I remember it well. I was 22, on active duty with the US Navy in a foreign country – and very lonely. I wanted to get married before I got too old and lost my opportunity to find a suitable life-mate.
I was a new Christian, and so I spent a lot of time praying for a wife. But prospects on the Naval Base at Yokosuka, Japan didn’t look promising.
Then out of the proverbial ‘blue’ I received a letter from an old girlfriend. We’d dated for several years before we broke up around the time I enlisted in the navy. So we exchanged letters for a while – and then I called overseas to the States to ask her to marry me.
She agreed, and I celebrated to know I’d soon be married. A few days later I visited my pastor, Billy Dodson. He was one of the chaplains on the naval base. When I told him my good news, he sat quietly for only a moment before he asked the question I feared he would ask.
“Is she a Christian?”
He didn’t have to cite the Biblical passage from 2 Corinthians. I’d already been trying to ignore it. “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthians 6:14-15).
“Is she a Christian?” He pressed.
Deflated, I struggled at a bleak crossroads. I could ignore the chaplain’s advice – after all, what did he know, or care, about my loneliness? Or I could obey God – even if it meant remaining alone.
I made the right choice, but that choice did not take the edge off my loneliness.
Six months later I received another letter – this one from a different former girlfriend. We corresponded for a few months until – yes, you probably guessed it. I asked her to marry me.
Again joyful – but more subdued than the last time as I walked into the chaplain’s office – I told him of my latest proposal. He looked into my eyes, hesitated a moment, and then sighed. I pushed myself into the back of the chair and my fingers gripped the arm rests. I knew what was coming.
“Is she a Christian?”
She was not.
He didn’t need to open the Bible on his desk. He simply reminded me of that passage in 2 Corinthians.
Aching in the pit of my stomach and my head bowed low, I left his office. I knew he was right. I struggled again with the same choice, but now with a different person. I decided to obey God, but now wondered if I’d ever get married.
After my second defeat, I changed my prayer. Instead of simply asking the Lord for a Christian woman, I was more specific. I wanted to spend my life with a woman who was not content to simply warm a pew each Sunday. I wanted a woman who determined to know and serve Christ with as much passion as I had to know and serve Him. And perhaps most important: I wanted to love and be loved by a woman who loved Jesus far more than she loved me.
As I write this in December 2016, Nancy and I are approaching our 42nd wedding anniversary. We met on the naval base several months after I broke my engagement with the second woman. Chaplain Dodson grinned broadly when I answered his question – this time for the third time – “Yes. Nancy’s a Christian.”
It is easy for me to extrapolate from my experiences as a young adult to know what my life would be like today if I had not obeyed the Scripture. I know I would never have been as fruitful in my work for the Lord if I’d married either of the two other women. I wonder if I could have managed even a distant relationship with my Lord if I’d married either person. Oh! I shudder to even contemplate such a tragedy!
Christian – if you are contemplating marriage, please hear God’s word: “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?
Yes, it is often difficult to say no – to ourselves and to someone we love. But it is always the best choice to obey God than to compromise His commandments.
Billy Dodson died many years ago, but the legacy he left me remains a vital part of my life together with Nancy. Billy cared enough for me to challenge me to obey God without compromise. He could not have given me better guidance.