We lay in bed last night, my head on his ribs, and I reminded him today would be the anniversary of the first time we gathered together socially. He was going on dates with another girl I knew and I just kept tamping down the flares of interest rising in my heart about him. “Not for me,” I’d remind myself. But when I wandered over to the sink with a handful of dishes to wash that night and he joined me there a moment later to dry, the flare rose again. It was not the gnawing monstrosity of what I knew to be a crush, a curiosity coupled with a desire to manipulate the situation so I looked more appealing. It was a gentle gulp, a careful knowing, a submitted acknowledgement: “Not to be trifled with,” it said.
Our conversation was easy, deep, memorable. He was the first person I’d met in Texas who grappled with a subject I cared deeply about too. I left after the dishes were washed, dried, and put away. I drove home that night with no hope in my heart but surety in my veins about God’s goodness still. He had been doing something deep in me in the months previous and I was seeing the answers to some prayers I’d prayed for a long time. Meeting and marrying was not my priority. I knew God was in the process of answering my prayers, but what I didn’t expect was the man with whom I’d washed the dishes that night would be the man with whom I’d wash dishes the rest of life.
“When did you know that you knew?” my still unmarried friends ask, curious, I’m sure, about what that mysterious knowing feels like and if what they feel for someone is it. I don’t know, I answer. And I really don’t. What I always say is there was an absence of doubt which is not the same as a presence of assurance. There was never some moment when I looked at him and thought, “He is the one.” There were just many small moments when I checked my heart and found there no residue or evidence of doubt, no question, no worry, no “What ifs?”
I have liked and dated many men and boys, and could have (and indeed, did) convinced myself that any one of them were it, the one. I had dreams in which I met them at the altar, imaginations about our future children, went to sleep with the surety that these lonely nights would someday be remedied by this person in particular. I liked them so much I convinced myself I loved them. But not until Nate was there an absence of those things and a presence instead of a kind of faith I couldn’t describe to you if I tried. When a friend talks about just knowing about their future spouse and the unmarried clammer to know what does that feel like? no one can answer. Not really. I suppose it’s different for everyone.
Here’s what I do know, though: God can work a miracle of faith in a marriage begun in doubt and the enemy can create a chasm of doubt in a marriage begun in faith. There’s no guarantee either way. If marriage is a picture of our union with Christ, then our faith and doubt in it are too. None of us are immune from the quaking questions we have about the Spirit, the Savior, and our Father and none of us are too far gone for assurance to come in one swift swell.
But regarding the presence of doubt before marriage, I always think about Galatians 4, “When the time came to completion, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law,” whenever I think about marriage and singleness. Another translation says, “At the proper time.” The point in both is the same: at the right time, the groom comes, and not at all in the circumstances in which we expect him to come.
This is what that mysterious knowing is like, as best as I can describe it to my still unmarried sisters who wait with eager longer for the grooms they hope God has prepared for them. It means, at the proper time, God has determined your singleness over and the time for your marriage to begin. This isn’t some trite counsel that “You’re not yet good enough to get married,” or “God wants you to be perfect before you get married.” The onus isn’t on you to complete, finish, or determine what is proper at all. He knows when the fullness of your singleness has come to completion and when it is no longer good for you to be alone. Until then, though, you can trust, just as He was working in the lives of the Jewish people to turn their hearts toward Him until the time was right to send His Son, He is doing the same with you.
And the joy in that is he’s doing the same with all of us still. We’re all still groaning, waiting with eager longing, expectant, and hopeful for the coming of our King to rule and reign for all eternity. And we’re all tamping down these fires rising in our hearts for lesser loves that won’t satisfy. And while the swell of Maranatha, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus, is on our breath, we know too, there’s still work to be done in this space until He does.
If you’re in a relationship wrought with doubts and no assurance, I beg you, friend, step back. Don’t get married. I’ve been where you are and it’s agonizing. To accept the gift of doubt as a gift from the Spirit who desires to protect you is a humbling and hard, but to marry amidst doubts is a harder thing in the long run. God can bring assurance, I’ve seen Him do it, but how much better to trust the kind of assurance He can give in marriage is a picture of the kind He gives in salvation. No one can tell you what that assurance feels like. No one. Just as no one will stand before the throne of God to make account for your actions but you. But there’s this: God loves you and He wants you to be assured of His love. He loves you in your doubt but He doesn’t want you to stay in them. This is true of marriage too.
Marriage isn’t the only picture of the gospel, don’t let the preachers fool you. We’re all groaning in expectation and wait for the culmination of all things. And the knowing, when it comes, will be sweet and sure and absent of doubt. Wait for it, it’s coming.