Feels like the spotlight is on me. No, I’m not in any kind of limelight; if anything, I’m trying to lie low for a while, to the chagrin of my close friends who insist that this runaway candle had better not dare to hide under a bushel. So that’s not the kind of spotlight that’s on me right now, thank God. This spotlight is a last-verses-of-Psalm-139 type of spotlight. The “Search me, O God, and know my heart… see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” type of spotlight.
I long discovered that God does not search us for His sake, but for ours. He always gets the glory, so in that sense I guess we could say it’s for His sake. However, God knows all things, so He does not search our hearts out of a lack of knowledge of what is in them. His questions to Adam, “Where are you?” and to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” and even to Cain, “Where is your brother?” were not out of curiosity, but to provoke those asked; to cause them to investigate their motives, take responsibility for their actions, and even remember that God is Omniscient.
Among the most treasured pieces of advice I’ve received in recent years is a gem of wisdom handed to me by a man I call Pastor Doug. I once approached Pastor Doug for counsel and prayer during a tough season where I felt I’d messed up greatly in a relationship with two women who had played a great role in my life at that time. I was plagued by guilt and burdened by the sense that this situation seemed irreparable. Pastor Doug immediately discerned my first instinct, which was to try and apply some damage control, and, in what seemed like a counteractive move, counseled against it. I wrote about it a short while after that:
“[Pastor Doug] wisely advised that I refrain from overthinking it. His words, paraphrased, were that I should not sit somewhere with a rewind button and keep replaying the entire scenario over and over. I see why he said that. “Replay” just wastes time that could be used to move on. Every struggle that I go through, he said, if it involves another person, should never be made about me and that person, because it’s always about me and God. . . I was undergoing discipline. This was all to confirm to me that God takes seriously the fact that I’m His child.
Humility is key… I must walk in it to succeed.”
Those words come back to me as I sit here, pondering the words by another pastor, Uncle George, who shared candidly his thoughts on some of the things I need to do if my interactions with people are going to succeed. Our series of conversations caused me to ask myself a few tough questions, particularly about my love life. Specifically:
1) What is it like to be with me?
I had heard this question before, phrased as “Would you marry you?”, but for some reason, I had never really given thought to it in the way Uncle George put it. I don’t think it would hurt for us women to ask ourselves what it would be like to come home to us every day, to hang out with us, to have a conversation with us. What are we like in worship, when upset, when happy? And, more importantly, how are these things a blessing to others? If someone is feeling low and I’m having a pity party, I’m not being an asset to him or her. If others only see me when times are good, or they are rich, or they are famous, I’m not being an asset. Am I a safe place to keep secrets? Can I preserve my husband’s dignity? Can I nurture him? Or would being with me be the type of risk that could bring the noblest of men to ruin?
When I ask “What’s in it for me?” I’m sure I know the answers I’m hoping or looking for. But really, what’s in it for the other person? How do they feel after interacting with me? Are they drained or rejuvenated? Encouraged or discouraged? Do they learn or do they feel unfulfilled? How can I become the type of woman who is an asset to all whose paths she crosses, and how can I connect with those who will appreciate and draw out what God has deposited in me?
2) Why are deal-breakers deal-breakers?
Do I really want to be with someone who is yea tall (using my hands as if you can see me, lol), has this job, and drives that car? If so, why? What are the real reasons behind these things that I have branded my “List”?Are they deal-breakers because they dishonor God, or because, in some weird way, I feel they would “downgrade” me?
3) What has my role been in my failed relationships
– not just dating/romantic/courtship (whatever the correct word is in 2012), but also at work, if any, or with friends and family? What would the Lord, who sees my heart, say about my submission, humility, respect, love? Have I allowed my insecurities to cloud my judgment? Have I allowed a judgmental attitude to override my desire to extend grace, through Christ who strengthens me? Do I even know what it means to be in a relationship? Am I in love with the idea of love, or do I know what it means to love? How can my knowledge and understanding of love cause my relationships to begin to flourish?
4) Why do people get into relationships leading to marriage?
Is it just the next thing after graduation, that thing people do in their 20s, that thing my clique is doing, something fueled by covetousness… or, is it God’s will, and if it is, how can it be carried out in a way that glorifies Him? Is it possible to do something that is God’s will the wrong way?
