What's a dating fast, you ask? It's when a person chooses not to date or have any romantic relationships for a certain period of time. All first year FOCUS missionaries go on a dating fast of some form.
My dating fast was the bomb.com. It freed me to worry about nothing besides my students and my relationship with Jesus. I was free to deeply discern my vocation, and I was significantly closer to Jesus when my fast was over than when I started.
But the real test comes when the dating fast ends. How was I going to live my life now that I was free to date?
I was terrified to go to summer training, hot off the dating fast. I felt like I was going to have to confront my vocation right in the face since pretty much every religious order I was attracted to would be at training, and there were all these holy FOCUS men who were also hot off the fast.
I got to Florida, and SURPRISE! Nothing changed. I continued to pray and unite myself with Jesus each day. Yet I noticed a difference in myself. No longer was every guy I met a potential boyfriend. For the first time, I truly felt like I was able to honor my brothers in Christ as what they were: sons of God striving for holiness. Which helped me to truly be myself at all times. It was pretty cool.
Fast forward to September when I met someone who I liked and who liked me back. The minute he asked me to open my heart and let my guard down without any commitment or actual dating relationship, I did it. What the heck, Michelle!? I began to allow my heart to run free and my imagination to see a future with this boy. I mean, he told me he liked me, we were just waiting a few weeks to start dating, so no big deal, right? I was excited, my emotions were going crazy, and my heart was full of this boy.
But here's the thing, without Jesus, there is only so much room in your heart. Since all I thought about was this boy, I was rapidly shoving Jesus out of my heart and mind without even realizing it. So imagine my hurt and confusion when we didn't end up dating.
Sure, there's a lot of things he could have done differently, but I was mainly mad at myself. I literally did everything I learned not to do while on my dating fast. Ugh.
Unfortunately, getting Jesus back to the center of your heart is a lot harder than kicking Him out. I now had to detach myself from the plans I had made. And since my heart was so closely tied to those plans, it was painful. It was even harder since I was so angry with myself for failing.
Yet our God is patient and forgiving and loving. He does not love me less because I chose not to listen to Him. He writes straight with crocked lines. He healed my heart and showed me great love despite my failure to love His son correctly.
So now that I've been on a dating fast, grown immensely from it, and epicly failed at living it out, here's what I've learned:
1. God desires to be at the center of my heart, but He won't force His way in.
2. It is easy to replace God with other things, and extremely hard to put Him back in your heart once you've kicked him out. But the beautiful thing is, even though we've ignored the Lord, He has never left us. All you have to do to put Him back in the center of your life is ask. And then pick yourself up and start living your life with Him.
3. My worth does not change whether or not I'm date-able to someone. It lies in the fact that I am a beloved daughter of God. And the same goes for men. Their worth does not change based on how date-able they are to me.
4. There is an appropriate level of intimacy that can exist between a man and a woman, and it should not be crossed without the proper levels of commitment.
5. What not following the will of God feels like.
6. Don't over spiritualize. Discernment is about action. Don't get me wrong, prayer does need to be in the center of discernment, but we need to act and step outside of ourselves and move. Sometimes, we need to make an educated, prayerful decision and trust that God will bless it or He will intervene.
7. Jesus wants to love me right where I'm at - even if I mess up.
If I had to do it over, I would change a lot of things. I would guard my heart better and combat my attachments with greater devotion to Jesus and the Blessed Mother. But now I better understand the right way to love because of the pain I went through. I know that next time I will be better equipped to love rightly with Jesus, and that His love will continue to conquer and transform my heart. Thank you, Jesus for being patient with me, for teaching me how to love, and granting me the gift of self awareness through this time!