In college I had a list. You probably know the one I'm talking about. It was the list. The list that promised me I could (and would) find the man of my dreams. The list that held every quality I desired in a husband. The list that I tucked away for that special day—the day I met him and we lived happily ever after.
Marriage is ultimately about our holiness, not our happiness.
I remember exactly where I was when I made that list. Over dinner with girlfriends, we carefully crafted our lists. We talked through a variety of qualities, goals, and personality traits—from the necessity of humor to ministry aspirations. The list was long and broad, even down to the color of his hair. I liked brown hair.
But what my twenty-one-year-old self failed to realize at that moment, and in the passing years, was that my list slowly began to look like a male version of me. In my feeble mind, the perfect man was everything I was, only he carried a Y chromosome.
- He needed to be serious, but not too serious.
- He needed to be a deep thinker, but not too deep.
- He needed to be a stronger personality than me (and I defined what strong looked like).
- He needed to be this and that . . . and the list went on.
Every guy I met in those early days was subject to the list. If he didn't meet the requirements, he didn't get very far with me. In my mind, my list was infallible, a sort of "word from the Lord." I heard stories of women who met their husbands, and then after checking him against the list, realized that he met every bullet point. I wanted that to be my story, too. And that was my problem.
You see, a list might tell you what you want. But it might not always tell you what you need. This is where God comes in.
Tim Keller, in his excellent book The Meaning of Marriage, says that marriage is ultimately about our holiness, not our happiness. Yes, marriage makes us happy. But it is also one of the God-ordained means for our growth in godliness.
If the purpose of marriage is to make us perfectly happy, then maybe the list could work. But that's not what marriage is for. My husband is exactly who I didn't know I needed. And my life is better because of him. When he proposed to me, I hardly knew him. We had only been dating for a few short months. I knew some important things about him, like the fact that he was a Christian, a leader, and a godly man. But besides that, there were some things about him that I knew weren't exactly on my list. Yet, there was something about him that drew me to him and made me desire to follow him and be with him. In the bliss and hype of planning a wedding I put my expectations aside and accepted all of him.
Unfortunately, after we got married those dormant expectations came out with a vengeance. While there were some "list" qualities that didn't emerge until after we were married (like his humor), there were some irrelevant ones that were simply absent. And I didn't always respond well to their absence.
I didn't fully understand that my husband was given to me by God as a gift. When God created both of us, He knew what the other would need. When I learned to get over my preconceived expectations and started embracing him for the God-given husband that he was for me, I noticed something about myself. Not only was I growing in godliness, but I was happier as well.
God perfectly created my husband for my good and my sanctification.
In his book, Keller also says that we need to spend more time focusing on being the right person, instead of finding the right person. Basically, we need to spend more time focusing on ourselves than on the endless quest for Mr. or Miss Right. Instead of honing in on a list of expectations that no person can ever adequately meet, stick to the essentials and grow as a believer first.
So throw out the list (or at least pare it down), and get to work. Grow in godliness. Grow as a Christian. Grow as a committed church member. Those things will serve you far more in your quest for finding that special someone than perfecting your list.
I wish I had spent more time on being the right person than dreaming about a list before I got married. I needed to trust what the list could never tell me—that God perfectly created my husband for my good and my sanctification. God is in the business of making marriages and sustaining them. And while my husband does possess some qualities of that list I made all those years ago (at least the ones I can remember), he has a lot of other really good ones I never thought about. Oh, and yes, he does have brown hair.