"So what would you say to singles who want to be married, are trying to live God-honoring lives, and feel as if God's withholding a spouse from them?" the radio-show host asked me. It was a live radio interview and I was supposed to be the singles "expert" as a columnist and book author on the subject of doing life alone. She continued, "I would think it would be easy to get a bit bitter and angry toward God in that situation." Honey, I thought, you have no idea!
I thought back to my own realization not too long ago that I was a bit ticked off at God for not granting the desires of my heart to be in a healthy, committed, Christ-centered marriage (or at least to have some glimmer of hope that such a thing is still a possibility for me). It felt a bit insolent to be angry at God, but wasn't he the one who created us to be in deep, meaningful relationships? Didn't he already know that people-person me was languishing a bit after so many years on my own? And couldn't he see how much I could use someone to do life with—who could help sometimes-scatterbrained me remember to pay my bills, who could help provide financial security so I can spend more time writing articles and books that point to him, who could help me lug groceries and laundry up and down the three flights of stairs to my humble abode (all blessings I'd willingly "repay" with my own set of sacrifices and gifts)?
I remember ticking off all the reasons I deserved the blessing of a spouse. I've served God in a ministry-oriented job, have allowed him to work through my singleness for a couple years now, and have remained sexually pure longer than most non-Christians would believe. And aren't spouses and children practically inalienable rights for God-fearing, law-abiding citizens? "I just want a Christ-following spouse I can serve you with. Is that too much to ask?" I queried God in a moment of honest exasperation one day. "Surely I've earned my spouse by now!"
I can guess what you're thinking as you're reading this right now—Whoa, you've got God's role in our lives all wrong—because that's exactly what I thought when I stepped back and listened to the mental tirade I'd been lobbing heavenward. Who was I to think God owed me anything? The only thing God's ever owed us fallen humans is punishment for our sinful ways.
And what was I thinking that I could somehow earn a spouse? When have we ever been able to earn God's blessings or favor in any way other than by taking on the saving grace of his death and resurrection on our behalf? Wasn't that the whole point of Jesus' life on this earth—to earn the approval, intimacy with God, and salvation that we in our fallen humanness never could?
Right then and there I thanked God for not giving me what I deserved—a swift kick in the rear for my audacious attitudes toward him. I also thanked him that we don't have to earn his blessings, but that he gives them freely, according to his timetable and higher ways (Isaiah 55:8-9), and "according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).
To help right my thinking, God led me to a couple of pertinent studies and quotes. I picked up a Bible study I'd been working through some time ago and the next chapter "happened" to be about waiting on God, who, as author John Ortberg pointed out, sometimes takes us on the "roundabout way" to our destination. Using the example of the Israelites traveling 40 years through the desert to get to the Promised Land, Ortberg talked about waiting periods as times of testing our faith, proving our perseverance, and deepening our relationship with God—if we allow them to do this positive work. "As odd as it sounds," he wrote, "the desert can offer a unique opportunity to experience the depth of God's love. In the desert, the work of God's love can speak to a deeper place in your heart." It seemed God was inviting me to go deeper and to trust him more.
As if to back that up, the study included a quote by Richard Foster: "Trust is confidence in the character of God. Firmly and deliberately you say, 'I do not understand what God is doing or even where God is, but I know that he is out to do me good.' This is trust. This is how to wait."
And if the point wasn't crystal clear yet, something caught my eye in an article we ran soon after in Today's Christian Woman (where I served on the editorial staff) about singer/songwriter Twila Paris. The story centered on the life complications that prevented her from becoming a mother, the desire of her heart, until she was 41. I was moved and challenged by her answer to a question about how she'd handled the thought earlier in her life that she might never become a mom: "I knew I couldn't live in a place of unresolve before God, thinking, What you might possibly allow in my life is not okay with me. I'd watched friends in difficult situations react with humility, and I'd watched others react with bitterness. So I stepped back and thought, Which of those people do I want to become if this is my life? I knew I didn't want to end up bitter." And from being there at various points in my singleness journey, I knew I didn't want to end up there either.
So what did I say to that radio interviewer asking for advice for singles who feel gyped by God? I told her one of the best lessons from being there and feeling that: it's vitally important to make God our ally and not our adversary in our singleness. Surely the God who made us, saved us, and has heaped all kinds of other wonderful blessings in our lives weeps too when our life gets difficult or lonely, and he isn't out to do us harm by "withholding" anything we really need. Surely he who sees the big picture is timing his work and blessings in our life just right. I've found that ceasing to see him as the cause of the down days of my singleness and instead clinging to him for comfort is the only antidote to those inevitable times when my unmet desires make my heart ache. Instead of giving God my blame, I'm choosing to humbly give him my frustrations, anger, and longings, knowing he's the only one who can take these anyway. And he's the only one who can replace them with his sweet, undeserved, and unconditional joy.