Single and Celibate in Modern Western Culture

Single and Celibate: Always the Odd One Out, Part Two

As a single Christian woman, I should be able to look to my church family for friendship, encouragement, and understanding as I strive to obey and worship God in celibacy. Check out part one of this series, Single and Celibate in the Church, to see how that can play out. Here’s a hint: often terribly.

Sometimes I get so frustrated by how I am perceived by the church as a single celibate adult that I glance to the rest of modern western culture, hoping that at least there I might find a bit more understanding and feel like less of a weirdo. After all, I live in Los Angeles County, a place known for embracing many different viewpoints, a place where living a lifestyle outside the “norm” should be more accepted. Even as the much of the younger generation redefines sexuality, emphasizing one’s choice in the matter and viewing it as a broad spectrum, adult celibacy is still viewed negatively.

When I was a high school teacher, I had students who identified as asexual, meaning they experienced a lack of sexual attraction to others, or lacked the desire for sexual activity. Though not the average experience, and certainly not represented often in pop culture, these students could at least feel they were part of the latest opinions on sexuality. However, if you have sexual attraction to others and the desire for sexual activity, but choose not to fulfill this desire because you believe this is what God would have you do, this does not fit modern standards. In fact, instead of people saying “hey, that’s your choice, good for you for following it” I’m more likely to hear words like “prude, repressed, unhealthy, immature, not-fully realized, or just sad,” more likely to be portrayed comically or as a brainwashed simpleton. And, just like in the church, the most frequent response to an adult virgin, or a celibate adult, is pity.

The idea that one can lead a happy, fulfilled life devoid of sex even though they might desire sex seems to be mind-blowing in all circles, secular and religious. Oddly enough, some outside Christian traditions have expressed concern for me, thinking I’m lacking something for not being involved in relationships which include a sex life, just as married Christians have felt sorry for me and others like me because they imagine our lives to be somehow unfulfilled without spouses and kids.

I’ve found a shocking lack of difference in the perspectives of both groups when it comes to celibacy.  Contrary to popular belief, sex is not necessary for the flourishing of each and every human. Rather than looking at celibacy as a viable life choice which may lead to personal growth, increased capacity to care for others, and deep spiritual joy, celibacy is mostly seen as punishment. From outside religious circles, it is often viewed as overly zealous, even cultish or unnatural. It’s even seen as the predecessor to horrible sin – as if every person who is celibate will eventually break due to repressed desire, and then run out and molest someone.

In our pop culture which prioritizes sex and takes it for granted, religious celibates are almost always depicted as hypocrites, either foolishly or violently. Think of how pastors and the clergy are portrayed in movies and television, highlighting those who have not glorified God in their singleness but have harmed others. Yes, there are people who choose celibacy then end up sinning horribly, committing awful crimes, and who need to be prosecuted, but this is not the majority of men and women who choose not to have sex because they are trying to live a godly life. (I take this very seriously, and see it as one of the worst violations. Check out Ann Voskamp’s response to the recent wave of churches covering up sexual assault for more on this.) I watch a ton of British television, and almost every clergyman (other than Father Brown) eventually gives in to his or her sexual urges, usually rather dramatically and often by having an affair with a married parishioner, or is seen as a doddering old fool. When families on TV or in movies include a single adult without an active sex life, they are most likely the senile old maiden aunt or pervy uncle. This just increases the perceived impossibility of living a chaste life well.

For those who don’t know the love of the God, who don’t know his grace and personal care for each of his children, the biblical call to celibacy outside of marriage can be seen as cruel, almost torturous. And, I’ve got to admit, sometimes it can feel that way. It’s not always an easy path. But to be honest, one of the most difficult parts of walking this path is feeling rather alone and unsupported. In both secular and religious sides of life, the voices we hear are more likely to mock, shame, and patronize than encourage, applaud, and respect.

So, whether you’re a Christian or not, the next time you come across someone who chooses not to have sex because they believe this is the life God has chosen for them (permanently or temporarily), don’t jump to stereotypical judgments. Get to know them and then, when you know them well enough, you can ask them about how celibacy affects their lives. You might be surprised by their answers.

Next week, in part three of this series, I’ll look at how important it is for celibate Christians to still have deep lasting relationships with other men and women.

*updated 1/15/18 to add in link to Ann Voskamp’s blog post.

Single and Celibate in the Church

Single and Celibate: Always the Odd One Out Series, Part One

When I first get to know people, they have a hard time figuring me out. Church-going Christians are often stumped by the she’s 39 and single/childless part and those who aren’t religious can’t grasp the celibate thing. In both circles, I am often seen as an anomaly; deviating from the norm, unexpected. In a national church that idolizes marriage and a popular culture which prioritizes sex, people like me just don’t fit. At best, we are seen as men and women to pity, at worst, as flawed or unwhole.

The truth is, however, we are not that much of an anomaly when you look more closely. There are a lot more of us that you think, and, according to the beliefs of the church and pop culture, we should be perfect fits for both realms. This week I’ll look at how single celibate adults are often viewed by the church, and next week I’ll get into how we’re seen in modern western culture. If you’d like to read more about my views on celibacy, check out Committing to Celibacy.

Yes, in America, the decline of marriage and the increase of parents who split while their children are young is a disturbing trend. Many an article, both Christian and not, has been written on the negative effects of this trend economically and psychologically, so I understand why the church has emphasized healthy marriages over the past decade, why Christian marriage and parenthood has become a priority of the church. Unfortunately, this respect for marriage can grow into the worship of it.

You’re a young man in college struggling with lust and becoming addicted to pornography? You should get married, and “not burn” but channel that in a God-glorifying way. You’re a dissatisfied single woman in her late 20’s who struggles with loneliness and depression? Do everything you can to find a good Christian man to marry and fill that void. Marriage becomes the solution in the minds of many to some of the struggles young adults have, yet the Bible and practical experience will prove this wrong. If you think marriage will solve your struggles with lust or pornography, loneliness and depression, you are in for the shock of your life, as is your spouse.

I’m not saying most churches actually preach this from the pulpit or give overt counsel to this effect, though some do, but this perspective has infused the very life of the church so much that this marriage-worship is subtly present in the very makeup of the church, from its social structure to its teaching.

One symptom of idolizing marriage is the subtle yet pervasive belief that God’s one plan for the future of his church, for his love and good news to be offered to the ends of the earth, for his name to be glorified best, is the traditional Christian family unit. Because of this, churches spend a lot of time and money developing their children’s programs, Bible studies for young mothers, Biblical Manhood retreats to encourage men to be godly husbands and fathers, women’s teas to remind the ladies to be god-fearing wives and mothers, cry rooms for infants, Awanas for the kiddos, Sunday schools and youth groups, and at least 95% of the examples used in preaching and teaching target nuclear families.

This is all good, even excellent. Churches do need to help build up godly family units. They need to serve the families in their communities. Parents and children should be taught, loved, discipled, and cared for. God does desire to use Christian families to show his love to the world, to stand out as special and beautiful.

But if this is the main focus of the church, then the 45.2 percent of all U.S. residents age 18 and older who are single will be problematic for the church. For the younger ones, usually 18-35, the solution seems to be singles ministries that have either an overt or covert goal to get most of them married off. Much of the Christian publishing industry targeted to this age group discusses “waiting” and “preparing” for wife or husband-hood. In fact, at even younger ages, we’re often groomed in youth groups and Sunday schools for the day we will one day be a godly spouse.

So what about the rest of us? Those who don’t marry for one reason or another? Those who are just not chosen by anyone as a lifelong partner? Those who fell in love with someone who didn’t love them back? Those who marry, but end up tragically divorced? Those who face the death of their spouse? Those who have same sex attraction, yet are committed to a traditional view of marriage so therefore remain single? Those who have never desired a spouse? Other than being taught we must remain celibate outside of marriage, how is the modern American church growing us?

