone is contemplating “forming a serious design on me,” as Mr. Darcy says in Pride and Prejudice.
But with each flourish-to-fizzle experience, I lose a little more faith. Faith in the opposite sex. Faith in my own desirability. Faith in God’s sovereign hand in my life. As a friend recently blurted after a promising new relationship inexplicably burned out, “What’s wrong with me?”
I could discuss the potential contributing factors to this common scenario — miscommunication between the sexes, a woman’s tendency to mentally skip ahead three or four relationship levels (e.g., picturing what their children will look like after one date), or those infamous male commitment issues — but this kind of analysis has been done before and does little to assuage the emotional anguish of those finding themselves in this situation. (If I’m being melodramatic, remember that I am female.)
Last week I had lunch with my friend Frank. He told me something important about relationships and Christ. “People are always trying to make things in their lives the object,” Frank says, “but Christ needs to be the object.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Like people are putting their hope in a certain relationship instead of Christ.”
(Note: Before you get concerned about the “Christ is all I need” path I seem to be headed down, hear me out. I’m not downplaying the importance or priority of marriage or similar godly endeavors.)
Peter says, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). Most singles are preparing for marriage, but there’s a combo here: Prepare to take action and set your hope on salvation.
“When we put our hope in anything other than Christ, we’re going to be disappointed,” I say.
Frank nods. He’s a smart guy.
Relationships aren’t the only “objects” we assign hope to. Even good things, like a spouse, children or even ministry, can replace Christ as our No. 1 love. It’s a dangerous tradeoff, because when the particular thing is lost or tarnished, our tendency is to despair.
A couple I know has a lot going for them — education, a healthy family and a surplus of spiritual gifts. But as they’ve pursued fulltime ministry, every door has closed.
“Jason is disillusioned,” his wife says.
Jason’s discouragement is understandable. He believes God is calling him to fulltime ministry, and yet he keeps hitting a wall — apparently one made of reinforced titanium. He feels the thing he’s hoped for — his destiny, even — is constantly just out of reach.
I can relate. It’s easy to bank my hope on something I think God is doing in my life instead of on Him. Paul writes, “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers” (1 Timothy 4:10, NASB).
Every stage of life comes with labor and striving. If a single man wants to be married, he must seek out a potential spouse and court her. If a couple wants their marriage to flourish, they must work at keeping communication strong and love alive. And in ministry, a person must press on despite obstacles and setbacks. But driving every effort is hope. Hope that things will get better. Hope that love will be realized. Hope that we will accomplish something glorious.
As humans, we constantly look for something or someone in which to place hope. The response of our spouse. The fruit of our ministry. The guy or girl we have our eye on. The potential of a son or daughter. The success of a business venture or educational pursuit.
Hoping in people and circumstances is inevitable. The problem is, each of these things can crumble, leaving disillusionment in its wake. For the believer, though, the disappearance of these things does not signal the end of hope.
I regularly pray for and meet with a young woman who struggles to be consistent in her walk with Christ. At times, I believe that my efforts are really paying off. She will tell me about a spiritual discovery she’s made or a new goal she’s set. But when she falters — or downright fails — I find myself wanting to give up.
This kind of reaction betrays where my hope lies — not in Christ, who is pursuing her and has the power to redeem her, but in her actions. When she fails, my compassion, like Christ’s, should swell, because she is the one who suffers most from her choice to turn away from Him. If my hope is in Christ’s ability to save, it will never falter. It cannot.
Back to relationships (since I know that’s why you’re reading this article). For many reasons — most of them outside our control — potential relationships will fizzle. Sometimes we receive solace when we later see why the relationship would not have worked anyway. Other times we’re left to wonder about what could have been. Either way, “hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).
The process is something like emotional whiplash. Over the course of weeks or months, a certain dream seems within reach, and then, suddenly, I’m exactly where I started. It’s depressing.
So what’s the cure to such heartsickness? Whom or what is my object? Scripture never instructs us to hope in anything but the Lord and His Salvation (Titus 2:13). All other hopes are encompassed within that one, fantastic hope. Anything that happens in my life should be purposed to glorify God and reveal that hope to others.
And when I understand the hope of my salvation, I will recognize anew the power and faithfulness of the One who oversees my life. If He is faithful to redeem my sinful soul through His Son’s blood, He can be trusted in the other areas as well.
In fact, God rewards those who hope in Him. Lamentations 3:25 says: “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” And the Psalmist declares: “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3). That is refreshing truth. God will never say, “You were wrong about My feelings for you.” His promise is sure.
The next time I have a great conversation or connecting moment with a guy who seems perfect for me, I will hope. God created me that way. But this year I want to set my dreams even more firmly within His care. I want to make Him the object, my Savior and God who never fails.
Copyright 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.