Archive for Singleness

The Childless Woman

My high school math teacher passed away this Saturday night. She had been ill for quite some time, so we knew it was coming, and knew it would be a relief for her to be free of her suffering. Yet I’m still sad. She was an influential woman in my life, kind and intelligent. She was one of my mom’s close friends. Married for ages, she and her husband never had children. But even though she may never have been a mother, she certainly mothered many teenagers through the tough stages of high school in her decades as a teacher.

As a woman close to 40 who will not have my own children, I looked to her, and others like her, as an example of someone who led a valuable and meaningful life outside of motherhood.

When I got the text from my mom that she had died, a tweet from earlier this week came to my mind yet again. On 5/17/18, a young woman named Candace Owens who is a spokesperson for a pro-Trump organization tweeted:


When people responded negatively to this, she doubled down, making a video in which she defended her stance including the following: it’s “just conversation,” “everyone is so triggered,” “just calm down,” perhaps “women who don’t have children turn into children themselves,” and telling how a friend at that lunch “suggested that women who never marry, don’t adopt and/or have children of their own become bitter over time.”

While I don’t usually pay attention to anything this particular personality says because she is constantly stirring up controversy and believes many things I find horrific, this tweet kept popping up in my feed and in my mind.

I’m not sure people realize how frequently women are judged for being childless into adulthood. Miss Owens isn’t the first person to say things like this, nor will she be the last. But lumping all perpetually single and childless women together, and often adding in married women without children, is just another way of dehumanizing us. Instead of seeing us as individuals with different reasons for why we live life the way we do, it’s easier to throw us all together and turn us into one giant bitter, unreasonable, pathetic, and possibly insane group.

I loved Sarah Silverman’s response:


If a woman disagrees with certain political viewpoints, or even religious ones, it’s easy to say “well she doesn’t have kids, so she can’t understand this” or “she’s just a bitter old maid” or “those liberal feminists are just crazy.” As if there aren’t mothers with multiple children who don’t understand politics, or bitter wives, or married moms who seem insane.

When I think of the women in my life who were/are single throughout adulthood, or who did not/could not have children my mind is filled with beautiful faces and varied personalities. Yes, some of my single friends are bitter. But so are some of my married ones. Yes, some of my childless friends believe some things I think are a bit nuts, but so do a lot of the moms I know. To suggest that women who do not have children are somehow more prone to insanity is such a vile stereotype to perpetuate.

My math teacher never had kids. I never asked her why not, that was her business, not mine. She did have Lupus, so perhaps she was told by doctors not to have children. Or perhaps she and her husband were perfectly happy with their dogs and summer home by the beach. What I do know is that she cared about me when I was a depressed 15 year old who hated math. She let me come to her classroom after school and patiently went over homework with me, answering all of my stupid questions. She was one of the few of my mom’s friends from work who made it a point to stay friends with her after my father passed away. She and her husband came over to our house a few times for the holidays and brought us homemade quilted Christmas ornaments that still grace our tree. Politically, we didn’t think the same way as I am much more liberal than she was, but she was loving and never pushy with her ideas.

As a woman who looks ahead at a childless future, I count myself so blessed to have many incredible examples of women who are walking with me in this lifestyle. Women who are strong, kind, fierce, intelligent, and compassionate. Women who disprove the tweet above with every breath they take. I strive to be like them, to be like my teacher was.

Earlier this year, I had a couple different friends tell me I should read the children’s book “Miss Rumphius.” Author and illustrator Barbara Cooney is a favorite of mine, so I’m not sure how I missed this award winning book. It’s the first time I’ve read a children’s book with a character like this in it, a single childless woman who is depicted as adventurous and brave, kind and beautiful. I wonder what Candace Owens would make of her? I want to be like Miss Rumphius when I grow up. I am determined to be the librarian, the adventurer, and the auntie that she is. In fact, we all should be more like her.

Instead of lumping all single and/or childless women together into a badly stereotyped box, let’s see each one as a unique individual with varied life circumstances. And let’s all try to be a bit more like Miss Rumphius, and like my math teacher, with the goal of doing “something to make the world more beautiful.”

