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Hope.

A small word, with sometimes disastrous consequences if that which is hoped for is not attained. Hope is really what drives any of us to do anything; to continue to look for a job even when we’ve gone on countless interviews to no avail; to force ourselves out of bed and off to the gym in hopes that we will work off that slice of pizza or five we had over the weekend; to stash away in our prayers the glimmer of hope that that person, whoever they are, will finally sweep us off our feet (or let us sweep them off their feet, if you’re a guy!). Whatever shape it may take, Hope gives us a possibility for more. We thirst for it, and truly thrive off it. It’s for this reason why it hurts so much when Hope is taken away from us, or maybe even never shows up to begin with.

I’ll use an example from my own life to start.

When I was a young girl, I watched many a Disney movie. My particular favorites were The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. Strangely, I don’t remember thinking that I wanted to meet my own Prince Eric, or even Aladdin (homeboy had nice abs for a cartoon though!). (I did have a crush on grown-up Simba, which looking back on it is incredibly awkward). I would say that I got most of my desire for marriage just from something that existed within me. When I was a teenager, I was introduced to the wonders of Jane Austen, and that was when my awareness of this desire became poignant. I read all of the books and took in countless versions of Pride and Prejudice, unknowingly instigating an unhealthy attitude towards romance and what relationships actually look like. At the same time as this was happening, I plodded on through high school with no one expressing interest in me and trying to figure out what the dating world looked like as a born-again Christian. It was then that I got introduced to Christian self-help books, like When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy, and the infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. I basically took all of the things written in those books as gospel. I thought that if I just worked on being holy and totally embrace Jesus as my “boyfriend”, He would provide me with the God-written love story He so desires for His children who actually really loved Him. And so I only watched movies with a rating of PG or less. I didn’t less to non-Christian music. And I certainly didn’t think about online dating, because that would me I wasn’t trusting in God to bring me a husband. This line of thinking existed until I went away for to study in Scotland during my year abroad, when choices I made tore down my previous worldview on dating and left me feeling broken, ashamed, and most of all, without hope. I was convinced that I had ruined any hope of a wonderful relationship, because I had yet to experience one. I felt ugly now because of a realization of the true horrors of my sin, not because I was told so by an insecure teenage guy in the hallway. I remember thinking for the first time that my hope of a marriage to a Christian man may never happen, and the hollowness that accompanied that was unlike anything I had experienced before.

For me, the most painful thing now is that I still have that fear, and in many ways it is justified. God does not promise any of us husbands, and certainly not perfect marriages because they do not exist. I have a much healthier view on marriage now than I used to, thanks to His guidance and teaching, but yet I still desire it. Something I’ve learned recently is how much the blessings God gives is not determined at all by our deserving them. Quite a few of my friends who are in relationships are wonderful, God-fearing women, and I am so happy for them. However, I do struggle with wondering what they did that I haven’t. I start to wonder that maybe if I spent an hour with the Lord everyday like they did, or seemed as confident as they are, that maybe then the Lord would see that I “deserve” a relationship just as much as they do. In essence, I let my own hope for marriage become a catalyst to scrutinize my friendships and undermine God’s grace. Now let me be clear: I am of the opinion that desiring marriage is a good thing and not bad; that there is nothing wrong with expressing such a hope. The issue is not my desire for marriage, necessarily, but the way that I sometimes perceive God’s actions in it. I assume that He is trying to skewer me into pieces by stripping away my hope with every rejection or lonely holiday that passes; that He is dangling my Hope in front of me only to rip it away right when I think it will happen. In those moments, I cry out to Him bitterly with the words of Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”. Lord, why are You willingly making me heartsick? Do you want me to waste away and become bitter? It becomes ever so easy to wallow in my sorrow and pain, to lash out against the very One who I just want to be comforted by.

It is during these times that I am reminded of Psalm 84, verse 11: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless“.

Perhaps it is true in some sense that the Lord does favor those who seek Him out – that He draws near those who draw near to Him. But that insinuates that He does not favor those who don’t deserve it, which is to say, all of us. We know this not to be the case. If we are in Christ Jesus, God has promised us not to withhold any good thing because we are blameless in His sight. I’m not sure what good things mean in this context – I’m guessing it is the presence of the Holy Spirit, or Christian community, both of which are incredible blessings that I have myself experienced, and certainly not because I have done anything to deserve it.

