The call to preach was not the only thing I wrestled with God about in 1971, 72, and 73.
I was a very socially backward teenager. After I was filled with the Spirit I struggled with the New Testament references to remaining single in order to better serve the Lord. I eventually concluded I was not gifted to live the single life. As I entered college in 1971 I prayed about starting to date but I felt impressed I was not to date or seek a relationship in my freshman year.
Preparing to enter Lee in 1972 I sought God again about what I considered a real problem in my life. Once more I felt strongly impressed that I was to put my social life on hold. I did accept a Saddie Hawkins date request with a friend (I had made a commitment to myself to go with the first co-ed to ask me, or not go at all.) In the spring I asked another friend out for dessert because she seemed to be going through a difficult time. In neither case was I interested in pursuing a relationship.
As I entered my junior year I felt like God impressed me that I would discover my wife that year. So I entered the fall of 1973 looking for the person I would spend the rest of my life with. I had a strong conviction that dating was a major problem in American Christianity. Breakups left people with deep hurt and animosity that dishonored Christ. I had known too many young people who dated someone they knew they shouldn’t marry only to fall in love and get married, usually ending in divorce. Without having dated, I had a strong conviction to never date beyond the point I knew the person was someone I should not marry. My assumption was that one or two dates should typically suffice to determine if someone was spiritually compatible with me.
I met Cheryl on the first day of classes that fall. We hit it off very quickly and spent a lot of time “studying” together – we did study and get to know each other in the process. We went on a group ministry trip together over fall break and when we got back to campus I asked her out on our first date, a Nancy Harmon concert on November 1. For the next six months I struggled with God about His plans for our relationship. I fell in love but I wanted God to tell me she was the one I was supposed to marry. God was silent. He wouldn’t lead me in either direction. I tried to keep a check on my heart until God would speak, but He wouldn’t. I had no reason to end the relationship and no assurances I should go forward.
Other than my relationship with God, this was the most important decision of my life and God wasn’t helping. Why? In the spring I had to have an answer or go crazy. God made it clear I had to decide. In the process, I gained an insight, a relationship as monumental as marriage required a total commitment to one’s spouse. God did not design us to marry someone simply because He wanted us to; the very nature of the relationship required that the primary reason to marry someone was that we wanted to. God was not going to tell me who to marry; He would protect me from marrying the wrong person if I was committed to know and do His will. Free will and faith had to work together.
In this I learned that freedom of choice is not just a gift to the individual; it is a gift to humanity. Its purpose is not individual happiness or self-actualization. Free will ensures the veracity of human relationships and constitutes the bases of true covenant. Love is a choice. Restoration of the image of God in humanity requires persons to mutually choose to be joined together as one. In this we find wholeness and fulfillment in life.
As I stood at the door waiting to walk into the sanctuary and marry Cheryl I prayed again, “Lord if it’s not your will for me to marry Cheryl show it to me or her now. I love her and I want to marry her but I want your will for both of us more.” We said “I do” a few minutes later and I have never questioned whether it was God’s will. Neither have I doubted that it was my will to marry her. God is a witness and participant in our marriage. He gave me the free will to choose and he required me exercise that gift. I’m thankful He did.
January 18, 2010