It Takes a Village

Some think it takes a village to raise a child, but I think it takes a village to raise a contented, cared for single. This week, Holly Stallcup, one of the many fabulous single Christian women I follow in the Twittersphere, posted a thread about being offered a free couch, but not having anyone to help her actually get said couch. See, as a single woman she didn’t have a truck, the ability to carry it on her own, or the garage/spare room in which to store it until she could get it. Going a bit viral, woman after woman responded with their own stories about tears shed over some of the little things in life that are just a bit more difficult without having an assigned partner and the resulting combined circle of friends to help with these tasks.

While many women and men can just turn and ask their spouse for rides to the airport, doctor’s appointments, or the mechanic, singles often have to text several people before they find a friend who is both willing and able. Or urban singles will just Uber to the ER to save their friends the trouble, which is often not advisable. Some of us are lucky enough to live within a couple hours of family who might be able to step in from time to time for bigger things like helping us move, but many singles are far away from any relative. One woman brought up how nice it would be to have someone scrape her window during those icy mornings, or shovel her driveway. I know my mother dreamed of someone helping her take the trashcans out, or carry the groceries in.

We know having a spouse doesn’t guarantee such small acts of service as some are away on business, unable to assist, or don’t feel like it; however, having a partner in life often does mean there are now two people instead of one to tackle the little things together.

Another woman mentioned how the purity culture in the church can often lead to the discouragement of male/female friendships unless one is headed toward marriage. This can lead single women to have a dearth of men in their lives. If a woman marries, she adopts not only her husband’s family into hers, but his circle of friends as well, giving a whole new network of people to call on when she needs help. After all, it is more likely to be one of his guy friends who can offer the pickup truck to get the couch than her female friends (though I have known some kick-ass truck-owning women in my lifetime). So, by trying so hard to not tempt anyone we’re not interested in, or be tempted, we may end up without the benefit of guy friends. I have three brothers and some of my best friendships are male/female ones, so I challenge every single man and woman to learn how to just be friends with some awesome members of the opposite sex. Your life will be better for it.

Picture from my 32nd birthday, years ago. Most of these guys have helped me move apartments many times with minimal complaining.

Another idea that came up was how much we feel like a burden to our friends because we have to keep asking for help. After all, life is full of moments where being entirely independent just isn’t possible, no matter how much many of us would like it to be. My married friends don’t seem to mind asking their spouses for rides when their cars are in the shop, even though they just picked them up from the airport last month, and took them to an outpatient procedure the month before that. But when we ask our friends, we can feel ashamed and guilty for being such a burden on them. We know we are an inconvenience, and we feel terrible about it.

Over the years I’ve built some amazing friendships, and have had friends who have helped me move time and time again without any (well, mostly) complaints. Yet with this incredible group of friends and family who show up when I need them, I still feel horrible having to ask. It’s humbling, which isn’t bad, and it makes us realize that we are still dependent, no matter how long we’ve been living on our own, paying our own bills, and taking care of our own business.

I’ve been that person laying on the floor at 3 am weeping in pain but trying to do so quietly so as not to wake up my roommate only to then have to crawl to her room, wake her up, and ask her to take me to the ER. She did so happily, as I knew she would because she is the most lovely human being, but for some reason I still felt bad about waking her.

I’ve cried tears of frustration when I realize I’m going to have to ask the same group of people to help me carry my furniture down and up stairs yet again. Statistically, singles tend to move a lot more than married couples and families, so, yes, you’re going to have to carry our furniture a lot. We’re sorry about that. Blame the landlords in LA for raising the rents endlessly, roommates for getting married, and life. I know I, by myself, own more books than most families do put together and that those are the heaviest boxes in the universe, but that’s what you get for becoming friends with an English major. Besides, I always provide lunch and drinks and music and good company.

My friends in LA developed a network of airport/hospital/mechanic/any other thing rides when we were all single, people we could rely upon to get us where we needed to go without fear of rejection or complaint. And, in exchange, we did our best to never book flights around rush hour because no one’s love is that deep. But now those friends are mostly married, some have kids, and schedules got a lot more complicated. And yet, the last time I moved, my big move out of my beloved city, they were there, helping me pick up and load the ridiculously over-sized truck, to give me hugs, to cry a little with me, to say goodbye.

In my new city, I have yet to form a circle of friends like this. To be honest, I’m not sure it’s possible. I’m almost 40 now. I don’t have years of singleness together before they got married to establish these kinds of dependent relationships. I do have my family, stuck with me forever, so that’s nice. But I ache a bit for the men and women who taught me that it was okay to reach out, even at 3 am, if I needed them.

