Dreams on the Altar

Twenty six.

I read it in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book as a girl. The whispers behind gloved hands, the looks of pity for the woman who reached this age without finding a husband. An “old maid” they would call her.

I feared this title. When I celebrated my 26th birthday I wrestled with God. I was in the very beginning of Cambodia preparations, saying yes to this journey and knowing it might cost me a whole lot of things- close proximity to family, ease of life, and perhaps even a dream or two. But I thought to myself, “Even on the field God could provide me a husband, someone with who I could share the journey”. That dream might somehow still be a reality.

So I tucked it away in my suitcase two years ago with my flip-flops and extra vitamins and a heart ready for adventure. The dream stayed there with me through the ups and downs of language school when I didn’t meet a single eligible man (who wasn’t 10 years younger than me anyway). But it wasn’t at the forefront, it just kindled in my heart.

Now I live in a village hours away from other foreigners or even other believers. And the dream of a husband, the expectation that one might still be out there, has exploded to a full-fledged raging fire taking over my heart and sometimes the pain of it feels like more than I can bear. Because God hasn’t answered.

What does it mean to bury a dream? What does it mean to walk up the mountain with the knife and the firewood like Abraham did, and put that dream on the altar of sacrifice? I don’t know if God will ever provide me a husband. He showed Himself to be Jehovah Jirah, God the provider, to Abraham, but what does that mean for me? I want to know the answer first, before I raise the knife on this dream. Will You or won’t You provide, God? Like somehow it makes a difference.

It is hard to surrender sometimes. But that is where I am, surrendering this dream, this expectation. If I don’t, I fear it will consume me, eat away at my heart, or become a stony idol. Some days I’m there, releasing all that is in me to the safe hands of the Father, and other days I cling hard and refuse to open my hands and let go. No matter what, I want to embrace this life that God has for me. I want to live it, not waiting for something that may never come, but looking expectantly to the God who WILL provide, no matter what it is He is providing.

Sweet married sisters, I know you are there too. You have unmet expectations that you’ve had to surrender, dreams you’ve put on the altar. So let’s do this together, shall we? When your single sister opens up her heart about the struggle and the desire, please don’t say, “It will be okay” or “You are still young yet” or “God has a reason for you to be single.”

All of those may be true, but please give a hug, push a mug of coffee across the table and ask us, “What do you need from me?” Pray with us, for those dreams in our hearts and the daily surrender. We promise to do that with you too, when you share your Isaac moments, those deep parts of who you are. Let’s go up the mountain to worship, just as Abraham did, as we walk this journey together.

Genesis 22:14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On that mountain of The Lord it will be provided”.

In those moments of surrender, how has God met you? How has He given you the strength to let go of dreams and put them on the altar of sacrifice to Him?

36 Comments

  1. Laura August 2, 2015

    Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your heart! I have been there with the struggle of putting my dream of marriage on the altar, and I appreciate your honesty as thoughts on this struggle. Praying for you as you continue to serve.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

      Thank, Laura! I wanted to tell you I’ve really appreciated your blog and learning from your journey. I’m not sure when it will be my turn for re-entry but I have appreciated your honesty about that season.

  2. Kathy August 2, 2015

    Wow, this is so timely. Thank you for sharing. I needed to hear this… again. I just turned 40 and I still keep dreaming of ‘someday’.  But you are right it can’t become an idol.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

      Hi Kathy! I’m now about 7 months away from turning 30, and there’s something about those milestone birthdays that can be challenging. I’ve been trying to find the right balance between releasing a dream and still having faith in the God who can do what feels like the impossible. Just because He hasn’t provided a husband doesn’t mean He can’t. Blessings to you in this journey!

