“I’m hoarse from calling for help, bleary-eyed from searching the sky for God... Me? I pray. God, it’s time for a break! God, answer in love! Answer with your sure salvation!... I’m hurt and in pain; Give me space for healing, and mountain air.” (Psalm 69:3, 13, 29)
Serving as mentor, Bible study leader, and perpetually known “researcher/student of life,” I have experienced the gamut of questions when it comes to relationships. One, however, that perpetually finds its way into conversation from time to time is that of God’s will, and specific to dating relationships, that of “if s/he’s not the one, will God tell me when it’s time to break up?”
As a teenager and college student, I would (comically) pray that my future husband would just happen to be found under a big neon sign that read, “This one here… he’s yours!” I was (resolutely) hopeful for a series of dreams (and if a spiritual mentor had the same dreams on the same night, that would be mighty helpful as well). If nothing else, I was hopeful (or wishfully thinking) that strong confirmation would guarantee that if I were to break up with a person, the “right one” would step into my life shortly thereafter, confirming all the more that my decision was all a part of a pre-scripted storyline o’ my life.
In all of my hoping and wishing and dreaming, I failed to see that I was misunderstanding two very different issues: that of God’s will, and that of my dating relationship status.
Now, there is much theological debate which rest within two camps when it comes to Christian marriage: one camp says that God preordains your spouse and when you find him/her, you’ll know you were made for one another; the other focuses on the free will given in Christ, describing that because we are now free, there are many people we could marry. Simply pick one. This debate would take much beyond this article’s length to discuss (and most likely not provide a clear answer even if carefully deliberated), so taking liberty with Ephesians 5:31-32, let us just know, like Paul, “No longer two, they become ‘one flesh’. This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all.”
To be completely transparent, I truly do stand on this debate’s fence; I believe it’s both. There is something powerful about the Lord being so present in our daily lives that He surely leads us in many ways throughout the day as we lean into His discernment. In my own story, I felt I was supposed to go to a large gathering of 40,000 peaceful activists, as did my future husband; we met, spent the next five hours talking, and both knew within days that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. Our decision was based on how we both felt the peace of God very clearly and because we both had spent our single years actively seeking the Lord and recognizing what we wanted in a spouse.
“Oh sure,” you might say, “Good for you. But what do I do when I’m in a relationship and I’m not sure if I should break up or stay together?” This is a major decision that truly can have life-altering outcomes. And while I wish we could look at each specific situation and discuss your story together, here are some considerations for you as you seek the Lord for direction:
1. ARE YOU WASTING YOUR TIME?
Ephesians 5 says, “Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ. Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants.”
Are you actively spending your time together in ways that make you both stronger as people? Are you experiencing more adventure, increasing in curiosity, and together celebrating wonder (whether found in music, poetry, generosity, compassion, nature, worship)? Or are you always arguing, lamenting how you don’t align on key issues, or remain divided on how life is to be experienced?
Seasons of life or personality types may offer specific challenges, and becoming unified is certainly a matter that takes dedicated, focused effort. My husband is introverted; I am extroverted, so we do not always see eye to eye as to how we want to spend an evening. But if you are constantly “trying to make things work,” or if you are hiding parts of your relationship from those to whom you are accountable, prayerfully consider that it might be time to move on.
2. ARE YOU DIGNIFYING ONE ANOTHER?
The number one rule my husband and I have in our relationship is to protect each other’s dignity. Albeit this rule came about because I was incessantly listening to “By Our Love”on my music playlist at the beginning of our relationship. But as we together discussed how we wanted to define “us”, we recognized that the world should in fact know that we are Christians by the way that we as spouses love and treat one another. The lyrics read, “We will work with each other, we will work side by side, and we’ll guard each other’s dignity and save each other’s pride.”
Dignity means that you take 1 Corinthians 13’s love and put it on display. You guard your words, not telling your insider information about your spouse at a dinner party in order to get a laugh at your spouse’s expense. It means you tell the truth even if it hurts, and you share about your struggles, because you grant them dignity in walking together with you (and they in return are careful not to judge or be prideful because they too are sinners in need of support for other sins). You guard them when others attempt to demean them, and you yourself work to listen empathetically rather than pointing fingers.
Is this rule an easy one to follow? Absolutely not! It requires grace upon grace that can only come from the Lord, and it certainly is a work in progress. But if you find that you are in a degrading relationship where you come away from the other feeling the need to be uplifted or encouraged (and especially if you are thinking of another specific person of the opposite sex to be encouraged by), it might be time to reconsider why you are in the relationship.
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage… What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-28, 32-33)
3. ARE YOU SEEKING A WEDDING/STATUS OR A PARTICULAR PERSON?
I understand long-term singleness; I held my place known as the single girl who never had a man to write home about for the first 28 years of my life. Oh sure, I dated once in awhile, but I could never feel the peace that came when I met my husband; we married when I was 29. One of the reasons, I believe, our relationship blossomed so quickly (and was fully supported by our family and inner circle of friends, mentors and accountability partners) was because when we met, we were not looking for a mate. We both had suffered the mind games of going into the grocery store, church, the gym, and thinking over and over, “Hmm… is that him/her? What about that person?” Enough was enough for us both.
With crucial seasons coming before us (he, seeking the Lord in a wholehearted manner; I was starting a master’s program and running my own business), we both were in heart seasons in which we were not trying to cross the line of “marriage with the white dress and a house so I never have to be alone.” And yet, we recognized within the first few days of getting to know one another, life was simply better because that person was around.
I had lost my dad to heart disease at 13, and as an only child with a disabled mother, I was fiercely independent who never trusted men to stay around. Suddenly, there was someone who gave of himself, who offered to drive me to a doctor’s appointment (and taking off work to do it, all the while never acting the hero but simply the servant). I realized that here was a male best friend like I’d never had - we had loads of fun together, cried together, talked endlessly about social justice and theology and worship and God’s Word, and stretched each other when he wanted to do something physically daring (like jump off a waterfall) and I wanted to go swing dancing. Life was richer because we were together, and the more we got to know one another, the more we realized we wanted to do mundane and mourning, exciting and stretching - all of it - as a united pair.
Are you seeking to fill a gap in your heart that goes beyond the person in front of you? If yes, seek the Lord’s direction on how He might fill it. During my single days, I wept on numerous occasions, begging the Lord to place me in a family with a husband and in-laws and the whole bit. But I also served in the community, I had great roommates and friends in similar seasons with whom to do life, and I was determined that being single was better than being married to one who would not encourage me to be the best me (and it saved me a lot of heartache that would have involved other people).
Consider if you are seeking to fill dreams that have not yet been met, or if you are truly in the relationship because you and your dating partner make each other better in the Lord, in your community, in your individual pursuits and in your shared goals.
Breaking up is never easy, but if you truly want to serve your own and your partner’s heart well (and you aren’t committed to the long term), it’s time to cut ties and your own control, and let the Lord guide you on an adventure based on freedom and wonder.
Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing. Whoever wants to embrace life and see the day fill up with good, Here’s what you do: Say nothing evil or hurtful; Snub evil and cultivate good; run after peace for all you’re worth. God looks on all this with approval, listening and responding well to what he’s asked. (1 Peter 3:8-12, MSG)
Julie Langford and her best friend (and husband) Andrew love living in Portland, Oregon where she enjoys practicing ballet, exploring outdoor adventures, and inventing a new kind of wheel (or enjoying reinventing the old one). You can learn more about her and Learning to Become at www.learningtobecome.com.
Publication date: July 26, 2016