A reader wrote in last week telling us about the trouble he’s having bringing God into his dating life: “My concept of God hasn't grown to encompass my new beliefs about sexuality. I decided to start dating and let my belief systems follow when they're ready. As a result, I can't seem to make myself pray, or even generate much interest in God as a concept.” While LGBT Christians have their own challenges putting God at the center of their dating life, it’s not uncommon for Christians of all stripes to feel like He’s uninterested in their love life, or even somehow sabotaging it.
So here I am, a married guy writing a trust-Jesus post about dating, complete with a corny title. Let’s all sigh together, and roll our eyes back into position. I acknowledge that some might find this problematic because I know that to many a believer’s ears, the name of Jesus doesn’t always sound sweet. The words of this beautiful old hymn have been gutted by pharisaical churches that have wounded people rather than heal them; that have instilled fear, rather than drive it away. In response, the progressive church is often shy or apologetic about using the Lord’s name too freely. We don’t talk about our walk with Christ, or our personal relationship with Jesus, because that all sounds too much like the Christianese that has either hurt people or left them high and dry. And yet we’re still better off when we place Jesus at the center of all areas of our lives—yes, even in relationships.
Many will agree that dating constitutes its own level of hell. And for LGBT Christians in their 30s and 40s who are just now beginning to imagine a future that might include love and marriage, the dating minefield can be even more perilous. Hearts numbed by deep-seeded messages of low worth, coupled with a harried desire to make up for lost time, make for a messy, flakey, lonely dating landscape. The temptation is to lash out at God, to sit Him on the sidelines when it comes to romance in particular. But it’s in the messiest areas of our lives that Spirit has the greatest potential to move. So changing one word from the hymn above, I say:
O Jesus, shepherd, guardian, friend,
my Prophet, Priest, and King,
my Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
accept the mess I bring.
What does it look like to invite God into the mess of dating? It’s not a fail-safe recipe to finding a partner. It’s not praying, Fievel-style, for the wellbeing of the spouse who’s “somewhere out there.” And it’s especially not being good and faithful so that God will grant you happiness and a partner—I find the prosperity gospel to be wrongheaded whether you apply it to money or relationships. We don’t get wealth, health, or spouses in exchange for faith. God doesn't owe us any of these things.
My suggestion is simply that you invite Jesus into your love life; that you bring him into the thick, convoluted mess of it—that you ask him to be your wingman, your confidant. A wingman is not a matchmaker—his job is not to find the right guy or girl for you. A wingman’s job is simply to help you navigate the dating field, holding you back when you’re about to step on a mine, keeping distractions away when you decide to make a move, and buying you a drink when the move falls flat. He’s there to revel in your successes and commiserate in your failures.
I realize that trusting Jesus with your love life doesn’t come easy when you have spent a lifetime hearing that any relationship you pursue would displease God. Asking God if He would bless a relationship can be an almost insurmountable step; asking Him for help developing one is next to impossible. Trusting Jesus requires, first, rebuilding your relationship with Him. It requires getting to know Him again. For some, this might mean meeting the real Him for the very first time. Trusting Him means remembering that He’s not a distant, angry God, but someone who personally knows human angst. He’s that hangry guy who yells at trees when He’s having a bad day, but who is nonetheless God, who knows you better than anyone, who wants for you not harm, but “a future with hope.”
The main thing I learned from playing the dating game myself was that my own judgment of potential matches was not always to be trusted. I also learned that my idiosyncrasies, values, and dreams are not always easy for others to accommodate. I learned, in short, that if I wanted a relationship aligned with my vision of living out my faith, I needed help. And to whom else could a stubborn guy like me turn but that friend who is Life, the Way, and Love Himself—that table-flipping, foot-washing, wine-drinking God I’d come to know.
So how did I ask Jesus to be my wingman? I prayed simply that He point out those who wouldn’t make a good match for me. I confessed my loneliness and my desire for relationship, asking Him not to provide a husband or lead me to him, but simply to not let me waste time with guys who wouldn’t be right. Then I trusted that this God guy who experienced utmost desertion the night before He died, who Himself admitted that it is not good for humans to be alone, would have my back. That made the inevitable disappointments that come with dating bearable: It helped me see, when things didn’t work out with someone, that it was surely for the better.
Having been in that dating field, it’s still hard for me to believe that I, who never thought I’d leave New York, would end up in Los Angeles, dating a guy who’d never lived outside of Southern California. It boggles the mind to think of how everything lined up for us to move to Portland, eventually marrying at a church that has so lovingly embraced us. So a few days ago, when a friend who needed to vent after a particularly frustrating dating fiasco asked me if I had any advice, it caught me off guard. David and I don’t possess any special wisdom beyond our faith. When we started dating, David prayed every day that God would convict him if our relationship was sinful. I prayed that something would go wrong so that I could have an excuse to move back to New York. Hackneyed as it may sound, our relationship developed simply out of trust in Jesus. And it is only to Him, not as wish-granter or punisher, but as friend, that I can point those who share our faith.
Photo by michael/lostinangeles, used through Flickr Creative Commons.
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