A few weeks ago I visited a different church, and as soon as they found out I was single they invited me to their singles young adult group. They were very excited, because they were just starting it up after a recent influx of a handful of single young adults. I gently said that, at 39, I just don’t feel comfortable in a young adult group, and would much rather get involved in a normal group, one with married people, kids, old folks and young. I somehow still ended up on the email list for this group, and had to once again politely decline.

The thing is that single adults are a large growing portion of the church, and yet we are often overlooked. Mostly by accident. If we can’t be lumped into the typical 18-30 single young adults Bible study, then we are absorbed into the average church group. I like this, actually – I believe this is how it should be. We should be seen as average church goers! We should be embraced as part of the church family! We should be drawn in to Sunday schools and Bible studies and ministries along with everyone else.

The struggle here is that these church programs have essentially been built for families, and Christians have primarily gotten used to ministering to others in life stages like themselves. So, it will be more natural for a young mom in the church to invite another mother over for a play-date, or for a married man to go out breakfast with other married men to hold each other accountable. Couples tend to hang out with other couples, or not even that, just their family and extended family. They might not even think of inviting a single adult over for dinner or a holiday. Truly becoming friends with someone in a different stage of life is awkward and difficult, so we might not even consider it. We singles are probably just as responsible as married Christians are. It will be more comfortable for single adults to hang out with other single adults, but the problem for us is often that the older we get, the fewer unmarried friends are left. If we don’t engage with married couples and those with children, we just won’t connect to the church at all.

Not just the programs, but the teaching itself is often geared toward those in a nuclear family. This is inevitable, since the vast majority of churches hire married men as their pastors, men who have or will have children. The elder boards tend to consist almost entirely of married fathers. Most adult ministry leaders will be married men with kids. It’s incredibly rare for a single man to be in these positions, and even more so a single woman. Sometimes, a single man in seminary or right out of it is given the position of youth pastor or another under-pastor role, but the expectation of this man and those who disciple him is that he will most likely get married and have kids one day in the next few years. Because of this, most sermon illustrations will be about being parents or spouses. They’ll deal with little leagues and spousal squabbles, weddings and sleepless babies. We are supposed to write what we know, after all, and often the only metaphors which come to mind when writing sermons or Bible studies are the ones we live.

I get it, I write about singleness because it’s my experience. I understand. But what pastors and teachers need to realize is that this can be a bit alienating. If, during a sermon, there are 5 illustrations used to teach a biblical passage, and all 5 of these depend on marriage and parenthood, I will probably zone out a bit, to be honest. I might spend the time delving into the scripture itself, trying to figure out how it relates to me. I may try to re-frame it in a way that touches on my life. But each time this happens, I can’t help but feel a bit left out. And this happens weekly. Monthly. In almost every sermon I hear, every class I sit in, every Bible study I attend. So, how does that help the 45.2% of American adults who are unmarried? I don’t think every sermon needs an illustration directly targeting singles, or each illustration needs to somehow fit us, but I do think it would be nice to just be considered. There are a lot of us sitting in the pews on Sunday who would appreciate being thought of every once in awhile.

I’d also love the church as a whole to start preaching more about singleness than just “waiting to have sex until marriage.” This is simplifying our lives to one issue. If the church is truly teaching us to live our lives according to the Bible, then single adult Christians fulfill 1 Corinthians 7 and Matthew 19, and we walk in Christ’s footsteps as a single man. I’d love to hear teachers and preachers extol the benefits of singleness, the beauty of a celibate commitment to the Lord, the courage of looking directly to the marriage of Christ and his church instead of finding comfort in the metaphor for it. I’d love to see mature single Christian men and women lifted up in leadership positions in the church, given voices, being heard. How awesome would it be to hear a youth leader even offer singleness as a viable God-honoring option for the future. I’d adore if the church could become a place that looks at single celibate adults as whole, not lacking, not creatures of pity but respect and honor.

If 45.2% of adult Americans are single, then why are so many of us made to feel like we’re the weirdos the minute we walk through those church doors? So many of us love our churches; as single adults they are often the greatest example of family we have. For some of us, the are the only family we have. We love our churches, but we often feel like we’re not truly part of them. We’re the weird relative the rest of the family pities and doesn’t quite know what to do with, or the one everyone has a plan for, advice for, but never listens to. We’re seen as not-quite-ready for ministry, not-quite-appropriate for friendship, not-quite-fulfilling God’s plan for the church. The church is a beautiful family, and it needs to stop treating its single adults like parents who are upset that they haven’t been given grandkids yet, and more like nieces and nephews who look up to their cool unmarried aunties and uncles because they know they are loved and served by them.

To be honest, until the church develops a better theology of the value of its single celibate men and women, until it gives them an opportunity to grow and minister, then single men and women will not stick around. Just like a family who doesn’t support and encourage the 39 year old single cousin will lose contact with them, so too will the church lose these valuable members. And just as these single men and women will suffer tremendously as they lack familial support, so too will they suffer apart from the church. We are meant to live life together, young and old, parent and childless, married and single.

Paul’s letter to the Romans gives us a vision of the beauty of the church. Imagine if we all, married and single alike, looked at one another this way. If we realized that we aren’t all meant to live the exact same cookie cutter life, but were created as different members of a whole. Separately, we are so unique, which makes us so much more beautiful and effective when we come together.

Romans 12:1-13

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

I challenge modern American churches to look critically at themselves to see if they are serving the singles in their midst, or alienating them. I implore them to raise up single men and women in leadership positions, to encourage them to take on ministry opportunities, and to teach Christian children that celibate singleness is a beautiful God-honoring way to live life.

I challenge singles not to give up on the church, but work to become productive members of this incredible body of Christ. Speak up. Make appointments to talk to your pastors about this. Bridge those first awkward gaps by inviting yourself into lives of families. Gently exhort the church leadership to grow in this area. But don’t give up. When the church loves as God would have us love, his grace is most evident and our joy most profound.

The Awkward Spinster’s Best of 2017

Oh, 2017, I can’t believe you’re almost over! It’s New Year’s Eve, and my mind can’t help but look back on the past few months. For a non-MAGA woman like myself, 2017 was pretty rough, but it also held so much of God’s grace that I still can’t hate it. My little recovering-cynic-self is filled with thankfulness today.

One thing I’m most thankful for this year is finding my voice as the Awkward Spinster. These past 9 months of posting on this blog have been exciting, challenging, and rewarding. Yes, I know many women grow actual human babies in 9 months, but for some of us, starting a blog is enough of a big deal for a year. Thank you, my readers, both single and married, for all of your feedback thus far, and for supporting a slightly snarky singleton like myself! 

For those of you who missed or would like to revisit them, here’s a look back at the 5 most popular Awkward Spinster blog posts of 2017:

5. The fifth most popular blog post of this year delves into something I’m naturally terrible at, The One About Dating.

4. A topic near and dear to my heart, and something that’s been on my mind a lot as I ponder what to write on my sign for the Women’s March in a few weeks, the fourth most popular post was Oops . . . My Feminist Is Showing!

3. The third most popular post was particularly fun to write, and gave me a little room to rant a bit about the Top 5 Things I Hate About Being Single.

2. Coming in second place is my guide giving non-singles tips on how not to frustrate, annoy, or harm their single friends and family in Talking to Singles for Dummies.

1. The most popular post this year explored something that is a big part of my spiritual worship, and something the church doesn’t always handle well with its singles, Committing to Celibacy.

And here’s my choice for the most underrated post that I wish more people had read because I love it: Saved by Beauty.

