When God is Playing the Long Game
Can I make a confession? Jesus often takes way too long for me.
I love and trust my Savior wholeheartedly. I know His plan and His timing are perfect. More than perfect, they are for my good. But personally, when I’m in prayer over an issue, Jesus often feels like He’s catching up on emails and mine is at the bottom of the list. And I have felt this no more acutely than when I’m praying for my (or someone else’s) marriage.
When the pain is deep and visceral and the need is great, why doesn’t Jesus ride in to save the day? I scoop my children out of harm’s way, why doesn’t the God of the Universe do the same for His children? Heal the broken parts of our relationships? Release that addiction? Break those chains of bondage? Provide the relief needed for us to thrive?
And gently the Holy Spirit always reminds me, “I’m playing the long game - and you can’t see the win yet.”
We’ve talked a lot about how the mystery of marriage is the portrayal of Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church - His all-consuming love that is the inspiration of our hope: seeing our God face-to-face in heaven. We aspire to that type of sacrificial love in our marriages and hope to showcase that to the world around us. But I think part of the mystery of marriage is how much it highlights my need for that ultimate consumption. As deeply as I can desire for things to be good with my husband - to be loved unconditionally, understood, cherished - my deepest need is for Jesus to love me like that. And my husband often reminds me that he is a second-rate lover. Not for lack of trying; Paul works hard to love me sacrificially and I reap the benefits of that daily. But He will never, ever be able to love me the way my heart needs, the way Jesus can.
Unfortunately, nothing pushes me to seek those things from the Source more than hardship, difficulty, and seemingly unanswered prayer. Jesus knows this. So He lets me sit and stew a bit, not to where I’m in danger, but to where I’m uncomfortable, so I’ll quit digging deeper within myself for answers, stop demanding more from my husband, and simply seek Him and His boundless help. Jesus is playing a long game. And I’m a slow learner.
And because our marriage is comprised of two slow learners, sometimes Jesus has to allow extra time between plays. In His scorebook, we win when I, and my spouse, and all those watching my marriage, grow in dependence on Jesus and value intimacy with Him above all else.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28.
A sermon I was listening to the other day reminded me that the Bible was written by an eternal God who lives outside of time. Therefore, all the words in it speak to a reality outside of our linear time. So each of these verses we cling to for comfort, to which we like to ascribe some sense of immediacy, are true, but not necessarily speedy. He will accomplish His goal, and will see the game through to the win, even if we are uncomfortable in the process.
So what do we do while we are waiting? We expect Jesus to wait with us, mostly because He says He will. We serve a God who claims to be close to the brokenhearted, who comforts those who mourn, who is an ever present help in trouble. In our pain He wants us to seek Him. When we can’t stop arguing with our spouse, when they maintain the addiction, continue to break trust we seek Jesus. We pour all of our pain out to Him and sit with Him, wait on His next move, and let His Spirit comfort us. We wait and we cry. We wait and we pray. We wait and we yell. We wait and we cook. And clean things. And run. And write bad poetry. And we wait some more.
Because in the waiting, Jesus knows that our hearts will soften, and open to Him in new and unexpected (to us) ways that will bring about the changes ultimately needed for our healing.