This is also incredibly difficult for men and women experiencing a second singleness. Widows and widowers and those who have experienced divorce now have to reach out for help outside of their own homes. It can feel humiliating after years of independence, can be awkward at best and scary at worst. But we need to humble ourselves and reach out, allow others to serve us.

Christians, the church is meant to be a place for these kinds of relationships. We’re meant to love on another with the self-sacrificial love of Christ for his church (John 13:34). Christ died for us, that’s how much he loved us, so we can at least pick someone up from the repair shop or help carry a couch.

In this way, singles are a bit more high maintenance than married couples. We have to ask you for help, not our spouses. We rely on the body of Christ for even the little things. Please don’t forget us, or see us as burdens. Every long-suffering sigh, every grimace, every rolled eye when help is requested is registered in our hearts, stored away for the next time we have to request assistance. Believe me, we know we can be work, we don’t need anyone to remind us of that. What we do need are men and women, couples, families to adopt us into their lives like family. To tell us we can call them for anything, and mean it. To assure us that we are beloved brothers and sisters and not burdens. To help.

In return, we singles tend to love our friends like family, with an unending loyalty. Adopt us, and we might just pay you back with babysitting and silly gif texts, with gratefulness, and maybe even tears of joy. You cannot know how much it means to have people we can rely on for life.

The Value of Representation

Sitting in the dimly lit theater waiting for the movie to start, my mum and I watched as group after group of excited friends and families poured into their seats. Many were dressed all in black, some in beautiful and ornate African designs, a few in Black Panther t-shirts. Everyone was smiling, from the oldest grandma to the littlest child. And while I was thrilled for this movie, I could only imagine the soul-deep fulfillment for the people of color in the audience finally seeing such empowering representation on the big screen from Marvel. I felt this as a woman when I saw DC’s “Wonder Woman.” Representation matters. Not just for kids, who need to see people who look and are like them to show them who they can grow up to be, but for adults too. To know we are seen, we are valued, we are home.

This Sunday, I got to sit in a room full of Biblical Counselors or those training to be, both men and women. We were asked to go around an introduce ourselves, sharing how we got into counseling. We were seen. We were valued. Though I was entirely freaked out as I walked into the room, a relative newbie to this church, only recognizing a couple of faces and having no true friends yet, I left feeling enthusiastic about the ministry and looking forward to the next meeting. You see, there were men and women of all stages of life there, and we were all given a voice. Singles, marrieds, retirees, professionals, students, parents, different ages and races, we were a good representation of the church as a whole.

As a single adult in the church, representation is an issue. The assumption that all good Christians will get married and have kids is embedded into the very fabric of the church, and reveals itself in every sermon and Sunday school class.

In my Sunday school class this week, this back and forth occurred:
“What does it take for someone to become an elder?”
“He has to live up the standards in scripture.”
“We should ask his wife about him, then, because she’d know best!”
General snickers from the many married couples in the room followed.

It was a tiny quip, didn’t mean much, but it revealed the underlying belief that, of course, all the elders would have wives to ask. And, at almost every church I’ve ever gone to, though marriage was not an elder requirement, every elder was, indeed, a married man. While 1 Timothy, Titus, and 1 Peter give a pretty detailed look at how elders should be chosen, the “husband of one wife” parts are generally considered not to be a command of marriage, but a call to sexual purity, thus marriage is not considered to be a requirement by most church elder boards. Instead, it has become a cultural one, based on the subtle belief that a mature godly man means a married man, usually a father.

Since it is the elder board which makes the big decisions regarding how many churches operate, there rarely is representation at this level for single men, and none for women, married or single. The idea is that these mature, godly, married male elders will keep the best interests of their entire congregation in mind when applying biblical principles to running the church. This is good – I’m a fan of that idea, and have deeply respected most of the elders of my churches, trusting them. My concern is that they might not even know when they are not representing the whole church, but are basing judgments on their own limited experiences and perspectives, because there is no other voice on the board to question or give a differing viewpoint. No women. No singles. And usually very few minorities.

