By Dr. Juli Slattery
A: This question isn't simply a contemplative exercise; it impacts how you approach dating and marriage. However, I think it is the wrong question to be asking.
The question of "Is there one guy I'm supposed to marry?" is fundamentally based on fear. You've likely seen marriages break apart and wonderful romances turn ugly. Perhaps you grew up in the throes of your mom and dad fighting. Judith Wallerstein, one of the foremost experts on the impact of divorce on adult children, noted that they often cope with the reality of divorce by believing true love is like winning the lottery. If you find your "soul mate," you can avoid the inevitability of broken vows and crushed dreams. Christians have spiritualized this by placing their hopes of happily ever after on finding "THE ONE." When marriage gets difficult, a woman may panic, thinking, "Oh, no! I picked the wrong guy."
Within the last six months, I've met with two young Christian brides who walked away from their wedding vows. Both of them said the following statements: "I never should have married him. I had doubts before the wedding and I didn't call it off." In essence, these young women believed because they married the wrong guy, their marriage covenant was "null and void" before God.
The truth is, whomever you marry, living out a lifetime commitment of love will be a challenge. One of the Bible's most romantic love stories is the account of Isaac and Rebekah, found in Genesis 24. If there was ever a situation in which God clearly said, "This is the one you should marry!," it was this couple. It was truly a match made in heaven.
Fast-forward about 30 years. The star-crossed lovers are now parents of twin boys who despise each other. Isaac loves Esau, and Rebekah loves Jacob. We find this husband and wife in a web of manipulation, anger, and deceit. Finding "the one" certainly didn't guarantee a life-long, stress-free love affair. Selfishness and bitterness compromised their love, even though they were ordained by God to fall in love and marry.
Instead of asking the question, "Is this the one I should marry?," consider these questions:
There are some things about your life that God has not clearly revealed to you. Perhaps you don't know who you should marry, what job you should take, or how many children you will have. Instead of spinning your wheels trying to figure out what you don't know, work to be the center of what God HAS revealed is his will for your life. As you seek love and marriage, God has given you some very clear guidelines of his will. Here is one of them:
"It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Why would God reveal his specific will for you when you are not obeying his obvious will for you? For example, if you are sleeping with your boyfriend, know this is not God's will for you. You have stepped out of the place of obediently seeking him and have chosen to make decisions based on your own desires.
If you really want God to direct your steps toward the right man, be obedient to all you know he's asked of you. Read his Word, be faithful in prayer, keep your mind and your body pure, and give thanks for your current circumstances. God speaks to hearts that are prepared to listen and obey.
Following God's leading isn't always looking for a message in the sky telling you what to do next. Often, God leads through the wisdom of those he has put in our lives. Solomon repeats in Proverbs that the difference between a wise person and a fool is whether or not they are open to feedback.
There are general principles of wisdom that can help you in dating and choosing a spouse. For example, it is wise to know a person for at least a year before making the commitment of marriage. You should meet his family and see him in many different types of circumstances. Take advantage of great books like Gary Thomas' book, The Sacred Search.
You should also be seeking very specific wisdom. In matters of dating and marriage, you will have some blind spots. There will be patterns and "red flags" about any relationship that are difficult for you to see. You may feel so "in love" and sure about a relationship that you can't imagine it turning sour. When a friend or parent raises a concern, do you write them off or even get angry? "You don't understand. You don't know him like I do!"
If you really want to know God's will, listen to the people he has given you as friends and counselors. Ask for their feedback with questions like, "What do you see that I can't see? Are there any red flags I should be concerned about? Do you think we're moving too fast?"
Don't just ask one person—ask a handful of advisors, some who are your age and others who have the wisdom of experience. And listen! Take to heart what they say. Be willing to break off a relationship or even an engagement if needed.
There are two extremes in the way young adults think and talk about marriage. While some are overly idealistic, most are fatalistic. Finding true love seems as improbable and random as being picked for a reality TV show. While you might fantasize about the possibility, you are more afraid of being fooled into a miserable marriage.
While every marriage has seasons of difficulty and disappointment, they also have times of great joy and celebration. Who you marry is a very important decision. However, marital happiness isn't solely based on finding Prince Charming. The difference between intimacy and broken vows depends largely on the work you're willing to do within marriage. Any two people who are willing to grow and work through challenges can have a dynamic relationship.
In many ways, my husband and I were not well-suited to be married to each other. Our backgrounds and personalities were extremely different. There were years when I wondered if I'd married the right guy. We have very different philosophies on parenting, money, and work. But Mike and I have never considered divorce or a distant marriage as options. Even in seasons of disagreement, we've kept our love for each other and for the Lord intentionally front and center.
After almost 20 years of marriage, I sincerely feel God hand picked my husband for me and me for him. I can't imagine being married to anyone else. I see the beauty of how our differences have challenged both of us to grow. Did God in his infinite power and wisdom pick Mike and me for each other? I don't know. What I do know is that he has taught us patience, gentleness, and humility by taking two very different people and making us one.
Expect that marriage will be a tremendous gift, but one that will require work and commitment. Expect that no matter who you marry, your concept of love will be refined. Expect that by leaning on the Lord, you will have everything you need to be a great wife. As 2 Peter 1:3 promises, "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness."