read Acts 10. We often wonder if our days are filled with chance encounters. A variation on this question, and one even closer to our hearts, is whether finding our life mates is up to chance. Is finding the love of our lives simply a matter of luck?
For those of a pragmatic bent, two economists somewhat playfully developed an algorithm in 1962 to help people winnow down their choice of mate. Under this proposal – which was posited simultaneously as one that would work for admissions officers and high school seniors – women reject men until they receive a proposal from one of their top ranking choices – and the algorithm is rerun until all women have satisfactory proposals. So far variations of this “co-operative game theory” algorithm have been successfully applied to the matching of organs and donors; hospitals and residents; and unsuccessfully applied to the matching of public schools and students. But it hasn’t taken off for marriage. Why? Perhaps because the concept of finding love in such a pragmatic manner goes against the grain.
While I often hear people say, “there’s no need to get married anymore,” I’ve noticed that these people are almost always married. A year or two of being single generally cures anyone of this illusion. For most people, falling in love goes hand in hand with demanding a lifelong commitment. The same playboy who spent his adult life explaining his deeply philosophical opposition to marriage to his bewildered conquests can be found stalking the velvet lined display cases of Tiffanys upon meeting the right woman. “I’m just not the marrying type,” is usually code for: “I don’t want to marry YOU.”
The fact is, unless someone is too wounded, battered and bruised from prior rejections, most people have at least a streak of romanticism when it comes to finding their life mates. And even if their cynicism is born of bitter experience, such cynicism is merely a veneer. Underneath the hurt, most of these same wounded people would be delighted to be paired off with the love of their lives, if they could be guaranteed insulation from pain.
So if most people believe in at least a seed of the concept of a life love, how do they comfortably relax into their marriages, without any doubt about having found the right person? Many would respond to this with a stern reprimand: “it doesn’t matter if you’ve found the right one. You stand by your word. You live up to your commitment. You ignore the siren sound of alluring voices. Once you tie the knot, you don’t wonder if you’re tied to the right rope.” Are the stern reprimanders right? Of course. But the sterner the reprimand, generally, the more that person is being completely tempted to do the very thing they’re railing against. It would help immensely, therefore, to know that the siren voices are nothing but hot air. It would help immensely to know that the rope you’ve chosen isn’t a hangman’s noose but rather a silken thread woven only for you. It would help to know that something more than chance played into meeting our spouses – or that there is an alternate way to look at this deeply rooted longing for the “love of our lives.”
In Acts 10, God gives explicit instructions to two people in order to bring them together. A Roman centurion named Cornelius honors the God of the Jews and “prays regularly.” An angel appears to Cornelius at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and tells him to send his men to Joppa to summon a man named Simon Peter, who “is staying with Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.” Acts 10:5-6. It doesn’t get more specific than that.
Meanwhile, God gives Simon Peter his own marching orders. The next day, “as Cornelius’s messengers were nearing the town, Peter went up on the flat roof to pray.” God gives Peter a vision of animals on a sheet and tells him to eat them. Peter refuses, reminding God that the Jewish laws (made by God) declared those foods unclean. God tells him that if God has declared something clean, we are no longer to call it unclean. Peter is “perplexed” and doesn’t know what the vision means – but just then Cornelius’ men arrive. The Holy Spirit tells Peter that he is to go with the three men – i.e. to the house of a non-Jew. Peter understands. While the Jewish laws provided that a Jewish man couldn’t enter a Gentile household, God has just explained that through Christ all things are made clean – even non-Jews. Peter goes with the men. He arrives at Cornelius’ house and explains: “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” Acts 10:34. Peter testifies about Jesus; the Holy Spirit falls on all of Cornelius’ household and friends; Peter baptizes them all into the body of Christ.
In addition to the story of Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10, Acts 9 tells how Jesus appears in a vision to a Christian named Ananius and tells him to go to Saul on Straight Street, at the house of Judas. Jesus tells Ananius that Saul is on HIS knees praying and Jesus is appearing to SAUL in a vision telling him how Ananius is going to arrive. Ananius overcomes his fear of the Christian persecutor Saul and baptizes him. Two men who were enemies become brothers.
Similarly, Genesis 24 tells the moving story of how Abraham’s servant asks God to show him the wife he’s been instructed to bring home for Isaac – and “before” the servant has even finished praying, the beautiful Rebekah appears at the well. The chapter ends with the story of how Isaac loves his new wife tenderly.
