Online dating: Letting God’s plan work out or forcing things to happen?
This is a question I received when speaking on dating the other day in a church in London. Online dating, to what extent is it ‘letting Gods plan work out’, and how much of it is ‘forcing things to happen’. It’s an interesting question! And a very ancient one. I’d say the underlying issue here is a theological debate of centuries. To what extent does God lead our lives and does he have a detailed plan on one side, on the other side, free will, how does that work? To what extent do we make our own choices regardless whether or not God is happy with those choices? Can he work with them nonetheless, does he make most of our flawed decision making or has he even calculated those decisions in when planning our lives?
Now I don’t pretend to be able to solve a centuries-old theological debate, but I do have some ideas about how to answer this question. First of all, I do believe in a God that is actively involved in our lives. Being a parent myself it’s helpful for me to imagine God as an involved, loving father. Someone who cares for us so much he doesn’t want any harm to happen to us on the one hand, but wants us to develop into responsible adults who are capable of making their own decisions on the other hand. Moreover, I believe God sees us as those adults more than as helpless two year olds. If you’ve grown up, there’s no reason to assume God still sees you that way. And even two year olds are capable of much more than we sometimes give them credit for. Having a 2 year old in the house I can testify to his independence on many levels!
A child isn’t helped by a parent who makes all decisions for them. A child doesn’t grow into a responsible adult with parents who protect them and guide them every step of the way. Besides, a healthy child would not even let his or her parents do so, but would protest from a very early age on. ‘Let me do it! I can,’ they will say, even if that’s only half true. On the other hand, as parents you provide your children with a safe environment to discover their independence, with certain boundaries and storing dangerous stuff out of their reach. God guiding our lives works pretty much the same way, I’d say. On the one hand there is his active involvement in our lives, his care, his love and his provision. On the other hand there space for us to make our own choices. I’m Dutch, so allow me compare it to riding a bicycle. You need both pedals to move forward, both God leading your life and you making your own decisions. It’s part of the process of living. Because like even very little children, if God would let you do nothing yourself, you’d protest quite loudly, and rightly so. Part of developing into a healthy adult is learning how to fail and move on again after making the wrong decisions.
How does all of this apply to online dating? Too often in church we’re told to ‘just pray and wait’ on God for things to change in our lives, specifically when it comes to finding a partner. You wouldn’t hear this about finding a job, figuring out your mission in life or making new friends. What’s so different about finding a partner? Not much in my opinion. Just like making friends is a process you can pray to God about but you understand that it also takes an effort on your part of going to a running club, a church evening or a pub for that matter, finding a partner is a process that requires both God’s input and your activity. And going online is just one of the activities you can do to find someone you may want to spend the rest of your life with. That’s not forcing things to happen, it’s enabling things to happen.
Forcing things to happen is manipulating and pressuring someone into liking you. Succeeding in that may be even scarier than failing at it. Because what if someone you forced into liking you actually wants to be with you? Than the real trouble begins. You will never know why they like you and if or how that will stay that way.
Enabling things to happen is making yourself more available or easier to be found by a potential partner. By going online, by changing churches, by attending conferences and hosting singles’ gatherings. That’s putting yourself out there, enhancing the chances of actually meeting someone nice. And people do this with success every day – just read the success stories at Christian Connection!
And yes, ask God for his blessing on that process every day, ask him to give you the courage to step out, pray for good connections and happy meetings and great dates. Pray for your potential partner. Pray that they will develop into mature adults that dare to step out and connect like you are practising to step out and connect. Than when you meet each other it will make the process flow just a little bit easier!