The first time I went on eHarmony, I thought it was terrific fun. Sure, I’d heard about online dating sites before, but this was the first time I got to see how it worked, and with a glass of wine in hand and a friend by my side, I was giddy.
This had a lot to do with the fact that it was my friend who actually signing up, while I was playing the role of typist and cheerleader. I already had nearly a decade of marriage and three kids under my belt: online options didn’t exist when I last waded through the awkward dating waters. So this: living vicariously through my friend, was really fun. For me.
She, on the other hand, was a tightly wound ball of nervous possibilities.
We spent the evening scrolling through the “matches”. She had already answered hundreds of questions to get to that point, building an online profile of her values and interests. The suggested matches (all in the 90th percentile or above) had weeded out the guys two decades too old/young, too sports-mad, too sex-mad, too-far-away and too-crazy-in-politics. Also, no hunting fans.
We scrolled through the options. A few were instant ‘no’s’, but mostly there were kind smiles and promising descriptions. She particularly liked the profile of one guy, pictured with two dogs. She liked the description, but wasn’t sure about the dogs. Did this mean he was pet crazy? Or like the guy version of a crazy cat lady?
Of course not, I assured her. It shows he already knows how to show love, responsibility and care.
She “winked” back at his profile. Giggling, we gulped our wine.
A few months ago, I was asked to serve on a team to help find a new Senior Pastor for our church. It took us a few months to get our bearings, but by the time we had posted the job description online I was already cracking eHarmony jokes in my head.
The process felt a whole lot like online dating: here we were, trying to figure out how to describe ourselves as a church. Who were we? What was important to us? If this prospective pastor hadn’t met us or been to our city, how could we describe what really made us tic? How could we be honest as well as appealing? It took us a couple of weeks to craft our church ‘selfie’ before we posted.
Pretty soon, applications began rolling in: many more than I had imagined there would be. The variety in the applicants was incredible: all Christian guys, all ‘eligible’, but so varied in their backgrounds that it was dizzying at times.
We read every word of every application. I, for one, found myself deeply grateful for a snapshot into the rich textures in God’s Kingdom. All these guys were loved by God, gifted by God, called by God and had a place in His Kingdom. And for some of them, I found myself reading their application and saying the same thing my friend and I had said to a few faces on that screen: “You are the perfect guy…. for someone else.”
But there were others whose profiles caught our attention. Those we wanted to get to know a little more, to ask some more questions. We emailed them back: “winking”, if you like. Some (not all), wrote back. One had taken another position (Oops, too late.) Another was withdrawing his candidacy.
It goes both ways, you know. We both have to like each other.
We wrote back again, this time with more questions. The answers revealed a little more about whether we felt like this would be a good fit, and so the pool gets a little smaller.
The next step is meeting face-to-face: a first date, if you will. We’ll ask a lot of questions, show them around town. At some point, it would be nice to meet their family and friends – you know, the people who have known them for much longer.
And, if all goes well, at the end of this we will be in a relationship. A spiritually significant, in-it-for-the-long-haul, we’re-entrusting-our-hearts-to-you bona fide relationship.
I read the story of the prophet Samuel anointing King David to my kids recently. Knowing that one of Jesse’s sons was appointed to the role, Samuel made the trek to Bethlehem to anoint Israel’s next king. Samuel was impressed with Jesse’s firstborn: a tall, handsome young man, an obvious candidate.
“Not him,” whispered the Lord, “Don’t look at his profile pic or stats, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees things differently than you: man looks at the outer wrapping, but the Lord looks on the inner heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, some liberties taken)
The tension of a search committee, and of an earnest heart looking to date online, is that we so desperately want the man that God wants: the person whose heart is in the right place. But we do not have spiritual x-ray vision: we have online questionnaires, and profiles and pictures, and the opportunity to talk and filter, talk and filter, talk and filter… all the time desperately praying that God would weave His wise threads into the fabric of conversation.
Asking for as much advice and help as we can, and praying as we go – we walk into the darkness, arms outstretched, fully committed with every step. Trusting. Knowing that there is no perfect person at the end of this search, but that somehow, God can be trusted to guard us and lead us to the place that he has prepared (Exodus 23:20).
Stilted and unspiritual as the internet may seem as a place to forge intimate relationships, we trust that God is sovereign over the world wide web, too. He can speak through donkeys, make large fish swallow-and-spit runaways, raise dead people from the grave, and so, Lord Almighty, – surely we trust He can introduce people through the internet.
It was my great honor to stand beside my friend a year later, decked out in David’s Bridal finery, as she pledged her love, faithfulness and honor til death parts ’em to her new husband.
There were 12 in the Bridal Party.
And two dogs, in case you were wondering.
Photo credit: Eileen McFall/ Sunshine Haze (Flickr Creative Commons)/ edited by Bronwyn Lea