I never thought of myself as someone who idolised marriage. Growing up, I dreamed of having a husband and loved the anticipation of going to new places and meeting new people because maybe I’d meet “him” (which is pretty close to how it ended up, actually). When I was single, I wanted to be married but never felt obsessed over the longing. I loved the independence of singleness, the joy of friendships, the fun and carefree way of life.
It wasn’t until recently that I realised how thick the underlying cord was that ran through all those years — a cord of continual, almost subconscious dependence on the Lord for a husband. It gave me a constant reason to lean into Him, because I had this deep, unmet desire that was a question mark, that I didn’t know the answer to. Every day until September 2, 2017, I could pray for God to say “yes” to this desire, knowing that He could very well say “no,” and that produced a constant posture of desperation for Him — for His love to sustain in the uncertainty and in the possible denial of my request.
This natural, reflexive prayer-state was, I’ll defend, mostly a good thing. Healthy and right even, because I believe God wants His children to cry out for the deep desires of their hearts. But I’ll admit it may have often (and unknowingly) verged on idolatry. Regardless, the constancy of the prayer resulted in a big gap about one-and-a-half years ago when I met and married Hayden. A gap of: now what?
What do I pray for? What do I long for? What do I hold so open-handedly and blindly before the Lord that I feel an overwhelming sense of His power and goodness and my desperate need for Him?
What all of our souls need is that desperate longing for Christ. For Christ to answer and for Him to be enough if the answer is no
There’s a desire for children and secure finances and deep friendships and involvement in ministry. But all those are much more (though not totally) controllable. They’re more certain than the question of marriage ever was. After all, if we can’t have children, we can adopt. If we go broke, we’ll have family to lean on. If we lose friendships, we can make others. If we don’t see fruit in ministry, we can remain steadfast or pursue a new direction. Those prayers are deep, but they’re not desperate. And what I want — what all of our souls need — is that desperate longing for Christ. For Christ to answer and for Him to be enough if the answer is no.
A bucket without a bottom
Hayden and I talked through what it looks like to really need and want and depend on the Lord now that He’s given us a big “yes” and our lives are happy. And to tell you the truth, we don’t fully know the answer. But we think it may have something to do with this prayer in The Valley of Vision (a book of prayer written by Puritans) called “Paradoxes.” These excerpts especially stand out:
O changeless God…
I neglect prayer,
by thinking I have prayed enough and earnestly,
by knowing thou hast saved my soul.
Of all hypocrites, grant that I may not be
an evangelical hypocrite,
who sins more safely because grace abounds…
who loves evangelical preaching, churches,
Christians, but lives unholily.
My mind is a bucket without a bottom…
always at the gospel-well but never holding water…
Give me a broken heart
that yet carries home the water of grace.
It’s easy to neglect prayer when you think you’ve prayed enough and earnestly for a deep desire of your heart. It’s easy to be a bucket without a bottom that’s continually dwelling at the well of the Gospel (i.e. Christian meetings, Christian family, Christian friendships) without actually holding its water.
We all go through seasons where we feel like our quiet times consist of scooping water with our cupped hands just to watch it all drain between our fingers before it ever reaches our lips. We’re not just going through the motions, we’re really trying. And we really love God and want Him, and it’s not that He seems distant but maybe just uninteresting or not quite as beautiful or, on really bad days, maybe even neglectable.
Loving Him for Him
A dear friend encouraged me to remember there’s always a reason to depend on the Lord. But the long-term answer to our bucket-with-a-hole-problem must go deeper than simply shifting desperate asks from one thing to another. The answer must be dwelling on His Word and loving Him for Him and not what He can give. Opening His Word and looking to know His heart, not exclusively an answer to a question or guidance down a path or a “yes” to a desire.
We can come to Him with selfish, idolising, broken hearts, and He’ll fill them right up — because He can and He wants to. Because He is grace
I’ll admit that my mind auto-shifts into “what-can-I-get-out-of-this” mode as soon as my Bible flips open. Yes, I love Jesus and want more of Him. But I usually want more of Him for me — for direction like a Magic 8 Ball. Not for His glory and my pure, unfiltered enjoyment of Him.
“My heart is without affection and full of leaks. My memory has no retention, so I forget easily the lessons learned, and [His] truths seep away…” And yet, our bottomless buckets and leaky cupped-hands can still hold endless amounts of water, because He gives the endless water. We can come to Him with selfish, idolising, broken hearts, and He’ll fill them right up — because He can and He wants to. Because He is grace.
So, keep coming to the well and scooping up water, because it’s not the container that really matters but the water itself. He can make our hearts desperate and passionate and affectionate towards Him. He can give us “broken hearts that yet carry home the water of grace”.
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