I Said Yes, But I Said No First
Saying "Yes" was easy but it took some hard/heart work to get there.
I got engaged last weekend.
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My fiancé flexed his attention to detail and A-1 planning skills, and surprised me with a super cute and thoughtful scavenger hunt proposal. The clues were narrated by video messages from my friends back home, and the hunt ended with him on one knee in front of my friends and family.
It was the sweetest thing I’ve ever experienced, and I didn’t hesitate to answer “yes” when he asked me to be his bride, but none of this is the reason for this post. This blog is about the not-so-pretty preparation for this moment.
Many people look forward to this day, when their “knight in shining armor” asks them to spend the rest of their lives together. We see everything on social media, from the grand proposals to the intimate ones, and all the excitement and encouragement that follows, but we rarely see the work behind the scenes. I’m not talking about the planning time, or the saving up for a ring. I’m talking about the mind and heart work that was a necessary prerequisite for this day. Before I could tell him “yes” I had to say “no” to a few key things.
1) Past hurt
If you’d told me 3 years ago, that I’d now be preparing to marry (again) I would’ve laughed. I’d just ended an eight-year relationship with who I thought was the love of my life, just about 6 months before we were scheduled to say “I do.” It was the hardest, saddest thing I’ve ever been through and it crushed me. I carried that hurt around for a long time, but eventually, I knew I had to let it go. It was keeping me from loving, even LIKING again. I didn’t want that experience to run my life any longer, and I had to say “no” to its control. I wanted to be ready for when the right love came around. It’s a beautiful thing to meet someone and they help you heal your brokenness, but I didn’t want my future partner to bear that burden. I wanted to do the work to heal, so that when we met, he’d be meeting the WHOLE me, not the fragmented version, still rehearsing past trauma. I had to clear that space in my heart for him, and it wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it.
2) The wrong guys.
I had to learn to say no to who and what I knew wasn’t right for me. This is much harder than it seems. I felt that since I was single, I could hang out with/date whoever I wanted for however long I wanted, until I found my true love. That was a terrible plan and it was exacerbated by the fact that I wasn’t always giving guys their walking papers as soon as I knew they weren’t right for me. I dated several really good guys. Guys that had great qualities and ran the gamut of what women want, but they weren’t good for me. Let me save people a lot of time and say, you can’t make people right for you if they aren’t. I don’t mean trivial preferences, but your deep desires in a partner. You can’t mold another adult into exactly what you want them to be. I tried that a few times and it just doesn't work. I had to get sure about what I wanted and needed in a mate, and say no to any and everything that wasn’t it- no matter how fine they were, lawd!
Eventually, I realized that I wanted my true love to find me unattached. I didn’t want to meet my future husband and have to cut off all these other guys that I already knew weren’t right. I wanted to be ready.
Not only did I have to say no to the wrong guys, but I also had to say no to myself and my own fleshy desires that were getting in the way of what I knew I wanted. At one point, I was very much in my own way! I was behaving in ways that went against who I wanted to and was meant to be. I had to evaluate my own actions and recognize how I was hindering myself and God’s will for me. I was praying for one thing, but behaving in a way that told God I didn’t really want that, or that I wasn’t ready to have it.
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3) Petty views of love and marriage.
Y’all. We have to stop letting this fallen world tell us how love and marriage are supposed to go. Marriage isn’t a solution to the world’s problems, but there’s been a major decline in marriage rates over the last few decades (around 50% now compared to over 70% in the 60s), and societal influence has a lot to do with it. So much has changed from music to movies, and there’s much less of an appreciation for finding one love, starting a family, and growing old together. You’re certainly not wrong if these are not desires of yours, but if they are, be mindful of the things influencing your views on them. When I noticed I was getting distracted by popular cultures criteria for love and happiness, I had to snap out of it and say no to that way of thinking.
I had to remember that God is the designer of marriage, and he already has an outline for it. I had to remember that the purpose of it is to bring glory to Him and replicate the relationship He has with us.The husband loving his wife sacrificially (as Christ)-giving his life up for her (Ephesians 5:25, 28-29), and the wife submitting to him (Ephesians 5.22), not in an inferior, unequal manner as the world tends to misconstrue, but in a powerful display of love and trust. Remembering that sobered me up a bit and made me remember what I was really looking for in a partner.
My fiancé and I are blessed to be products of two 30+ year marriages. Both sets of parents have figured out a way to push through and love each other well, and we don’t hesitate to ask them how it’s done. There are members of our church that too, are experiencing beautiful longevity in marriage and we are seeking their counsel as well. I only point this out because there are so many negative influences for relationships. Listening to mainstream entertainment will have you auctioning off your heart (among other things) to the highest bidder, instead of considering who you’d like to be by your side should the two of you lose everything. If you’re wanting a lasting relationship, in addition to going back to the original road map for it, I recommend tapping into the wealth of wisdom from some seasoned couples who’ve experienced sickness and health, richer and poorer, better and worse.
I don’t think I can stress enough that a relationship or marriage is not a fix-all. They will not make you happy if you are not happy already. I decided early in my healing process that I was going to have joy and live, whether I was single or not. I said no, very quickly, to being sad about simply being single. I learned to enjoy and find purpose in my singleness (I wrote a blog about it last year) and took that time to nurture and enjoy my relationships with God, friends and family. I was single and loving it- not because I didn’t want to eventually love and marry, but because I wanted to be content no matter what my status was. Whether or not marriage would ever happen for me, I needed to have unwavering joy. If your happiness is rooted in some relationship status, any physical possession or physical person- you’ll never be satisfied because they’re all impermanent. I have unshakable peace in knowing that I’m deeply loved by God, and that he knows and cares for me, and he’s making all things work for my good- even the unfavorable stuff. That will literally never change. All other chips can fall as they may, but I have real joy in that.
Whew. This was a tough no for me. I’d seen beautiful marriages, I’d worked on my heart a bit, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to take on the selflessness that love requires. I had a plan for my little single life, and I wasn’t expecting anybody to come in any time soon and give me a reason to adjust it. Even though in my mind, I said I wanted to eventually be married. But when? Where would he fit in my life when he came? It took some adjusting to not only make room in my heart for my partner, but in my actual life. Caring about someone else takes time and effort. Those evenings I liked to spend writing, I now needed to spare some of, to nurture what we were growing together. I had to give a little of that “me time” up for “we time,” and though I gladly shared my time, it wasn’t always easy to do. In our pre-engagement counseling (more about this later), our pastor drove home the fact that marriage isn’t about making someone fit into our own individual lives, but it’s about creating a new life together, and I needed that reminder.
At the end of the day, I’m not simply saying yes to my fiancé. I’m saying yes to God. Marriage is an institution he created and provided a blueprint for and it is work! Marriage embodies God’s covenant relationship with us. Throughout the Bible, Jesus is referred to as the “Bridegroom” (John 3: 29) (Matthew 25:5 etc.), us as the Bride, and Heaven is essentially the wedding reception, minus the “Wobble” dance...that’s staying here on earth. Thank God.
We’re meant to point each other to him, so not only is it not all about me, it ain’t all about Thomas either! I’m eternally grateful to have a partner who understands this and has done and is doing the work to love me well also. It’s why I could look down on him on his knee, with that real smile and true heart, and give him an uninhibited, decisive, selfless “YES!”