Sure, dance with God, but not to earn a husband

“Draw close to God, and God will draw a man close to you.” — not James 4:8

At the end of my first year at summer camp, my counselor gave each of my cabinmates and I a personalized journal. On the back page, in pretty gel pen ink, she wrote out a poem she loved, called “Because.” The poem is written like a letter from God, meant to encourage adolescent girls that even if they aren’t the prettiest or most popular, they are still worthy and loved.

Neither Google nor I can find this poem online, and that old diary is buried somewhere in my parents’ basement 600 miles away, so I don’t have the exact wording; but there was a line that said something like: “You may not have a lot of friends, but a few good ones will be drawn to you, because they will see Me in you.”

At eleven years old, I clung to that line. I had few close friends and often felt a little like an outsider. This poem gave me hope: God would be my friend in loneliness … and then he would end my loneliness!

This sort of promise cropped up elsewhere, too. It was part of the evangelical zeitgeist: Follow God, wait around, good things will happen.

But years passed, and I was still lonely, and I still felt social anxiety, and I still waited for my peers to notice my patience, my faithfulness, my worthiness. It seemed like I cared way more about my faith than a lot of my peers, even in churchy settings. So I was confused. “What am I doing wrong?” I wondered.

I did all the good Christian things. I did what the poem said, what the books said, what the pastors said. I waited and waited. And I wondered when these foreordained friends would show up.

*

dancewithgod

This thinking is still prevalent, and it is by no means applied exclusively to friendship. If anything, it’s flung with much more fervor at the subject of love and marriage. Lately, I haven’t been able to log onto social media without bumping into this smarmy youth group favorite: “Dance with God and he will let the perfect man cut in.” If someone isn’t sharing a heartwarming wedding photo superimposed with these words, then someone else is complaining about everyone sharing heartwarming wedding photos superimposed with these words.

You’ve heard axioms like it, too: “Run as fast as you can toward God and if someone keeps up introduce yourself.” “Pursue God, not a relationship.” “When you stop looking for a husband and start pursuing God, that’s when they’ll both show up.” “It’s when you’re not looking for love that it finds you.” “Stop trying to find a husband and trust God to find him for you.” Ad nauseam.

dating

This advice isn’t all terrible. It encourages (or at least tries to encourage) some good things, like:
devoting yourself to your faith and other interests rather than scheming to find a mate.
being content with yourself rather than feeling incomplete without a relationship.
believing you are worthy of love, based on your imago dei, rather than feeling unlovable, based on present loneliness.
meeting people as, well, people, rather than evaluating everyone you meet merely as a potential spouse (and potential temptation). Well, kinda. This advice kinda encourages that.

But on the other hand, this advice:
tends to cast women as voracious, entitled husband-hunters.
suggests women should be passive. Even within the traditional view that men need to instigate romance, women can, you know, put themselves out there. Ask friends for blind dates, sign up for match.com — whatever it is the kids are doing these days.
tends to cast God as placeholder. Mayday, mayday! We’re veering dangerously close to “I’m dating Jesus” territory here. God becomes a temporary substitute in your pathetic romanceless life until your true, flesh-and-blood love comes along. You can’t get around the connotations here; either God is a substitute husband or husbands are substitute gods.
puts the focus on the reward of romance, not the practice of faith. I am 100% sure this is the exact opposite of what those who repeat these phrases intend, but their meaning is lost to the oversimplification. “Dance with God” is a classic if/then promise, and this is the same premise in the “Because” poem. Faith becomes a means, not an end. (Remember that one viral post?) If your faith is merely a game to earn points until you cash in on a wedding, a filler to compensate until you find full satisfaction in marriage, then your faith is about as powerful as a romantic comedy.
treats relationships as rewards for being a good enough Christian, and singleness potentially as punishment for not being good enough. The partner of your dreams is another check on the Good Christian To-Do List. Don’t have the partner of your dreams? Must be your fault. If only you were a little more faithful, friends and suitors would flock to you!
tends to cast God as matchmaker. Even within traditional views of personalistic providence, this seems reductive. S.O.S., we’re veering bizarrely into the Platonic territory of soulmates here. (Remember that other viral post?)

This advice makes your life a fairytale, you a hapless princess, God another Grimm. Eat of the brightest apple, prick your hand on the shiny needle, dance around with an invisible deity, and true love will show up to save the day and sweep you into the part of the story you’ve been waiting for, your happy ending.