To think that a group of mostly white, all married men, no matter how wise and kind, will be able to understand how certain verses will affect a single woman when preached a certain way, how an event might alienate those of another race, how the use of only sports and macho metaphors for men’s conferences might influence young boys, how the constant mentioning of young marriage could hit a high school girl, is naive. No one can see through the eyes of everyone, no matter how much they might try. We are all limited. We’re created that way, so we must rely on others to help us flesh out a whole view. We are meant to lean on communities built up of different races, ages, and life stages but in church leadership, this doesn’t always happen. This then trickles down to the entire congregation as a little comment here or a sermon there gets taken as the norm for Christian society.

One of the most important things to me in the church is having men in leadership who try their best to lift up the voices of those around them, who try to build up each person in their care so they can grow and minister to others. I’ve been blessed in my life by past mentors who, though I was a single woman, reached out to me to try to help me grow and learn to help others grow. If our churches are going to have 100% married male leadership, then we need one of their biggest goals to be pouring into those in their care who are not like them and finding ways to help them help others. We need them to see us! We need them to open up opportunities for women, for minorities, for singles to actively minister.

This Sunday, every person on the stage and standing up with an active role in the congregation at my church was male. The worship leader at the piano, the children’s pastor who did announcements, the guy running the soundboard, the pastor giving the sermon, the men passing around the offering plates, heck even the greeters at each door were men. Mostly older, married men. Fathers. I’m a fan of fathers – mine was the best of men and I loved him entirely. Still, it would be nice to have some women involved somewhere, some singles. How much effort would it take to allow women to be part of the team that pass around the offering plates or help with communion? How about letting a single woman do the announcements for once? How about having a mix of male and female greeters? Why not have the singles ministry actually be led by a happily single adult??? It honestly shouldn’t be this hard to get representation in the church for more than just married white men, even in the most conservative ones. I’ve been part of churches that have worked hard to do this, why can’t they all?

I’m not asking for revolution, for all churches to have female head pastors and elders, but I do ask for deaconesses, for roles in ministry, for every other option available to be opened to women and single men. I’m asking for the church to stop limiting its view of maturity to male marriage and parenthood.

Representation matters. Why are single people leaving the church? Why don’t we stay? A better question might be, why should we stay when we don’t feel like we’re really a part of it? Why should we keep attending once we age out of the “singles group” led by a married pastor who has stated out loud that his goal is to get everyone married off? Why should we stay when we are often depicted by church leadership as held in a perpetual state of immaturity, never quite allowed to grow up with our married counterparts?

I don’t think church leadership does this on purpose, but that it’s just something they’ve not thought much about. After all, they’re married men with kids so that’s the only perspective they know. So, let’s branch out, guys. As much as is biblically possible. If you can’t represent the singles in your midst, work to find someone who can. And please, can every sermon illustration stop being about macho men, fatherhood, parenthood, and marriage? Try one about roommates, friends, work, taxes, heck – standing in line at the grocery store, anything that might have a more universal appeal. Try it one Sunday – an entire Sunday without references specifically targeting married men. An entire day trying to represent the rest of us. How sad that this would be a novelty.

Representation matters. The church needs to stop pretending it doesn’t.

A Galentine’s Reading Recommendation

While I am a fan of female writers and do what I can to encourage and support the women who write in my life, I have a guilty secret. When it comes to books written by Christian women for Christian women, my first instinct is to flee. Like King Arthur’s men running away from the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, I cannot bear to stick it out for long. My Amazon queue is filled with books for women just like me, highly recommended by friends, yet they never quite make it to the shopping cart alongside the graphic novels and decaf PG Tips shipped from England.

As a child, I was that little girl who wore pink day in and day out. And then, the day after I graduated from junior high in Pepto-Bismol pink taffeta and tulle, I was done. After several years of wearing all black, it took a conscious effort to reintroduce color into my wardrobe, and only in the past decade have I allowed hints of pink back in. Like most women, I am both a girly girl and a tough broad. I paint my nails, love soaking in a bath by candlelight, and can host the girliest high tea ever, but I also tromp about in Dr. Martens, squash my own bugs, own my own toolkit, and drink scotch neat. This is normal for women – we contain multitudes.

Yet many books targeted to our spiritual growth seem to ignore this fact. From generic “feminine” covers, poorly kerned curly fonts, and chapter after chapter narrowing biblical womanhood down to the big two of “wife” and “mother,” I have developed an uncontrollable cringe at the sight or sound of books for Christian women.

