Underneath the daily routines of activity, underneath the stresses of work assignments and deadlines, underneath another year of birthdays celebrated, underneath the clamor of emails, phone calls and texts messages vying for my attention each day, underneath the routines of exercise and brushing my teeth, underneath the laughter among friends and the joy of good conversations, there lies a question. Perhaps the question.
How long? How long God before I’m married?
This year I turned 30. It has been seven years since I was in a romantic relationship; not for lack of looking or an inability to connect with women, but rather, because I have refused to rush into something that I knew wasn’t the right fit. Interestingly enough, connecting with women comes quite naturally to me and as such I been blessed with an abundance of absolutely amazing female friendships. More than that, they’re not just friends they’re really sisters. The joy of having such amazing sisters to walk through life with is difficult to describe. However, despite that, a hole still remains in this other realm.
I suspect most people are wrestling with their own “how long?” in some area of their lives. Perhaps it’s wondering how long before you can find a job. Or maybe how long before you’re in the right job. Maybe it’s how long before you can have a child. Or how long before that prodigal child comes home. Perhaps it’s how long before you can have the marriage you dreamed of. Or how long before your spouse finally acknowledges there is a problem in some area and is willing to seek help. Maybe its how long before that friend will give up that addiction. Or maybe how long before that family member will stop running from God.
I have found that how we even phrase the question reveals a lot about where our hearts are about the issue. Several years ago, if asked about this, I would have said something like “I wonder when I’m going to meet her? It’s such an exciting prospect!”. However, as the waves of time pass, erosion sets in. The once towering sand dune of hope gradually gives way to the relentless force of time. Each wave pulling away bits of sand until only a small sand bar remains. During this, the question also morphs. Gradually, it moves from “When?” to “How long?”. No longer does it entail the undercurrent of excitement, but now the sting of painful longing. Given enough time, the question morphs to “Is this ever going to happen?”. Pushed far enough, painful longing eventually gives way to doubt, and doubt to despair.
Recently I had to fill out some routine paperwork. I was making quick work of the document until I came to the “marital status” section. The title itself sent a jab of pain through my heart as it was such a poignant reminder of the painful longing connected with those words. I sat frozen for several minutes as the pain of disappointment washed over me. Chocking back tears, I let out a sigh and marked the “single” box.
Disappointment often feels like a weight – a weight that one carries on one’s heart. Sometimes that weight is below the surface, but it is still ever present. As this weight has gotten increasingly heavier in recent weeks, God decided it was time to speak into it.
This past Sunday, I was at church and it was announced that today was the start of a new sermon series. The name of the new series? Waiting. I almost laughed out loud. Not from cynicism but rather because God’s timing is utterly impeccable. To have that title show up exactly as I have been wrestling with such heavy questions of doubt was like God saying “Jeremy I know exactly where you’re at and how hard what you’re going through is. Here, this sermon series is a gift especially for you.”
As I pondered further where I’m at right now I had an epiphany: this is how all the good stories go. A story where someone endures no hardship, no suffering, no difficulty and just has what they wanted handed to them with ease doesn’t captivate us. In fact, it’s downright boring. The stories that we are drawn to always require someone to endure difficulty, to go through heartache, to persevere through suffering.
Take for instance one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption. It tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is wrongfully convicted of killing his wife and as a result is sentenced to life in prison. After enduring 19 long years of tremendous abuse, suffering, and pain, Andy successfully escapes prison to regain his freedom. If Andy had escaped prison a mere couple of months after having been there without going through any of the pain, difficulty and trial, the story would have virtually no appeal. It is because he endures so much difficulty, pain, and heartache that makes his moment of freedom so captivating and so powerful.
Likewise, I can think of another important story that follow this pattern. Hebrews 12:1-2 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” That’s awfully interesting; it says for the joy set before him he endured the cross. Once again the story has so much power because of the pain that was endured in order to reach to the goal.
This is the pattern of all the great stories. As it turns out, it seems that my story has the makings to be one of those.