In Defense of “The One”

A few months back, F insisted that we cap our Girls’ Day Out by watching Austenland. I’m not an Austen fan by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t usually like rom-coms, but I agreed anyway. There was some heavy-duty embarrassment squick, but what redeemed the movie for me was not only Jane’s realization that she wanted a real relationship instead of pining for a fantasy starring her seemingly non-existent Darcy, but also…
(Spoiler alert!)
… the ending, where the Darcy figure tracks her down to convince her that he is serious about being in love with her. “Did you ever think you might have this all wrong?” he finally cries. “Jane, you are my fantasy!”
And she finally understands, and they kiss.
(End spoilers!)

Among young evangelical bloggers, it’s become something of a commonplace to decry the notion of “The One,” the perfect soulmate. And on the face of it, I can see why. Running from commitment in a good relationship just because you’re afraid that you’re about to miss out on a potentially better relationship is foolish, especially if that other potential relationship exists only in your own mind. It might even turn out to be a matter of using uncertainty over God’s will as cover for prioritizing one’s own will–goodness knows He often hands us answers to prayer that look nothing like we expected them to, and idolizing (in the fullest sense of the word) one’s own preconceptions of the perfect spouse can blind us to God’s best that comes wrapped in the form of a flawed but real human. Pining for Darcy can turn into pining for the fjords, if you know what I mean. Plus, maundering on about “The One” can be very hurtful to people for whom God’s plan involves remaining single, whether that’s for a longer season than most or for life.

The trouble with making a blanket condemnation of “The One” is that it misses an equally important truth: It matters who you marry.
Expecting perfection is unreasonable, certainly, and it’s true, as some wags have noted, that God asked Hosea to marry a woman who could and did turn out to be unfaithful. Yet Hosea is a special case–that marriage was intended as a very public, very concrete allegory of God’s relationship with Israel. Most of us are not prophets who might need to make such a statement! Rather, if the average Christian marriage is an allegory of anything, it’s the relationship between Christ and the Church. Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-33:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

This image has to leave room for the foibles of human nature, to be sure. But an abusive, neglectful, or unfaithful spouse does not fit in this picture. In fact, Jesus gives infidelity as the only acceptable reason for divorce several times in the Gospels (e.g. Matt. 5:32), and Paul says that a deadbeat husband “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s hindering your walk with God or who’s causing problems for your emotional or physical health or your relationships with your family and friends, marrying that person is not a good idea. Neither is it wise to marry just for the sake of getting married. I’ve had at least one friend who was in a relationship with a good, godly guy and wanted to marry him, but before they could marry, they realized that their callings were leading them in totally different directions. Breaking off that engagement was the right thing to do for both of them. (I don’t know what’s become of him, but after remaining single for another ten years or so, she recently met someone else–on the mission field!)

The long and short of it is, when it comes to making a commitment to spend the rest of your life with someone, you ought to seek God’s will–not as an excuse to avoid commitment or out of reluctance to exchange fantasy for reality, but to ensure that you’re not about to walk into a trap. Finding “The One” won’t automagically solve all your problems, but knowing that you’re following God’s direction makes it easier to avoid outright despair in the darkest nights and the fieriest trials. And trusting His direction also means trusting His timing, as I’ve noted before, which can be hard when well-meaning friends, family, and church leaders are applying undue pressure. But as F pointed out just this weekend, whether and whom to marry is the second most important decision any of us will ever make, after the decision to follow Christ. And if I give my whole heart to Him, shouldn’t I be able to trust Him to find the right match for it and make the two one at the right time?

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