“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.
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.
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?