The light from my half-decorated Christmas tree cast a rutilant glow over my living room. Ribbons and garlands and my golden tree skirt sat on my coffee table in wait, ready to play their part in celebrating Jesus’s birth.
As for me, I was slumped on my couch. My warm—maybe even charming—surroundings could not thaw the icy crevasse in my heart, the wound of a broken engagement and ache of singleness resurfacing yet again. Memories of last year’s Christmas, when I took turns hanging ornaments on the tree with the man I was sure I would marry, washed over me.
Christmas 2022 was supposed to be my first Christmas as a wife. Instead, I found myself waiting, longing for a new relationship, a husband, someone to make an emergency run at 10 p.m. for ornament hooks because I always run out.
In harder moments, I try to remember true things. Marriage is but a shadow of the union between Jesus and the Church—a beautiful picture of the Gospel, but hardly my life’s raison d’être. Jesus lived the richest, fullest life possible, and he never had a spouse. And although there is no marriage in Heaven, my relationships in that final, perfect kingdom will far surpass the joy and love of any I could have right now (Matthew 22:30).
An eternal perspective suggests I am not missing out if I never get married, but it doesn’t always make singleness hurt less. Indeed, by definition, an eternal perspective covers all time, including that “under Heaven,” when there is a time “to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).
That night, even as I remembered what is true, the waiting gave forth to weeping.
The Christmas lights blurred into little stars as the tears came. Undeterred by the pain in my heart, those twinkling decorations proclaimed in their own way the Light had come. A flicker of hope made my back straighten: At least I’m not waiting on a Messiah.
It was a glimpse into something more everlasting, maybe more imminent, than my sorrow.
A few months after my engagement broke, grief began to wane, and I started praying for a husband. Soon, my requests developed a quality of desperation, as if I needed a wedding day more than anything.
I registered this shift one day as I walked on a nearby trail, praying the same prayer, stuck on repeat. I paused when I noticed some rocks, half-obscured by green velvet moss, lining my path. Out of nowhere, they brought to mind something John the Baptist once said, “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
With a word from their Creator, stones could become Abraham’s children. This humbled the Pharisees and Sadducees Paul was speaking to, as they claimed preeminence because of their lineage. As my half-finished prayer lingered on my lips, the thought humbled me, too.
When I pray for a husband, I am not asking a God who has to summon all his strength to see if he could potentially, possibly, maybe make my future spouse—if he exists at all—notice me. God is mightier than that: At his name mountains melt, seas part, donkeys talk, and the dead rise (Psalm 97:5; Exodus 14:21; Numbers 22:28; Mark 5:41). Light itself obeys him (Genesis 1:3). In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “Everything is easy for omnipotence.”1 As for my singleness, God could raise up from those rocks the answer to my prayer. He could say, “Olivia, here is your husband,” and there he would be.
God’s omnipotence means I am not waiting for my future husband to find me or for me to figure out how to be found. I’m not waiting to become more “spiritually mature,” to “embrace” my season of singleness, or to heal enough from my broken engagement to “open up my heart again.” Instead, I’m waiting on God to move. As King David once wrote, “For God alone my soul waits in silence” (Psalm 62:1a). This period of waiting—the very opposite of what I want—is from the hand of God alone.
However, as I stared at those lifeless moss-covered rocks, God’s omnipotence was anything but a consolation. Where had his power left me? Crying on my trail walk (again)? Seeing newlyweds and struggling with jealousy (…again)? He has the power to give me a husband, but here I am, alone.
His omnipotence felt like an invitation into a greater mystery, one I had no desire to delve into. It weighed down my bones as I finished my walk with a sick stomach.
The Bible is forthright about mystery, that God often works in ways we cannot understand. As the apostle Paul writes,
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
God’s ways are inscrutable. The Greek word is anexichniastoi (ἀνεξιχνίαστοι), which literally means not able to trace the steps of.2 As creations of God (and not gods ourselves), we are unable to “trace” all that he is doing in the world. There is mystery for us but none for God, whose thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Thus, we have no wise counsel to offer him, no authority to tell him that our lives don’t look like they’re supposed to (1 Corinthians 2:16).
However, while this makes logical sense to me on paper, when the pain of waiting hits, I don’t find much comfort in being a creation with limited understanding. Chalking up my inability to make sense of my suffering to the fact that God’s ways are inscrutable sometimes feels like a copout or, worse, a forced invitation into blind faith. David Gibson explores the relationship between mystery and faith in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, writing:
Satisfaction comes when you know you are a time-bound creature and God is the eternal Creator. Satisfaction lodges in my heart when I accept the boundaries of my creaturely existence and accept the seasons of my life as coming from his good and wise hands.3
He suggests the path toward “satisfaction” is twofold: accepting mystery and that “all seasons,” including those we might rather skip over, are from God’s “good and wise hands.” In other words, while our circumstances might be mysterious, God’s character is not—he is always good. The psalmist reflects this sentiment when he says to God, “In faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Psalm 119:45). He saw the faithfulness of God not in spite of but through his suffering.
This is hard to swallow. I would prefer a different, less-inscrutable lens into God’s faithfulness. Perhaps this is why Makoto Fujimura writes, “The art of waiting depends upon our willingness to die to ourselves and trust in God.”4 Dying to myself means accepting my life might not turn out as I hope. Trusting in God means choosing to be carried by his “good and wise” hands wherever they take me.
