Unconditional love versus selflessness
Over the last 11 months since the war in Ukraine started, I have been posting daily prayer requests to my Facebook account. These prayers have been for Ukraine, and also for other things happening across the world.
Here is the thing: I very strongly believe in prayer. I know without even the slightest faintest doubt that God is real, the Bible is true and prayer works. But I guess that raises the question: If I believe so strongly in prayer, why am I still single, as in why have I not prayed a husband and marriage into my life by now?! The truth is that I genuinely want a husband, as much as I have been talking about on this blog. But it is a little complicated…
What to pray: On this blog, I have spoken a few times about working out just what to pray. In a way this is quite simple:
“Lord, please grant me an excellent husband who is:
[List out all essential criteria one by one]. And please bring him into my life ASAP, and let us both know – etc etc etc.
Thank You Lord, Amen!”
OK, so that is quite simple. However, as simple as that is, I have not even been praying that prayer for one reason: time, and priorities. Over the last few years, I have been desperately trying to merely survive. My time has been taken up with survival considerations. So as much as I want a husband, I have just not been able to make these prayers a priority, because I have been praying for other things which have had greater priority, not because they are more important than my eventual marriage, but rather in that they need to come first and be strongly established before I can introduce a marriage; these things represent a foundation to my life on which other dreams, including marriage, can be built.
More complex: And yet there is definitely a more complex aspect to the question of marital prayers. That is, praying about any particular guy. Goodness, even thinking about this just makes me want to sigh and shake my head. On one hand, if I am starting to think that someone could be a plausible candidate to spend the rest of my life with, of course I am going to pray for that! Of course I want to spend some big time bringing that before God. But what to pray though? You know, I am a bit (very) reluctant to go into too much detail regarding this, just in case there might be someone reading this whom I might be praying about. But you know what? If he is a Christian, and curious or interested enough about me to be reading my blog, he might well be praying about me too!!!
So say there is a guy: these are the sorts of things that I might be asking myself, and praying about:
– Is he the one?
– (If I particularly like him) – Lord, please make him the one!
– [Plus other prayers too which I don’t want to go into detail about]
The point though about these prayers is that they can be very time-consuming. With everything else I am doing, everything else I have been praying about, I am exceptionally busy. I am reluctant to spell out how little sleep I have been getting of late. However, as I am writing this, I am hoping that I will only have to endure these current, ultra-tight circumstances for just one further week, and then hopefully after that, I will hopefully be able to get decent sleep, at least for most days of the week! But I will still be extremely busy.
For me to commit to prayer about anything means a commitment of solid time regularly. For me to try to make time to pray for any particular guy means trying to extract some elusive time out of my tight schedule, which equates to a considerable sacrifice. And then, the thoughts that fill my head are these: what if I invest all that prayer into his life, praying that he would be an amazing husband etc, and then he eventually ups and marries someone else?! So I will essentially have invested all that time and prayer “for nothing”. And that was what eventually led me to understand the difference between being unconditional and being selfless in prayers.
Here’s the thing: If I were to pray for a particular man, and he and I ended up getting married, then that prayer would not have been such a sacrifice, because I would have ended up personally benefitting from it. However, if he and I do not end up getting married, then it would indeed turn out to be a sacrifice, because I would not end up personally benefitting from it.
Before I start praying though, I don’t know which way it is going to go! I don’t know whether I will eventually marry him or not. Additionally, there is the possibility that I could pray for months and months, or even years about one particular person. So as I anticipate that possibility, I have to ask myself whether the man in question is worth that potential sacrifice. And if he is, I can go ahead and start praying, and if I don’t feel that he would be, then realistically I probably will not start praying at all.
After I have actually married my husband, then obviously there will be no question that I will pray for him specifically. But then it will not represent a risk, will it, because we’ve already made the commitment to one another. God forbid, even if a marriage were to end up in divorce, even then it would still always remain worthwhile to keep praying for a man I have been married to.
And because my time is so precious, and because I will go so in-depth, I honestly just do not have the time to pray for more than one guy in this way. The possibility that I could be left maritally empty-handed after investing so much time and effort means that I have to be selfless in these prayers. And yet, not all men provoke this level of selflessness. For some men, because of the way they have previously treated me, there is simply no way that I can bring myself to make that kind of potential sacrifice into their lives. If a man has treated me with disdain, or tried to take advantage of me, or acted in some other negative way, am I going to invest hours and hours of my life into his own life for free, for him to possibly take to his eventual marriage to someone else?! I don’t think so. So for those men, the only thing that would make it worth my while to pray for them would be if there was a guarantee that I was actually going to benefit from this prayer.
