You can't marry my daughter.
The first time I asked my future father in law if I could marry his daughter, he said no.
It was the worst experience I’ve ever had at a Waffle House.
It ended up being OK though because the second time I asked, I was able to get him to say no again.
Although my wife and in-laws have added those conversations to the list of things we can all safely joke about, they’re not my favorite collection of memories.
It all started out so simply. During one of my visits to Atlanta to see Jenny, I asked her father if he and I could have breakfast together. We were not in the habit of breakfasting and I’m sure he was aware of my intent. He chose Waffle House. We sat in a booth. Desperado by the Eagles was playing on the jukebox, a random stranger’s song selection that would unfortunately prove to be rather fitting.
I said the things I thought boys in their early 20s say when they talk to hulking fathers of daughters they want to marry. I love her. God loves that I love her. I will take care of her. She can work or not work, depending on her preference. Either way doesn’t matter to me, because I love her.
He paused and then gave me a fairly succinct response. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like:
“No, no no no no and no. No no, although no, and more no. In conclusion no.”
We paid our bill, got in his car and then proceeded to take the most awkward car ride I’ve ever been a part of. A week later, after much prayer and fear, I came back down to Atlanta from Massachusetts where I was living at the time, to ask him again.
This time we stayed in his kitchen. While carving up a piece of fruit that was oddly enough about the size of my heart, he laid out his thoughts:
“No, no no no. Her mother and I no no, then no, or no no, why, no no no.”
I walked upstairs crestfallen and spent the rest of the night trying to figure out if the toilet held enough water to adequately drown myself.
It’s been seven years since those conversations but I’ll still occasionally bring up that story for some sympathy. A few months ago I told a friend of mine and his reaction was so remarkable I kind of bragged about it to my wife.
Me: “You know what Jack told me? The guy whose dad used to break his nose by punching him in the face? The guy whose mom died of cancer when he was 11? The one who is a recovering crack addict? He said he couldn’t imagine living with the pain of having a father tell him no twice when he asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage.”
I was clearly hoping her response would be some variation of “Oh Jon, you’ve been through so much trauma, my wounded writer. How do you carry on my tragic poet of a husband?”
Wife: “My dad didn’t tell you no. He told you wait.”
Wait and no used to be the very same word to me. My lack of patience denied me the ability to have a sense of the future. If I didn’t get what I wanted, in the exact moment I wanted it, I thought I’d never get it. Now was the only time that existed in my mind, so waiting for something to happen later didn’t make sense. There was no later.
So when my father in law tried to warn me about some foundational truths that needed to be built over time in my relationship with his daughter I didn’t hear him. He was asking me to get married in the future. To propose marriage later. To go slow and wait. But “no” is all I heard. So I refused, and rushed into some of the very same mistakes he was desperate to prevent.
This was a foolish thing for me to do, but it’s not really unique. In Exodus 13:17-18 we see God preventing the Israelites from making the same bad decisions. Here is what it says:
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.
I love that last sentence about the Israelites being armed for battle. The story wouldn’t really be extraordinary if the Israelites didn’t have any weapons. You could read those verses and say, “All they had was pots and pans, of course they had to take the long way. It’s only logical.” But they were armed which means the shorter route makes more sense. They were ready for battle. They had swords and shields and all the trappings of men at war. I had an engagement ring and a proposal plan and all the trappings of a man of marriage.
But neither of us were ready for what lay ahead. And you might not be either right now. Whatever mistakes you’ve left behind or challenges you’ve left ahead, doesn’t really matter, you have some big things ahead of you.
New relationships. New wisdom. New decisions and maybe even consequences of the old. Expect the temptation to rush through things, to hear no when all God might be really saying to you is “wait, wait. I don’t want you to get discouraged.”