I still have a bit of PTSD from the last time I got excited for one such text. My church (which was fabulous, and never underestimated women) was going to have a women’s tea, and the speaker had written a book entitled “Fierce Women.” For once, I actually wanted to go to a women’s event! Fierce Women!!! Wow. I had images of Wonder Womanesque Amazons dancing in my head as I quickly ordered the book online. After the 2 day shipping, it finally arrived and I tore into the bubbly envelope only to find they had actually put a picture of a bride, in full gown and veil, on the cover. I was floored. And, while I’m sure it’s an incredible book (I think it probably really is, based on what my married friends have told me!), I only got through the first chapter which confirmed that, yes, like almost every other book for Christian women, it highlighted a woman’s fierceness in wife/mother roles in almost every section, with just a touch here and there to placate the singles. Not gonna lie, I canceled my ticket to the tea and shoved the book into my shelves, never to look at it again.

Books that target Christian single women are almost worse than the ones that have 10 chapters for the married mothers and 1 tacked on to gloss over singleness in shallow fashion. Now, to be fair once again, my automatic flinch mechanism has kept me from reading many published books for single Christian women, so I’m going to work on that and try again. I’ve heard there are some brilliant ones out there now. But if I read one more book that looks at Christian singleness as a place to develop skills to become a fantastic wife and mother, looks at sex as merely something we don’t do until we do (when we’re married, of course), looks at courtship as the answer to all our dating woes, promises a husband when I just change this one thing, or sees singleness as a temporary life stage on the way to the inevitable godly goal of husband and kids, I might just have to start chucking books out the window. Or, better yet, at every singles pastor (all married, every single one of them) who espouses these same views and sees the main goal of their ministry as trying to marry off everyone in their group.

However, over the past year as I’ve been blogging and discussing singleness and womanhood in the church, I’ve stumbled across quite a few Christian women who write, who also happen to be single, and who are awesome. Twitter, which I still suck at, has been eye-opening for me in that there’s this lovely little community of other ladies who love God, write blogs, articles, and books, and also happen to be single. One such woman, Joy Beth Smith, celebrated her book release this week, and once again I found myself excitedly waiting for it to arrive on my doorstep. This time there was no throwing of the paperback across the room or angry texting to my sister for moral support. This time, there was the opening of the Notes app on my phone so I could converse with the book as I read it. This time, there was hope.

Joy Beth Smith is a managing editor with Christianity Today who also happens to have her MA in English Lit, which might be one of the reasons I clicked with her so quickly when I read her tweets (@JBsTwoCents). I’m an English Lit major myself. She’s also 10 years younger than me, which is a bit annoying because she’s not supposed to be able to write a book like this one this well yet. Sigh. One day I might catch up! Anyway, I couldn’t put it down. I read through it in 2 nights, with my mum checking in every hour or two to see if I was still enjoying it. She was pretty surprised to see me reading this bright teal fauxligraphy fonted cover with (gasp) a little black dress as the A in “Party of One.” Yet, there I was, happily devouring it.

Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness” is broken into 3 parts dealing with unfulfilled promises, sex and other stumbling blocks, and hopeless dating with hopes for marriage. Though I did take notes as I went through it, I’ve decided not to blog through those because I think you should all order the book and read it for yourselves. The main thing I appreciated about this book is how Smith validates singleness as valuable and godly rather than merely something to be overcome. She reminds us that joy and maturity are accessible to all Christians, not just through marriage and parenting. And she does so with humor, intelligence, a biblical perspective, and genuine knowledge of and care for Christian singles.

She also tackles the oft-taboo topics of sexuality, masturbation, and pornography. I appreciate how she doesn’t sugar-coat or avoid discussing these subjects, things that are often vaguely alluded to or glossed over in much Christian writing for single women. We are adults, we can take it. We need to hear it. We need to discuss it. Maybe it’s because of my background in social work and counseling, but very little shocks me so I find this kind of frank discussion empowering and helpful rather than embarrassing. You might not agree with everything she says, and that’s okay. The best reading will provoke thought and add to the ongoing discussion, and this one does just that.

