This area of dating is rarely spoken about. People are often reluctant to enter into a season of intentional singleness. Mainly because it’s one that is not talked about enough, and so is misunderstood. That has led to a lack of openness among some, not all, young Catholics. The idea of “actively pursuing your vocation” is one that floods the minds, hearts, and mouths of Catholics on a daily basis. Rarely do we consider the idea that we might become too focused on this area of our faith that we would forget our deepest yearning, our yearning for God. And that our longing for our vocation comes from our yearning for God. And while it’s not the case for everyone, there are many who, before they even know it, have had their focus shifted from the Lord’s gaze, and instead become fixed their vocation. Looking at our vocation is a good thing, but if it takes our gaze from God, it will only lead to us putting a state of life over the greatest state of being. Which is being in a place of communion with God. Sometimes stepping back from the search allows us to see more clearly that which God has placed in front of us.
Believe it or not, singleness is a good thing. And the Lord uses every moment of our ‘season of singleness’ to establish us and mould us into who He has created us to be. Our time of singleness provides the foundation that our vocation will be built upon. St. Paul remarks on how crucial our time of singleness is in 1 Cor. 7:32-35. He says, ‘I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or virgin is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord’. So, with that in mind, why fast?
We’ve seen the saints fast on countless occasions in the Scriptures. Of course, the fast most famous to us is Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. Fasting is an incredibly powerful thing. I think fasting is depicted well in this verse, Daniel 9:3 “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes”. To fast is to seek the face of the Lord. The catechism of the catholic church states, ‘the fourth precept…ensures the time of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of our hearts.’ (CCC 2043) The goal of fasting is to abstain from things that are good, that we enjoy or delight in, in order that we may focus on God. While a dating fast doesn’t come under the Church’s precept of fasting, it still can be an incredible experience. A dating fast is not a mandatory thing, there is no rule book. I’m writing on it mainly to present another option for you, something to take to prayer. An opportunity to turn your face to the Lord and have your gaze fixed solely on Him. To do exactly as Paul advises in his letter to the Corinthians, ‘secure your undivided devotion to the Lord’.
A Fresh Perspective
‘Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law’ – Psalm 119:18
In the creation story, we see Adam and Eve have individual time with God before they met each other. When God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him”, He didn’t present Eve straight away. Instead, he first established Adam in the garden, creating all the animals and had Adam name them. He let Adam take the time to search and discover that even with all the animals there was still no other like himself. God allowed Adam to see and know the world apart from Eve, before knowing her. God had given Adam his own life before Adam ever knew of the existence of Eve. And vice-versa, Eve had her own time of solitude with God before Adam was woken by the Lord. There is less said of Eve’s time in the garden, but we know that the garden had already been established and taken care of. We can imagine that this was a time for Eve to delight in the beauty of the heart of God the Father and rest in Him. It was a time for her to be who He created her to be. The first relationship that Adam and Eve had was their individual relationships with God. They each had time, before rejoicing in Him through each other, to gaze upon His face. To know and be known by God. God has shown us from the beginning, even before sin entered the world, that the relationship we have with Him is to come before any other relationship.
Their relationship could only have become what God intended when they lived out of a place of relationship with God, rooted in the confidence of their identity. We can learn to do the same thing. Because while this may have happened before the fall, we now have the privilege of having the sacraments and the word of God to lean on. Our time of singleness is a time to pray and live out that verse from Psalm 119, that our eyes may be opened to His goodness, love and glory. If we live like this in our time of singleness, we will have the privilege of sharing that with our spouse, if we are called to marriage. And if not, it will prepare us for the vocation that God desires to bestow on us.
Entering into a Dating Fast
You now know the fruits that a dating fast can bring; a deeper, more intimate relationship with God. I wanted to share with some practical tips to help open up your heart more to God if you do decide to enter into a dating fast.
The Lord will not be outdone in generosity, what you give to Him, He will return a hundred-fold. In Mark 10:29-30 Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time”. Be generous with your timing. I would encourage you, if you decide to fast from dating make it at least six months, depending on the season you’re in. Typically, when people take a dating fast, they go for a year. There is no one-size-fits-all. It’s a matter of prayer and discernment, but be not afraid of giving the Lord the time He desires and deserves. What you commit to Him, He will reward a hundredfold.
This brings me on to my next point. Do not enter a dating fast with a “well, if I fast for Him then He’ll give me my spouse/vocation as soon as it’s over”. That is NOT why you should fast from dating. A dating fast should be taken with the right intentions. The whole goal of the dating fast is to refocus on God, not just get what we want from Him. Yes, He will reward you for your commitment to Him, but that’s not why we give our continual ‘yes’. We give that ‘yes’ daily to Him for Him and for His glory, trusting that His plans are better and higher than ours and that we will be fulfilled in whatever He has for us. Your desires for a relationship are good, but they need to be ordered to that which is good. So, surrender your desires to Him who is goodness itself. And trust that He will take care of you and your vocation! God works all things for the good of those who love Him. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jer. 29:11). This is the perfect opportunity to surrender our tendency to control and let God reign. The thing is when we let God reign, we become more ourselves. A time of fasting from dating is a sacrifice that establishes in us a deeper trust in God, in His timing and His plans. In this way, we can sit back and gaze at the glory of God as Eve did in the garden and become more fully the son and daughter made in His image.
