Archive for August 2017

Talking to Singles for Dummies

“Never say never!”
“You’re still young.”
“Don’t give up hope!”
“Don’t be so negative.”
“There’s someone for everyone.”
“Don’t worry, you still have time.”
“You should put yourself out there!”
“When the timing’s right, it’ll happen.”
“Must be nice to do whatever you want.”
“Are you praying for your future spouse?”
“You should open yourself up to the idea!”
“I have a friend who got married when she was in her 50’s!”
“Enjoy this season of your life, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.”
“When you’re married, you won’t be able to do this anymore.”
“When you get married (and have kids), then you’ll understand.”
“The moment you’re content being single, God will send someone.”
“Just trust God’s plan for you, he’ll send a spouse when you’re ready.”

Each Sunday, I brace myself for these words to be poured over my head like a blessing from well-meaning churchgoers. Each time I meet someone new at work or in social settings, I grit my teeth, knowing one of these phrases will probably follow the inevitable question of “Are you married?” and its frequent partner “Do you have kids?” My response of “No” seems to be an invitation for all sorts of fake encouragements, unfulfillable promises, empty hopes, exposed judgments, and subtle insults. Or there’s the awkward silence as their brains scramble to figure out what to say next.

I understand this, I don’t fit the usual script for a 39 year old Christian woman. They can’t easily move on to “how long have you been married? What does your husband do? How many kids? How old are they? Where do they go to school? etc.”  I require more thought, some creativity even. Married men and women without children go through this, as well as anyone else who doesn’t fit whatever mold is seen by their community as A Typical Christian/American/Grown Man or Woman. Words matter.

What’s happening with these stilted conversations, filled with phrases like those listed above, is a revelation of your heart, your values, and your biases, not mine. Rather than getting to know me before discussing how I might actually feel and think about my singleness, you’re assuming you already know. I might be incredibly happy about being single, or devastated. Your words in this moment could make me doubt my happiness or increase my grief. Wouldn’t you rather speak words to me that will encourage, bring joy, and invite a deeper relationship?

Words matter; they can lift up or crush, encourage or dismay, offer true hope or false promises, offer helpful insight or reinforce bad beliefs. God chose to speak to future generations through the written word of man, the act of divine creation occurs when God speaks it in words, and in John 1 Christ is referred to as the Word. Proverbs is filled with the importance of choosing our words carefully, of taming our tongues. Luke 6:45 states “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Words reveal what is in our hearts; words matter.

I realize this means the stereotypical small talk won’t cut it, and you’ll have to work a bit harder to actually converse. But shouldn’t we be trying to do that with everyone anyway?

Here are some tips on how to talk to a single person you’ve just met:

Read the Tone

Sarcasm is my love language. I like to joke and laugh. Sometimes I joke about my singleness, hilarious jokes in my mind. But more times than not I have been almost rebuked in these moments. When I’m trying to lighten the mood and make it less awkward for all of us, I’m often met with sincere concern, as if I just said I was dying or a drug addict. Please, read my tone. If I’m happy and laughing about my singleness, don’t turn it into a moment to remind me to trust God or not give up hope or some other shallow theological phrase that doesn’t belong. Saying I’m single is just a factual statement, not an invitation for a sermon. If the single person in question is joking, maybe the best bet is to laugh with them. On the other hand, just because I am currently happy being single, this doesn’t mean I always have been or that everyone else is, so keep the tone in mind and respond accordingly.

Don’t Make Assumptions

Until you get to know me,  you have no idea what singleness in my life is like. You don’t know if it’s by choice or by accident, through tragedy or just regular life occurrences, if it’s the best thing that ever happened to me or the worst, if I love it or hate it. Like most things with humans, it’s probably a very complex combination of some the above and more. Please do not heap all singles into one big box, thinking you know what we’re going through because you were single until the ripe old age of 27. Your experiences are not mine, and mine are not yours. Take the time to get to know me before you start talking about my singleness.

