I teach dating in church.
If that’s what you tell people when you first meet you’re sure to get their attention. Especially if it’s true. My name is Aukelien van Abbema and I teach dating in churches. I’m a licensed counsellor, with a masters degree in Psychology and Christian Philosophy and a postdoctorate degree in clinical psychology. I am from the Netherlands but currently live in the Kent, in the UK, with my husband and two small children. But I was single for most of my adult life and part of my heart still feels the pain of being single for a long time.
It’s a deep pain, at least, it was for me. A pain mixed with longing and a deep sense of powerlessness.
I tried dating, although not for real until I was 28. I went from 6 dates in 6 years to 60 dates in 2 years. Because at 28 I was living alone, owning a beautiful apartment in the city of Amsterdam, holding down a successful job, having found a church to belong to but I felt all but accomplished. I felt a deep longing for a husband and children. And all my church had to say was: just pray and wait.
Praying and waiting I did, for years. Until the clinical psychologist in me started to wonder. If I don’t like being single and I’m afraid to talk to single men, and my church tells me to pray and wait, how am I going to find the love of my life? I started reading books. Terrible books, telling me to pray and wait and fast. Horrible books, telling me to move back to my parents and let them find me a husband. Slightly better books, telling me to maybe step out of my comfort zone sometimes. A precious few really good books, helping me to face my fears and start Dating in a more healthy way.
So I went from not connecting to single guys to making eye contact and smiling.
To chatting. To having 3 dates in one day at some point, at which I knew I should probably go back to tone things down a bit.
Meanwhile I’d started a thinktank in my church, wondering how on earth there were hundreds of us in our church, and none of us were dating, and all of us wanted to be married. If being married is B and being single is A, how do you get from A to B was our question. If dating is ‘not allowed’, or ‘not ok’ in the books of our church, what else do we do besides praying and waiting. Because obviously, the whole praying and waiting thing isn’t very successful.
So we started a movement. Singles in church needed to be seen and heard again. We were invisible to leaders, with pastors praying over our lonely broken hearts in the same sentence they prayed for the crippled and the dying. We needed to be in a place where we were both considered whole and complete human beings, full members of our church just as our married friends were. And we needed input in dating in a healthy way. So next we started a dating course. Expecting nothing of it, having 60 sign ups in the first hour after publishing it.
This was ten years ago and I still teach this course, all over Europe now. I’ve published two books in three languages about it. I talk about being connected to God, yourself and other people. About love and having realistic expectations. About wholeness in Christ as a single person. On the second course I taught I met my now husband. Marriage is another adventure altogether, as everyone married can testify. But this journey of teaching singles is what still gives me so much joy. To see people go from a place of feeling stuck to a place of growth, flourishing and freedom. And it makes a good story when you meet someone new.