As I work to focus on the beautiful, inspiring, fun, and good things of 2017, here are a few more favorites of the year:

Best Song: “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton Mixtape by K’naan featuring Residente, Riz MC & Snow Tha Product. This song is the anthem of the resistance!

Best TV Show: Season 2 of Stranger Things. I haven’t finished watching the second season of The Crown yet, so I’ll go with Chief Hopper, Eleven, Joyce, Steve and his boys. Incidentally, my favorite new Twitter feed of the year belongs to David Harbour (Chief Hopper himself).

Best Movie: Wonder Woman. Hands down. No question. If you’re wondering why, check out my sister Lavender Vroman’s blog, No Man’s Land, as she puts it into words perfectly.

Best Poem: “Daughter’s Lament” by Candice Kelsey. Any poem by Candice Kelsey is both beautiful and thought-provoking, but this is one of my all-time favorites.

Best Comic Book: DC’s “Doomsday Clock” by writer Geoff Johns, artist Gary Frank, and colorist Brad Anderson. Issues 1 & 2 are out now, and worth the read for serious comic book fans, but not appropriate for kids.

Best Book: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. One of my favorite authors, Green, gave us a gift this year with this book, an exploration of teenage life touched by mental illness, yet even more about growing up and friendship. It’s brilliant.

Well, my laptop unexpectedly shut down on me while I wrote this, so I’ll take that as a sign that I need to get off the computer and go start the Back to the Future marathon I have planned with my mum and brother for our wild and crazy New Year’s Eve celebration.

I wish you all a 2018 filled with compassion, joy, and beauty!

A Christmas Adam Ramble

Each vacation I have the goal of spending at least one day at home in my pajamas. Being sick in bed, as I was for the beginning of my time off this holiday season, does not count. So, today, Christmas Adam 2017, appears to be that day and I couldn’t be more excited. Let’s hope nothing comes up that will require me to put on clothes that do not involve elastic waistbands and cozy slippers.

I haven’t blogged for a couple weeks due to the aforementioned illness, still having to work both at the library and my tutoring job, and my usual battle with feeling pressure about what to write. But today I feel like blogging just for the fun of it, and I have given myself permission to do so. You see, in the past, I have always written a well-thought-out formal blog post each week and, to be honest, sometimes I just don’t have it in me. So I’ve decided to allow myself some more casual, off-the-cuff blogging from time to time. Feel free to let me know how you feel about this, dear awkward reader.

I do have a couple things on my mind about which to ramble.

First is how much I have been enjoying trying to observe Advent with my mum this year. As a single person, I honestly hadn’t seriously considered doing a nightly or even weekly Advent. Most churches I’ve gone to offer lessons you can do with your children, or other such family-oriented things, so I guess I sort of thought it didn’t really apply to me. But this year, mum and I decided to give it a go just the two of us. To be honest, since I got sick and then she got sick as I was starting to get better, we’ve missed more nights than we’ve done it. Still, when we’ve had the chance, we’ve truly enjoyed following along with “The Advent Project” by Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture, and the Arts.  It combines art, poetry, music, scripture, and a devotional for each day of the Advent season, and it’s beautiful. We’re also enjoying lighting the candles in our Advent wreath and opening the windows in our traditional German Advent Calendar we picked up in Solvang earlier this year, like we did when I was little. Any other singles out there trying to observe Advent as well this year? How about families? What’s working for you?

Next, I’d like to talk about one iteration of my ongoing struggle with hope. Each and every day for several months, I’ve been entering the Hamilton Lottery hoping that this will be the day I’ll win the opportunity to buy two $10 tickets to see a show I’ve been obsessed with since it opened on Broadway. Instead, each day I am told “Sorry you did not win this lottery.” Sigh. I must admit, it’s wearing me down a bit. And in my mind this has become a metaphor for my cynical little self. I started out a very optimistic child, and then was worn down over the years into the current version of Fawn who finds the idea of hope a daily battle of the heart and mind. Yet I keep entering the lottery, knowing I won’t win, and, by the grace of God alone, I’ll keep hoping in Him. This year was better on that front than last year, and I actually have hope that next year I’ll continue my slow crawl away from total pessimism.

Should I make that my New Year’s Resolution? To continue working on hope? I think that might be setting myself up for too high a fall. I’m not one to pretend serious, deep, life-changing New Year’s Resolutions like improving myself spiritually, or even dieting or exercising daily are practical as most studies suggest they fail by February. I mean, I’ve had some incredibly successful years, but those years my resolutions were to Watch More Television (after I graduated from college and finally had time to catch up on shows) or Drink More Wine (when I was in my last 20’s and trying to develop a more mature palette instead of just enjoying dark ales) or Learn About Whisky (in my early 30’s when I developed said palette even further) or Read More Books (many a year has happily met this challenge). I feel like Learn How to Hope is a much more elusive goal. Your thoughts? Any New Year’s Resolutions for you?

And the other thing I wanted to mention is that I liked “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” I realize this might make some of you no longer want to read my blog, as it is a divisive issue among the geek world. Many a friendship is in the midst of violent feuding over this very explosive issue. However, I am still willing to be friends with those of differing opinions. After all, not everyone can have taste as impeccable as mine. If you’d like to comment back about this, please leave all comments spoiler-free for those poor souls who haven’t yet had a chance to see the latest star war.

Right, how do you feel about my less formal, more stream-of-consciousness, blog? Is this something you’d be ok with now and then in the future of the Awkward Spinster, or should it just be a one-off we can chalk up to my still-slightly-stuffy head?

If you’re interesting in reading more serious blogs about the holiday season, you can check out a couple I wrote for my beloved former church, Cornerstone West LA, when I was on their writing team: “Holidays Help Us Number Our Days” and “Not So Happy Holidays“.

Happy Christmas to all of my dear readers, even the ones who didn’t like TLJ.

The Sacredness of Friendship

When I was a little girl, I saw good marriages and strong families as pieces of the sacred: special and consecrated to the divine in their own small, flawed ways. I assumed that, someday, I too would enter into this type of relationship; one dedicated to God, two people (probably plus some kids) mutually working for his glory. I don’t think I had a romanticized view of marriage and family, as I saw many a marriage and family fall apart around me, and witnessed time and time again how hard these relationships were. I knew they were work, knew they were messy, knew they didn’t always last. I am, after all, a rather pessimistic type. Yet still the sacred shines through in the ones that endure, my parents growing together until my father died, family members struggling through those first few tough years into beauty, friends who by God’s grace found second loves greater than their first, women and men who repent and forgive and strive to be better together. The sacred can be so apparent in marriage.

Like T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me.” Each year I understand more and more that the sacred partnership of marriage is something I will most likely witness from the outside alone. Does this mean I am, and other singles are, cut off from experiencing sacred, beautiful, deep relationships? Are the human bonds we make merely secondary, the most important one held out of our reach? Are we relegated to an inferior experience?

On the contrary, John 15:12-17 records Christ speaking to his best friends, his disciples. Here he uses sacrificial, selfless friendship as the picture of the greatest love. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

Jesus did not marry and have children, nor did he emphasize that as necessary during his teaching on earth. Instead, Jesus formed deep, beautiful friendships. His relationships with Peter, James, and John, with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, with the rest of his disciples, were powerful and God was glorified through them. They were sacred, set apart for the purpose of service to God. Indeed, the Bible is filled with holy friendships that bring glory to God; look at Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, Mary and Elizabeth, Paul and Timothy as well as the many other friends Paul calls on by name with great love in his letters.

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis defines four kinds of human love: affection, friendship, eros, and charity. The dust jacket claims Lewis depicts friendship as “the most rare, least jealous, and, in being freely chosen, perhaps the most profound” form of human love.