Check your Theology

Telling someone not to lose hope because they’re single is just bad theology. First, you’re assuming they are hopeless, which you can’t know at this point. Second, you’re telling them their hope should be found in another person which is just theologically wrong. Our hope is in Christ, nothing more or less; not that Christ will magically grant us all of our desires, but in Christ himself. By reaffirming the false promise that “God has someone for everyone,” you can only harm a single person. Soulmates aren’t promised in the Bible, guys. If you want to find terrible theology, Just run a Google Image search on “God has someone for you” and you’ll encounter platitude after platitude like the one above, ascribed to God, which are not biblical. You can either help singles continue to place their focus, dreams, and hearts on something that may or may not come true, stir up discontentment, confuse them about what promises are actually in the Bible, or just piss them off. If you tell a single person that they “just need to grow more mature, and more content in God, and then when they’re ready God will send a spouse,” you are lying to them. This is not a biblical statement, not a promise God makes, nor is it reality. There are a heck of a lot of messed up, discontent, immature married people, and many incredible single ones.  Nothing good comes from preaching bad theology, false promises, and incorrect priorities through easy, quick, thoughtless small talk.

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Since I’ve inadvertently removed the next few inane comments you usually say when meeting someone, what should you do once the “are you married?” receives a glaring “no”? Rather than following it with one of the above problematic comments or standing awkwardly silent, may I suggest asking some thoughtful questions? Let’s rule out asking why someone is single, because most of us don’t know. If you’re just meeting me, some better questions to ask are “what do you spend a lot of your time doing? What are some of your interests? Can you tell me a bit about your job? What have you been up to this week? Are you reading any good books or watching any great shows lately?” There are literally hundreds if not thousands of other questions to ask that don’t have anything to do with the lack of a spouse or children. This doesn’t mean singleness should be completely off the table, as it is a big part of our lives. However, maybe hold off on this topic until you’ve invested a little bit more time in getting to know me. As a friendship forms, if you’d like to be able to actually help me in regards to this aspect of my life, feel free to ask questions like “How do you feel about being single?” and “How can I be an encouragement in this area in your life?” I’d rather get a well meaning question about my singleness than a comment, even if it’s an awkward one. A question reveals an interest in the other person’s experience rather than a patronizing assumption. Questions can lead to actually getting to know each other.

Treat Us Like Adults

One of the most frustrating things about meeting new people as a singleton is being patronized by people younger than us. I realize I look a bit young for my age, but when you add singleness on top of it, I am constantly being patronized by men and women 10-20 years younger than me. This is annoying. My telling you I’m single is not opening up the door for you to school me on dating, married life, or parenthood. Maybe wait a bit to see if I actually want advice in any of these areas. Instead, why not treat me like the grown woman I am and have an adult conversation with me about topics of importance to our society today?

Switch out “When” for “If”

Growing up in the church, I heard “when you’re a wife” or “when you’re a mother” over and over again. Teenage girls are taught to pray and prepare for their future husbands. (Again, if you’d like a vomit-inducing picture of terrible theology, Google search “Praying for your future husband.”) Godly character traits were taught with the caveat “you’ll need this when you’re married” or “this will make you a better mom someday.” Little boys are taught they must be good, godly men so they can become good, godly husbands and fathers. There is some truth here, but not all truth. Yes, having godly character traits is important in being excellent husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers. But I’d argue they’re pretty important in just being great humans in general, helping us glorify God in the workplace, at church, with roommates and friends, with our parents and siblings, in our art and ministry, and in our communities. Can we stop raising our kids with the final goal of wife/mother or husband/father but with a goal of glorifying God in all we do? Can we switch out the inevitable “when” for “if”? Let’s tell our girls and boys things like, “if you get married someday…” and “if you have kids…” instead of “when” so that when they grow up, if they don’t actually marry or have kids but are living awesome, God-glorifying lives, they won’t feel like they’re still doing something wrong. And when you meet singles, just leave off any statement that starts with “when you get married…” 