5) Am I ready for a relationship leading to marriage?
Am I ready to take that first step towards forever? How do I feel about committing to someone – for life? And not just committing to someone, but also forsaking all others – myself included, many times? Am I ready to be a student, constantly learning and relearning my spouse, constantly growing to meet his needs as a help meet? Am I ready to rub feet, let go of grudges, forget about personal space, and communicate? Am I ready to be known as much as any human being can know another, and to receive unconditional love from someone as flawed as I am who knows me this well?
6) Am I trying to find happiness in or get happiness from another human being?
Can anybody make me happy? Can marriage make me happy? Happiness is temporal, because once you remove its source, it is gone. Joy is eternal, because it comes from God. Sadness is the opposite of happiness, but sorrow is not the opposite of joy. It is possible to have the joy of the Lord even within the deepest of sorrows. Do I have the joy of the Lord? If I do, it will radiate to all around me. If I try to source for happiness from others, then I can only drain them and exasperate myself, because only God can never disappoint. It is unwise to try to seek happiness or joy in a job, education, marriage, or another person. Only God gives joy; it is only in God that I must rejoice.
7) Am I willing and obedient, seeking first the kingdom of God?
Marriage is temporal. At the end of the day, its purpose is to glorify God. I’m much, much worse off if I forsake God to pursue marriage than if I forsake marriage to “pursue” God (not that He’s going anywhere, you understand) – in fact, the latter is a blessing beyond measure. The Bible tells us that if we are willing and obedient we shall eat the good of the land, and if we seek first the kingdom of God, all “these things” – things the Gentiles worry about, like what they shall eat, what they shall wear, and even, I surmise, who they shall marry – shall be added unto us.
There is such a thing as being unwilling and obedient. It is doing what we are supposed to do but with an attitude that just defeats the purpose. We might as well be disobedient if we choose this route. There is also such a thing as seeking the kingdom of God last, or after other things, or even along with other things. Someone wisely interpreted “You shall have no other gods before Me” to mean not just that we should not attempt to put anything or anyone before God, but also that we should not worship anything or anyone else along with God, or in God’s presence. What is the state of my heart concerning the kingdom of God? Is it something I yearn to explore, or have I allowed it to bore me? God is not mocked, and He knows when I am seeking His face not because I want to, but so that I can receive from His hand.
8) What is my definition of love?
I know that love is not a feeling. I know that love is 1 Corinthians 13. But this man that I [would] love so much… this person to whom I [would] want to be married… would I love him if he were pushing carts at Wal-Mart? How about if he did not have a dime to his name? Would I love him if he threw up all over himself – would the expression on my face as I wiped the mess be one of being afflicted with him in his affliction, or of disgust and irritation at the situation, or delight in his suffering? Would I still want to serve and please him as a wife if, God forbid, he were confined to a wheelchair? Would I submit to him if nobody else did? Would I, out of love, go hungry so that he could eat? Would I pray and fast for any of his needs that are not directly connected to me or from which I would not benefit?
9) How well have I lived out the Golden Rule?
What kind of steward have I been over the hearts of the people that God has brought my way? How would I feel if the things I have done to others were done to me? The Lord says that one day when He returns, He will remind us that whatever we did to the least of His brethren, we did to Him. What, then, have I done to the Lord?
10) What is the Lord teaching me in this?
How often do I ask myself this question? Am I learning what I need to in all situations so that I never have to compass certain mountains again? A refusal to learn causes stagnation, but then again there is no such thing as stagnation; we are either progressing or regressing. How often do I ask myself not what the other person’s role is or how the other person can improve, but what God is teaching me, particularly about me and Him?
It’s been an introspective month. I’ll keep the answers to myself, although yes, I would wipe puke and yes, for the one I love, I would actually help push Wal-Mart carts on a cold November night. I just posted these here because the questions were helpful for me and might help you or someone out there. And because it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that love is for the long haul, that the long haul is not entirely marshmallows and candy floss/cotton candy, and that God alone, the only Constant, is the only One in whom we live and move and have our being. It would feel extremely hopeless to face certain truths without His grace and help. But because He is for us, we can lay our weaknesses before Him and allow Him to change our hearts.
I’m thankful for the lessons. I’m thankful for tough questions.
*Random*: I think the lady in the picture I used is so pretty!