In his article in Christianity Today, “The Way of Friendship,” Colin Duriez looks further into C.S. Lewis’ view on friendship. He claims “Lewis took a classical and Judeo-Christian view of friendship, seeing it as “the school of virtue.” Properly lived out, friendship could open one’s eyes to previously unseen aspects of reality.” Using The Inklings as an example, Duriez reveals “Lewis’s belief in the restorative and perception-changing nature of friendship.” If this doesn’t describe a sacred, set apart, consecrated bond between people then I don’t know what does.

Here are a few things C.S. Lewis found in friendship that he did not find in any other kind of human love:

Sacred friendships are actually created by God, not us.

“But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sacred friendship helps us form and hold fast to our views and standards.

“Alone among unsympathetic companions, I hold certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put me back among my Friends and in half an hour – in ten minutes – these same views and standards become once more indisputable. The opinion of this little circle, while I am in it, outweighs that of a thousand outsiders: as Friendship strengthens, it will do this even when my Friends are far away. For we all wish to be judged by our peers, by the men “after our own heart.” Only they really know our mind and only they judge it by standards we fully acknowledge. Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sacred friendship is not jealous, but generous, drawing others into relationship.

“But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important. . . In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. . . Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love ‘to divide is not to take away.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sacred friendship is built upon humility, equality, and affection.

“In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Last winter while I was in England for a few months, I had the opportunity to go to Oxford twice. Both times I made the requisite pilgrimage to the Eagle and Child pub, the main gathering place for one of my favorite groups of friends, The Inklings. My “fly on the wall” moment has always been to be able to observe these men mid-debate, 2 or 3 pints in, on a cold English night. The first time I went to the pub by myself, and actually got a tiny table in a corner of the the Rabbit Room, right next to the bench at which these writers, teachers, and theologians would have sat. For a couple hours I nestled there with my beer, shepherd’s pie, and journal, yearning for something like what they had. I knew when I got back to the States everything would be different for me. Most of my dearest friends would still be in LA, and I would be starting almost-fresh in my hometown. My greatest longing was for creative, intellectually stimulating, challenging, deep, Christian community and I knew that would be hard to find.

These days, back in the US in my hometown, instead of yearning for the partnership of marriage, or pining for the close community I had in my church in LA, I am learning to appreciate the friendships the Lord has brought into my life both in Los Angeles and here. I am working to grow these friendships, to create space and carve out time for them. For some of us, these times and spaces may come organically through mutual friends, work, church, Bible study, or other weekly activities. For the rest of us, we may need to create groups that meet monthly or quarterly so we can cultivate these friendships on a deeper level. Singles in particular need these bonds; they are not secondary or superfluous but valuable and, as Lewis claimed, “perhaps the most profound.”

May we all find sacred friendships and draw others with us; may we create time and space in our lives to find warm places to gather like The Bird and Baby, and create stimulating friendships like the Inklings.

The Skint Spinster’s Guide to Gift-Giving

As a follow up to last week’s A Single’s Survival Guide to the Holidays, this week I’ll be getting into how we singles can still manage to give gifts for the holidays while on a tight budget and without the stress.

We don’t have husbands or wives depending on us for the Most Awesome Christmas Gift Ever. A lot of us don’t have children relying on us to channel Santa Claus and bring The Perfect Present. Instead, we have friends and flatmates, siblings and parents, nieces and nephews and godchildren, coworkers and bosses and neighbors, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, Bible study and book club members. . . an embarrassment of riches for whom we are truly grateful but also truly feeling the gift-giving stress of the season.

Here are my tips to help make giving gifts this year an enjoyable, fun, meaningful experience and cut out the anxiety and pressure.

Make A List and Budget Early

One late November day a few years ago, I realized that my list of names for Christmas gifts had grown exponentially from what it once was. See, when you’re single, everyone just has to get one little gift for you. But then people go and get married and have kids, and all of a sudden instead of the 1 friend you bought a gift for, you have their husband, adorable kids, and even in-laws.

I thought to myself, I can’t afford my friends getting married and reproducing! It’s just so expensive! I mean, I already bought the bridesmaid dress, shoes, jewelry, weird wrappy shawl thing that always falls off, bridal shower decor, food, and gifts, bachelorette party accoutrement, wedding gift, baby shower gift, kid’s first birthday present, etc. and now I have to get 3 Christmas presents? There’s just no way I can afford it. So, early on, I made a deal with myself that I don’t have to buy presents for friends’ spouses or kids, coworkers, extended family or acquaintances unless I absolutely want to and it is financially feasible.

Sit down and make a list, on paper or in your phone, of all the people you’d like to give Christmas gifts to. Then go through and ask yourself if you actually need to get gifts for every name on the list, because I guarantee you don’t. Say this with me now, “I don’t have to give gifts to everyone!”

When you have your pared-down list, realistically look at your bank account and figure out how much money you can spend on gifts this year. Be honest with yourself, don’t inflate the amount. Then, if there is money can can afford to spend, divide it by the number of names on your list. Don’t forget tax! There you have it, the dollar amount you can spend on each person. I try to stick to around $10-15 per person each year, not more. Well, my mum gets a bit more because I stuff her stocking, but she’s mum so she deserves everything.

Then, here’s the most important part, stick to your budget like MacGyver stuck to a paper-clip and duct tape. Seriously.

Be Thoughtful and Creative

How in the world does one stick to a tight budget when gift-giving? Well, find little things that fit the person well. I love little things – was so the kid with the sticker collection who adored scented pens or an animal shaped eraser when everyone else wanted the big-ticket items. Little things can still bring a lot of joy to both the giver and the getter. So, be thoughtful by keeping these people in mind as you are out and about, in case you run into something they might enjoy. This is one reason why starting to gift shop a bit earlier is better as you have time to stumble upon awesome things at affordable prices.

Think of your friends and family and start to curate your go-to stores and websites that have things just for people like them. I am a geek in a family of geeks, so the vast majority of the gifts that I give (and receive, incidentally) are found in bookstores, websites like ThinkGeek, Etsy, or Amazon, in Hot Topic or BoxLunch, comic book shops, World Market, or the Disney store. In past years, I did most of my Christmas shopping on Cyber Monday online because I am so not a Black Friday kind of shopper.

I also buy things on a credit card that gives me points and then pay the card off right away. This way, I get a little more for my buck but can still be responsible financially and not run up debt.

This year, I asked my girls in LA if it would be ok for us to not exchange gifts at all, but to hang out together instead. I realized that I can’t afford to both go out for coffee, lunch, or drinks with them AND get gifts, and the former is so much more important to me than getting more stuff. I was nervous asking this, but they seemed just as happy with the idea as I was! So, when I’m off for a few days at Christmas time, I’ll spend my budgeted money on gas to drive back down to LA and on being able to go out with them and spend some quality time together. To me, their time and company is so much more awesome than things.

Another option for thrifty yet thoughtful gift giving is make stuff. I remember one year when I was totally skint in college and couldn’t afford gifts for anyone, even mum. Instead of presents, I made homemade cookies and candies (my classic chocolate chip cookies are to die for), put then in little plastic baggies, and gave those out with great love. Yeah, it wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world to get, I’m sure, but I was still able to express my great love and appreciation for those that mean the most to me. I have a lot of friends and family who are artistic and many of us would love to get a drawing, sketch, little painted card, knitted scarf, photo, or other crafted object than any store-bought thing from them.

And never underestimate the power of words as the perfect gift. Some of the random objects I’ve received over the years don’t even last a year, but I’ve kept every letter and note I’ve gotten my entire life. Handwritten letters, poems, anecdotes, favorite verses, affirmations, and notes of appreciation are truly valuable to humanity. If you gift some personal words of thanks and encouragement, they may turn out to be that friend’s favorite present.

