I popped into what felt like the thousandth mini mart. My brother and I were on our way back from a conference in Colorado. Some stupid pop song was playing on the sound system as I grabbed a can of iced tea and approached the counter to pay for my gas. I don’t remember what song it was, I just remember it spoke of love as if it were a hallucinogenic drug and I found myself wondering what love was actually supposed to be. I had had my taste of the toxic-drug variety… I don’t recommend it.
While I had no taste for the passions of unhealthy bonds, I still wanted passion. I got into the car and pulled back onto the highway valleyed between majestic stone slabs that were vibrant in shades of red clay and cool gray. As I drove, I found myself asking God if His brand of love was better than the cheap thrills sung about in the pop songs played in drug stores. I began to expose to the Lord that I feared a holy love built on a bond made by Christ would somehow be lacking. God is such a good listener and during this conversation, He gently pointed out how the cultural attitude of “righteous equals boring” had seeped into my psyche like an airborne virus.
So God had something better than what the world had to offer available to me… I could believe that. But I had another question I needed to talk through with my God…
“What about Ethan, LORD?” I began to ask Him as the landscape we were passing through continued it’s stunning display of beauty and strength, “What do you think of this new thing developing?”
I considered what being in a relationship with Ethan would be like. He wasn’t a player, that much was clear. With him there were no mind games. Sincerity was central to his character. But would there be passion with him?
In my estimation, relationships are too hard and wrought with too much peril to enter into one without a deep and driving passion. I can be kind of intense this way, but I crave purpose and meaning in everything I do. There aren’t many activities you will find me doing without ardor and zeal driving my actions. I knew I could never have a passionless marriage, it just wouldn’t be worth it to me. But I also wanted one built on the Love of God and not some lesser imitation.
The Lord was there in my questions, expanding my soul, preparing my heart for His answer.
This wasn’t the first time I had asked God what He thought of me and Ethan. I had also asked him a month ago, when Ethan and I first began talking. At the time, I was applying for a position with an organization in East Africa and I was bound and determined that no man was going to thwart this plan, no matter how amazing he was. Once it became clear that Ethan had no such similar plans of moving to Africa, I was ready to walk away from the whole thing. I remember I got off the phone with Ethan (it was only the second conversation we had ever had) and said to God, “Well, that’s it, huh, LORD? Time to end this thing? Our futures clearly are not going in the same direction.” I paused and waited for Him to confirm my conclusions and I will never forget His response. It was so endearing, so playful. It was as if God smiled with a knowing twinkle in His eye, and then sort of shrugged and said, “I’m kind of fond of him.”
I honestly don’t understand how God, being invisible and all, can communicate so clearly with me at times with touch and expression. But I have prayed for years that God would let me know Him well. I was after the kind of connection with Him that is often shared between best friends. I wanted the ability to communicate with Him the way I would with my closest friends–like when we are on opposite sides of a crowded room and we make eye contact and instantly know exactly what the other person is thinking. I wanted that with God, and it seemed that as I prayed for this kind of connection and pursed it over the years, God was altogether delighted to reciprocate (or was it I who was reciprocating His pursuit of friendship with me…)
I had almost laughed out loud when God answered my question with, “I’m kind of fond of him.” It was so endearing, so unexpected.
Now, I know God is “fond” of all His children, but He was being a Father to me in that moment, validating Ethan to me. And I loved how little pressure I found in His response. I knew I had the freedom of choice and I now I knew I had God’s blessing–that I wouldn’t be straying off course if I stuck around a little longer to see where this thing might go.
So when I was driving home from Colorado, asking God what He thought of me and Ethan now that we were deeper into to this growing relationship, I fully expected a guiding answer, but I did not get one during that drive. Rather, I received God’s listening ear and the space to discover what actually was taking up residence in my heart, not just about Ethan, but all my thoughts on love and relationships that had accumulated over the years. I also felt the invitation from God to stay with the question, to keep asking if I had a future with Ethan, to keep asking what romantic love was actually supposed to look like in God’s design.
I did stay with the question, letting things within me expand and unfold as I continued to enter this space with God. Then several weeks later my answer came, and it was such a strange answer.
I had been in the story of the Israelites’ exodus from their captivity in Egypt and their journey to their Promised Land when I happened upon the scene of the Israelites complaining that all they had to eat was manna and that they missed the meat and variety of produce from their captivity. And from that story, I heard God say to my soul, “Stay with Me on this, and I will give you manna on the way to the promised land.”
And instantly I knew that God was answering my question about staying in this new relationship with Ethan. He was letting me know that following Him into a love of His design with Ethan would have its season where I would be tempted to wonder if the world didn’t offer a more flavorful variety, but the manna was a miracle and it would sustain on the way to something so much richer and freer and far and above more wonderful than any of the food my captivity had to offer. It was a strange answer, I thought, but from it I knew I had the confirmation I had been asking for and I was reminded that God had a very specific promised land in mind for me.
Ethan seemed to grow extremely cautious in the days following, and, honestly, if it hadn’t been for these statements from God, I would have assumed Ethan had lost interest and it was time for me to move on. But I patiently waited, knowing that there was something good ahead, “a promised land” that required faith, a lot of waiting, and gratitude for the provisions along the way.
It wasn’t easy for someone like me to wait it out, those days where a constant surrender of my heart to God, it was a challenge to “stay with Him on it”. I feared looking like the foolish girl who couldn’t take a hint and stuck around longer than she was welcome. But I trusted that the passion and romance I longed for would come if I was patient… I had no reason to believe this other than that God, Himself, had suggested it.
I had developed this particular daydream where Ethan and I would climb up a mountain together and then when the moment was just right, as the sun was setting, he would take me in his arms and kiss me as the desert breeze swirled around us. This daydream was happing somewhat unconsciously, it seemed, but I was trying to arrange for it nonetheless. I asked Ethan to go bouldering with me on a number of occasions because my heart wanted that moment. But my efforts toward bouldering seemed to get repeatedly shot down by the occurrence of rain or bad scheduling or the flu. And after the third or forth bouldering date called on account of some unforeseeable roadblock, I went to a coffee shop alone and surrendered the dream to God. I hadn’t even realized that I had been holding this daydream in my heart, but I sensed the Lord inviting me to articulate the desire to Him and then open my clenched hands and pass it over to Him, trusting this bit of my heart into His care. He was challenging me to believe Him, that good things were in store with Ethan, but that I must not retreat in fear nor arrange in an effort to control. I had to rest in God’s love, trust His timing, eat His manna, anticipate His promised land.
It is hard to wait patiently in a place of longing while the longing stretches out unfulfilled. It is so much easier to walk away, to create enough space to let a longing go underground, but God was asking me to stay in the longing and to wait, too keep it up in the forefront and to trust Him. He was training me, I know that now. He could see what was coming and He knew how to equip me to walk the path He would entrust to me.
Ethan told me months later that he was falling in love with me back then (when I thought he might be losing interest) but he was slowing down because he wanted to be sure before he moved toward any kind of commitment. To Ethan there was a significant difference between the getting-to-know-one-another dating and a committed dating relationship. Ethan didn’t ease his way into a serious relationship, he paused, evaluated, made his decision, asked, and then never looked back.
Trusting God and deciding to stay with Him on all of it is something I have never regretted.