You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a young woman,
so will your Builder marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you. Isaiah 62:3-5
A few years ago, a friend of mine who had been struggling to conceive finally did. In her email announcing the news, she lamented that now no one who met her would know her struggle— all the days, months, and years of disappointment. They wouldn’t know how long she’d tried to have the child, and, therefore, how treasured she would be. She’d just be another mom.
I am thinking about this because, in a few days, a long-hoped-for day will finally come: I will get married to a wonderful man. And from them on, after our wedding, people who meet me will see me as just another married woman. They won’t know or suspect the years of heartbreak, disappointment, fear, and frustration.
For a long time, all I wanted was to get away from the shame of being unmarried. Not chosen. Barren. I didn’t want people to think that maybe there was something wrong with me, maybe I was just fundamentally unlovable. Maybe I was like Taylor Swift ... the common denominator in every break-up song. Of course, I knew that whether or not I was married, I was loved and chosen by God. But I didn’t really know it. It was a daily struggle to believe it.
The even bigger irony is that when I finally stopped trying to hide the shame — when I finally began admitting, that no, I was not “single and loving it,” that’s when things began to change. I enjoyed some of the most beautiful experiences of the divine during those years.
For years, I’d pray every day, “satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (Psalm 90:14) Over time, I’d see that prayer being answered. It became easier to handle the holidays. I didn’t mind being the “seventh wheel” in my Bible study. I’d burrow into Scripture, praying that the same God who’d promise to take away Jerusalem’s shame and barrenness would also take away mine.
I spent a lot of time in Isaiah.
I started dating more seriously and had my heart broken twice in a short period of time. Even these heartbreaks were gifts, helping me to realize that coupling up brought its own set of challenges. No longer would I just have to wrestle with my own shadow side, my own sin. I’d have to wrestle with someone else’s as well, and they’d have to deal with mine. Some of my loneliest moments have happened when I was in relationships.
During those those days of singleness I’d have to force myself to remember that getting married would not make my life rosier, and I’m sad to say this is true. My soon-to-be husband brings so much joy into my life, and I know I do that for him, too. But we also bring pain and frustration and disappointment to each other, sometimes in the same moment, only there isn’t an escape. Not without a lot more pain and paperwork (oh God and the thought that all the stress of wedding planning would be wasted).
There are moments when I want to put on sackcloth and ashes and mourn the fact that I just snapped at this man whom I love, and who I prayed to God for. That I could so quickly forget how fervently I prayed for him before I knew him. That without God’s help, I can’t love him the way he should be loved.
There are days when the reality of this answered prayer makes me long for the expectant hope I used to feel. Just as there are days when I find myself speechless at the goodness and wisdom of God in answering that prayer with this specific person. As Titus Andromedon from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sings, “true love is exhausting.”
Which is why it’s really quite fitting that so much of the Bible is filled with marriage imagery — of God promising to come to God’s people and take away their shame, to make “everything that’s sad to come untrue.” Not because a wedding is the goal to which we should all aspire, but because it is the hope of finally attaining the perfect love we all long for. Neither my partner nor I can provide that perfect love that makes all things new. But we can still have that expectant hope that one day we will.
On Saturday, no longer will I be the single woman in my 30s, always a bridesmaid but never a bride. It doesn’t mean that I will not struggle to trust God with my life. But it will be a reminder to me — and to all our witnesses — that God does answer prayer, and all the suffering and sorrow that came before can been remade into something more glorious than it was before.