May 26, 2012. It was supposed to be a momentous occasion—the day I would walk down the aisle in my mother's lace wedding gown, peonies in hand, best friend at my side, family and friends looking on with joy. It was supposed to be the day I started a new chapter, the day my dreams would be fulfilled. Little did I know, God had other plans.
We met in the winter of 2010—me and God, that is. He always had his eye on me, but I barely even knew who he was. Once I began spending time with him, our relationship blossomed into something special. He cared for me and loved me like no other. He filled a huge void in my heart.
That's how I came to know God. It's also how I came to know the man I thought I would marry.
The relationship started out like many others, following cultural expectations rather than God's design. Dating, sex, spending the night, meeting the parents, integrating the pets (him, a dog; me, two cats). After 10 months, on a snowy Sunday evening in front of the place we first met, he asked me to marry him. It was romantic indeed. Even strangers passing by yelled congratulations from their car windows.
I was excited to be engaged—to finally be moving toward marriage—but something never felt quite right. I sensed a resistance in my heart, like I wasn't totally sure about something. But he was a good guy—the right age, handsome, fun, easy-going, from a decent family. What more could a girl want?
So I moved forward. Even though I had just bought my own home, I gave it up and moved in with him on a spring day in early March. Everyone has to make sacrifices for love, I reasoned. That's where we're going to end up anyway. Why not start now? At first, it was exciting and felt like the right thing to do. But a different story soon emerged.
After just a few months of living together, God shook things up. I accepted an awesome job opportunity in another state, so we left behind the house we just finished renovating and drove across the country (pets in tow) to set up our life far from home, family, friends, and church.
Shortly after we settled, a friend from work recommended we try out a small new Presbyterian church in the area. I was a tad leery, as I had recently been baptized in a non-denominational church, but I agreed to check it out. I immediately loved it and felt like this could be my church home. On my second visit, I filled out a visitor card, which asked a few questions about how I wanted to get involved. Did I want to join a life group? Be part of a ministry team? Have coffee with the pastor? Coffee sounded good. I checked the box.
Later that week, the pastor emailed me, asking when I wanted to get together. What a great opportunity to get to know him and learn more about the church, I thought. Maybe he would even be willing to officiate our wedding in a few months. High hopes turned to frustration when I mentioned the possibility to my fiancé. "Coffee? With a pastor?" he asked. "Heck, no. That's just too weird."
After weeks of my coercing, praying, hoping, and begging, he finally obliged. But we continued to fight about it---all the way to the front door of the pastor's house. Regardless, I enjoyed myself and looked forward to hanging out with the pastor and his wife again soon. I could see them being our friends—a couple who would help guide our marriage and bring us closer to God.
Before we could marry, the church asked us to complete a series of counseling sessions, so we set up time to meet with our new pastor. He recommended we start reading the book When Sinners Say I Do by Dave Harvey. I ordered it online, along with Tim and Kathy Keller's book The Meaning of Marriage. And in my determination to be the very best Christian wife I could be, I also ordered a copy of Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal. I thought these books would help us get ready for one of the biggest steps we would ever take.
Help they did, but in a way I didn't expect. As I started reading Harvey's book, the first chapter stopped me dead in my tracks. He explained that faith is the most important part of a marriage. Faith? Really? Even though I was now a Christian, I had never considered this point before. Harvey explains that faith is like the first button on a shirt—if you get that wrong, nothing else will line up right.
I began considering how this idea played out in the episode at the pastor's house, not to mention the weekly task of begging my fiancé to go to church, trying to convince him to join a Bible study, and asking him to remember to pray before dinner. Is it supposed to be this difficult?
No, it's not, I learned from Harvey, Keller, and my pastor. I began to realize that just as my thinking had been flawed about sex as a prerequisite for love, I also had the wrong idea about the most important traits in a marriage. As I kept reading and talking to other Christians, no one said it was a good idea for me to marry someone with a different worldview. In other words, I had come to love Jesus and make my decisions based on him; my fiancé had not. That discrepancy became poison in our relationship—barely noticeable at first but eventually corrupting nearly every aspect of our lives. As I grew closer to God, I grew further from wanting to marry someone who did not have a relationship with him.
Keller's teaching on Ephesians 5 helped clarify what I was discovering. Ephesians 5:25-27 says:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit spoke to me on a weekday in early January when my friend opened the Bible to this passage and showed me the truth. I came to understand that God intends for marriage to mimic Jesus' selfless love for his people. I was awestruck. My husband is supposed to lead me closer to God? I immediately broke down crying. I kept digging, trying to understand how I got so far off base. "He's a good man," I argued. "Yes, but is he a Christian? Does he know Jesus?" people asked me in response. "But if I leave him, won't I be going against what God says, by not loving the unbeliever?" Surprisingly, no. I was not yet married. I had not made a covenant with him before God. I was not bound to him. As much as it would hurt to say goodbye, I knew this was not the relationship God intended for me. He promises much more, and I wasn't going to find it in a marriage with an unbeliever.
As this devastating realization sunk in, we began the process of disentangling our lives. And within a few weeks, my ex-fiancé headed back to his home with his belongings, including the dog I had come to love and all of my hopes and dreams for a lifetime of happiness together. We both knew he had to find God on his own terms, in his own way.
Who could have guessed that simply checking a box on a church form would eventually end in heartbreak, financial loss, and unwanted singleness? Difficult and sad as it was, God was there every step of the way. He was there in the simple way it ended, despite our lives being intertwined in nearly every way. He was there in the support and love our family and friends provided. He was there to give me a sense of peace that transcended all understanding. Left to myself, previous breakups had knocked me down to my lowest points in life. But this time, with more riding on the relationship than ever before, I was truly okay. I suppose obedience to God made the difference. As much as it hurts, God is always there to pick up the pieces.
Marriage and family are still the two things I want most in life, but I know that they're in God's control—not mine. Before I knew God, I tried to control my relational life by making poor decisions and sacrifices that brought little reward. Now, I find fulfillment in God. He is my rock, the one who deserves my love and attention. While it is a daily struggle to trust him with the things I care about so deeply, he has proven that he's looking out for me. I leave my future in his hands.
Editors' note: Read the follow-up article from M. Connor, "Today IS My Wedding Day!"