      1. Meagan August 3, 2015

        I always find near my birthday and Christmas I struggle with this the most. I have just returned home after serving in Cambodia for 4.5 years, just had my 33rd birthday and the ache to have someone to share this life with is so strong. Living in a brand new city, trying to make connects while feeling rather disconnected from it all and struggling with the awkwardness of starting again. I often cry at the end of a day of gazing or hugging other people’s babies and hearing stories of their significant others while despairing over the chances of having a similar outcome. I long to trust God and surrender my dreams to Him. Yet it is a daily struggle and a constant choice to  believe in His promise of love and perfect provision for me – in whatever form that may be.

        1. Julie August 3, 2015

          Saying a prayer for you today!
          Psalm 55:22

        2. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

          Meagan,

          Were you in Phnom Penh? We might have crossed paths at some point- I was there from May 2013-February 2015, and am now in Battambang province.

          Part of the struggle of giving God this dream was that a very close friend/teammate my age was in the beginning of a relationship. It was in my face every day- that God was answering her prayers and not mine. I wish there was a way I could take away the hurt of re-entry and starting over along with that longing to have a partner for this journey. But I can’t. I am praying though for you in this new season, for treasures in the darkness (Isaiah 45:3)

          1. Ryana August 7, 2015

            Sarah,

            What part of Battambang are you in? I have been in BTB city since 2011.

          2. Sarah Hilkemann August 7, 2015

            Ryana, for some reason it won’t let me reply to your comment, but WOW, how fun that you are in BTB city! My teammate and I are in Kamrieng district, right on the Thai border. We should try to meet up some time!

  3. Christine August 2, 2015

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for sharing–I feel like your words are exactly what I feel in my heart. Well said.

    I was also encouraged because despite having similar struggles, we have quite a few other things alike….I am also 26, love Laura Ingalls Wilder, and then I was really blown away to learn that you are a fellow Husker! Go big red!

    Your picture at the top of this post reminded me so much of Nepal-where I served overseas for a short time. Keep up the good work, and hang in there. If you ever come back to the cornfields on furlough, I’d love to pass you a mug of coffee.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

      Christine, that’s so fun that you are from Nebraska! Are you there now? I will be home for a short home assignment the end of October/start of November. We should try to meet up!

      1. Christine August 11, 2015

        Absolutely! I would love to hear more about what you’re doing. I should be around then, so shoot me an email and we’ll try to plan something!

  4. Annalisa August 2, 2015

    I get this. I really do. I entered The Field at 25 years, 4 months, and 4 days of age. I had been engaged when I was 22, and shortly thereafter, I was disengaged…from him, from God, and from most of life. And I had tucked my plans of being a young-ish mother and grandmother away. (I had an excellent relationship with my grandfather, and I always wanted the same with my grandkids.) And I pretty much made a deal with myself that if I wasn’t married by 29 that I was just going to give up on any of that. I was rejecting the idea of being a parent or spouse if I couldn’t have grandkids who I could really get to know. In fact, entering the overseas field was me giving up on that dream. (Wait…who is in charge of my story?) I met the man who would later become my husband on my 26th birthday, and I told my mother that when she came down a month later, she would meet her future son-in-law. She was skeptical; most people probably would have been. Whenever you’re an American on the overseas field in a country where many people try to go to your country illegally and over 50% are turned down for visas, you always need to be careful about that kind of thing. To top it all, he had a girlfriend. Today I’m 30 years, 1 month, and 17 days old. I am married to the man that God had planned for me, but we have no children. Maybe it’s not the story I had planned, but I’m not the one in charge of my story.

    (And, yes, we’ve talked about adoption and consider it a possibility, but for now, we’re just enjoying focusing. Paul advocates a lot for the value of being single, but in reading what he says, I see a lot of value in being childless…and not that it makes my grandchild-loving heart any better, but I’m not in charge of my potential kid’s story either.)

  5. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

    Hey Annalisa, thank you for sharing this story that only God could write. One of my struggles when I wrote this post back in April was that I didn’t like the story God was unfolding in my life. I wanted to write something on my own, something that hurt less. But He has reminded me that He is sovereign and sees way more than I do. Thank you for sharing how God put you in a place to meet your husband, and for how He has been working in your heart in relation to kids and grandkids. Praying that God continues to give you hope and focus in what He is doing in and through you in this season!

