33 Items

In an old journal of mine is a list — an unassuming one, with no header — jotted down in ballpoint blue.

I was sixteen when I started writing down qualities I thought would be good to have in a future husband.

“A stronghold in faith (and essentials); acceptance to non-essentials.”

“Seeks to build positively — speaking gently and acting out of love.”

“No possessiveness.”

“Seeks God above all — with commitment to do so for eternity.”

“Honest, straightforward — and in every such action, sensitive to the other person.”

“Is content (has learned Paul’s secret).”


Some of these points came from the wise counsel of others; others carried the sting of experience. I wrote down all the important items I could think of, and returned to the page from time to time when a good story or sermon about marriage burrowed deep, or when a fresh relational triumph or difficulty triggered new thoughts.

At some point I must have become aware that I’d have to hold up my end of the union too, because “2-WAY LIST” is firmly emblazoned at the top.

For although it was a list, it wasn’t a newspaper ad. I hoped for these traits the way I hoped for the general idea of a husband: tentatively, like a child dreaming in October that Santa Claus might come at Christmas, and if he should, then what he might bring. In the meantime, a little forethought and a good deal of prayer seemed a wise way to approach this tender dream. The list slowly grew to 33 items over the next two years.

And then, one decisive day, it stopped.

I had passed through a season of hurt and heartache — and stunning revelations of my own selfishness — in those two years. When I finally came across the list again, two things I’d learned stared me in the face:

  • I would not be able to search out a person with these characteristics. People generally put their best foot forward, and not always with an intent to deceive. But I had discovered I was entirely capable of admiring someone without knowing what he was truly like at all.
  • Even if I could discern authenticity, I now realized I had a very shaky handle on what might be “best for me.” In the beginning I’d had an idea of the kind of person with whom I’d travel well, like agility and rhythm paired together in a two-legged race (I’d be Rhythm, for what it’s worth). It made the most sense to look for someone whose strengths complemented my weaknesses and vice versa, but which strengths, and which weaknesses? (Much later, I would learn that mutual weaknesses can bless a marriage with desperation to grow, and that the work of Christ is gloriously conspicuous in barren settings.)

Not to mention — #24, as I read over it, was very similar to #3. And #19 was really just #8 in different words.

I placed a small purple Post-It over the last lines. After a moment or two, I penned a small note to myself. These are only side effects, by-products of a life that is committed to and being molded by God. In the end, it seemed I didn’t need 33 descriptors. Just one.

Over the next few years, I began to ask for one thing — well, two: that if I married anyone, it would be a man who lived with abandon for God, willing to go wherever He led; and that He Himself would be the doorkeeper to my heart in this regard.




1 comment

  1. I can relate to this a lot, and I love the little photo of your journal at the top. 🙂

    A short story: Tonight I’ve been thinking of how to go about finding people who understand my way of life–a life where God is first–and hopefully out of that I might meet friends and a woman to share my life with. I can get along with just about anyone but really connecting is much more rare, especially the deeper I pursue my soul’s journey instead of The American Dream. I’m not able to get out much so I think that might depend on my online activities, maybe with sites such as Match dot com or the like? I just don’t like the way those sites are structured, because it prompts us to highlight all the “wrong” things in much the same way your teenage-years lists did: Do we really think we’re clever enough to know all the right questions to ask? And are we really going to predetermine who the Universe says we need based on who does or doesn’t smoke, their astrological sign, and how tall they are?

    I think you’re absolutely right. Everything else will follow the person who is also on The Path, including the part where they see how shallow “dating sites” invite us to be (of course we don’t always have to use them that way).

    So I opened my laptop to write, then went to WordPress dot com because I couldn’t remember if I’d already been typing a post, and it immediately took me to the Reader section of the site instead of my dashboard, showing me all the recent posts from people I follow. Lo and behold, your post was the first thing there. Of course I had to click on it, since this was exactly the thing I’d been thinking about just moments prior. Synchronicity! (Again. All day long. Always.)

    Thank you for sharing your story, for being so open with your heart, your gift of writing, and your Faith.