There must be better advice for real life. There is a time and place for waiting, yes. Own your own worth, own your singleness, own your loneliness, own your faith. Don’t let the good stuff that might happen someday detract from the opportunities you have now.

But don’t let that be an excuse for passivity. As a teenager, I probably would have made more connections if I had been more active in pursuing friends instead of waiting for God to, I don’t even know, lead them to pursue me?

Today, I realize relationships of all kinds are less heavenly reward and more the result of a lot of effort: to schedule and meet, to give and receive. You have to seek out people and reassess boundaries and invest in each other and all that good, messy stuff. Friendships don’t happen magically, and I doubt many marriages do, either.

You may be one of the nicest people in the world, ready to be an incredible friend or spouse. But don’t expect God to do all the work for you, no matter how good a dancer you are.

What’s the worst or best advice on friendships or relationships received?

Images found on Pinterest: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

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19 comments

  1. ” treats relationships as rewards for being a good enough Christian, and singleness potentially as punishment for not being good enough.” – YES. That’s exactly how that particular piece of advice feels.

  2. Dan McDonald · · Reply

    One of the things that creeps into this passive view of relationships is that God is sort of jealous and gets offended when you feel a need to develop relationships with a person who may or may not become your mate. So you dance with God until he is willing to let you have someone else because you may want or need them. That is not the God who sent has created and redeemed us. God has made us with our needs and desires for love, for intimacy, etc. He doesn’t feel competition when you make friends, he has made us for various kinds of love and is pleased when we seek those sorts of relationships for which we were created. He loves whenever we love in honesty and integrity.

    1. Good point about the jealousy, Dan. I hadn’t connected those ideas.

  3. […] Kate Schell – Sure, Dance with God, but not to earn a husband! […]

  4. […] See the original post: Sure, dance with God, but not to earn a husband | kate schell […]

  5. I was honestly just thinking about this issue this week. I grew up with this idea that if I pursued God and loved HIm wholeheartedly, then a truly godly man would love me. However, the reality is that the more I’ve pursued God, the more most Christian guys are intimidated by me. I’m a pretty passionate person, which translates into my relationship with God, and so I think that scares most guys. So I had to come to this realization my senior year at college that I had to pick God or a guy. I could tone myself down and probably get a husband, or I could live passionately and completely for God. And it was a hard, hard decision, but eventually I knew God was more important than a guy could ever be. I am free to live wholeheartedly with my worth completely not on whether a guy notices or not. It is truly amazing. I would never take back the life I’m now living.

    I’m not saying I might not find someone someday who fits into my life and helps brings me closer to God. I’m also not saying that I don’t have my moments where I really want a relationship. However, I know that God is worth it, and He’s not a placeholder until my life truly begins when I get married. And I HATE that I grew up with the lies that if I just loved God, I’d find someone. Because, obviously, the only thing God cares about is if we women get married or not. ;)

    Anyway, thanks for putting into words things I’ve been thinking about lately.

    1. Thanks for sharing this perspective, Teryn. May we all live wholeheartedly!

  6. Kate, I saw this tweet yesterday: “my beautiful ladies! be in no rush to find a man for the bible says ‘HE who finds a good wife.’ the man will find you!”

    Your piece here is a wonderful answer to that tweet’s horrible exegesis, bad relationship advice and utterly demeaning treatment of women (not “ladies”, please!).

    Cheers,
    Tim

    1. Oh no. Twitter theology really is the worst sometimes. (Says the occasional twitter theologian.)

  7. best general advice: pray like it all depends on God, work like it all depends on you.

    1. I’ve hears that phrase a lot, but I think scripture doesn’t support it. Christ works through us (John 15), so there’s no need for you to “work like it all depends on you.”

      ;-)
      Tim

      1. but there is a need to do something!

      2. Yes there is and we should do it in acknowledgement that it all depends on Christ, right?

        Blessings,
        Tim

  8. […] Sure, dance with God, but not to earn a husband at Kate Schell – Oh yes, yes. It is easy to slip into thinking that I don’t have a husband because I don’t deserve one or because I haven’t earned one. Keep your eyes on God because He’s the only one worth looking to. A husband, and everything else, will come in time. Or it won’t. If it doesn’t, I won’t fall apart because my eyes weren’t on a husband, but on the One who sustains it all. […]

  9. […] Kate Schell – Sure, Dance with God, but not to earn a husband! […]

  10. […] Kate Schnell shares insight from a woman’s perspective on this here. […]

  11. Oh, and your dad. Aren’t fundamentalist Dads supposed to fill that role of emotional incest?

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