For other men though, based on who they are, and who they have proven themselves to be, I can make this sacrifice. It is still an incredible gift, but based on who they are, I can still go ahead to make this gift, even if there is a possibility that I am not going to personally benefit from it. So that is selflessness. However, it is not unconditional, because not everyone can benefit from this. It is precisely because of the character of the man in question that I can afford to make that sacrifice For unconditional to truly be “unconditional”, then it needs to be something that I can give to anyone and everyone, regardless of the way they have previously treated me, regardless of who they have already proven themselves to be, or might yet prove themselves to be.
An analogy for example is this: when I start attending a church, I tend to give of my time and effort, in a way that will not necessarily benefit me. I tend to run around to various church meetings, I take on various responsibilities, often thankless and unglamorous, making that sacrifice even in my extremely busy life. And in all this, I often do not receive the slightest recognition, or acknowledgement. Once again, that is selflessness, because it is a sacrifice that does not necessarily benefit my own life personally. And yet, once again, that is not unconditional. I make this sacrifice, and it is worthwhile to me to make this sacrifice, because ultimately the Kingdom of God will benefit. However, if I realise along the line that the pastor is not truly serving the Kingdom of God, but rather his own interests, then that also means that ultimately all my efforts are not truly going towards the Kingdom of God, but rather the selfish interests of this individual. In that case, I will just leave. This exact scenario has happened countless times, which ultimately is why it has happened countless times that I have started attending a new church, then had to leave a few months later. Sometimes, I will reflect that the pastor is largely but not wholly serving the Kingdom of God. Then in that case, I will still often reflect that better results would be achieved for the Kingdom of God if I were to just leave, so I will go ahead and leave anyway. Because these churches seem to demand so much time, and so much obedience. They never seem to give you that option of going there and giving just a little of your time. Rather, they seem to demand your heart and soul (which the Bible says we are to give to God directly, not to some pseudo-pastor’s megalomaniac delusions). “If you feel that God has called you to this church…” (then you should be prepared to give every spare waking minute to every new initiative that we can dream up!) Or in another church that I went to, the pastor would just announce yet another meeting, and declare that “everyone must be there!” Many times people would not be there, of course, but it niggled at me that that kind of commitment was set as the expectation. Countless times I have sat and reflected and thought “I think that I would be more effective for God by myself.” So I have left! If you doubt that I would truly be able to invest that time or effort into the Kingdom of God without the “leadership” of these pastors (as they apparently doubt) then please feel free to check out my Facebook profile.
Candidly speaking, many of these pastors are not particularly holy, or prayerful, or grounded in actual Bible truth, yet they seem to act as if members of their congregation are barely able to even open their Bibles without their “leadership”, much yes read or understand what is in the Bible. I will just gently point out that the Spirit of God has been poured out on all believers, so we all have access to understand by the Spirit what the Bible says. Leadership is important for guiding a group of empowered, Christians who are each filled with understanding in a certain direction, not for the basic empowerment in the first place. The same too is true in marriage. I don’t need a husband for the sake of understanding the Bible or navigating my life, because I can do that myself, through the Holy Spirit. But if there are going to be two of us, then someone needs to chart the course. And that is the role that God in His wisdom has given to men generally. And because God is God, obviously I am not going to argue with His divine wisdom. However I am going to insist on a man who is going to be worthy of this role, and because I have not yet found such a man, that is why I need to pray!
As I have been typing out this post, it has occurred to me that it is clearly less risky to stick to the first type of prayer, praying general prayers that God would just bring a suitable man, because hopefully when the prayer is answered, then it will benefit me regardless. And yet, I cannot walk together altogether from the second type of prayer, praying for possible candidates. Ultimately, I will just need to hand it over to God and trust that He will work through my prayers and confusion etc. And you know what, I believe He is working already!!!
[Also, I am just going to stuff this thought in here for now so that I don’t forget it: and then over the short course of writing that sentence I completely forgot what the thought was!]
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