Have fun

One of the benefits of being the single friend or family member is that we are very rarely anyone’s main gift giver. What an amazingly freeing thought this is! I don’t feel the pressure that this will be the most important thing someone gets this year. That’s usually on the parent or spouse! Ha! We can just embrace the fact that whatever we give anyone is like the sprinkles on the cupcake, but not the cupcake itself. It’s the fun, colorful, crunchy bit, not the base! Awesome.

So now you know you don’t have to overthink anything. Just take the time to look around until you find something that reminds you of that friend, and makes you smile or laugh thinking about them opening it. Or turn up the Christmas music while you make a mess in the kitchen baking snicker-doodles. Or dig out some old stationary and just enjoy the deep freedom that comes from pouring out your gratitude to someone else through words as a gift. Again, there’s no pressure. It’s all just extra fun, extra blessing. So no more stressing.

But if you happen to be one of those incredibly wealthy individuals who still really wants to lavish all your friends and family with expensive gifts, just DM me and I’ll get you my student loan payoff info. 😉

A Single’s Survival Guide to the Holidays

Are you facing the upcoming holidays with a blend of excitement and dismay? Happy to have a few days off to celebrate, worship, and see friends and family, but also dreading the inevitable stress, awkwardness, and loneliness that can tag along? Not quite sure exactly how to survive relatives asking about your love life, being the only one at the office party without a spouse, or being minus one on New Year’s Eve yet again, without wanting to toss all holiday cheer out the window? I’ve been there. I lived there. And, after a couple decades of adult singleness, I’ve got a few tips that might help you make the next two months more joyous and less anxiety-inducing.

Make a Game Plan

For those of you who live in cities like Los Angeles where no one ever RSVPs, creating a schedule will feel wrong. What if something better comes up? Everyone plans things last minute anyway, so you might miss out! Bear with me. I had a few LA years there where I looked ahead to my time of at Thanksgiving and Christmas as a blank slate, and rather than giving me the freedom to fill it as things came up, it left me anxious and depressed. Things did come up, but somehow they came up all at once, leaving me frantically balancing multiple events, anxiously picking and choosing what I’d do as I tried not to offend anyone. And, since everything happened all at once, there were often large swaths of time where I’d sit at home waiting for something to happen, feeling quite lonely and sorry for myself. Thus, the game plan was born.

I’ve found the best way to do it is create a blend of set-in-stone events, a couple flexible ones, some down time, and some free time to be filled in as things arise. I also try to make sure my plan includes time with family and time with friends. For instance, I have this week off for Thanksgiving Break and, instead of feeling stressed out with the million things I have to do or sad because I’m waiting around for others to make plans, I am looking forward to the week with great enthusiasm. Knowing I’ll be busy next week, I planned to stay home the Saturday before so I could get this blog done, do laundry, and rest up a bit. Then, on Sunday I’ll head to LA to go to my old church for second service, leaving lunch plans up in the air so I can go out with whoever is available after church. I’ve got dinner/drinks plans with a few friends for Sunday night, lunch plans with other friends Monday, and dinner plans with my girls Monday evening before heading back to the desert for the week. I’ve squeezed some appointments in Tuesday since they have to be done when I’m usually at work, Wednesday is left free to help my mum cook and bake for Thanksgiving, and Thursday-Friday will be for family. The weekend after Thanksgiving I’ve left open because I know my mum will want to decorate for Christmas, and I value being able to help her put the tree up. That also gives me to time to blog, do chores, and gear up for going back to work next week.

Whew! It seems like a lot, but it has a lot of space planned into it so I can love others, let others love me, celebrate, give thanks, and rest. I also remember that Christmas is coming up soon, when I’ll have some more time off, so I don’t feel pressured to see everyone or do everything this week. Never try to fit EVERYTHING into your schedule because it’s impossible and will only stress you out. Pick a couple things for each holiday as your set-in-stone plans, and save the rest for another time. Then try to hold these plans loosely, ready to be flexible if they fall through. Cold and flu season overlaps the holidays, weather can get bad (in non-southern Californian parts of the world, I’m told), and things come up. Be prepared to modify your plans if needed.

So, singles, start texting your friends and booking some lunches! Let your family know which days you’ll be there with them, and which days you’ll be gone. And don’t forget to set aside time to actually rest.

Embrace Friends as Family

When I was younger, I used to feel guilty when I wanted to spend some of my few days off with friends instead of the entire time with family. But the longer I lived in one city, the more my friendships became like family and I yearned for quality time with my friends as much as my biological family.

This became more pronounced as I got more involved with my church. Because of this, I started changing my plans to head up to my mum’s a day or two later, or head back to my apartment a couple days earlier so I could make it to church and spend time with that family as well. Now that I live with my mum, I am blocking out time to go back to my old LA neighborhood, including my old church, as part of my holiday plans.

If you don’t really have family, or they’re too far away to visit during the holidays, embrace your friends as family! Friendsgiving can be one of the most beautiful, enjoyable, worshipful meals you can have. Reach out to other singles, or married couples who live too far to travel to family. Be bold, ask what people are doing, get adopted by families in your church, or adopt a few other singles and create your own holiday celebrations with them. I had a friend who hosted Friendsgiving in her apartment every year for those who stayed behind in LA, and another who always had a Christmas Eve party for stragglers. Don’t be alone. And don’t feel like family has to be related by blood.

Start Your Own Traditions

One of the things people do when they get married, and even more when they have kids, is start their own family traditions. This is awesome as it helps them celebrate the things God is doing in their lives by marking certain days and seasons. As single adults, we often get caught up in the traditions of others and rarely make our own. If you’ve been single for awhile now, it might be time to finally embrace the holidays by creating some traditions.

When I lived a couple hours away from my family, and most of my friends were also single and away from theirs, we created a few traditions together. At the end of each semester (I was a teacher then), some of my friends (mostly teachers) and I would go to our favorite fancy Korean BBQ spot to celebrate getting through finals. These times were precious, as we could give thanks that we survived another semester, and celebrate it being over. Another tradition was my friend’s annual Christmas party; we’d all chip in by bringing food and drinks, and mark the holiday a little early before everyone went our separate ways out of town. As most of us would head back into the city on New Year’s Eve or Day, another friend hosted an annual New Year’s Day Brunch open house, where we’d slowly trickle in throughout the late morning/early afternoon for coffee, mimosas, cinnamon buns, and french toast casseroles.

Roomie Christmas was one of my favorite traditions. My fabulous flatmate and I would set aside an evening the week before Christmas, before I left town, to celebrate Christmas together. We always decorated our flat for the holidays, even getting a 6’ tall live Christmas tree a couple times, so sometimes roomie Christmas was just spent at home, eating seasonal snacks, having hot toddies and watching “Die Hard” or introducing her to “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” One year, we went to an Andrew Bird concert in a gorgeous old cathedral, another we went to Disneyland for our roomie Christmas date. That time was always special, for just the two of us, and set apart from the rest of the holiday busyness.

I would also make sure I was back in my hometown a couple days before Christmas so I could go to Christmas Eve service with my mum, brother, and sister-in-law at their church and then partake in our family’s tradition of opening our stockings that night.

Since I just moved back to the town much of my family lives in and instead live a couple hours from most of my friends, I’m working on creating some new traditions outside of my family ones, so I can still celebrate with my friends.

Get Over Not Having a Plus One

I honestly can’t remember ever having a plus one for anything – not a wedding, family Thanksgiving dinner, work Christmas party, or New Year’s Eve celebration. I had a couple boyfriends in my early 20’s, but I guess they weren’t around during the holidays, or weren’t serious enough to bring home to meet the family. So, while every one of my four siblings brought significant others, some of whom eventually turned into spouses, with them to Thanksgiving and Christmas family meals, I never did. While almost everyone else attended the annual work Christmas party accompanied by a spouse or date, I stood in the corner nursing my drink, feeling oh-so-alone. And don’t get me started on the horrors of one New Year’s Eve party after another, standing there alarmed as everyone else around me seemed to have someone to kiss except for myself and the one awkward single guy who had no intention of kissing me.