A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon at my church about the Saturday following Good Friday. For the disciples, they had no idea that Easter Sunday was coming. They were waiting in hopelessness, darkness, despair, for something that they didn’t even realize was about to happen. The speaker remarked that God allowed the disciples’ despair precisely so that they would come to an understanding of what true Hope is. Obviously, because of Jesus’ resurrection, my ultimate Hope (and yours!) as indeed been fulfilled already. It absolutely is true that no matter how poignant my desire for a husband is, it is nowhere near my deep need for God’s presence in my life and the next. That Hope was fulfilled at our lowest point, and so I believe that even when I feel despair, there is always a tiny glimmer of Hope that says that I’m still in my waiting time. To be brutally honest, I don’t want to even think about the possibility of staying single the rest of my life. However, what I do know is that I can only take things as they come; that I will continue to be hopeful every morning despite my fears and insecurities, and that I want to continue learning to hope in what is eternal. I don’t know why I haven’t been pursued in a deep way yet, and it does leave me in a state of feeling unloved and unnoticed at times. Sometimes, I wonder why I consistently try to remain positive when my hopes in this area are dashed again and again. I just don’t know.

Perhaps part of it is that my Lord embodies Hope, and I don’t want to let go of that no matter how painful the journey is. I want to be aware of God’s presence in my Easter Saturday of waiting, so that perhaps I am not so surprised when my Easter Sunday finally arrives.

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For the longest time, I have in some ways been slightly afraid to pray boldly and specifically for a spouse. I do think that part of this comes from a sense of shame for wanting to be married in today’s culture and even within the church, where so often women especially are encouraged to be totally content and satisfied without even the desire of something like marriage.

However, I think it also might have something to do with the fact that when it comes to prayer, I fall short. I don’t pray as much, with as much fervor, or with as much discipline, as I would like to. In addition, I also think that on some level, I’m afraid to pray for something lest it not come to pass. This has much more to do with my struggle to have faith in God then it does in being an excellent prayer warrior.

I want to remind myself of the following verses:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11

Cast all your anxiety on on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Now, reading these verses and truly taking them to heart can lead to a sense of entitlement, which when joined with our general selfishness, can result in disastrous outcomes. God never promises any of us anything, not even our next breath. I find myself, however, just assuming that the things I want (a good job, a husband, etc) will happen, simply because I want them. Despite this, there is a general fear in my life that such things will not happen….because of my disobedience or because of my conception of who God is. That is where the issue lies.

A few years ago, I read Candace Watters’ book Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help It Happen. You can check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/Get-Married-What-Women-Happen/dp/0802458297/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1321480538&sr=8-1 . I highly recommend it, even for any male readers, as it raises some very good points. One of them is focused in the chapter aptly called “Pray Boldly”. Watters discusses the importance of being able to approach the throne of grace with boldness and hope – knowing that marriage is a God-ordained institution and for most of us, He wants us to pursue it. By knowing that our Lord is not a kill-joy God dangling hope in front of us for the fun of it, and that He really wants to be intimately involved with every aspect of our lives, it is much easier to ask Him not just to prepare us for marriage or “deal” with our desires, but to practically intercede for our brothers and sisters. Essentially, that we can literally go before the throne and ask for someone to come into our lives and our friends/family as well! That was very freeing for me, as before I had thought that to do that would be a sign of lack of faith in God. It even helps with the idea of prayers regarding a specific person – also something that I had been taught to be uneasy with. However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense to pray about someone I’d noticed recently rather than daydreaming about them – it’s a lot more profitable and it turns the attention on God’s sovereignty and goodness rather than our wish-fulfillment type of thinking.

I’m pretty sure quite a few people will disagree with me on this, as it does seem like a rather radical way to approach prayer in this area. Yes, God does not promise any of us a spouse, but I do think that exercising bold faith in any area that is delicate and most desired gives Him glory. I definitely am trying to do this more even when I want to get to know a man better but feel limited by my insecurities or by my desire to have him lead and he is not interested. It seems crazy, but I’ve even started to pray that He would open the other person’s hearts and eyes to someone like me – but I also certainly start off with the understanding that His ways are not my ways. I really wish they were sometimes, but so it is.

To conclude, I have thought for a while about gathering a group of people together to pray for marriages to come about. I got this idea from Candace’s book and also from the fast.pray blog, which can be found at fastpray.wordpress.com. Would any of you be interested in that? It definitely wouldn’t be overwhelming, and would be open to men and women if interested! I’m confident that God will start moving in this area through such a group, as “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”. – James 5:16

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