A year ago today, I wrote a guest post for my friend Jennifer Kostick on what it’s like to live with hopes deferred (all kinds) and to wait on God for decades (not minutes)… especially for single women. It was a post I didn’t want to write, because it felt so very personal and private. I don’t like to talk about my singleness much, but I did it as an act of obedience, willing to share in the hopes that somehow it would encourage someone somewhere.
Two weeks later I met the man I’m going to marry.
He found and read this post (as he was scouring the internet, trying to learn more about me, after we’d met), and discovered I was single. It encouraged him to ask me out.
God is amazing…
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”
In my twenties, I used to quote this verse to God a lot. I guess I was not-so-subtly hinting:
“This is YOUR fault. This desperate ache… this gut-wrenching pain. It’s no wonder I feel this way. Your Word even says so — so I have a good excuse for wallowing in my misery and self-pity. If You don’t want me to, if You care about me at all, You’ll do something. Soon. Quickly.”
I could have been referring to many different things. We all have to grow up and face the harsh realities of life eventually – and while our stories may not be the same, we can be sure they all include many kinds of disillusionment and disappointment.
But in this particular instance, I was referring to my childlessness … caused primarily by my singleness… though my doctor kept warning there were signs of trouble ahead, and if I wanted a family, I needed to start immediately.
I won’t recount all the thoughtless and often cruel, but well-meaning (?) things people at church said to me, from my late teens through my twenties and thirties. The ones who tried to be encouraging, the ones who asked nosy questions or made ridiculous suggestions, the ones who’d never had a real conversation with me, but thought they knew what “my problem” was.
Or all the trite clichéd Christian books that promised if I (pretended to) stop looking, wait patiently, fix all the things that were wrong with me, and find a place of perfect peace, contentment, and spiritual maturity, God would bring the perfect man to me.
Or the real grief, heartache, and loneliness I wrestled with — not for two or three years, like so many singles ministry leaders (before they got married — bless them). But for decades. Feeling rejected by God. Cast aside. Overlooked. Wondering why I was denied the blessings He gave so freely to just about everybody?
Hurt and frustrated that – because I didn’t have a husband or children – others seemed to see me as less of an adult, less of a woman.
Like that one church that uninvited me as their retreat speaker when they found out I was single, because I couldn’t possibly have anything to say to married women.
I wasn’t planning to speak on marriage. I was planning to speak on the things we all have in common: Disappointment, hurt, heartbreak, pain. Hopes deferred. Whatever those hopes may be. And what I’ve learned:
That the answer isn’t in a magical or Scriptural formula that will fix the problem or make the pain go away. God hasn’t promised anyone a husband (or a better husband) or a baby (or another baby). Or a more supportive family. Or a friend or a house or a job or a book contract or a ministry. Or physical health, wealth, weight loss, beauty, popularity, or anything we think will bring us happiness or fulfillment in this life.
And if we think everybody else has those things, sisters, we need to look again. MOST people on this planet don’t have a fraction of the blessings you and I take for granted every day.
As for those women who do have it all? I can tell you, after twenty-five years of women’s ministry, stepping off the platform to hold sobbing women in my arms, it’s almost never as good as it seems. Or they may have what you want or what I want, but it’s not THEIR unfulfilled dream…
Whatever IT is you think will make you happy, that thing you just can’t live without – if I may, I’d like to encourage you today: Let it go. Give it to Jesus… for real, not because someone told you that if you do, He’ll give it back to you. Or that He’ll give you something bigger and better in its place.
He might not.
Jesus doesn’t promise to give you what you want. He doesn’t promise you bigger and better. He promises you Himself.
It won’t always feel like it, but you WILL find that He is enough. More than enough. Worth every battle, every trial, every tear you have cried. When you get on the other side of this, the closeness and intimacy with Him, the depth of your relationship with Him… that’s the real gift.
I’m in my forties now and I won’t lie to you. There are moments when my childlessness still knocks me off my feet with a tidal wave of grief. But I’ve learned to tread water, to reach out for the support of my loving friends and family, and to count all the wonderful blessings of the very rich, full life and ministry God has given me.
And when I can come up for air and breathe again, I know that I wouldn’t trade knowing Jesus the way I do – which has come (in part) through that very heartache and suffering – for the life I once begged Him to give me.
PS: As I mentioned at the beginning, just a few weeks after I first shared this, I met my future husband, Andrew… we’re getting married on January 7th! (You can read the story here.) We’re both so grateful to God for drawing us closer to Him through all the hard things we’ve been through. We know we will continue to need His mercy, His grace, His strength in the days to come. There will always be hoped deferred, dreams yet to be fulfilled, earnest prayers to which God lovingly replies, “No” or “Not yet.” But this long-awaited “YES!” and all the miracles and answers to prayer that have come with it have been so faith-affirming, encouraging us to keep trusting Him with the rest.