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Man in the Middle

A woman recently wrote in an e-newsletter I subscribe to for advice because she’s attracted to a kind, godly man from her small church. In spite of her attraction, she’s chosen not to pursue any type of relationship with him because… he’s married. She’s horrified by her feelings and so she avoids him, doesn’t make eye contact, and can even be cold when he approaches her. She said he makes an effort to be kind to everyone within their congregation and she feels even worse about not responding warmly to him; but to maintain her integrity, she avoids him as much as possible. She doesn’t know what else to do.

My heart goes out to her because I understand her struggle well. I started seminary in 2004, a few months before I turned 29. I’d been engaged and if the relationship had worked out, could’ve been starting a family at that time. My emotions were reeling from rejection, loss, and failure. I already felt like an older bride, and it shamed me to know that I would be even older when I finally married the man God had for me. Not marrying by age 30 felt like the worst possible failure as a woman. I felt unwanted, like something was deeply wrong with me. Even though I had been the one to walk away, to choose shame over marriage to a man who wasn’t the best for me, I believed the lie that the failure was mine. God knew best when He called me to Regent University’s School of Divinity: the classes, professors, and other students revived my soul. I learned so much about life, leadership, integrity, friendship, and becoming whole. When I look back on that time, I see myself entering that world with a raw and bleeding heart and emerging with a whole, healed heart.

During my first week on campus, when I was soaking up the wonder of that place and hoping God had sent me there to finally meet my husband, I met a man. He was strikingly handsome, which is what I first noticed. I can’t lie about that… But I’ve met many handsome men. What made me notice him was that he was also warm and kind, friendly to everyone, and a capable leader who could think for himself. He engaged in theological discussion (among other things) without ever making the other person feel less knowledgeable or devaluing their opinions. He was a student leader, but he was one of the most humble men I had ever met. I was smitten.

Then one day I saw him at a social event with a woman I had never seen before, and then I saw their children. Stunned, I realized he was married. Disappointment and frustration tried to swallow me up. And a battle began in my soul.

This man and I were in classes together. A lot of classes. Small classes. We worked together on projects and campus activities. The more I got to know him, the more amazing he became to me. And he was so kind and friendly – never flirtatious, but genuinely caring. One day I realized I was in the middle of a daydream about what my life would be like as his wife and step-mother to his children. Ugh! Thoroughly disgusted with myself, I turned to God in desperate prayer. What do I do with these feelings, Lord?

God took me through a process then of learning to die to myself. He taught me such valuable lessons during this time. At first, I did what the girl above did. I avoided him. I stopped making eye contact. I was borderline rude. But that didn’t sit right with me. I cared about him and didn’t want to hurt him. I thought about going to him and telling him I was attracted to him and didn’t want to cross any lines so I had to avoid him. Ha! I only considered that thought for a minute. I knew that doing so would just make things really awkward (or if he’d been a man with less integrity, opened the door to a terrible moral failure). I thought about going to his wife and confessing to her, but while that might make me feel better, it might also create insecurity and fear in her because she didn’t know me at all.

In the end, through much prayer and seeking, I did two very simple things. First, I told a trusted friend what was going on in my heart. She is a good friend. She didn’t judge or think less of me, but simply promised to pray and to be a sounding board when I needed it. Secondly, I began to pray for the man and his family. I had learned a few small details about his wife’s struggles, so I prayed for her. At first, I had to beg God to help me mean it because the words were bitter on my tongue. It didn’t take long before I really meant it though. I prayed blessings on them. I prayed for their children to be blessed. I prayed for their romantic love to blossom and grow. Lastly I prayed that God would help me see this man as my brother and his wife as my sister. I asked God to help me love them in a way that is consistent with the family of God.

An amazing thing happened during this process. The Lord replaced my feelings of disappointment and frustration with warmth and genuine concern. When I saw his family together, playing and goofing off, I felt my prayers being answered. I began to interact with him as I do with my own brother. I stopped idealizing him and even noticed a few of his flaws. While I still admire him, I can now see specifically why we wouldn’t be a good match.

I am so thankful that God allowed me to experience this struggle. Since that time, I have applied the lesson learned in countless ways. There have been other times when a married man has caught my attention, but by immediately catching myself and praying for him in the same ways, I have kept the emotions in check and gained a brother. A woman who greatly intimidated me at one time is now a beloved friend because I asked God to help me see her as my sister in Christ, was able to see her struggles, and then prayed earnestly for God to heal her wounds. When I look at her now, all I see is a tender-hearted woman who simply wants to be loved and valued.

I will take this lesson into marriage one day. I hear that just because you say “I do”, it doesn’t mean you never notice another person again. If unwanted feelings come up, I plan to share them with a trusted friend and pray to see the man as my brother. As I write these thoughts, the prayer comes to mind: Lord, help me to see all men (other than the man You have for me to marry) as my brothers. I also pray now that God will give me compassion and understanding if I ever notice that the man I marry is having a similar struggle and not take it personally.

The funny thing is that the married man I had idealized had character traits that I was trying to develop in myself. He wasn’t a good partner for me, but a vision I hope to achieve personally. He was kind to all, a good leader, humble, intelligent without being off-putting, and so on. The man God has for me is likely to have a different style than mine, so that we complement one another and fit together beautifully. Today I am blessed to know a man who is kind to all, humble, thoughtful, and quick-witted without being demeaning. He leads quietly, without appearing to stand out front, living as an example that others can follow. He leads by making choices that are full of integrity and grace. While I tend to be emotional and on-the-move, he is as steady and stable as a rock. And, praise God, he is somehow single and in love with me.

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