This post is built on / is a response to concepts shared by Dr. Evertt Huffard in a presentation at the WS Church of Christ on June 24, 2012.
The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden. But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. – Deuteronomy 11:10-12
The speaker’s photos showed the desolate landscape of Israel: rough, rocky, sun-scorched, and barren. After years of longing and prayer, after their miraculous release from Egyptian servitude, the ancient Hebrews were finally approaching the promised land of Canaan. God had given it to them, but they now surveyed it with shock and dismay. Was this it? Was this what they had yearned for with all of their hearts? They had come from slavery, yes, but slavery in a country that was fertile and well-supplied with the waters of the Nile, a land rich in vegetation and livestock. There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, they said in Exodus 16. The land before them now seemed more forbidding than promising.
But in this mountainous land to which they were going, God was asking them to depend on His provisions, not the natural resources they could lay their eyes on. There were no rivers of note here, nothing but the unpredictable Jordan, flooded to uselessness in springtime and barely a muddy stream the rest of the year. God’s promise to send them rain from heaven seemed distant and uncertain. How could they survive? Where had this God brought them? Sure, he had delivered them from their Egyptian pursuers, parted a sea for their feet, led them by fire and cloud, and even provided quail and manna to sustain them on their journey, but the destination that now lay before them was not as they had imagined. It was not the country of their heady dreams. How could this be called a land that flowed with milk and honey? Faith, they had. Faith, they had demonstrated through years of wilderness wandering. Now, surely, it was time for the faith to become sight. Wasn’t it? Hadn’t God promised to lead them to another Eden, a utopian rest from their labors? The journey from Egypt had been long and difficult, filled with waiting, wandering and waiting again. They had learned how to cope, their hearts comforted by the knowledge that one day they would reach the end of their journey and God would deliver on his promises. They were ready to trade their walking sticks and traveling clothes for oases of rest, security, and fullness. After all they had suffered, their Mighty God would surely usher them into a garden land far beyond all their hopes.
The journey in the country required as much faith as the journey to the country, the speaker said, pointing once again to the slides as I listened. I was captivated by that thought, stunned at its resonance in my own life.
My journey was not from one geographical region to another, but from the state of being single to that of being a married person, a wife. It was not a seamless transition, and I could understand the fear and misgivings of the Israelites when they first laid eyes on their much-anticipated destination.
Until two years ago, I had never been in this country called marriage. Although I had often longed for it when I was younger, by then I was quite content with my life on the outside. I was intimately acquainted with singleness. The rocks and the hills I traveled were familiar ground and caused me no anxiety at all. God was my constant companion and the sustainer of my life. He supplied my needs. I had friends, interests, a career, two children (through adoption), and a home. In the beginning, I learned to survive, then I coped, and at last I flourished. Once those first few years of self-pity and discontent were behind me, I came into myself and was living a happy and satisfying life. My faith in God was unshakeable, anchored as it was in the knowledge that he not only loved me, he liked me, and he would never leave me. My land was well watered, and I had more than I could ever want or need.
But then my journey took a different turn. One spring, there came into my life a man of tremendous character and courage whose walk with God had been blessed beyond measure. Although he was widowed then, he had been married for thirty-nine years to a woman whose spirit radiated joy and warmth and kindness. He had been well loved. By the time we met, the worst of his grief was over and he was ready for his life to move forward again.
As our relationship deepened and I began to realize that the possibility of marriage was open to me, I was alternately filled with trepidation and joy. I had no idea of how to gain my footing on such curious terrain. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I failed? What if I didn’t have what it took to be a wife? Many times, I rushed, panic-stricken, back toward the safety and security of the life I had always known. Forty years of wandering in the Sinai desert and fifty-two years of single life are not so very unlike each other.
After time and prayer and much conversation, I at last stepped inside the border of that unfamiliar land. To my surprise, marriage was not the utopia I had envisioned. It wasn’t an endless oasis of rest and fullness. Having spent so many years alone, I was as shocked and confused as the Hebrews must have been. Hadn’t I done the hard things already? Hadn’t I proven my loyalty to God? Shouldn’t everything be easy now? Shouldn’t every day be bliss and good will?
But every day was not a sitcom laugh track. My husband and I didn’t always like the same TV shows or pastimes. I discovered that the silent treatment might work for some situations, but not in a marriage. I had to learn about forgiveness and shared expenses and about how some people don’t think Cheerios every night for dinner is such a great idea. Who knew? There were selfish attitudes to conquer, desires to be given over, compromises to be made, and integrity to maintain. God has set me the task of learning how to consider another person, how to share space and time, how to negotiate differences, how to love, how to show honor and affection, how to grow in patience, compassion, and respect, how to be supportive and encouraging, how to do what is right no matter how I feel, how to receive as well as how to give, and how to temper my words with kindness.
I have had to learn so many things, and I am pretty sure I will never learn it all. My husband says he is learning too. He says that even though he was married for a long time, he wasn’t married to me, and that it is a new country for him as well.
For years, I naively assumed (though I would not have worded it this way) that married life was far easier and much happier than life for a single person. I supposed that married people did not have so acute a need for God as singles did. After all, married people had a partner, a companion, someone who was always there, someone who gave them such undiluted joy and pleasure every day that God was surely something akin to icing on the cake. In my uninformed imagination, marriage was a sort of utopia and life there was always easy and good.
Of course my parents did not have that kind of marriage, but I attributed that to the fact that my father was not a practicing Christian. Surely Christian marriages were all that I envisaged them to be. But how could I have known? I had never been inside one. The faces couples wear to church on Sunday mornings may be very unlike those they wear on Monday nights, but I didn’t see them on Monday nights and could not envision them other than at their best. I had witnessed divorces, but had no knowledge of how the deterioration began. I had seen marriages with serious problems exposed, but those issues seemed to be associated with major breaches of trust and fidelity. I was not privy to the everyday workings of marriages that survived and thrived. I had no idea how the rocky, barren places were traversed or, for that matter, how to scale summits alongside a partner.
I still don’t know much about the inner workings of other people’s marriages, but I am learning more about ours, and I know who to turn to for wisdom and help. I seek God’s face now perhaps more than I ever have. Although my husband is a protective, kind, and considerate man, he cannot replace God as my ultimate source of security. Although he is my closest spiritual partner, he cannot quench my thirst for God or merit my worship.
There is indeed as much need for faith in the county as there was on the way to the country.
The Israelites spied out the promised land and were told, It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us, but they were afraid to enter in. Their apprehension overcame their faith that God would be with them inside this new country just as he had been with them on the journey, and they faced many years of heartache as a result of their fear.
I don’t want to follow their lead. This land is before me, and I know in whom I have believed. I have trusted God before, and I will trust him now. He has led me safely thus far, and I am certain that he knows the way. It is a good land that the Lord our God is giving us, and as fellow travelers under the guidance of God, my husband and I will navigate this unknown terrain together. I am learning that there is no such thing as utopia in this world. No matter which side of the single/married border one is on, there will be times of struggle, sacrifice, joy, closeness, anger, frustration, peace, and fulfillment. My faith is not in my husband’s abilities or in my own to conquer what lies ahead. My faith is in God, my rock and my salvation. Blessed be God.
“…if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul — then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.” – Deuteronomy 11: 13-15
God is faithful, and he will provide.
Disclaimer: In no way do I wish to intimate that being single is any more or less desirable / spiritual than marriage, nor do I wish to imply that singleness is merely a journey toward the “promised land” of marriage. My reflection is not intended as a generalization. I simply chose to apply the principle to my personal transition, which is only one of countless other applications.