“Would you pray for me?” she asked with a glowing smile. "I have a date today."
It’s always a great joy, delight, and honor to pray with and for a single female friend who is going out on a date or who is dating. If someone would have told me back in 2001 I would be diving into the deep end of the intimate pool, praying for single female friends who specifically asked me to pray for their dating adventures, I’m sure I would have reacted with the strangest look of bewilderment! Huh? Say What? How would that even be possible?
This is unthinkable both in the evangelical purity culture or in the secular version of romantic purity for overlapping and distinct reasons--for a married opposite sex friend praying tenderly and intimately for a single friend who is dating. Opposite sex friends opening themselves up to God’s heart, to God’s friendship, to God’s tenderness, to God’s enjoyment, to God’s wisdom between them about one of them dating—both the world and the church claim either scarcity or practical atheism in both cultures!
I shared the same belief for the first 25 years of my evangelical journey.
But what if the opposite sex friends are friends with God?
One of the biggest surprises and delights for me in the last ten years are single female friends who have asked me to pray tenderly and delightfully for them for intimate dating wisdom, intimate blessing, and a vivid sense God's intimate nearness. Like sex, prayer, as Simone Weil and others like Norman Wirzba have noted, requires attentiveness. Prayerful attentiveness to God's heart and to the individual we are praying for and with.
Wirzba comments that the connection between prayer and attentiveness is crucial because "as a discipline attention clears my vision of vestiges of the ego so that a humble, compassionate, and just regard for the others can occur."
You won’t find this in any of Ed Stetzer’s articles in Christianity Today. In evangelical spirituality, prayer has no authentic intimate power to transform stereotypical and outdated forms of closeness between men and women.
Opposite sex friends who are friends with God believe God desires friendship with all men and women. God is love. As author Wayne Teasdale put it, “The Gospel proclaims, “God is love.” We might just as easily say, “God is friendship.” For men and women who see God as the ultimate Friend, prayer is the ultimate love language whether one is married, single, divorced or widowed.
Prayer points us to a union with God as friend for opposite sex friends. Prayer points us to God’s astonishing and deep tenderness for men and women. God does not hoard up abounding tenderness to potential or committed romantic couples only. Men and women (married, divorced, single, or dating) who are friends with God have come to see prayer is not dropping quarters in a Divine Vending Machine. Prayer is the language they know and share as Divine tenderness--God's heart.
For female friends who express this bold tenderness to request prayer from me for their dating life, I have witnessed their hunger for this deep knowing of God’s tender nearness in their dating. In other words, knowing God’s heart, knowing God’s nearness means more to them than seeing prayer as some kind of utilitarian exchange between them and God.
They eschew a utilitarian view of prayer that only sees it as asking to get something from God, like sex or romantic merger. They hunger for God’s tender nearness as a friend. For opposite sex friends who hunger to know God as the ultimate Friend in the universe, praying with and for one another becomes the ultimate love language between them, shared by them, known by them.
God offers to all opposite sex friends this liberating non-controlling, non-possessive tenderness as they both practice loving and faithful attention in prayer. They orient themselves to Divine love in praying together. Tender dreams. Tender hopes. Tender longings. Tender risks. Tender questions looming from day to day. Tender disappointments. Tender doubts. Tender unrequited romantic suffering.
No matter where one turns in Scripture, one can see God’s full and deep non-controlling tenderness as one of the greatest incentives for opposite sex friends to pray together when one of them is dating. Questions? Unanswered questions? Doubts? Hopes? Dreams? Joys? Burdens? Concerns? Laments? Prayer with and for a cross-gender friend is never an abstract, indifferent exercise when there is a conscious attentiveness to God and to a friend.
God’s heart offers to men and women this never-ending free gift to know and to share God’s non-controlling, non-possessive tenderness in friendship. Opposite sex friends may or may not choose to participate in this gift of knowing. One friend may not feel comfortable in entering in verbally for their friend’s dating life. God as the ultimate Friend for both opposite sex friends, has no interest in tricking either friend to pray for the other’s dating life or coercing one friends to enter into praying for one’s dating experience.
Or one friend may opt out of praying with and for another friend because of a myriad of reasons. God’s tender offer of friendship has no fine print that coerces men and women into prayer for one another in the dating process.
But God’s friendship is ever-present, ever ready to offer male and female friends to know God’s heart together when one of them begins to date or is in a committed dating relationship. God’s tenderness offers men and women to freely become partners with God. To freely dive into the unplumbed depths of non-romantic intimate tenderness when one of them is dating.
Amazing tenderness, deep non-romantic tenderness can be known by cross-gender friends who take up God’s free offer to participate not in some kind of transactional friendship that treats opposite friends as a stepping stone to romantic tenderness.
When both friends assume that their friend has the other's best interests at heart, both friends are free to learn and enjoy mutual powerful cherishing in joining together in prayer for a friend’s dating experiences. They learn to enjoy and know God’s heart in their friendship: mutual powerful cherishing in non-romantic tenderness.
They are free to partner with God’s abiding, ever-present tenderness. They nurture a mutual cherishing that would dread taking advantage of the other’s vulnerability. They share a common conviction to know God’s noncontrolling tenderness is the deepest attraction to come out of romantic consumerism.
They also discover the liberating tenderness of God's heart. God is not offering them consumerist friendships, either. God welcomes them to share a vulnerability of the deepest trust in which one friend will not take advantage of the other's vulnerability or tenderness.
Men and women who are friends of God believe God doesn't just want to be intimate with romantic couples whether they are dating or married. Knowing God’s heart in intimate friendship, friends of God believe God wonderfully desires a far broader and deeper union between men and women than romantic unions. When a friend who is single desires prayer from his/her opposite sex friend, they are longing for not just sexual union or romantic union, but for all men and women to know God’s intimate tender heart.
In the words of Henri Nouwen, "The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn't that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness?"