When I was 16 I dreamed of owning a brand new Kia Optima. Don’t ask me why, but I thought it was the greatest car ever. When I had finally saved enough money to go buy my first car, it was number one on my list. Out of my price range, I didn’t even torture myself by test driving it. Instead, I left the owner of a 2006 KIA Spectra named Grace Kelley with 100,000 miles under her belt, and a mild feeling of defeat. I told myself one day I would own the car I actually wanted. I knew if I could just have this car, then I would be happy.
Fast forward five years and I was at a dealership car shopping. The first car on my list? A Kia Optima. I was so excited. I got in the car, I buckled my seatbelt, and I started the test drive. Guess what? I HATED IT. I absolutely hated this car. It wasn’t comfortable, I didn’t like the way it drove, I didn’t like the way it felt, and I didn’t like the features it had or the way it was laid out. This car that I had dreamed of owning for years was absolutely nothing that I had made it in my mind to be.
I did this with my whole life. I had these wild expectations and fantasies of how things would go and what they would be, of how they would fulfill me, quench my desires, and make me happy. I often found myself with the same sting of defeat as I did leaving the dealership realizing what I thought I wanted didn’t fulfil the expectations I had placed on it, but more than that, that it didn’t fulfill me.
Expectation is a slippery slope. It becomes an idol if we’re not careful. How do we know when something is an idol? It becomes our hope. It becomes the center of our fulfillment. It replaces the rightful place of God. It becomes an “if I have this, get this, do this, look like this, make this much money, gain this status, THEN I’ll be happy, THEN I’ll be satisfied.” And the biggest idol I had? Relationships.
I sought my worth, value and all my identity in relationships. How guys viewed, treated, and pursued me directly influenced how good or bad I felt about myself. I was a slave to the opinions of the men I looked to for validation. When those opinions were negative, I would do everything I could to manipulate every situation to control every outcome. I did whatever it took to swing the pendulum in my favor.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3
My desire to be loved at any cost took everything from me over and over and over again. I didn’t care what I had to do to get it. Even at the expense of myself, and even worse, other people. Relationships were for my consumption in order to feel good about myself. This is the furthest thing from love, and this isn’t what relationships were created for. So what were they created for?
Ephesians 5:21-33 lays out the perfect foundation of the purpose of marriage. It says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
To make her holy, cleansed, radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, blameless. Paul repeats holy twice. The purpose of relationship is sanctification. To present one another as holy before the Lord. To die to yourself, to love one another as yourself, to take up your cross, to commit to total humility, total self sacrifice, to love without expectation or even a return of love, to be Christ to your spouse and to make their holiness your highest value. If we valued the purpose of marriage as much as we valued the idea of marriage, our relationships would look a lot different, a lot healthier, a lot happier, a lot more fulfilling, a lot more successful.
It’s not what can I get, but what can I give? Not how can I control, but how can I serve? Not love me, but how can I love you best? How can I do relationship with you in a way that my highest goal is to present you holy and blameless before the Lord. How can I love you in such a way that when you stand face to face with Jesus, he will say, “well done my good and faithful servant” because I partnered with you in running the race well? Caring about someone else’s eternity and relationship with the Lord over them pleasing you or fulfilling your every desire, THAT is real love.
Two years ago today, with no sense of identity, with a love for the idea of marriage instead of the purpose of marriage, with no preparation or wisdom about what the covenant of marriage really meant, I walked onto Alys Beach and a man got down on one knee in front of me and asked me to marry him. I said yes. I will never forget looking out into the ocean with a lump in my throat and the same sting of defeat deep in my soul.
The sting of disappointment wasn’t because the man asking me to spend my life with him wasn’t an amazing man of God. It was because I finally had everything I thought I had ever wanted, someone loved me, someone chose me, I finally had it all, and I stood there feeling the most empty I had ever felt. It didn’t fill me up. It didn’t make me feel secure. I didn’t feel whole because of it. I just felt like the same insecure, broken me. A marriage about me is empty, already dead and gone, over before it even starts, and that’s where I was. Six months later, after a lot of heartbreak, that engagement ended.
My broken engagement was the greatest gift that the Lord has ever given me, because it forced me to look in the mirror and face the fact that I was a selfish, sinful human being. It forced me to face the fact that I had consumed people and relationships for my own benefit and it wasn’t working. It forced me to true repentance. It forced me to face the lies I believed about myself head on, and it taught me the true source of my identity. Him.
So this isn’t a blog post on how to find the perfect husband, or how to be patient to wait for God to bring you one, or even how to be what a Godly man wants, but a (hopefully encouraging) cautionary tale for every girl that reads it. Marriage isn’t going to fulfill you and it’s not created to. Marriage isn’t for our consumption, but for our sanctification. And most of all, marriage isn’t going to take away the dark parts of your heart or give you true identity. Only Christ can do that. So when God calls us to seek him first above all things, he really means it for our own good. Marriage is the closest parallel to how Christ loves us and it is an incredible gift, but all gifts of God are best enjoyed within the confines of his boundary lines.
If I leave you with one thing, I hope it’s that the Lord loves you so much. He created you, chose you, says you are worthy, cherished, valuable. You don’t have to give yourself away in order to receive it because he gave himself away for you to. I pray that we all get to live in the fullness of Christ’s love for us first, so when and if we do get the privilege of a spouse, we would come alongside them and run after the Kingdom together, and that Heaven on earth would start between us.
Samantha Coyle is the writer and encourager behind @heytheresam and HeythereSam.com. Her mission is to share the heart of God and what He’s done for us by bringing real, raw honesty to the table, encouraging vulnerable community rooted in Truth and grace. While normal days look pretty mundane, i.e. drinking matcha, laughing a lot at her own jokes, jamming worship in her car, doing a LOT of laundry and cooking for the family she works for, and hanging with her friends in Nashville, she has big dreams to share the gospel with women all over the world!