Pairing Off: The role of prayer in dating

Published: Thursday, April 28 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

Oliver Cowdery was a 22-year-old schoolteacher when he traveled the 150 miles from Palmyra, N.Y., to Harmony, Pa. (present-day Oakland Township). There he offered to act as Joseph Smith’s scribe and gave up his prior life plans in favor of a life of service to building up the restored gospel. A few days after Oliver’s arrival, Joseph Smith received the revelation that became Section 6 in the Doctrine and Covenants, in which the Lord counseled Oliver on receiving and recognizing answers to prayer.

The Lord’s words to Oliver were those of comfort, assuring him that he’d made a good decision. The Lord affirmed, “as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.” We can apply this counsel to ourselves, as well. As we pray and hearken to the Spirit daily, we can know we’re on a path that has the Lord’s approval, and we don’t have to be as nervous about making larger choices.

In dating, there will eventually come a time of decision: Do I marry this person, or don’t I? It can feel fairly intimidating to recognize that the decision you’re making will so profoundly impact eternity.

The weight of this decision can be ameliorated, though, through daily prayer and inquiry throughout the dating process. Rather than putting it off until after months of dating when your significant other presses you for an answer, you can check in with the Lord frequently and ask if your relationship has his approval. The nice thing about praying along the way is that, as did Oliver, you’ll be answered with instruction from the Spirit. 

Alma gave his son Helaman similar advice: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.” The word “counsel” implies that more than simply asking the Lord yes/no questions; you can talk with him about your thoughts, desires and concerns, and he will respond with loving direction.

The instruction to counsel with the Lord is where your agency comes into play. Rather than blindly asking the Lord to pick a spouse for you, the Lord expects you to use your best judgment to find an optimal relationship and then to ask for his blessing. You’ll recognize the Lord’s answer through either the peace or anxiety you feel regarding the decision.

As Bruce R. McConkie put it, “If you get the calm, sweet surety that comes only from the Holy Spirit, you know you’ve reached the right conclusion; but if there’s anxiety and uncertainty in your heart, then you’d better start over, because the Lord’s hand is not in it, and you’re not getting the ratifying seal that, as a member of the Church who has the gift of the Holy Ghost, you are entitled to receive.”

You are entitled to receive an answer to your prayers. And particularly in a matter as weighty as marriage, I promise the Lord wants you to hear his input. But remember that you also have your own agency. The Lord isn’t a domineering parent; he wants you to pick someone you like. It’s unlikely the Lord will tell you to marry someone you don’t really like, so if you’re unhappy in a relationship, and the Lord doesn’t miraculously sweep away all your doubts and make you suddenly fall madly in love with the dullard you’re dating, you might consider that as the Lord’s permission to get out. But if you’re deeply in love, and the association draws you closer to the Lord and inspires you to do good, you can confidently call upon the Lord and know that He will answer and enlighten your path.

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