One of the benefits of being perpetually single for a couple of decades is that everyone gets used to it. Your Bridget Jones awkwardly trying to make small talk with Mr. Darcy in a reindeer jumper moments decrease. Relatives eventually stop asking the horrible questions about your love life. People stop putting “Plus One” on your invitation as it becomes assumed you’ll come alone. The lone single guy at the part stops being threatened that you’ll want to flirt with him because, well, you’re older now and never really learned how to flirt in the first place. When this started happening (or not happening, I suppose) I was offended. How dare my cousin stop asking if I had a boyfriend, did they think I would be single forever? How rude for my friend to not even give me the chance to bring a Plus One to their wedding, did they think I couldn’t find a date? How condescending for the guy to assume I’m not interested in flirting, is it  just because I’m over 35? But to be honest, at this point in my life, all of these answers are pretty true. I think I will most likely be single forever, I haven’t had a date to any of these functions and probably never will, and I am probably not interested in the guy at the party at all. And I’m pretty happy this way.

So, my tip is to embrace being single during the holidays. Instead of yearning for the rom-com movie ending of every Hallmark movie, learn to love your independence. Instead of getting upset that your cousin is bothering you about not being married yet, tell her how happy you are in your current life because you’ve been able to reach out to others more and serve God in particular ways only a single person can. Explain how awesome work, travel, friendships, church, and ministry have been lately. Change the focus from your single status to your life as a child of God who is fulfilling his plan for your life.

At the office holiday party, enjoy getting the opportunity to meet the spouses and significant others of these people with whom you spend so much of your time. These are the humans that mean the most to your coworkers, so embrace getting to know them. I actually became friends with the husbands and wives of the teachers I worked with through holiday parties like this, and looked forward to getting to catch up with them each year. Don’t stand in the corner feeling awkward, instead be confident that you are just as valuable and have as much to offer as they do. Also, remember that pretty much everyone feels awkward at parties like this! If you make it  your goal to help others feel at ease, you’ll focus less on yourself and end up having an even better time as you help others feel more at ease.

As my friends dated and married over the years, they shared a secret with me: New Year’s Eve is actually one of the most overrated holidays and is almost always a let down for everyone, even when you have someone to kiss. So, take this and other holidays less seriously. Lower those romantic expectations of adventure. Yes, I spent last New Year’s Eve with my only date a nervous doggy trying to hide from the fireworks. Unexciting New Year’s have less to do with being single, and more to do with the fact that we’re all getting old! It’s not like everyone is out partying while I’m home alone. Most of my married friends with kids are in bed by the time the actual West Coast midnight rolls around. Realizing this has been freeing, and now I can enjoy my quiet holiday nights.

Worship

Holidays help us mark our days and remember what God has done. I love them. They break up our usual day to day routine, giving us days off for worship and reflection, celebration and observation. I admit that some years, the holiday season has come and gone without this as my main focus; life gets busy and I get distracted. However, many of my favorite holiday seasons throughout my life were infused by times of worship, moments of looking back at what God had done that year, glimpses of his grace, times of thankfulness, and reflection on what the nativity truly means for humanity. This year, I’d like to infuse these upcoming days and weeks with worship.

One of my favorite parts of studying at L’Abri Fellowship in England last winter was being there for some of the holiday season: Halloween, Bonfire Night, an ex-pat Thanksgiving, the beginning of Advent and the weeks leading up to Christmas. Each morning, one of the workers read to us at breakfast, bits and pieces from the Bible, literature, poetry, and even songs, all meant to focus our thoughts upward and outward. The local church I went to, in a centuries old stone chapel, celebrated the first Sunday of advent with special choral music, liturgical readings, and mulled wine warmed over the pot bellied wood stove at the back of the church. At the Manor House, we had our first advent reading in a candle and wreath filled chapel on the grounds. Now that I’m back from sabbatical, back in the busy routine of humdrum daily life, I’m working to find special ways to worship, on top of the ordinary ones.

At Thanksgiving, my sister and I make place cards by writing Bible verses of thanks on index cards and decorating them with stickers. After dinner, we go around, read our verse, and say something we’re thankful for. Singles, this is something you can do with family or friends! And this thankfulness should infuse our lives; instead of thinking about what we don’t have, we can thank God for what we do have. Holidays give us a unique opportunity to set aside time to meditate on specific things, whether it’s what God has done in our lives this year, praising him for giving up so much to become human in order to show his love for us, or looking ahead to the next year and how we can glorify him better.

As a single person, one thing I’ve missed is family worship. I don’t have kids to create a Pinterest-worthy tree filled with hand-traced leaves with thanksgiving messages on them. I don’t sing Christmas carols, read the story of the Christ child, and light the Advent candles like we used to as a family when I was little. So we singles might need to get a little creative with our worship, find ways to incorporate it into our lives, set aside time to actually write a list of our thanks, write letters to friends who have blessed us, or pray through Psalms of thanksgiving. We might need to search out a devotional book to go through for advent, or download a schedule for Advent reading such as the one offered by the Revised Common Lectionary. We might have to be bold and ask our friends, roommates, or families if they’d like to join us for the lighting of Advent candles and prayer. We worship God through how we live our lives, but sometimes we need a bit more than that to help us refocus – sometimes we need the tradition and liturgy. Seek it out. Fit it in.

My mum and I have decided we’re going to observe advent together, our first year experiencing the entire season together in a decade. We haven’t quite figured out what we’re going to do yet, what we’ll read, how often, and when, but we’ll dig out the old Advent wreath and light the candles. If you have any ideas for readings my mum and I and other singles can incorporate into our own Advent rituals, comment below.

There are many ways singles can grow in our enjoyment of the holidays, these tips merely offer a few ideas. If you have more tips singles can use the survive during this holiday season, I’d love to hear them, and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

Join me next week for the Skint Spinster’s Guide to Gift Giving.

The Lesser Sanctification of the Childless

I have a cold. Which means this week, I spent quite a bit of time after work on the couch or in bed and way too much time on social media. And, during one of these online binges, I came across this brilliant tweet by Rachel Held Evans:

I read this and thought, in my sinus congested brain, this makes a lot of sense. I also thought about what things in my life helped shatter the “follow-your-bliss” and “live-a-thrilling-story” idols I’ve had. And I loved her last line about “just showing up and being faithful.” So many Amens to that.

And then . . . well, then I made the mistake of reading the comments. While most of them were awesome or at least innocuous, there were the usual few that took this principle one step further and turned it into something along the lines of “parenthood is the ONLY way or the ULTIMATE way” these false life goals are routed out of us. As a single woman who already struggles with the awkwardness of not having kids, this line of reasoning never ceases to disturb me. As if God only uses one method, the same method, to help each and every one of us grow. As if raising children is the only way, or even the absolute best way, to stop believing a false narrative of personal fulfillment.

One of my pet peeves as a single woman in the church is how often I hear these messages; these “truths” build up one type of person while putting down another, usually inadvertently. By changing just a word or two, from “a gift of parenthood” to “parenthood is the one and only way, or the best way,” this beautiful idea becomes a patronizing way of saying that parents are able to be more sanctified than non-parents, in this area at least.

Let me paraphrase a few of the comments to show you what I’m talking about:

  • Parenting is the best destroyer of the ‘what matters most is doing what feels good’ mythology.
  • I think parents pressure their adult kids into having babies soon after marriage because they can’t wait for us to learn this.
  • Kids are the ultimate teacher in the school of dying to self.
  • Have kids, and you’ll find out what you really believe. Parenting is boot camp for the rest of your life as adult.
  • Becoming a parent is the most sanctifying thing ever.

