“I’m starting to believe you don’t actually have anything for me.”
Believe it or not, this was not me railing on God for the millionith time about my future spouse. (Though, let’s be honest. That thought crosses my mind at least once a day, no matter how much I think I trust Him.) No, it was my guy friend responding to my assurance that yes, the present I promised I had for him over 2 months ago still existed and had more delays than I expected in getting to him.
“I do!” I replied. “It’s just taking a while to get here.” He gave me a look that clearly said “yeah, right.” But I do have something for him! It’s just not in my possession yet to give it. A friend bought something for me for him. That friends needs to give it to me, and then I can give it to him. The whole point B to point C part of the scenario just hasn’t happened yet! My explanation fell on deaf ears. Again, he gave me a look that clearly said “yeah, right.”
But how hard it is to understand that when we are the ones awaiting the gift! And how hard it is to understand when God is the giver and not another human! Thus the words of Wisdom from the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C) this Sunday have been echoing in my heart: “Scarcely can we guess the things on earth, and only with difficulty grasp what is at hand.”
And only with great difficulty (and extraordinary grace) am I coming to understand that when it comes to my vocation, it’s not me; it’s timing.
This summer I decided to set up my co-worker who we’ll call Bart and my friend’s cousin who we’ll Sunny. Sunny and Bart would be adorable together. They are both faith-filled, kind, family-oriented, wonderful people who take great pride in their work and share a similar sense of humor. Plus, they’re ridiculously good-looking and would have ridiculously good-looking babies. The world could use more of those.
Bart and I have worked together for about a year and a half, and he’s one of my favorite doctors to work with. Sunny and I just met this summer and we’ve quickly become good friends. I met her through her cousin, another good friend I met on my first day of travel nursing in Connecticut.
I told Bart. I told Sunny. I showed them a picture, went through a brief description, and asked them what they thought of meeting the other. They both agreed, and I could tell it was an excited yes and not an obligatory one just to shut me up.
This was only my second time setting up a couple. My first time was junior year in college. I was working at an information desk in our student center. My female friend had come by before he started work, said hi, and left to go study about 50 feet away. She was single. My male co-worker started work a little while later. During our down time that evening, we got on the topic of college dating. He was single. I asked if he wanted to meet my friend. He said yes. I went over to her study table, brought her over to our desk, introduced them, and they hit it off. He later went to ask for her number. They went on 5 lovely dates before ultimately deciding they thought of each other platonically and not romantically.
My whole setting up obligation took 2 minutes. My setting up obligation for Bart and Sunny took over 2 months!
I’d text one if they were free, and the other wouldn’t be. She traveled out of state to Oregon and Washington. He traveled out of state to Alaska. She was camping. He had a crazy call schedule. I employed my friend, a co-worker who knew Bart well and met Sunny earlier that summer, to help me. We still couldn’t find a time to have them meet.
Finally, I was just about to give up, and the fateful meeting happened. We went to my friend’s house and played a board game. After about a one minute moment of awkwardness, they introduced themselves and proceeded to get along famously. I left early to go to bed, and then had to field text messages fro Bart, Sunny, and my friend, all when I wanted to go to bed.
So far, there’s been 3 lovely dates, and I’m excited to see what happens!
But for real, my God, how do you do this for couples all the time!? That was exhausting, and I wasn’t even the one trying to date! And I don’t even know if it’s going to happen because I can’t account for attraction and all that! How, how do you do this all the time!?
Thinking about the sheer coincidence of me knowing both of them to have them meet is mind-blowing in itself.
First, there’s me. I needed to become a nurse, and I needed to become an Emergency Room nurse in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at my hospital to meet Bart. I needed to be a travel nurse in Connecticut that started exactly when Sunny’s cousin started in order for us to meet at orientation. Sunny’s cousin needed to visit her in Milwaukee a weekend I was free in order to meet her. All those things happened. That’s not a coincidence; that’s a miracle.
Then, there’s Bart. Bart needed to become a doctor, and he needed to become an Emergency Medicine resident in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Out of all his matches and picks, he needed to match to that exact residency program. He needed to go to medical school at that specific school and have just the credentials to have that be the match just as he needed to be from northern Illinois and have an innate desire to be close to his family for residency. He needed to be single (which seriously, how has someone not snatched him up yet!?). That’s not a coincidence; that’s a miracle.
Then, there’s Sunny. Sunny needed to live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, after college graduation. She needed to have fostered a close friendship with her cousin, and they needed to be close in age for that to happen. She needed to have a love for Jesus that led her to invite one of my friends to church with her, which was the initial comment got me thinking that she and Bart would be a good match. She needed to be single (which seriously, how has someone not snatched her up yet!?). That’s not a coincidence; that’s a miracle.
And then, there’s all the other major and micro decisions we made, our parents made, our grandparents made, and our great-grandparents made to get us all to where we are, and soon it’s baffling that anyone ever gets together. And don’t even get me started on the probabilities of each one of us being conceived. Think about that long and hard for a hot second, and you’ll feel like a miracle pretty quick!
It got me thinking that me meeting my spouse will indeed be a miracle as I’ve jokingly said for years. Anyone ever getting together is a legitimate miracle!
And so, thinking of the pure astronomical statistics of meeting just a person who you think is attractive, one can quickly become anxious, paranoid, and try to do all things at all times. I know I have! I wanted to meet someone before wedding season. I wanted to meet someone in college. I wanted a lot of things (including horribly ridiculous things), and thank God I haven’t gotten my way!