And there’s the rub: wherever. I don’t know where God will lead me; both the highest mountaintops and deepest valleys in my life have been unexpected. Will he one day give me a husband? I do not know, but this God with mysterious ways and open arms invites me to trust him anyway.
Sometimes, I do trust him. Other times, the pain of waiting chips away at my heart, eroding my trust until I find myself on my knees. There, I try to convince God that if he loves me, he would just give me a husband already. When I have exhausted my pleading petition, I sit in silence, submerged in the depths of my misaligned heart, nursing my brokenness, and trying to muster gratitude for the savior I know I have in Jesus. I remember his words in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.
God did not remove the cup, and Jesus submitted to him. He swallowed all that his Father had for him: Roman soldiers brutalized him, humiliated him, and nailed him to a cross. They lifted him up over Jerusalem to die. Far worse, he became sin and endured the wrath of God (2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13-4). We see in his final hours that there is no valley of suffering unfamiliar to Jesus. Nicholas Wolterstorff, a philosophy professor who lost his 25-year-old son in a mountain climbing accident, writes:
God is not only the God of the sufferers but the God who suffers. The pain and fallenness of humanity have entered into his heart. Through the prism of my tears I have seen a suffering God….Instead of explaining our suffering God shares it.”5
I do not have answers to most of the questions I’ve asked this past year. However, I have met a God who seeks me out even when I’m broken. A suffering God, a God who weeps at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, trivializes none of my pain (John 11:36). And through his death, he is ushering in a new kingdom, where pain will be no more. St. Athanasius explains,
Coming himself into our realm, and dwelling in a body like the others, every design of the enemy against human beings has henceforth ceased, and the corruption of death, which had prevailed formerly against them, perished.6
Jesus’s cross thwarted “every design of the enemy” once and for all. Now, all of our sorrows bow down before his good purposes (Romans 8:28).
Eyes-wide-open faith begins at Calvary, where my fear of trusting God because he might allow me to suffer must answer to the God who suffered for me. So when I’m on my knees, I ask for a husband, for the end of the particular brand of suffering that is mine right now. But I am also beginning to pry my hands from my own life, offering my ragged surrender to the One who has done everything for me:
Not my dreams, O Lord,
Not my dreams,
But yours be done.7
In the winter of 1945, months before his execution by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sent his parents a letter from a prison camp. He writes, “We can, and should also, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us.”8 He did not deny the darkness around him, but neither did he deny the overwhelming light of Jesus Christ. There was something indefatigably glorious about the birth of a child. No ruin, even Nazi Germany, could snuff it out.
Slumped on the couch, staring at my Christmas lights, I knew that I knew that love, too. How could I let the satisfaction of the deepest longing of my soul inform how I wait for lesser things, like a husband? The answer that night was simple: Celebrate.
I returned to the ornaments laden with loss. Standing by myself in front of my Christmas tree, I hung the silver and golden bulbs with shaking hands. As they reflected and multiplied the light, they became something more than decorations: declarations of true things.
They declared I am loved beyond measure. They declared I am seen, wanted, chosen, and redeemed by the One for whom my soul longs—the omnipotent, faithful, suffering God who lived among us. They declared Isaiah’s ancient words are true:
…but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Desiring a husband more than anything, praying those desperate prayers, put me in a place of disappointment and disillusionment with God himself. But when I stopped trying to measure God’s goodness by whether or not he gave me what I wanted, I began to see there is no scarcity in my life. My soul sits in plenty as I wait.
This is because the love of Jesus renews everything. In him, my weakness in the waiting becomes a vessel for his strength, my brokenness the very thing that sets my eyes on Calvary, that invariable proof I am loved.
His love is more everlasting and imminent than my tears.
And yet the truth remains that my Christmas didn’t look how I wanted it to look this year. The ache of singleness still hurts and pushes me, at times, to question the God who allows such mystery. In those moments, the long-awaited Word who became flesh again comes down, holding me in my brokenness with his good and wise hands as long as I need. He suffers alongside me in the waiting he himself has ordained.
And in his presence, I remember those holy declarations that hung from the branches of my Christmas tree this year, and something within me rises up to celebrate despite these ruins. For I am not waiting on a Messiah—my God is here.
About the author.
© Olivia Davis 2023, all rights reserved.
- Charles Spurgeon. “Peter Walking on The Sea.” Spurgeon Gems. May 3, 1917. http://www.spurgeongems.org/sermon/chs3562.pdf.
- “Anexichniastos.” Strong’s greek: 421. Anexichniastos. Accessed February 18, 2023. https://biblehub.com/greek/421.htm.
- David Gibson. Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End, 61. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017.
- Makoto Fujimura. Art and Faith: A Theology of Making, 134. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021.
- Nicholas Wolterstorff. Lament for a Son, 81. Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987.
- Athanasius. On The Incarnation, 58. Translated by John Behr. Popular Patristics Series. Yonkers, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011.
- Douglas Kaine McKelvey. “A Liturgy For The Death of A Dream.” Liturgy. In Every Moment Holy I, ed., 1:236. Nashville, TN: Rabbit Room Press, 2019.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Jana Riess. God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, 3. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.