Don’t Underestimate the Depth of our Love

One assumption I’m constantly battling is that I somehow can’t understand love because I’m single. Seemingly benign statements like “I didn’t really know how selfish I was until I got married,” “The main thing God uses to sanctify us is our spouse,” or “I didn’t know real love until I had kids” and are actually quite insulting to those of us who aren’t married and don’t have children. The flip side says to us “you must be a very selfish, unsanctified person because you live with roommates or on your own, not with a spouse” and “because you don’t have kids, you can’t possibly know a love this deep or real.” In one phrase, you have just called me self-centered and relegated any love I have to second class. You cannot know how much God has used my roommates or times alone to help sanctify me, nor know the deep, beautiful, and sacrificial love I have for my family and my friends. You also assume all spouses are no longer childish, and all parents are just automatically imbued with a supernatural, deep, selfless love. I worked in social work and counseling for years so I know this is not the case. Some of the worst relationships I’ve seen have been marriages, and some of the most selfish people I have met were parents with more love for themselves than their children. Some of the most mature selfless people I know are single men and women who pour out their lives for their friends, families, and communities. There are also a lot of us out there who have “fallen in love” but are still single for one reason or another. Don’t underestimate us. Singleness can actually mature us and increase our capacity to love others, as we don’t have children and a spouse to take up our affections and can therefore look outward to our parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, friends, fellow Christians, and communities. Our hearts are often full to the brim with true, deep, beautiful love.

There are many other things to say on this topic, but I think this is enough for now. Please, just think before you speak. Words matter, affecting those who hear them. And for those of us who feel like we’re often seen as outside the normal expectations of what a Good Christian should be at this point in our lives, your words can help us feel like we’re part of the community instead of in the waiting room.

  • Singles, what are some more pet peeves about singleness that come up in small talk?
  • Marrieds, what are some of the questions/concerns you have about conversing with singles?

Check back next Monday for “Responding to Marrieds for Dummies” to see how we singletons can better respond to these awkward small talk moments with the marrieds we meet.

*If you are reading this via e-mail and are unable to see the gifs, please click through to the webpage, there are a lot in this one! 🙂

My Country Is Broken

My country is broken. It always has been. Yet, somehow, this fact seems to take so many of us by surprise. Not me, I’m a cynic who sees the worst before I can even think of the better. But for many of those around me, there is surprise. A great shock. “How could this be America? This isn’t the America I know and love.” But when we dig deeper, we see this has always been part of America. Divided. Racist. Sexist. Greedy. Selfish. Violent. Yes, there has been beauty and courage, heroism and greatness as well. Being surprised by the bad is the privilege of those who happen to be white, happen to be educated, happen to have medical insurance, happen to not be handicapped or mentally ill, happen to be attracted to the opposite sex, happen to have been raised in “Christian” traditions instead of other religions, happen to not struggle with addiction, happen to be what America has deemed “typically American.”

I fit into this category, for the most part. I have had my own struggles with depression, had periods of my life where my family was incredibly poor, and am currently on Medi-Cal – so I don’t fit every aspect of this picture, but I’m pretty close. I don’t get to look at those around me who have always had a tougher time of it and tell them they’ve been imagining it, that America didn’t use to be this way, that they’re making it up and making it worse. That would be a sin on my part – a grievous lie created just to make me feel better, to make me feel justified if I were to try to perpetuate a system that favors me and those like me while crushing anyone different.

This has been weighing on me for much of my life, not just after this horrible week. I struggled with it as I decorated our house for the 4th of July this year, conflicted about the patriotism around me, which led me to write this poem.

A Nonpartisan Christian’s 4th of July

 

America, I love you?
But you are not first in my heart.
God.
Family, friends, church,
the poor and lost,
the weak and vulnerable,
those who cannot speak for themselves,
these own bigger pieces of my heart.
You, this beautiful mess of a country,
this idea of freedom that only exists for some,
this warped worship of capitalism and greed,
this lie of liberty,
this brutal hope –
you I love too, America,
even as you break my heart.

We are broken. Always have been. But the cracks are starting to grow bigger, more obvious. Yet again (this is not the first time, nor will it be the last). And, tragically, many Christians are assisting in making these cracks even bigger with overt white supremacy, with the lack of acknowledgment of white privilege, support for a vile leader and the rest of his regime, applause for hateful policies, judgment and lack of compassion for the poor and downtrodden, backing exclusive laws, with disbelief, defensiveness, dismissal, and with silence.