Truth is, we have no idea what we want.
In the non-fiction novel Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores the idea of intuition. He explore the concept of “thin slicing,” how we naturally observe small details about a person or thing to develop a large opinion of that person or object. Our intuition or “thin slice” of a person or object can be for better or for worse. Thin slicing is how art dealers had a feeling the J. Paul Getty Art Museum was buying a forgery for $9 million in 1985 (good) and how Warren Harding was elected president and was popular though he is considered one of the worst presidents and was ridden with scandal (bad).
In chapter two, Gladwell explains thin slicing in romantic relationships. He explores the work of the spectacular John Gottman and the role of thin slicing in speed dating. He discusses how researchers in New York City conducted a speed dating experiment. Before speed dating, participants told researchers the qualities that they wanted in a partner. At the end of the night, they repeated their list, but overwhelmingly researchers found that their list changed! Even more, participants could not explain why they were attracted to people who did not fit their lists! Gladwell then begins to explore the negative aspects of thin slicing and how we superimpose positive characteristics onto others who do not deserve the assumption. (Ryan Lotche scandal, anyone?)
I happened upon Gladwell’s book by coincidence at the coffee shop my roommate and I frequented for studying fall 2013. I taking statistics in preparation for grad school and was nursing a horrible heartbreak.
This book fell into my lap at the perfect time. (Coincidence, or divine providence? I’d lean towards Providence.) I was in a bad habit (and expensive one at that time because dating apps were just being created) of going on dates with sub-par guys I’d meet online. I hated dating but couldn’t stop wanting to do it.
I realized reading that chapter, it made sense to figure out what I wanted out of a relationship single. Dating sub-par guys and even guys in general was distorting my perceptions of what I wanted. I was settling, not settling down!
Too, I realized it made a whole lot of sense to let God lead me to my spouse. I didn’t know what I wanted or what even would be good for me. And clearly, I was not doing a good job of it on my own!
I decided to be intentionally single for a while. In that time, I decided to travel nurse. In that time of travel nursing, I decided where I wanted to live and what nursing speciality I wanted. In my current time, I decided to go to graduate school (God willing!).
I have no idea what else is be cemented and created and started in this time, but I know the reason I haven’t found my spouse isn’t anything to do with me. It has everything to do with God’s time.
So, despite the astronomical statistics that I will meet my spouse, the more I think about the unlikelihood, the more peaceful I become. Every disappointment and stumbling block is making it all the more apparent: It’ll be God’s timing, not mine.
If it’s this hard for me to have two of my friends meet up or get a simple present to a friend, it must be infinitely harder to find my spouse. But thankfully, it’s not me calling all the shots. It’s God.
And I don’t need to worry about all the major and minor decisions in my life. God can work with whatever I and my future spouse give Him. As my rational self needs so much, I do have proof:
I love to ask my wise mother (and on occasion, my father) about the major and minor details of their relationship when I have severe doubts about romantic relationships. The thing I adore about my parents’ relationship is that they’re very realistic about one another. They both had doubts about the other before they got married, but they were (and are) exceptionally loyal to one another. They’ve worked through misunderstandings, disagreements, and differences in opinions respectfully. They’ve definitely made mistakes in over 30 years of marriage, but they’re very happily married and very committed to one another.
I asked her how she proverbially (and realistically) knew he was “the one.”
(The whole “I just knew” is thin slicing, and as I’ve discussed, that’s dangerous. I want to be rational, not foolish! And please note, the apple does not fall far from the tree. My father is very pragmatic, and our similar nature drives my mother bonkers. My more sentimental mother is not one for soul mates or undue romanticism, however. She’s much too practical for that nonsense! I remember vividly after watching “The Notebook” as a teenager, I asked her if she wanted to die with my father. She scoffed and said, “why would I want to do that?” Ah, practical love in its finest.)
She said with a little twinkle in her eye, “it’s like God kept pushing us closer and closer to one another.” And she explained how they met, how they were friends, how she was dating other people, how her hallmate had the biggest crush on him, how they drifted apart when he graduated, how they started talking again, how difficult their long-distance relationship was, and how grateful she was to have him.
Friends have said the same of their spouse. Some were friends for a long time until something changed and a romantic spark was thrown in. Some dated, broke up, and got back together. Some were friends and then moved apart and didn’t talk for years until someone initiated conversation out of the blue. Some met through friends. Some met through church. Some met online. All had their joys, and all had their struggles. All were not coincidences; they were miracles.
As an old Portuguese saying goes, Deus escreve direito por linhas tortas or “God writes straight with crooked lines.”
Sometimes, when I am especially impatient, I think that just like me, God enjoys a good challenge every once in a while. Sometimes He likes to flex His God muscle and show off just how amazing He is. Who am I not be that challenge for Him? Who am I not to be that person He makes wait for years and years and years?
I figure the longer He has me wait, the greater the miracle, the greater the victory, the greater the joy it will be having all my crooked wanderings made straight to the path to my spouse.
And when I am even more impatient, I find great comfort in these words:
There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every affair under the heavens.
A time to give birth, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.
A time to be single, and a time to be married.
As much as we’d like to, we just don’t get to choose that time we get to meet our spouse. Sometimes it happens earlier than we’d expect, sometimes later. Sometimes it’s convenient, sometimes it’s not. Whenever it is, it’s God’s perfect and providential timing. And as we know, God makes everything beautiful in its time. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)