It’s 3 a.m. and I’m having some serious trouble falling asleep. My stomach is queasy, my heartbeat rapid, and my chest feels as though it’s being crushed by an invisible pachyderm. My brain activity level is off the charts as anxious thoughts whip through my mind at a frenetic pace.
I’m worried — really worried — about my relationship with my girlfriend Jen.
This shouldn’t be happening to me. I did everything right, all in accordance with the “Good Christian Book of Dating Rules For the Single Guy Who Has No Clue About Relationships.” When I first became interested in Jen, I talked to my parents. After getting the go-ahead from them, I went through the nerve-fraying process of talking to her dad about the possibility of us pursuing a relationship. Her dad thought I was a pretty decent guy and so gave me permission to ask Jen out on a date.
Things progressed smoothly from there. We liked each other, we enjoyed the same hobbies, and we didn’t have any arguments. Jen even went so far as to start watching Pittsburgh Steeler football with me, which was a big step for a girl who had no interest in watching 300 pound men hurtle themselves at one another. My family loved her, her family loved me. She was godly; I was getting there.
Sometimes relationships have painful surprises, like when you find out that your girlfriend smokes large, foreign-made cigars. There was none of this in my relationship with Jen. Everything pointed towards marriage, including the wise counsel of my parents.
Yet in spite of all this, there were times when I was absolutely gripped with anxiety over our relationship. The thought of marriage frightened me. After all, marriage is a big deal in God’s eyes. Once you get married, there’s no turning back, no second chances, no backing out. Once you’re married, you’re locked in, and it was this permanence that scared me. I was afraid of making a mistake, afraid of marrying the wrong person. How could I know if she was the right one for me? Was I playing a game of relationship roulette that would blow up after I got married? This question haunted me, stealing my sleep and my peace.
But the problem wasn’t with Jen, or with our relationship. The problem was with me and my sinful heart. The problem was sinful unbelief. Ultimately my fears were a result of doubting the promises God, doubting the counsel of others, and doubting the character of God.
Doubting the Promises of God
James 1:5-6 says:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
I knew that I lacked wisdom when it came to relationships, primarily because I had never been in one before. Before I went out with Jen, I had never been on a date, never taken a girl to the movies, never focused all of my attention on person of the feminine gender. I always hung out with girls in groups, never talked to one for more than 2 minutes at a time, and always tried to guard everybody’s heart. When it came to relationships, I was clueless.
And so I pleaded with God for wisdom. I asked Him to make His ways clear to me, and to direct my footsteps. I asked Him to instruct me, and teach me, and counsel me with His eye upon me (Psalm 32:8). I knew that I desperately needed God’s wisdom.
There was just one slight problem: I didn’t believe that I was going to receive wisdom from God. In my head I knew that God gives wisdom to those who ask, but I didn’t feel the power of this promise in my heart. Instead of latching onto this promise with faith, I let fears, and doubts, and “what-ifs” overwhelm me. Much of the Christian life is a battle to believe the promises of God. I didn’t fight to believe God’s promise for wisdom. I asked for wisdom, but I didn’t ask in faith.
The result? I was tossed to and fro like a ship in a storm. One minute I would be at peace regarding my relationship with Jen, the next minute I would be gripped with anxiety. I was always analyzing our relationship, scrutinizing my feelings, trying to figure out if I was doing the right thing, instead of trusting God to guide me and give me wisdom.
I doubted the promise of God to “give generously” to those who plead for wisdom. And I paid the price.
Doubting the Counsel of God
Not only did I doubt the promises of God, but I also doubted the counsel of others. Scripture is clear that wisdom comes through the counsel of others. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
In His kindness, God provided me with boat loads of wise counsel. I had counsel from my mom, counsel from my dad, counsel from my pastor (who also happened to be my dad), and counsel from my friends. Each of these people listened patiently as I explained my fears, and then humbly pointed me back to God and His Word. Through this counsel it became clear that my doubts were not from God, and that our relationship was headed towards marriage, both of which were good news to me.
But this wise counsel didn’t do much to soothe my fears. Why? Because I doubted the wisdom of those God had placed in my life. My parents, pastors, and friends were God’s gift to me, wise counselors to a foolish young man. Their counsel and correction was God’s way of leading me in sweet paths of righteousness. But like a doubting fool, I didn’t hold fast to their counsel. The wise words spoken to me ricocheted off my heart like bullets off a rock.
Doubting the Character of God
My doubt of the promises of God and the counsel of God were only symptoms however, of a deeper, more sinister problem: I doubted the very character of God. Scripture is clear that God is trustworthy, that He deeply loves His people, and that He will lead His people on good and pleasant paths. Romans 8:28 puts it this way: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
By letting my heart be ruled by fear and doubt, I was making a very loud statement about the character of God. I was saying that God couldn’t be trusted to lead me into a wonderful, God-glorifying marriage. I was saying that God wouldn’t lead me to the person that I was supposed to marry. I was saying that God didn’t love me enough to work all things for my good. I was proclaiming a lie about the character of God. My lack of faith had turned me into a functional blasphemer.
Advice For the Fearful
So what about you? Can you relate to my fears and doubts? Are you haunted by the question: “Is he/she is the right one for me?” Do you tremble at the thought of marriage? Then let me give you some practical advice from one fearful person to another: Exercise faith.
Begin to conquer your fears by praying for wisdom regarding your relationship. God has made it clear that He’s very eager to give wisdom to those who ask. But it’s not enough to just ask for wisdom, you must also believe that He’s going to give it to you. This is where faith comes into play. After asking God for wisdom, thank Him that He’s going to give it to you. Thank Him that He’s going to help you make wise decisions that will lead to your good and His glory. Exercise faith in the promises of God.
Second, put the squeeze on your fears by trusting the counsel of those around you. God has given you parents, and pastors, and friends to help you live a life that brings glory to God. Get these people involved in your relationship. Tell them your fears, struggles, and mistakes, and ask them for wisdom. Entrust yourself to the wise counsel of those around you.
Finally, kill your fears by placing all your trust in God Himself. If you’re a Christian, you can have absolute confidence that God is for you. He will lead you on good paths — paths designed for your good and His glory. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” God has never failed those who have trusted Him. Don’t make the same mistake that I did. Honor God by trusting Him with all your heart.
The End of the Story
So are you wondering how my story ends? Did I marry Jen, or did I break off our relationship? Did I conquer my fears, or did my fears conquer me? Am I writing this out of regret or gratefulness?
By God’s grace, I’m writing this out of gratefulness. On November 4th, 2006, Jen and I were married. Second to following the Lord, it was the best decision I ever made. She’s the most beautiful, wonderful, God-honoring wife a man could ask for. I can’t imagine life without her. Well, I can, and it would be really boring.
So now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off on a hot date with the girl of my dreams.
Copyright 2008 Stephen Altrogge. All rights reserved.