When I was single I acutely remember sitting behind a couple in church. His arm around her, her shoulder leaning into him, and I physically ached. I felt so unfelt in my singleness, untouched, and unloved. Of course I knew I was loved, by God and by others, but touch, for me, was where I felt my lack the most. I wasn't alone in this feeling and it led me to write this piece for Christianity Today years ago and has formed in me a desire to think through touch in a more comprehensive way—the basis of the book project I'm working on. Details here.
I am conscious of that painful ache often in church once again as it's impossible to avoid the plethora of blessings in the form of babies on Sunday mornings. Fathers standing off to the side with babies in the crook of their arms swaying right to left. Mothers intuitively knowing what their babies need, and yet still so much they're learning. All the folks behind them with smiles that reach their eyes, knowing the common and collective joy of a newborn. I catch Nate's eye every once in a while and know he's thinking it too. The ache. We feel it most when we're captive in a row with our church family: I have to be here. I have to see this. And I still can't have it.
Last night we met with a couple with whom we're doing premarital counseling and one of the questions we talked through was, "What dreams do you think you'll need to give up in marriage." This morning I'm thinking through all the noes we've gotten from God since we said yes to one another. They are plenty. They sometimes feel never-ending. They all feel unexpected. And they all hurt.
Life for the Christian who is captive to this earth, and captive to the Church, is going to be a series of noes again and again. This is why the prosperity gospel is so damaging to our souls, lives, and minds. We are ultimately yes people, but our primary yes is to Christ, and that means we live caught in a yes-world to sin for a season while we look like fools for saying no. I could have had touch and plenty of it in my singleness, but saying yes to Jesus meant saying no to my flesh. The problem with saying so many noes to so much in life, is that we can begin to project those noes onto God. We can begin to believe he is a God of noes instead of a generous, always abounding, abundant, and faithful Father. Because we feel the death of our dreams, we can begin to believe he is indifferent to our desires.
The thing is, though, when I look behind me at the slew of noes God has given me in life, I see how each one led precisely to a better yes. I'm not sugar-coating this either. I'm looking at deep, difficult disappointments like death, divorce, financial strain I didn't think I could survive, depression, sickness, prolonged singleness, doubt, and more—each of these led me to dark places where the light, when it finally came, shone brighter than I could have hoped.
II Corinthians 1 shows Paul explaining why something he said would happen didn't happen in the order he or the Corinthians expected. He's saying in the face of disappointment: God is not a God of no. He always keeps his promises.
One of the great tragedies of mediocre faith and biblical illiteracy is that we can confuse our dreams with God's promises. We can begin to believe that simply because we have a strong desire for something, or a deep longing, or we can't imagine ourselves without it, that God intends it for us. And we can get caught in a loop of perpetual disappointment—not in the failure of a dream to materialize, but in the failure of what we think God has promised to be delivered.
Paul is saying in this passage that all God's promises have their Yes in himself. But the promise is not the house we want, the spouse we want, the baby we want, the job we want, or the health we want. God is the promise. The seal of the Spirit is the promise. The coming of the Messiah is the promise. The Father's love is the promise. And the answer is always yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Wherever we find ourselves captive—in our job, our home, our marriage, our singleness, the row at church behind the couple who finds comfort in touch or the parents passing their baby-blessing back and forth, we may feel the no of God. He may be saying no to our dreams, but he is not saying no to his promise. He is saying, "Hang on. I'm coming for you. And it won't be long now."