February 15, 2009
 When We Get Our
Wires Crossed

Coming to Terms
With Disappointment
In Guidance
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ďIíve had a vision that God wants us to get married.Ē

I went on to share with her what I believed the Lord had told me, nervous, but confident her response would be one of elation. After all, since she was a serious Christian wanting Godís will, how could she react otherwise?

It had been nearly a year before, while praying in a beautiful mountain setting, that my thoughts turned to this young woman in our college fellowship. As I prayed, I suddenly found myself overcome with a warm feeling that God intended us to be married. A picture of her as my wife came into my mind; it seemed startlingly real. After that, I simply assumed Iíd had a revelation from God.

Later that year, a friendship with her started to develop, and we began dating. Several extraordinary coincidences occurred which left me even more convinced God was leading us to marry.

Now, on our fourth date, the time finally seemed right to unveil my vision to her. I was so hopeful that now our relationship would become defined, and we would reach a mutual conviction about Godís will.

The relationship did indeed become defined at that point. The next day she told me she didnít believe that God wanted us dating anymore.

Death of a Vision

For days I was reeling with disappointment and wounded pride. I felt rejected both by her and God. I simply could not understand how this could have happened. Did she misunderstand Godís will? Was she blatantly disobeying it? Or was God for some reason punishing me and allowing me to miss his perfect plan? Or--heaven forbid--was it even possible I had misread what God had said to me in the first place?

Countless Christians have shared with me a similar experience of disappointment with Godís guidance in a relationship. Time and again the story goes: One person in a relationship is certain theyíve received a revelation from God about its future, yet the other is quite unconvinced. Itís not only the one who believes God wants them to marry who is confused. Often the other feels just as confused--and angry, for being told Godís will so forthrightly, and that their feelings about the relationship arenít being respected.

What causes this predicament?

Fooled by a Feeling

In my own case, I realize now that I was too quick to take my feelings as Godís guidance. In the romantic area especially, where emotions run very strong, this is so easy to do. I simply assumed that feelings as strong as mine must be a revelation from God. In fact, I was giving in to wishful thinking.

I also carried a common misconception about how God guides. It was quite possible, I believed, that God would reveal to me a major detail about my personal future--like who I was to marry--without my having to go through the harder process of discovering it step by step.

When I finally began studying Godís guidance in Scripture, I realized how presumptuous I had been to think this way. Again and again, Scripture shows that God rarely, if ever, tips his hand to us about our personal future; he merely gives us enough guidance to take the next step in faith.

Even a man as remarkably mature spiritually as St. Paul seldom knew Godís precise intention for his own future. When he writes to the Corinthians of his desire to visit them, for instance, he states, ďFor I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may speed me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permitsĒ (1 Cor 16:5-7 RSV, italics mine). In many ways, Paul indicates that his notion of where God was leading him was tentative at best.

Paul was strongly convinced about what God wanted him to do presently--which was to stay and minister in Ephesus. ďI will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me,Ē he explains (v 8). Beyond this, though, he was cautious in declaring what God intended for him; he expressed his hopes and desires for the future, but left its ultimate outcome to God.

When I thought I had received a revelation about marrying that young woman, then, I was claiming a level of certainty about Godís will for my future that even a saint like Paul rarely experienced about details in his own life.

Zipped Lips

My advice to Christians in dating situations now is this: If you believe that God has revealed to you whom you will marry, resist the temptation to tell that person so--at least until you are sure the other is just as convinced. Believe that if God has indeed shown you his will, he will make it every bit as clear to the other person as he has to you, without the need for unusual persuasion on your part.

At the same time, share your feelings honestly and openly with the other person. Let her or him know of your affection and your desire to marry, if it seems appropriate to do so. But stop short of any ultimate statement about Godís will which might make the other feel boxed in. That really amounts to spiritualizing your feelings, and is bound to make further discussion difficult.

When I began dating Evie Kirkland--the one God actually intended me to marry--there wasnít much I could have done to have kept the relationship from working out. There was something very natural about the way we both concluded that God wanted us together. It was as obvious to her as it was to me.

Everyoneís experience is different. You may have to work through more issues than I did in deciding to marry someone, and the courtship process may be more challenging in certain ways. Still, you wonít have to convince that person to marry you; convicting is Godís responsibility.

Scripture tells us that, after God created Eve for Adam, he ďbrought her to the manĒ (Gen 2:22). Iíve joked in writing before that Adam didnít have to beat Eve over the head with ďthus saith the Lord!Ē Of course, their situation was unique; neither had a lot of other choices! Still, the fact that the Bible, in its first description of two people marrying, stresses Godís initiative in bringing them together, gives us comfort. We can go about the process of looking for someone to marry in a relaxed spirit--knowing that God will convict us both if and when itís right to marry.

If I had understood this principle as a young Christian, it would have spared me some real agony. And it certainly would have made life easier for the young woman who had to suffer through my ďvision.Ē

For relationships, the lesson boils down to this: donít play God. Take things a step at a time, and donít presume to know Godís future plan for yourself or the other person. Allow the other the freedom, either to come to the conviction of Godís will that you have, or to see things differently. This kind of sensitive and patient approach to the marriage decision will also pave the way for a more mature seeking of Godís will together within marriage itself.

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