These stories of God bringing people into community are therefore not just conversion stories, but also love stories. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pray, and God would tell us what street to walk on, and where to find our spouses? Wouldn’t it be nice if the Love of our Life were also on his or her knees, receiving the same message? We could walk to the corner of Park Avenue and East 78th Street and – boom head straight to City Hall, hand in hand?
So what distinguishes these stories of God uniting people from the seemingly chance encounters in OUR lives?
A key detail to note is that the people who receive explicit instruction are people who pray regularly. So the issue of whether our love life is a question of chance can be subrogated to the larger issue: do we trust God? Do we trust Him to answer prayer? Do we trust Him to speak directly to us, not just to other people, 2000 years ago? Do we trust Him to guide our footsteps now?
The Bible teaches we can. It teaches that a man’s mind plans his way, but the God directs our steps. Proverbs 16:9. It teaches that God answers prayer. As my friend Trish Ryan puts it in her memoir of trusting God to find her the husband she couldn’t find for herself, God is a “matchmaker.” Witness the fact that after he made Adam – he made Eve.
On a macro level, the reason we can trust God to find our mates, is that no encounter in our lives is chance. As C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, if you believe in God, there’s no such thing as a coincidence.
Really? Nothing is coincidence? No encounter is chance? How are we to take that information if we don’t believe in God? I can’t really answer that except to ask: do you REALLY believe that every detail in your life is random, meaningless and incoherent? Or do you, deep down, have a sense there’s a master plan at work?
And what if we believe in God but we don’t always listen to Him – which would be all of us. For instance, what if God told us in college to date Skinny Pimpled Nerdy Nice Guy, and we went for Studly Ice Hockey Captain Jerk Guy instead? What if we even married Studly Ice Hockey Captain Jerk Guy and left Nice Guy weeping in the C floor of the library? Are we doomed?
Never. God redeems everything. That’s why He died on the cross – to cleanse us. God cleanses us of our mistakes. He cleanses the choices we made for mixed – or even wrong – motives. God “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. God doesn’t just bring good out of some things – He brings good out of EVERYTHING.
And here is where we get to the magical part. If you’re married – take heart. God can redeem the person you are married to into the love of your life. He’s in the business of softening hearts. If we ask Him to, He can soften our hearts so that we can see the good even in Ice Hockey Captain Jerk Guy we married. God can give us a heart to understand the why – why does he seem to act like a jerk sometimes? God can soften our hearts so that our spouse loses all those checklist attributes and becomes just like us – a flawed human being, capable of tremendous good and terrible evil – someone to be loved despite being imperfect. When God softens our hearts toward someone, we can train ourselves to focus only on the good in them. After all, the only person who has any right to judge anyone has nail marks in His hands and chooses to forgive instead. He calls us to do the same. By focusing on the tremendous good in others, instead of the little bad, we help shape them into the person God made them to be. And yes, of course, not all marriages are redeemable, because both people in the marriage have to have soft hearts; we have no control over our spouse’s heart. But if we ask Him, God will soften our hearts so that we become people capable of treating our spouse the way they deserve – as the love of our life.
So if you’re already married, God can turn your spouse into the love of your life. Perhaps He already has – and if you ask Him to soften your heart to them, and to soften their heart to you – you’ll see them clearly. You’ll see them as the One God intended for you throughout all time.
And if you’re single, the best place to start finding the love of your life is on your knees. If we pray, Gods show us how much He loves us. As we begin to trust Him, if He created us for marriage, He’ll draw us to the person we can love forever. He’ll reveal to us the love of our lives. He’ll find someone who has a heart like God’s. We can use peace as our guide – and find the one in whose presence we find as much peace as we do in God’s presence. That’s because when we know God has a plan for us, we can trust that He will bring the perfect person for us. And yes, sometimes, it will be as specific as meeting them on the corner of Park Avenue and East 78th Street. “Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your heart” – you never know what you might find. Hebrews 3:7.
Because when we decide to turn over the reins of our lives to Christ, we discover that Jesus is our one true love. He’s the kind of love that never diminishes us. He only enhances us. We become kinder and sweeter in His presence. He shows us our faults, lovingly. He enlarges our hearts. Spending time in His presence can make us cry, but they’re sweet tears, not salty. And when we’re finally empty enough of ourselves that we allow Him to fill us, we become full of His Love. He fills us with the kind of Love it takes to love other broken people. He romances us, and in turn, through us, romances everyone we meet. No encounter in a world created by God is chance. All encounters are opportunities to give God’s love, and in so doing, receive His love back, a hundred fold.
by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on October 20, 2012 (my son’s eighteenth birthday) in “A Chapter a Day”