In the foreword to her daughter’s dating advice book, Christian author Karen Kingsbury relates a story from her honeymoon: on August 1, 1988, on a beach in Mexico, she and her husband decided to pray for their future family, including their future kids and those kids’ spouses. They prayed, and that very day, their son-in-law, Kyle Kupecky, was born.
This story alludes to a strong belief in some Christian circles in the power of praying for one’s future spouse, i.e., praying for the needs and spiritual growth of the person you will one day marry. This concept was really popular when I was growing up in the 2000s: young girls were encouraged to write letters to their future husbands filled with uplifting verses from their women’s Bibles; Rebecca St. James wrote a song about virginity directed at her someday spouse; an Amazon search brings up at least 10 books on the subject, some of them recently published. The goal, from what I gather, is for God to work in your spouse, shape you into the perfect partner, and fill you both with love for each other before you’ve even met.
It should surprise none of you that I’m not a fan.
I’ve gone from willingly participating in letter-writing and guided prayer to sick with anger at the mention of “hearts being knit together.” This practice that was supposed to benefit me spiritually has, I’ve found, harmed my faith, and I have more than one reason for no longer continuing.
- I might not get married
Karen Kingsbury and her husband were making quite a few assumptions when they prayed for their future family, namely that they would be able to have kids and that their kids would eventually marry.
People have chided me for my views on this subject in the past, seeing this type of prayer as a necessary marital step. In other words, I am dooming my future marriage by not praying for it.
All these people assume that I will be married at some point in my life, which has not been guaranteed, and is also kind of insulting. If I wanted to be married that badly, I like to think I could scrounge up a sailor or a Christian with bad theology. My ultimate goal, though, is to marry well to someone I actually like.
It’s not prayer or belief in God I struggle with; it has more to do with believing in a suitable spouse after time spent in Evangelical Free, Baptist, and Southern Baptist institutions. You want me to pray for a liberal-leaning, city-dwelling, Bible-believing, church-attending, monogamous, artistic, educated feminist who tooootally exists?
That is manna in the desert right there. I might as well be praying for Santa Claus.
- I know nothing about him
After the Pulse Massacre in 2016, early news coverage pointed to grieving family and friends, survivors, witnesses, medical professionals, law enforcement, and volunteers who needed as much prayer as they could get. Details about the event helped me know how to pray.
For me, knowing about an issue shapes my prayers. For Christians being imprisoned around the globe, I can pray for their encouragement and release. For refugees seeking sanctuary, I can pray for the softening of governments and for safe travel between countries. I can even pray for friends who pull the “I don’t want to talk about it” card when I know they’re hurting.
Praying for a potential mate is praying for a black hole.
I know nothing about this guy aside from his gender (should he exist.) What does he need right now? Is he hurt? Sick? Happy? Does he know God? Has he been born yet? (“But, Lauren, he’s 18,” is one of the most disturbing dating encouragements I’ve ever received.)
If I know about an issue, I don’t mind praying for nameless others. With nothing on my future spouse, praying for him feels like pulling from a spiritual grab bag and hoping some of those prayers stick.
- It hurts
I wasn’t going to include this on the list, but here you go.
I know people mean well. I have heard attempts at encouragement ranging from, “He’s out there,” to, “Your husband is going to be SO lucky.” While it sometimes provides a nice boost, all those promises get old with nothing to back them up.
I was never promised a spouse. Nothing in Scripture or statistics guarantees me marital happiness. As much I desire marriage, I have to keep this in the back of my mind in order to cope. It might seem counterintuitive, but this statement acts as an almost daily reality check that frees me up to live obediently without worrying about my future.
So when simpering married couples encourage me to keep the hope alive, it’s a reminder that I’m alone and, in their eyes, unfulfilled.
It’s easy for people who are already married to see the creative lengths God went to to lead them to their spouse. Fun fact: that attitude is called hindsight bias, AKA the belief that you knew exactly how something unpredictable would turn out all along.
Nothing I’m experiencing right now feels inevitable or magical or like part of a string of zany coincidences that will lead me to the love of my life. Those well-meaning couples are asking me to trust a mythical heterosexual male who loves tall girls and theater instead of the God who has led me to places where His plans seem inevitable.
Listen, friends, don’t tell me to keep the hope alive. Point me to the God with the great track record and the excellent timing. If I’m to strengthen my faith, He is the only one I can hope in.
- Praying for my future spouse acts as a spiritual smokescreen
Many of you may not agree with this point:
My prayers for nameless others tend to cover issues I have; I’ve prayed for those struggling with loneliness, jealousy, and exclusion, all things I can understand. Any prayer for Mr. Right (er, Left) has fallen along the same lines: “Heal him from anger and past hurts and help him to forgive more easily.”
I’m not about to dissuade you from praying for others. Mr. Left, should he exist, probably needs and appreciates prayers like these.
Too bad I can’t do it anymore.
See, I have this problem in the way I see myself: I either think I’m completely fine and have no problems or I see myself as a screwup who causes drama. Denial and despair; boy, am I good at BOTH.
So what I do when I’m in either one of these mindsets is use prayer for others to deflect my own issues.
Feeling great? Let me skip the self-examination and pray for all my imperfect friends who REALLY need it (sorry, guys.)
Having a bad day? God wouldn’t want me to focus on myself and MY issues on top of being worthless; time to boost my Christian cred by praying for strangers while I try to fix my issues on my own.
I’ve found that praying my issues into my future spouse is a sneaky way of avoiding them. Sure, God wants good things for whoever I marry and for others, but He desires (not only that, REQUIRES) change and honesty from me.
My interest in and accountability for my partner’s spiritual life doesn’t begin until we’re married. Until then, standing alone, I can only ask that God change me.