March 1, 2000
 When We Get Our
Wires Crossed

Coming to Terms
With Disappointment
In Guidance
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"I've had a vision that God wants us to get married."

I went on to share with her what the Lord had told me, nervous but confident that her response would be one of elation. After all, since she was a serious Christian wanting God's 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 that I'd had a revelation from God.

Later that year a friendship with her started to develop, and we began dating. Several extraordinary coincidences occurred that left me even more convinced that 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 of God's will.

The relationship did indeed become defined at that point. The next day she told me that she didn't think God wanted us to date anymore.

Death of a Vision

For days I was reeling with disappointment and wounded pride. I felt rejected by both her and God. I simply could not understand how this could have happened. Did she misunderstand God's 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 that I had misread what God had said to me in the first place?

Countless Christians have shared similar experiences with me. One person in a relationship is certain of having a word from God about it's future--but the other is quite unconvinced. It is not only the one with the "vision" who feels rejected and confused. Often the other feels just as confused, and angry as well, at being forced into a corner and denied a role in where the relationship should go.

What causes this predicament?

Fooled by a Feeling

In my own case, at least, it is now clear what the problem was: I read too much of God's will into my own feelings. In the romantic area especially, where emotions run very strong, it is easy to do. I simply assumed that feelings as strong as mine must be a revelation from God.

It has been helpful in studying biblical principles of guidance to find that God seldom, if ever, reveals to us our personal future--or anyone else's. He simply gives us enough guidance to take the next step in faith. Even a person with the remarkable spiritual maturity of St. Paul seldom knew God's precise intention for his own future. When he writes to the Corinthians of his desire to visit them, for instance, he states, "For 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 permits" (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.

Too often in romantic relationships Christians assume that their feelings are giving them a certainty about the future which even saints like Paul seldom had.

Zipped Lips

My advice to Christians in dating situations now is this: if you believe God has revealed to you that you should marry a certain person, fermez la bouche--at least until you are sure the other is just as convinced. Believe that if this is really God's 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 him or her know of your affection and desire for marriage, if it seems appropriate to do so. But stop short of any ultimate statement on God's 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 wasn't much I could have done to keep the relationship from working out. There was something very natural about the way we both concluded God wanted us together. It was as obvious to her as it was to me.

I am struck that in the first marriage in Scripture, God brought the woman to the man. Adam didn't have to hit Eve over the head with "thus saith the Lord." If I had understood this 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 vision.

For relationships, the lesson boils down to this: don't play God. Take things a step at a time, and don't presume to know God's future plan for yourself or the other person. Allow the other the freedom either to come to the conviction of God's will that you have or to see things differently. This kind of sensitive and patient approach to the marriage decision will pave the way for a more mature seeking of God's will together within marriage itself.

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