  6. Julie August 3, 2015

    Thank you for sharing your story. I have been on both sides of the coin (single, overseas – and now married, overseas) and I appreciate your thoughts on how best I can encourage my many still-single friends. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we do other believers a disservice when we encourage them to put their hope in anything other than Christ – and so often we encourage singles to put their hope in the possibility of marriage instead of in Christ Himself. Only He brings lasting joy. May we always encourage each other to find hope in Him, not in the fact that “you’re still young” or “you might meet someone at such-and-such a conference”…etc.
    Saying a prayer for you today, that you’ll be encouraged and built up in Him.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

      Thank you so much, Julie! It is so true. We should always point people to Jesus and hope in Him, no matter what the season or relationship status. This is something I want to do more and more- love Jesus with all of who I am, keeping my eyes on Him. It is a constant journey!

  7. Casey August 3, 2015

    What a beautifully written post. Although my story is very different from yours, your words here really blessed me. May we continually “raise the knife” at the altar of any and all idols knowing that He will indeed provide “no matter what He is providing.”

    Also, you conjured up in my heart a line from a hymn:

    “Let the fragrance of our prayers arise.
    Lead us on the road of sacrifice
    That in unity the face of Christ
    Will be clear for all the world to see.”

    You are in unity with Christ and His sufferings in a way I will never know. I pray you will be blessed by walking with Him down this road of sacrifice wherever it may lead.

    *side note: Are you in Banteay Meanchey? I’m doing a piece on rural Ms and would love to include your perspective. My email is chrisandcaseyallison@gmail.com

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

      Casey, I love that even though all our stories are different, God is still the author and we can learn from each other and encourage one another. Thank you for this beautiful hymn and your encouragement!

      Actually I am in Battambang province, in Kamrieng. I will send you an email! 🙂 I think we have lots of mutual friends from Phnom Penh.

  8. Melissa August 3, 2015

    My own ‘plan’ was to marry young, 20 or 21. I started dating my husband at 27. My dreams of marriage were put on the altar many times before that!  Thank you for handling this subject beautifully.

    And yes, I was a little surprised and a little disappointed to find that there are still dreams that have to die AFTER you get married, too!

     

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

      Melissa, I loved your last statement. 🙂 I think sometimes I have a romantic, very unrealistic view of marriage- like it’s the grass that’s greener on the other side, like I’ll never be lonely or frustrated with my husband or struggle. But that’s just life! No matter what our relationship status.

  9. Grace L August 3, 2015

    Sarah, I am touched by the struggles you are experiencing as a single woman serving overseas. I too felt those same struggles for many years of my life. I was older when I was called (mid 50’s) and spent 2 years in a large city in Asia as I was beginning my work to focus on a people in one of the creative access countries in Asia. I struggled with the single issue; I prayed for a husband; I was also looking at any potential Christian man and asking God “Is this the one?” But I too had to lay it on the altar. I remember kneeling down in church and truly surrendering to God, praying “God, if you can use me better as a single woman, then I am willing.” I kept praying that prayer of surrender, because I knew that He had called me to long term work.

    The following winter I visited my home church back in the states where God put a man on my heart. Actually the year before I had asked him to be a part of my home church support team, so we did have reason to interact. Long story short, God did bring us together and we were married 14 years ago. We now live in that creative access country, serving side by side together. I marvel at what God has done because I truly know that God is using me in ways now as a married woman that never could have happened if I had remained single. I like how Annalisa puts it, “I’m not in charge of my own story.” Whether we are married or single, we must keep on surrendering to God’s plan for our lives and trusting that His plan for us is perfect.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

      Grace, thank you for sharing your beautiful story! I so need that reminder of the continued surrender. I am living that right now. Thank you for this! 🙂

      1. Grace L August 3, 2015

        The song that was sung as I walked down the aisle was “I Surrender”. In marrying my husband, I even had to surrender my call and dreams of the work on the M field. Two years later, God called him, and 3 years after that, we moved together to the place in country where we have been living for the last 9 years. I truly believe that if we surrender to God and trust Him for His plan, we will see that He has a very special story for each one of our lives. What if God could use you better as a single woman?