White evangelical Christians, I challenge you to stop excusing what is happening by saying you voted for the party, not the man. Stop using getting an anti-abortion and gay marriage supreme court justice as your one ticket item that somehow excuses immense evil. Stop claiming the possibility of socialized medicine is somehow justification for stripping away rights and humanity from others.

It shouldn’t have taken this long for people to see Trump and the rest of his White House, and many Republicans, for what they truly are. The minute he said to “grab women by the pussy,” or defrauded his Trump University students, or encouraged his constituents to beat reporters and protesters, or brought up Obama’s birth certificate, or accepted support from Breitbart and other hate-mongering sites, or I dunno, opened his mouth, Christians everywhere should have done everything in their power to turn conservative parties away from him and those like him. The line was crossed ages ago. Step up. It’s time to stop looking at just one or two issues, but all of them. Time to put others first in more than one area. Time to treat people the way Christ did.

Speak up. Vote differently. Call your representatives. Pray. Listen to those who are hurting. Just listen and process. Drop your defenses for a moment. Be willing to be wrong. Allow this to break your heart. Pray. Search the Bible for Christ’s example of loving others. Gently confront the injustice, prejudice, and hateful things you see around you. Boldly confront those who need boldness. Ask questions. Challenge. Pray. Read books, tweets, blogs, and articles by minorities dealing with America’s history and current culture. Be willing to learn. Pray. Step up.

The only answer to this brokenness is Christ. Ask yourself, are you actually being the light and salt right now that a follower of Christ is meant to be? All of those broken souls out there, would they look at you as someone who can help them, or as someone who hates them? Are you loving your neighbor or are you just loving yourself and those like you? Are you treating people the way Christ did, or the way the pharisees did.

Step up. It is late, it should have happened ages ago. But you need to step up now. When people look at the church they should see Christ, not Trump.

When the World Expects Too Much

I decided to take last week off blogging since it was the first week of school. Always a hectic time, it was particularly insane this year as I was opening a school library for my first time ever, getting out consumables (workbooks) for every kid in the school (4-7 books per kid for over 1,100 students), and I had to do it all on my own as my partner had transferred to a different school and they haven’t replaced her yet. I’m trying to give myself permission to say no to things more often, but it’s still a struggle.

The thing is that I care . . . a lot . . . about a lot of things. I care about my students and teachers. I care about my family. I care about my friends. I care about my community, especially the poor and underrepresented, the voiceless and the weak. I care about my fellow Christians. I care about my country and my world.

But it’s just not enough.

As much as I tried, I didn’t have time for a kind word to each and every one of my students, many who really needed to be seen and appreciated in the first week of school. Even though I worked for hours and hours on the schedule, I still made a mistake and was unable to accommodate a couple of the teachers right away. Even though I prayed for energy, endurance, and patience I still complained more than I should have, still struggled not to cry at the end of a rough Friday. Even though I wanted to spend time with my brother and his son, I sat out their zoo trip on Saturday and stayed home instead because I felt like a giant walking bruise. Even though I followed the news all weekend and posted condemnation of the racist violence of the alt-right and the equivocating weak rhetoric of our president, I couldn’t actually make anything better. Even though I wanted to try hard to get to know people at my old/new church, I felt closed off and defensive Sunday morning at a church which seemed to act like nothing had happened, like America hadn’t just experienced horrible sin and violence.

It’s just not enough. I’m just not enough.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much our modern world demands of us and how much we demand of ourselves because of these expectations. As work got more and more stressful this week, I thought of every single person I know and realized not one of them has a job which is not frequently stressful. This brought up the question, are all jobs stressful? Is it a requirement to our survival (financial, physical) to be constantly stressed out?

Since Genesis 3 promises post-Fall humanity pain, sweat, and toil just for us to be able to eat, I suppose the answer to this is a resounding “Yes!” Which I find utterly depressing. I get that we can find rest in the Lord and all that, I even wrote a previous blog entry about that sort of thing, but some days I just can’t figure out how to practically do that in this difficult world of ours.

