We step into my studio after our date, and I hurry to my closet to get a sweater. He walks over with me and peers into the dark, cluttered space.
“What’s in that box?” He points to a white moving box on the top shelf next to a basket of blankets. I blush, and my heart thumps nervously.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Just stuff from when I planned my wedding.” I say it casually — carelessly — but he knows. “It’s not nothing,” he says, his voice full of understanding. “That box is full of significant things.”
We’re silent for a bit. I’m remembering how I would often take the box down in the months following my broken engagement. I would slowly unpack it, looking through receipts, lists, and a few wedding gifts that were somehow never returned. I would hold each item and remember how I had said yes to the man who had asked for my love, and how God had said, “No.” No, to a husband; no, to a family; no, to a home of my own.
And in the following years he had said no to good health — to traveling, working full time, and continuing my seminary education. I often didn’t have the heart to ask for anything specific from God.
I sigh deeply and look over at my date. He smiles.
After he leaves, I ask God to direct our relationship. And then, timidly, I ask him to give me a husband one day.
For months my prayers are courageous and risky.
And then, one night, I’m driving home alone, and I’m single again. My date and I have broken up. I’m relieved because God has answered my prayers for direction, but my shoulders are sagging. God has said no, again, to my boldest, most vulnerable prayer for a husband and family of my own.
The next day I’m reading the Sermon on the Mount, and I’m struck by Jesus’ words:
“Which of you,” he asks, “will give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or will give him a snake when he asks for fish?“If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, then how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask?!”
I lean back in my chair, and I think about the ways God has shown us he keeps his word.
I think of the rains that flooded the earth, just like God said they would. I think of the baby that kicked in Sarah’s womb, just like God said it would.
I think of the water that gushed from a rock, the walls that crumbled from the blast of trumpets, the ravens that fed Elijah in the wilderness, and the Messiah who came to save the world.
It’s true: God is a promise-keeper. And in his Sermon on the Mount, he promises to give his children good gifts — the best gifts. And I’m his child, and here I am nearing thirty and still single, and could it be that this alone-ness is … one of the best gifts?
But a husband, a family, a home — didn’t God create me to want these things? Would it be so bad for him to satisfy the wanting?
Now my mind is racing to the rhythm of David Crowder Band’s How He Loves. That one line is still in my head after a week of trying to sing something else:
“He is jealous for me.”
The Old Testament affirms it: Yahweh has established a permanent, exclusive covenant with his people, and compared it to a marriage. He is the husband to his people; we are his bride.
He’s not insecure, or abusive, or envious for something that doesn’t belong to him. He wants relational faithfulness. He’s jealous for our love, the way a lover is jealous for his wife’s undivided affection.
He wants our whole hearts because he’s ultimately jealous for his glory. And the God of Israel is most glorified when his people are most fully alive — when we experience truest intimacy, pleasure, belonging and wholeness, because this is what he intended for us. He knows we can only experience these things in him. So the best gift he gives us is Himself. But he cannot give Himself to us if our hearts are not alive to him, for a Lover never forces himself on his beloved.
And I think I know that marriage and a family would be the best possible way he could teach me to love him with my whole heart, so that I can have more of his heart.
But the God of Israel is a God who sees. He sees every thought we think, and step we take. And he knows what will prompt our hearts to push further up and further in to his heart. He knows when marriage, children, health, and financial stability will push us toward him. He knows when singleness, barrenness, illness, and poverty will push us closer still. He knows that, often, it’s our wanting that leads our wandering hearts back to him.
And this knowing pulls me back.
I close my bible, let my lips pick up the words of How He Loves, and then it hits me that my wedding box, and my recent break-up, and the loneliness that visits when the table is set for one are all proof of God’s jealous guardianship of me. And in my secret heart, I find myself smiling — a child quietly delighting in good gifts from her father.