Every Love That Slipped Away

Our story seemed to come right out of a movie.

We had been dating for two and a half years when God planted a desire for Jesus in my heart. I began yearning for him; she didn’t. I started seeking him; she just watched. I rose up and followed him; she stayed put. Our relationship stretched, frayed, and finally ripped apart. I walked away from the girl I was sure I would marry.

Fast-forward a few months. A friend shares the gospel with her, and she believes. We begin talking again, become friends again, start dating again. God had torn us apart to bring us back together. He had killed our romance so he might raise it from the dead. He had taken away my girlfriend and given her back to me, now as a sister as well.

Or so it seemed.

Soon after we began dating again, I spiraled into a spiritual depression — darkened, doubting, feeling God-forsaken. Life began to feel unmanageable, my heart untamable. I needed to summon all my energy simply to keep my spiritual sanity. And so, for the second time, I watched as our relationship fell apart.

She left the state and we never talked again. My twenties turned from a decade of marriage and kids to singleness and waiting.

Love Lost

If you are single in or beyond your twenties, you have likely felt the sting of love lost.

Many know the heartsickness of a failed relationship — of romance that blossomed for a time before fading and falling. And now we’re left with the ghosts of a happier time: shoeboxes full of old notes, memories of dinners and walks and jokes, fantasies of what life might be like if things had just gone differently.

Others of us almost wish we could have gone through a breakup. Instead, all we have are the memories of missed chances — the first quiet notes of a song that died away.

As I reflect on my twenties, I call to mind nights where I lay awake, my mind tossing with thoughts of “But it seemed so right . . . ” and “If I had only . . . ” and “I wish I could just go back and . . . ” But the questions, regrets, and perplexities are not the only voices in this storm. God himself speaks, with more than enough strength to calm our internal tempests. What does he say?

1. You are not an orphan in the land of love.

At times, I have navigated relationships like a romantic orphan. I have anxiously roamed the land of love as if no one watched out for me, as if love and marriage rested solely on my ability to find and keep a girlfriend. I have played the statistics game as I’ve grown older, nervously watching the crowd of single people dwindle to an awkward few. I have kicked myself for all I should have done differently.

And all the while, I had forgotten that the first line of the Lord’s Prayer applies to my singleness and dating: “Our Father in heaven . . . ” (Matthew 6:9). Too often, I have treated my Father as if he cared little for my love life — as if he were a distant patriarch and not “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3). I have returned from dates racked with uncertainty, forgetting that I came home to a Father who knows my needs and is eager to listen (Matthew 6:32). I have let years of singleness sink me into self-reproach, forgetting that my Father bends his shoulders to carry every regret (Psalm 55:22).

In cultures that practice arranged marriage, most children don’t wonder whether they’ll get married, because they have a father who will find a spouse for them. Christians have something better: a Father who provides exactly what we need to hallow his name — whether that means a spouse or not (Matthew 6:9).

So you don’t need to grow desperate. You don’t need to worry about how old you’re getting. You don’t need to pummel yourself for past mistakes. Behind every failed love story is a Father who sees more than you do, knows more than you do, loves more than you do, and never stops doing good to you (Jeremiah 32:40).

2. The love you never asked for is on the way.

I have sometimes sounded like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who walked away from Jesus’s crucifixion saying, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). I have similarly walked away from the ruins of a relationship and thought to myself, “But I had hoped she would be the one I’d marry.” “But I had hoped her feelings would change.” “But I had hoped to have kids by now.” And as with the disciples, I fail to see that God is preparing the gift I never dreamed to ask for.

In his Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis puts the truth in a demon’s mouth: “He really loves the hairless bipeds He has created and always gives back to them with His right hand what He has taken away with his left” (72). Fundamentally, God is not a taker, but a giver — generous, lavish, and overflowing (Psalm 84:11). So when he takes a relationship from us, he takes it to make room for something better.

Of course, the “something better” will likely overturn our expectations — and thank God, because our ideas of “better” are rarely what’s best. Instead of a dream spouse, God may give someone we would have scarcely considered in the past, someone whom we grow to cherish and, twenty-five years from now, call “better.” Or he may work the even greater wonder of launching us into free and fruitful singleness, and satisfy us so deeply with his own love that, with Paul, we call our lot “better” (1 Corinthians 7:38).

Or the better love may never come in this world, and we may die with disappointment still smoldering in our chest. But if we do, we will wake up to find that every agony prepared the way for a love that is weighty, indestructible, and, alongside the best romance this world can offer, incomparably better (2 Corinthians 4:17).

3. Jesus is making your single heart whole.

Years ago, I lay awake at midnight, my head swirling as if all my separate regrets, worries, and relational disappointments joined forces for a united attack. I came to church the next day desperate.

As we began singing, a familiar song caught my ears, lifted my head, and gave me the words I needed:

Jesus! What a friend for sinners!
Jesus! Lover of my soul;
Friends may fail me, foes assail me,
He, my Savior, makes me whole.

He, my Savior, makes me whole. What is God doing in all our lost loves? He is not punishing us for past indiscretions. He is not dangling a gift before our eyes just to snatch it away. He is making us whole.

To be sure, marriage offers a kind of wholeness that singleness doesn’t. A lover’s bold claim of finding his other half is not completely off the mark. It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and the shadow of a partner can leave us feeling painfully incomplete.

But there is a richer kind of wholeness that God loves to give: the wholeness of being happy in Jesus, no matter what comes. The wholeness of saying, in the style of Habbakuk, “Though the fig tree should not blossom,” and though no spouse should sleep beside me, and no lover’s arms embrace me, and no child’s smile cheer me, “yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17–18).

In the absence of a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, we are not absent a lover. And here, amid all the regrets of love lost, and all the agonizing what-ifs, and all the dreams lying dead at our feet, we have the opportunity to feel in the deepest parts of us: Jesus Christ is the lover of my soul.

And in him we are whole.