  10. Sarah Hilkemann August 3, 2015

    Also, just a quick shout out to Velvet Ashes! It was in April that I reached the lowest point, of the struggle and knowing I needed to surrender this dream to the Father. During the retreat that Velvet Ashes put together, in a journaling/reflection time, I was finally on my face before The Lord, weeping and opening my hands (and my heart). It was the start of a messy, beautiful journey of healing and surrender to all God has for me. So, thank you VA team for ALL you do! 😀

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 3, 2015

      Sarah, this makes my heart sing. That was our prayer for the retreat, that God would meet each woman. And now to see you and your journey touching so many others, it’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing! Your post and the conversation here is all so God-honoring.

  11. Brittaney August 3, 2015

    Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing!

  12. Adelaide August 4, 2015

    At 27 I left for the field, never even having dated and feeling like I was giving up any chance of marriage by moving to such an obscure place. The Abrahamic altar is the place God brought me back to over and over those first two years, while He also whispered in my ear, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” When our team was deported and I seriously considered returning to the U.S. just to put myself in proximity of finding a husband, He again reminded me of the calling to serve where He led and I again died to heart desires. While my move to a new field position eventually led to relationship and then marriage, this first year of marriage and the process of moving to another new field location, language, and culture have reminded me that what God taught me of His love uniquely through singleness on the field is what continues to sustain. My soul is satisfied in Him alone, not by marriage or comfort or control. Thank you for the reminder of His continual call to the altar in every area of our lives.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 4, 2015

      Thank you for sharing your story, Adelaide! I love the way God has sustained you through so many ups and downs and now this new adventure of a different location and marriage.

  13. Angie August 4, 2015

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    “I want to live it, not waiting for something that may never come, but looking expectantly to the God who WILL provide, no matter what it is He is providing.”
    My family is preparing to head to the South Pacific for our first term overseas. We found a house to rent that had the most gorgeous view of the ocean and a huge veranda that would have been perfect for team get togethers. We called it “The Bed and Breakfast House” because it had actually been one for a while. I wanted that house. I imagined myself reading my Bible, wind blowing gently around me, looking at His creation. It was the perfect dream. But I knew not to hold too tightly to the dream.
    Six weeks from now we will be in the South Pacific, but we won’t be living in The Bed and Breakfast House. It’s already rented (and too far from town anyway). Instead we will be living in a small house with no view, no veranda, and no one has ever thought of making it a bed and breakfast!
    I have known all along that God could give us the B&B or He could give us an even better house. He could also give us a plain house that makes a lot of sense – good landlord, good price, close to town, blah, blah, blah. (Can you tell it’s the right decision but not the most fun??) I’m glad I held loosely to the dream I had so I could be open to accepting God’s plan instead!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann August 4, 2015

      Angie, I love this! It is good to dream, to know that God does want to give us good gifts, but what a great reminder that we need to hold those things loosely. Thank you for sharing your story, and thinking of you and your family as you get ready to start this new adventure (in a very practical house). 🙂

    2. M'Lynn August 9, 2015

      “Some days I’m there, releasing all that is in me to the safe hands of the Father, and other days I cling hard and refuse to open my hands and let go. No matter what, I want to embrace this life that God has for me. I want to live it, not waiting for something that may never come, but looking expectantly to the God who WILL provide, no matter what it is He is providing.”