When I think about what the world expects of me and what I expect of myself, the only logical response seems to be feeling overwhelmed. Let’s break this down.

Expectations of the Awkward Spinster:

As a 39 year old, educated, Master’s degree carrying single adult woman

  • I should be doing quite well in my career by now.
  • I should be earning a decent wage with a retirement fund, savings account, and health insurance.
  • I should be either finished or almost finished with paying off my school loans and car.
  • I should be a leader or mentor at work at this point, helping newer younger coworkers find their way.
  • I shouldn’t just be writing a blog, but should be also working on my book and speaking career to go along with it.
  • I should have close relationships with the women in my church and be a vital part of a weekly Bible Study as well as my biweekly global prayer group.
  • I should be an involved aunt, a role model to my little loves, a reliable help to their parents.
  • I should be a helpful daughter to my mother financially, physically, and emotionally.
  • I should be a mature Christian woman who reads her Bible and has a significant time of prayer every day, memorizes scripture, journals, and processes it all.
  • I should somehow be both strong and meek, quiet and confident, submissive and yet a teacher.
  • I should be a dedicated biblical counselor, helping my church to set up a counseling training program, mentoring newer counselors, while counseling as many people as I can for free.
  • I should be active in my community, helping those in need with donations, volunteering, etc.
  • I should be an involved friend to those who’ve poured into me throughout my life, keeping up with them by writing e-mails, letters, text messages, social media comments, inviting them over, and talking to them on the phone.
  • I should be an involved member of the human race by keeping up with the news, being aware of what’s going on, and finding ways to help.
  • I should continue to be a passionate advocate for my former students and clients, encouraging them as they go off to college and careers and families, letting them know they are still loved and supported.
  • I should be an expert in my fields, keeping up with the latest in literature, writing, education, and biblical counseling.
  • I should be creative, writing poetry and journaling, blogging, and creating.
  • I should be a student of the world by traveling each year.
  • I should be a patron of the arts and news, things that matter to me and the world.
  • I should help around the house with cooking, cleaning, & maintenance. 
  • I should support my friends in the mission field through letters, prayer, and finances.
  • I should visit my friends and family out of state at least once a year.
  • I should spend time with my friends in LA by visiting once a month at least, and yet still be able to make new friends in my current town and invest in them too.
  • I should be a good doggy mamma and take him for walks and to the park.
  • I should keep up my geek cred by watching the latest Marvel or DC movies, reading the latest comic books, and going to a convention or two.
  • I should try online dating again and be open to possibilities.
  • I should lose weight, eat healthy, go to my doctor, and exercise daily.
  • I should march against white supremacy, protest the cruel regime shaping America today, stand up for the little guy.
  • I should, I should, I should . . .

This list never ends. I’m sure if you make a list for yourself, it will be just as long and overwhelming. Now, many of these expectations come from the world around me, what people expect of me, while some of them are what I expect of myself. It’s hard to parse through this list and separate them as many are intrinsically linked; I expect things of myself because I think others expect them of me.

It’s too much.

Wonder Woman #15 art by Terry & Rachel Dodson, story by Gail Simone

After a weekend like this one, when I wish I could just chuck everything else and go be a freedom fighter for a few months, I don’t even know where to start.

Which things are the most important of all? I am a finite human and cannot do everything. So where do I begin? In Mark 12:28-31, a scribe approaches Jesus and asks him,

“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Since many, if not most, of the things on my list of “shoulds” are related to trying to love God and love others, I’m still struggling my way through these top two commandments. The practical application of theology is rarely straightforward. This is not one of those blogs where I post a question and then answer it at the end. I’m still scratching my way to the surface on this one, still overwhelmed, still confused. Just thought I’d put this out there because I’m pretty sure there are a lot of us in this predicament.

So, if you’ve got any answers for me, please comment away. In the meantime, I’ll be looking through this list of mine trying to figure out where these expectations come from, which ones really matter, and which ones take priority. Prayers, encouragement, British chocolate, and scotch are appreciated along the way!