Since the vast majority of Americans have children by the time they’re 45, making statements like this may seem insightful at best and harmless at worst. But for the rest of us, those of us without children, declarations like these leave us out in the cold. If parenting is the best, main, or only tool God uses to teach his children that the “follow your heart” ideal is horribly flawed and rather being faithful in the little day to day things can truly give us our best lives, then all childless adults are doomed to live lesser lives with that false bubble still intact.

The thing is, that’s not true, is it? We’ve all met parents who still firmly believe the lie Rachel Held Evans exposes, and we all know single people who don’t buy into it. Sanctification is not limited to parents.

Instead of perpetuating this common idea that parenting is some magic formula to sanctification, we should be focusing on the fact that God can, and does, use all things in our lives to grow us more like Christ.

Paul, assures the church at Philippi “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

In Romans 12, he discusses how all followers of Christ should present our bodies as living sacrifices to God. He goes on to explain how we are many members of the same body, all of whom have different gifts, but in whom the Holy Spirit is working. Parenting doesn’t even come up because it is merely one of the many tools God can use to help draw us into his vision for life.

Here are some other ways the “follow-your-bliss” and “live-a-thrilling-story” life goals are often revealed to be empty objectives in life thus far, none of which include raising a child.

Death

When someone you love dies, it takes everything in you to just show up and be faithful because you can’t do anything else. The thrilling story of my life as I saw it was supposed to include my grandparents, friends, crush, and father a lot longer than it did. Grief does not allow the “follow-your-bliss” narrative to continue because it strips your bliss away, revealing what’s underneath. Hopefully, revealing faithfulness and love.

Illness and Injury

It’s hard to live a thrilling story when every step you take is excruciatingly painful. Sometimes we have to cancel our exciting single and carefree plans when, instead of jumping on the airplane for which we have a nonrefundable ticket, we end up in the emergency room unable to move due to a back injury. In moments like these, or lifetimes for those who suffer from chronic pain, just showing up is the hardest thing in the world. When all of one’s strength is taken by not giving in to despair, faithfulness is all that’s required of us.

Financial Insecurity

One comment on Evans’ tweet highlighted that this idol of following our hearts and leading exciting lives is one only the financially stable can afford to have. They point out that this dies pretty quickly when you have to work multiple jobs just to scrape by to pay the bills. As someone who grew up quite poor and is currently working 3 jobs just to cover my necessities, I agree. There isn’t much thought to “bliss” when you’re just doing what you have to do to get by.

Being Part of a Church Family

God uses his children to help each other grow. It doesn’t take a toddler to teach patience, or a sick child to teach selflessness. God can and does use everyone around us. For parents, yes, this means he will use your children and spouses an awful lot, as well as your coworkers, friends, family, and church. For those of us without kids, he’ll use everyone in our lives too. If you’ve ever been part of a church family, you know how hard that can be. Just showing up and being faithful is my mantra these days, because so often I don’t even want to show up.

Following Your Bliss

One of the best ways to realize the emptiness of a self-focused life built on the idea that we can be fulfilled by chasing our own pleasure comes from trying it out for awhile. Many a soul has pursued this very goal, seeking the thrilling life of adventure and running after whatever brings immediate gratification, only to find it hollow and unfulfilling. Jesus uses one such story, that of the wealthy young man who gets his inheritance early and leaves home to chase pleasure, only to return to his father as a lost prodigal, destitute and miserable (Luke 15). For those of us who don’t want to figure this out for ourselves, we can learn from reading parables like this, and stories depicting this truth over and over again in great literature and history.

Singleness

Singleness, in and of itself, can be a testing ground for this idea. When so many of us have future dreams of falling in love, getting married, and living an adventurous life with our partner, our prolonged or permanent singleness can be the greatest teacher. We either must re-frame our idea of a successful life, or live in bitterness. Most people I know who have been single for a long time learned awhile ago that “just showing up and being faithful” is the only way to be content, the only way to see what God has for us rather than what we wanted for ourselves.

There are a million other way in which God is working in all of his children, whether parents or not, married or single, to conform us to his image. Please don’t fall into the trap of believing or causing others to believe he has the same way of doing this for everyone.

Romans 8:28-31
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according this his purpose.For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

It might seem a bit nit-picky, but for singles and those of us without kids who hear this rhetoric All The Time, it adds up and can get into our heads. It can also get into the heads of parents, Christian professors, and pastors – like their adult children, students, and parishioners won’t be quite sanctified enough until they are married and have kids of their own. Let’s be careful about what we are saying, because it seeps into what we believe and can eventually lead to entire churches and groups of Christians believing false theology. Let’s give hope to every follower of Christ that God can and will work in them, using the varied tools he so chooses, to help them fulfill their calling.

The Awkwardness of Not Having Kids

This week I had two separate, incredibly awkward conversations about the failure of me and my uterus to do what we’re apparently supposed to do. In the minds of many, especially fellow Christians, we had One Job, and we are joint failures, my lazy uterus and I.

Both times, while chatting with some women at work, all of whom are mothers, parenting and kids inevitably came up. I casually stated, almost offhand, something like “since I won’t be having kids of my own, it’s nice to be so close to my little niece and nephew, so I can be part of their lives as they grow up.” And, like always, this derailed the conversational train a bit. Two of the women just stared at me, mouths open, not knowing what to say, while one started into the typical response of “don’t worry, you still have time, I didn’t start having my kids until I was in my 30s! You can’t be more than, what, 29? Are you even in your 30s?” And thus the awkwardness grows.

“Actually, I’m 39.”

At this point, we all just stand there looking and feeling even more awkward. I don’t look my age, so this frequently comes as a surprise. Some brave souls continue on after this revelation with phrases like, “you can still have kids if you start soon!” but most don’t continue.

And I always wonder, how much should I go on after this? Do I explain that I haven’t been in a relationship since my early 20’s, and have only been on one date in the last decade, so the likelihood of finding a man with whom I’d like to reproduce any time soon is minuscule? Do I discuss how miserable trying to online date made me feel about myself, so I just don’t even bother anymore? Do I explain how removing trying to date from the picture has made me so much more happy? Do I dare go into how my body might actually be going through perimenopause early, which would make conception even more difficult? Do I delve into the odd fact that I seem to have missed out on the ticking biological clock, and never felt a strong desire to have my own bio kids, so even when I still thought marriage was a probable outcome, I wanted to adopt? Do I get on my soap box about how expensive adoption is privately, and how I don’t have the resources, financial or emotional, to even try to go through fost-adopt  as a single woman? Do I try to assure them that I’m actually doing pretty well with this not having kids thing, and feel like God’s plan for me is just different than for them, but it’s still good and noble and useful? How can I convince them that this is actually okay, fine, even?

Instead, I usually just blush and feel stupid and try to end the conversation as quickly as possible. Embarrassed. And maybe even a bit ashamed. And then I spend the rest of the day wondering if these women look at me as immature, or selfish, or weird, or less than a woman because I can’t join the PTA.

I get it. They love being moms. They find deep meaning in their lives because of their children. And they are great mothers! I love their passion for their kids, and am so glad these little ones have been blessed with such amazing women to raise them! Because of this, I think it’s really difficult for them to imagine a life without kids. For them, even the thought of a life without their beloved babies fills them with sadness. I get it.

But, I’m not sad.

Yes, over the past few years as I got older and my body started to change a bit, and I realized having my own kids was no longer just something I wasn’t particularly interested in but was most likely an impossibility, I felt a bit weird sometimes. Any time choice is taken away, I feel odd. But again, not bad exactly. Just odd. Like I need to wrap my head around it a bit more, that’s all. And when I do think it through, I realize that I’m just fine.