      Angie, I had the same chunk copied to paste and comment on before I saw yours 🙂 We are on the same page. I’ve had MANY moments where I’m longing for one thing but get another…and it turns out for the best and I’m like “Oh, yeah. God really does know what he’s doing!” but the in-between waiting part is excruciating. Thanks, Sarah, for this great reminder.

  14. Ellie August 7, 2015

    Thanks for your post Sarah, so powerful and so tasteful. And thanks for recognising that we are all sacrificing things on that altar – single, married, with kids or not. I love the ending

     

    “When your single sister opens up her heart about the struggle and the desire, please don’t say, “It will be okay” or “You are still young yet” or “God has a reason for you to be single.”

    All of those may be true, but please give a hug, push a mug of coffee across the table and ask us, “What do you need from me?” Pray with us, for those dreams in our hearts and the daily surrender. We promise to do that with you too, when you share your Isaac moments, those deep parts of who you are. Let’s go up the mountain to worship, just as Abraham did, as we walk this journey together.”

     

    Yes, yes, yes. Amen.

     

     

  15. Cecily August 15, 2015

    Turning 50 in December.  Never dated.  At present “foreign” location for 8 years.  Struggling with language, STILL.  But oh, what a loving Father I have!

    Walking through some painful things at the moment because of the expectations of others concerning marital status.  But the Lord said to me, “My love, your wedding day is coming.  You are engaged to me, so let us walk together in the joy of this engagement period.  You are dear to me and I delight in your closeness.”

  16. Mallory August 16, 2015

    Thanks for writing this, Sarah, you did a beautiful job! I found so much encouragement in your words. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!

  17. Vicki Nunn February 6, 2016

    Thanks for sharing.

    I was in my late 20s when I gave up the dream of marriage as a Christian. Realistically, though I worked out the statistical chances of me finding someone suitable (at the time) and compounded by the fact that there are far fewer available Christian men than there are Christian women, I finally came to the conclusion that I was unlikely to find anyone worthwhile to marry. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not counting on being a part of my life.

    Sure, at the time I could probably have rushed off and found some loser who wouldn’t understand me or who would be abusive, but I wasn’t willing to settle for a marriage that wouldn’t be good in God’s eyes… that was just going to lead to major problems within the marriage and cause me further heartache than I was already experiencing. So, I was able to give up on my dream and God has provided more compensations then I could have imagined.

    If you’re wondering, I’m now 52 and still happily unmarried.

    I’d love to share your story some time – I’m the Editor of SPAG Magazine which is a quarterly, electronic magazine for Christian singles.

    Here’s a related article I shared in the first issue of SPAG Magazine: https://spagmag.com/articles/article-where-is-my-soul-mate/

  18. Sarah August 19, 2016

    “Some days I’m there, releasing all that is in me to the safe hands of the Father, and other days I cling hard and refuse to open my hands and let go. No matter what, I want to embrace this life that God has for me. I want to live it, not waiting for something that may never come, but looking expectantly to the God who WILL provide, no matter what it is He is providing.”

    Yes and amen sister! I came to the VA blog today to do some reading on singleness, because I am in a HARD place with it and needing some encouragement from sisters. 29 is quickly approaching and I am living with my two closest teammates (of hearts and age) who both are seriously dating people. And it is just harder than ever in this season, as I watch my formerly single sisters, my other two musketeers, have their prayers answered and I’m still waiting on an answer to mine for a partner and spouse. Thank you for this reminder. That on the days it’s hard to release, it’s ok to tell Jesus and trust Him in that. And I ask Him to loosen my grip, that I might have more than what I cling to. I so long to live, to live well and freely, having left this grasping behind. But, on a day where that’s not quite where I am, and a season where it’s pretty painful, I am SO thankful for reminders like your heart written out here. I am not alone. And He is trustworthy to provide and to care in this place. And that He is trustworthy to provide and care in all the places and seasons that will come, single or not. He is our truest, safest place and partner.

    Love all the comments too. Hooray for encouragement of sisters!

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