The evening began routinely enough. The team producing my weekend seminar in Cincinnati and I were out to dinner. We discussed lighthearted things as we ordered our meal. It was more a moment to stop and catch our breath than to have life-altering discussions.
Little did anyone know what was about to take place.
"I never thought I'd be doing what I'm doing now at this point in my life," Lillie said, innocently talking about her work.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, I always thought I would be married and have children by now."
Oh, I thought to myself. That makes sense. A lot of women feel that in their mid-thirties. I understood what she was saying, until she continued.
"But God hasn't chosen that for me."
My ears perked up. I wondered what she meant. While I believe that God leads us and guides us in life, I also wondered why she blamed her situation on God. Both the psychologist and the theologian in me bristled, wondering what responsibility she might be shirking regarding her undesired singleness. I knew her well enough to know she might have some issues contributing to her single state.
"What do you mean, 'God hasn't chosen that?'" I asked.
"Well, I believe God brings the man into your life you are to marry, and he hasn't brought that man to me yet," she replied. That was enough to get me going, but her next line really did it. "Or, he hasn't given me the feelings I would need for the men he has brought into my life."
"God hasn't 'given you the feelings?' What does that mean?"
"Well, God gives you the feelings for the person he wants you to marry, and that hasn't happened with any of the men I know."
"Whose feelings are they--yours or God's?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, sounding a little bugged.
"Well, it just sounds like you blame God for a lot. How do you know he hasn't brought ten great men into your life, but you have things inside of you that make you incapable of feeling what you would need to feel for them? How do you know your issues aren't getting in the way of recognizing and falling in love with a good man if he did come along? Why do you just assume this is God's fault?"
I felt as though I was on a bit of a mission, defending God's honor.
"I disagree. God will bring the right man to me, and until then, I just need to wait."
"How is that going?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, how long has it been since you went on a date?"
She hesitated, looking embarrassed. I didn't mean to put her on the spot; in fact, she had been so assertive in stating her case and so aggressive in coming after me when I challenged it that her sheepishness caught me off guard.
"Two years," she said.
"It has been two years since I have been on a date," she confessed.
Then something changed in me. Up until that point, Lillie and I had been in a friendly debate. Everyone at the table had gotten caught up in the banter. But, when I saw the reality of the situation--an attractive young woman in the prime of her life, yet unhappy--I felt for her. I wanted to help. And if I were right, I knew I could.
So, I issued a challenge: "I will make you a deal, Lillie. I will be your dating coach. I guarantee that if you will do whatever I tell you, you will be dating in six months."
She looked at me, stunned. "What?"
"Just what I said. I'll be your dating coach, and if you will do whatever I say, I guarantee you'll be dating in six months. But there is a catch. I demand total obedience. You have to do everything I tell you, no questions asked. And I promise I will not ask you to do anything immoral, unethical, or illegal. But you have to do whatever I tell you."
Everyone at the table fell silent. I could see the others wondering whether or not they would subject themselves to such a mystery challenge. And I could see Lillie weighing the same thing. Did she really want to do such a crazy thing? Agree to conform to a totally unknown plan, just like that? I could also see that she was ticked at my challenging her "way" of thinking about dating. She wanted to accept the "bet" and prove me wrong. The latter attitude, I suspect, is what won out.
With the others hanging in suspense, she growled at me: "Fine. You're on."
I didn't really think she'd accept my challenge, but I was ready.
I jumped right into it.
"Okay, here is your first assignment. For one month I want you to keep a log of all the new men you meet and email it to me at the end of every week. Send me the names so we can count how many new men come into your life and have a chance to ask you out."
"Are you joking?" she said. "I don't need an assignment for that. I can tell you right now. None."
"What do you mean, 'None'?" I asked.
"Exactly that. I never meet anyone new. Every day I go to the office and see the same six or eight people. Then I go home, eat dinner, and watch TV with my roommate. Then on Saturday, I run errands and hang out, and on Sunday I go to the same church and see the same people I always see. That is what happens every week. I never meet any new men to go out with."
"I don't care. I still want you to keep a log. And for the men to count, they have to fulfill three requirements. First, they have to be new men you've never met before. Second, they have to have enough of an interaction with you to want to ask you out. And, third, they have to have enough information to ask you out, such as your name or know how to find you. No pressure to have any dates right now. I just want to understand your situation. If the number is zero, that's fine. We can work with that. I just need to know what the picture really looks like."
She was not impressed with my first assignment. How was calculating her misery going to get her a date? she was probably wondering, thinking that this was going to be an easy challenge to win. But this assignment wasn't meant to help her get a date--yet. I was trying to get her to come out of denial and see the reality of her situation.
For two years her dating life had been stagnant, and she was denying that reality with a philosophy that if you do nothing, God will somehow step in and provide a man. That way of thinking, which I knew was nowhere in the Bible, kept her from seeing she was very, very stuck. My goal was to get her to see the reality of her situation and to get very discouraged. I wanted her to see that what she was doing was not working and that it had been that way for a long time. I wanted that realization to sink in and bother her. My trying to convince her that she was wrong was not going to work. She was too sure she was right. I wanted her to realize the reality of her dating life for herself. Just as balancing a checkbook can wake one up to one's lack of money, keeping a log would awaken Lillie to her lack of dates.
I had many other assignments lurking in the back of my mind to give her. And after she completed this first one, I gave them to her one by one. She obeyed, fully. I have to hand it to her: She stuck with the "program."
Here is the result: In five months, she was in a significant dating relationship. So, I won the bet. But it didn't end there. Just a few months ago, I officiated at her wedding to a wonderful man.
When I talked to her the other day, she laughed about how it had all happened. "Being married is so cool," she said. And then she stopped herself and quickly added, "But it is only cool if you are with the right person."
I was so happy for her. She got her dream, and she got it with a good person. That to me was the full victory: not just to be dating--usually an easily achievable goal--but to be dating a good person, the kind worth keeping.