Honour your agreement
This topic seems to be coming up in the lives of many people around me. A common response I receive, whenever I talk about a dating fast is, ‘I’ve tried a dating fast before, but every time I do someone dateable comes along’. The idea with a dating fast is that you give time to reflect on God and you. And how you can grow into the person He is calling you to be. My response to this is, just because they’re dateable doesn’t mean you should date them. Also, if you’re in the middle of a dating fast, you’re not dateable. You’ve made a commitment to the Lord and I would encourage you to honour that. I’ve heard the question ‘if you can’t say no, then what is your yes worth?’ Your yes should be worth everything, it should mean something. And to God, it does. Every time you say ‘no’ to a potential relationship, you are saying ‘yes’ to your relationship with God the Father.
We should be in intentional about our ‘season of singleness’ as a whole. There is a reason that the Lord is allowing us to walk through that season, so we may as well make the most of it, giving Him all that we are. Even if we decide not to fast from dating, we can be intentional about how we live our single life, and we should be. You’re not going to have this season forever if you’re called to marriage or religious life. And you would be surprised how much you can enjoy that time of singleness. I’ve met lay people who have taken vows of celibacy and they are the most joyful people you could ever meet. The vocation to the single life is one that is often looked down upon as if it is less than any other vocation. But on the contrary, it is a continual ‘yes’ given with heartfelt love to the Lord to reserve the deepest yearnings of our heart, for intimacy, for our time with Him in Heaven. I’m not saying that if you take a dating fast you must consider being a consecrated single person, especially if you have no such desire. I am saying that being single is not something ‘to be fixed’ but rather, it is an exclusive time with the Lord that should be treated with reverence. In your time of singleness, I encourage you to give God all that you are.
When to Fast
Season of Transition
If you’re stepping into a new season of your life, one that is bringing drastic change to your life, it is worth considering a dating fast. It will help you focus on where God has you and it will help you more clearly see His place in your life during that time. It’s a great way to allow yourself to be focused on His presence, and remain grounded throughout that season. A fast in this season doesn’t need to be particularly long, maybe a few months. It will lay the foundation for the rest of that season and if you do end up in a relationship later on, you do so living out of your relationship with God, allowing Him to be the foundation that the relationship is built upon.
This one might sound very obvious, but it’s such an important one. In our culture today we think the idea of moving on is being able to move into another relationship. But it’s not just that. Moving on is having the ability to enjoy singleness again. And allowing His love to be enough for us. Moving back into a place of joy in our relationship with God, trusting again in His works and His timing. There is a time for grieving after most breakups. We rarely hear that we should fully live and experience that with God in order to enter into a new season more fully. This is the perfect opportunity for reflection. Breakups need reflection in order that we may fully heal. This is a good season to return to the garden, to gaze upon His face and allow His love to fill us.
When first practising chastity
Hearing the message of chastity or the Theology of the Body is such a blessing and it is certainly life-changing. However, it’s not an instant cure-all. Every one of us has been hurt by the world in some way. And while we will always be broken on this side of heaven, there are certain hurts that you may want to reflect on and deal with before walking into a relationship. The Theology of the Body speaks into the beauty and identity of the human person and has the power to awaken in us a new, authentic vision of Christs’ love for us seen in the Gospels. Chastity is something to be cultivated, it is a foundation that needs to be laid down in our own hearts before we walk into a relationship. It’s important that we can support ourselves before we support and lean upon another. So take the time that Adam and Eve did to reflect on your identity and gaze upon God, see what He does in you. Everything is preparation.
Everything is Preparation
This is the opportunity to grow into the best version of yourself, to become more fully who God created you to be. In my experience, and from hearing of the experiences of others who have taken a dating fast, I’ve discovered that you develop a deeper sense of gratitude for your relationship with God. It brings about the realisation that you won’t always have this time with Him. And so you learn to savour the exclusive time you have with Him now. Take this opportunity to allow God to cultivate virtue within you, in ways that might not be possible in another season. To lay a steady foundation for the virtues you desire to bring into your vocation.
It is a time of renewal and a time to grow in friendship. ‘There is nothing more to be prized than true friendship’ – St. Thomas Aquinas. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the friends I’ve made in Pure in Heart. I moved to Dublin not knowing anybody and there I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I know I can lean on them and be honest with them. They also hold me accountable to the greatest good. These are the relationships you need before discovering your vocation because they will hold you accountable and encourage you towards that which is good for you.
You may have finished reading this thinking, ‘You know, I really don’t want to ever do a dating fast’. But I can’t tell you what a worthwhile experience it is. And while lockdown may have been the perfect time to commit to that, it’s something to be incredibly intentional with. In the real world. I sincerely encourage you, if you are in a place where you can make that sacrifice – do it. You will never regret taking a dating fast, innumerable fruits can come from your time of intentional singleness. Whereas you may, on the other hand, regret not doing it if you decide to never commit to something like that. We often fail to consider that the best thing we could do right now for the good of our vocation is fast from dating in order that the Lord would transform us into who He desires us to be. So I encourage you, ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Rom. 12:2).