It’s other people who seem to have more trouble with this concept than I do. Especially Christians. Especially Christian women. Married Christian men struggle with the idea of me not ever getting married as much as the women do, but the topic of me not having kids doesn’t really come up with them as much. But man, put me in a group of evangelical mommies, and I stick out like The Demogorgon out of the Upside Down.

This becomes more and more problematic each year, because fellow single, childless friends drop like flies the older you get, succumbing to marital and parental bliss. Yet here I stay, perpetually single and childless. Happily so, I might add, at least in this episode of my life. So here are a few things it would be nice for other Christians to know about being single and childless:

  • It’s not a sin to be childless or single. It’s not wrong for a man or woman to remain unmarried and without kids.
  • Some of us have purposefully chosen to be single and childless, some of us have just ended up that way, and others of us had no choice. We are complex humans, remember that before “comforting” or “encouraging” us.
  • Some of us are perfectly happy without kids and some are devastated. Please get to know us a bit instead of automatically judging or pitying us, so you can find out how we feel about it instead of projecting what you think you might feel if you were in that situation. Then you’ll know better how to actually encourage us.
  • Not having kids does not make us selfish, lazy people. Many singles are judged as not being quite as responsible, caring, and selfless as their married with kids counterparts. There are many studies that show singles are often paid less and promoted less than their married coworkers because the “not having a family to support” makes them appear less driven or dedicated. In actuality, single workers work more hours and take less time off than married ones. We are dedicated to our families and friends. We often serve in the church, volunteer in our communities, and take care of our lives responsibly all on our own.
  • God has different plans for different people, but they are all for our good and his glory. Please keep this in mind when you struggle to understand the plan he has for your single friend without children. His perfect plan for my life so far just hasn’t included a husband or baby, that’s all. God’s plan for my life has allowed me to grow closer to him, closer to my family and friends, more in love with the beauty of his creations, and has allowed me to bless and be blessed by the lives of hundreds of students.

I look forward to the rest of my single, childless life because I know God has beautiful and glorious things in store for me, along with the difficult things. And, the next time someone throws me into the middle of the awkward “you can still have kids” conversation, I might just get into a graphic biology lesson about the aging uterus. If I do that enough times, perhaps people will stop.

Why I Write

October 20th celebrated the National Day on Writing, bringing with it the hashtag #WhyIWrite as it has for the past 9 years. This year, preparing my tweet to accompany this hashtag was particularly difficult. Why do I write? It’s a big question, with more than one answer, and I’m still sorting my way through them.

As a child, I wrote because I had school assignments and to enjoy my imagination by creating stories.

As a teen, on top of writing for school, I wrote bad emo poetry, muddled short stories, and journaled to help me process my depression. I wrote letters to my best friend because she lived in a different city.

In college, as an English major, I wrote everything from essays to stories, poetry to papers because they were required. I wrote letters to my grandfather, getting replies from him each month about how his orange tree was doing or what neighbor had stopped by for a muffin, because they brought us both joy.

After college, when I traveled, I kept a detailed journal to remind me of what I experienced.

As a social worker, I wrote reports about each client as required, and I journaled to process the difficult things I saw.

As a teacher, I wrote lesson plans and samples to help my students understand their lessons, I wrote chapel messages to try to help my students more personally and spiritually, and I wrote speeches for events to help the school.

As a member of the women’s writing team at my former church, I wrote a blog a month for almost 3 years to try to help the members of my church grow in godliness and joy, and to give voice to the women of the congregation.

As a conference speaker, I wrote on specific topics that could help the attendees.

As a counselor, I wrote notes so I could better prepare for my next session and I journaled to help me deal with the difficulties of counseling.

When I was at L’Abri in England, I wrote letters to friends and family back here in the States because I didn’t have internet access often and I loved getting letters back, and I journaled daily to help process what I was learning in my tutorials, from my reading, and the lectures.

For years, I have taken handwritten notes (and randomly doodle) in a journal at every sermon or conference I attend to help me focus while the speakers speak, and help me remember afterward.

But, why do I write now? I am no longer a teacher, and no longer part of a church writing team. I have taken a break from official counseling. I am not traveling. And no one writes letters back these days, we all just text. Yet, here I am, still writing. Why?

I (often) enjoy writing

Writing is fun. It’s challenging and difficult but the mental exercise of figuring out how to put thought to word, word to page is rewarding. The discipline of sitting down at my desk in the back room, door closed, with the goal of finishing a blog post in a certain number of hours is oddly enjoyable. Instead of allowing my creativity to stagnate, each week I try to utilize it to express my thoughts, which energizes me. I write because I want to write, I enjoy it. Sometimes I hate it, but I get past that and enjoy it again.

Writing, for me, is a form of worship

One of the reason I love the written word so much is because I think writing can be a form of worship. We are interacting with ideas that only exist because God created us to think and express. Created in the image of the most unique, creative, expressive artist, we worship him by reflecting these traits in our own lives, in our own ways. Since I’m not particularly good at acting or painting, woodworking or building video games, writing is one way I can utilize gifts God’s given me and skills he’s allowed me to develop. I become more fully human when I express my thoughts in words, and I was created to be human.

Writing helps me process what I’m thinking

Sometimes I have so many things going on in my head that I can’t process them, can’t even begin to start figuring out what questions I actually have and what I really think. Journaling helps me work through my thoughts, and blogging helps me make sense of them a bit more. Writing helps me make decisions, and if I can’t decide, it helps me come up with better questions.

I believe having a voice is important

I was so that English teacher who taught my students that everyone has a voice and they should all use them. I taught this because I believe it. Writing is one way for me to try out my voice in a more public sphere than just my friends and family. I get nervous, because I know there are other people writing blogs and books and speaking about the things I write and speak about, about singleness and the church, about life experiences and the Bible, but they do not have my voice. I have a BA in English literature, an MA in Biblical Counseling, experience in social work, teaching, counseling, speaking, and library work. I have a lot of years of study and practice under my belt. I’m a geeky, slightly odd Christian woman stuck between conservative and liberal. I’ve lived a lot in my 39 years, have experienced much joy and much loss. My voice is valid and unique and, I hope, helpful to others.

Writing opens up the world/exposes me to other voices

Since I started this blog, I’ve been reading more blogs by other writers. I’ve sought out other single Christian bloggers to follow on Twitter, theologians and teachers who touch on topics that interest me. When I know I want to write on a topic, I’ll research it first which exposes me to new voices. I love how writing tends to open me up to other writers. Though it might start as a very personal thing, me sitting with my laptop expressing my own stuff, I hit publish and now I have readers to interact with, other articles sent to me, and a whole world of ideas of which I’m now an active part.

I think my writing can help people

When I was graduating from college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life other than that I wanted to help people. One of the reasons I write my blog is in the hopes that I can help others – other single women and men who feel like they don’t quite fit in, other Christians who are searching for the best way to interact in this difficult climate, other geeky awkward souls who stumble upon my page. I want my writing to help point to God’s grace and love, to challenge some preconceptions the church has about singleness, and to help people feel a bit less alone in their awkwardness.

I’d like to write a book

Someday soon, I hope to start compiling my thoughts, research, and experiences as a single Christian woman in modern America into a book. I’m putting this out there even though it scares me to make this desire public. I don’t really fit anywhere, too conservative to be a progressive Christian, too liberal to be a right wing evangelical, so I’m not sure who would publish someone like me. But there it is, one of the reasons I write is to try to get my thoughts in order before working on a book outline. Why would I write a book? For all the reasons above.

So, that’s my “Why I Write” list (for this episode of my life, anyway). If you put pen to page, or fingers to keys, why do you write?