FOCUS missionaries do a lot of crazy things. They fundraise their salaries. They move to wherever they are told throughout the country. They talk to strangers about Jesus. But perhaps one of the most shocking things they do is give up dating for an entire year. That’s right. All first year missionaries fast from romantic relationships for one year.
No dating. No flirting. No handholding. No mentally stalking someone who has caught their attention… “He is going to look so amazing standing next to me in the wedding dress I pinned on my Pinterest wedding board, but maybe I should change his boutonniere from a red rose to blue hydrangeas to match his eyes!” (For more on why you shouldn’t really be doing this last one anyway, read this post.)
So why would a young adult in perhaps the prime of their search for their future mate temporally give up dating? And why am I going to suggest that you do the same? It’s all about freedom. Freedom to love. Sounds backwards right? Read on.
When we fast from earthy goods, such as giving up meat on Fridays during Lent, we don’t do it because these things are bad or evil, we do it because we want to ensure that we are in control of our bodies, not that our bodies are in control of us. “Must eat meat… can’t say noooooo!!” (Use your best caveman voice here.)
Let’s say every morning you have a double shot of espresso to wake yourself up, until one morning your espresso maker breaks. So you order one online and think “I can go a few days without my espresso.” And after three painful mornings of obsessing over your missing shots of roasted goodness, you realize you can’t. You vow never again to order anything of importance online and hop in line at the local coffee shop.
In this scenario, were you free? I say not really. Sure, the espresso police didn’t barge in on your morning routine and rip your shots out of your hands to inform you that your actions were now illegal, but after three days of headaches, crabbiness, and exhaustion, you realized that you weren’t free to say no to the espresso without some undesirable side effects. Instead of you being in control of the espresso, the espresso was in control of you.
FOCUS doesn’t ask its missionaries to fast from dating because dating in and of itself is bad, but rather FOCUS asks its missionaries to fast from dating because if we are not careful dating can become something we just have to have. And for those who are not currently dating, this fact can turn into something they just have to obsess about. It’s like we’re just not free to enjoy life unless we have a significant other. I call that a pretty undesirable side effect. Sounds a lot like our espresso, huh?
Over the years I’ve heard numerous stories of the positive effects that the fast has had on our missionaries’ views of dating and love. Below are just a few of the desirable side effects of a dating fast. If you choose to take the fast on, you just might experience some of these yourself.
1. I CAN live with or without you
If you want to be free from always having to have a boyfriend or girlfriend, you have learn to live without one. This is not to say that we should isolate ourselves from others and learn to be independent, but rather, learn how to be in true community. In a community you have a variety of relationships, not just a significant other. When you step back from dating you can better look around at the bigger picture and see where you can strengthen your relationships and ultimately where you can better serve.
2. LYLAS (Love you like a sister… or brother)
When you go on a dating fast you stop seeing every person of the opposite sex as a potential date. This frees you to get to know them without analyzing them and to love them as a sister or brother in Christ.
3. Party of one
Learning to not NEED a relationship while on the fast helps you to make better decisions about entering into one after. If you are comfortable with your single life, you are less likely to jump into the first opportunity for a date, and thus you increase your chances of avoiding the wrong relationship.
4. What does God want?
A dating fast can be an amazing opportunity to discern more intensely your Vocation. If you are constantly jumping from one relationship to another, you make a pretty big assumption that God’s best plan for you is marriage. If you’ve never sat down and asked our Lord if He is calling you to religious life, how do you know if all of this dating is even necessary for what God is ultimately calling you to? This time can provide an opportunity for you to listen freely to God, without the distraction of potential relationships.
5. Finding your First love
Oftentimes it is easy to want a relationship because you feel like something is missing in your life, and you think a boyfriend or girlfriend can fix that. While if you are called to marriage, there will be a special place in your heart that only your spouse can fill, your spouse will never be your Savior. A fast is the perfect time to allow Jesus to pursue your heart and take His proper place in there, so when that special person comes along you are ready to welcome him or her, without putting the pressure on that person to fulfill some of your fundamental needs of security and purpose that only Jesus can satisfy.
6. Let go
Finally, many of us have scars and regrets from past relationships that haunt us and prevent us from the freedom Christ wants for us. We were made to love and be loved, not live in guilt with hard hearts. A fast can be a time of healing as you reorder your heart to Christ and allow Him to show you His plan and design for love and your life.
So the question is still up in the air – you wanna go on a dating fast? Even if it’s only for 6 months instead of a year, I still think it’s a worthy pursuit for anyone who thinks the above side effects sound desirable. If you really dive into it wholeheartedly, I think you’ll look back and thank yourself, and maybe one day your spouse will, too.