Using a blend of intelligent questions about the topics, practical applications, real life examples brought up in round tables she had all over the country with other single Christian women, and personal experience, Smith is engaging and thought-provoking. One of my favorite parts is when she presents multiple views on a topic and calls on us to think about it, continue the conversation she’s started, and come to our own conclusions. After sermons, articles, and books written by once-single-now-married people which can come across as unrelatable, heavy handed, or even condescending, Smith’s voice is refreshingly real. This book is more the beginning of a conversation the church should have been having with its singles for decades, but hasn’t gotten the hang of yet. It’s the beginning of the conversation we single Christian women can continue among ourselves and with those who love and support us. There is more to be said on the art of singleness, and this book allows for discussion, disagreement, questions, and further conversation. And, even though the book is mainly aimed at single Christian women, I believe it would be an excellent beginning to a conversation for single men and married couples as well. Let’s not shy away from this, but embrace it, and let voices like Joy Beth Smith’s lead the way.

Who have you been reading lately? Anyone I should put in my Amazon shopping cart, and skip the queue entirely? I promise I’ll try to be more open minded. But if there’s a bride on the cover, I might not be able to contain myself…

The Church’s Silencing of Single Women

This morning, as I grabbed a seat in my Sunday school class, a man stopped as he walked by to read the button on my purse. With a quizzical look, he read, “Hear Our Voice” and looked up to me for explanation. I happily stated, “it’s from the women’s march a couple weeks ago.” His eyes grew wide, and he literally started to back away from me saying, “have a nice day” as he turned and walked away. Like a big alarm had gone off for him, blaring “Do Not Engage!!!”

Many thoughts went through my head as I watched him flee in fear of me. Deep sadness at knowing I was, yet again, judged for being a “liberal” in this conservative town. Amusement at his discomfort. Grief that the conversation hadn’t continued because it could have been an awesome one. And the resigned exasperation of yet another woman who rarely gets a chance to be heard in the church, to explain herself, to be taken seriously. I thought, if I’d had a husband standing by my side, the conversation probably would have gone on much longer and perhaps could have even led to greater mutual understanding.

As a woman in the evangelical church, my role is limited already. I cannot be in leadership positions over men, can’t be a pastor or elder, apparently can’t even serve communion at most churches. Many churches who allow for women to be deacons will only have a couple, and they’re usually the heads of children’s ministries. Female representation is rare as these churches are usually led by all-male elder boards and sermons are taught by all-male pastors. A female perspective isn’t included in this picture. Yeah, they might run some things by their wives from time to time, but the vast majority of day to day decision making and sermonizing is from an entirely male perspective. It’s not that they’re trying to preach from a male-oriented view, it’s that they don’t even realize a different view could exist in the church. Their way of teaching, their way of reading, their way of applying the Bible is the right way. The idea that women might see things differently, yet still be biblically accurate, would seem heretical.

I’m not going to get into a complementarian vs egalitarian debate in this post, as that’s not the point. Whether you believe female leadership is biblically okay or biblically forbidden is another matter entirely. I’m just stating that much of the evangelical church has this hierarchy in leadership, and women’s voices are pretty low down the ladder. Here’s my added argument: that the voices of single women are even lower still.

As a woman without the headship of a husband, I can be seen as a threat. I don’t have a husband to reign me in, to filter my thoughts and speech. Adult single women in the church can even be seen as dangerous, like talking to us can be risky. Risky for the wives, because our independent ways might rub off on them. Risky for the husbands, because we single women must be on the hunt for a man so might try to seduce them away from their marriages. Risky for the church, because we might be upstarts and rebels.

While women in general often do not merit the level of respect in the church that men do, single women get even less. Married women can be respected because of their husbands, that association protects and lifts them up. After all, in many evangelical churches today, the highest calling for a woman is as wife and mother – so if you’re fulfilling this calling, you have earned honor. And while I agree that being a wife and mother can be an epically awesome way to glorify God, holding it up as the gold standard over the heads of those of us who just can’t quite seem to get married or have kids, who aren’t the perfect little homemakers, is a pretty horrible thing to do. Sorry, but we can’t all be the Joanna Gaineses of the world.

Single men can suffer voicelessness to a certain level as well, for they can be seen as irresponsible and immature. The mark of a Real Man in the church is often that you are husband and father, and if you don’t fit this mold by a certain age, you need to “be a man” and “settle down.” Though single men are much less likely to actually be hired by a church than their married counterparts, they are still more likely to have positions of influence than any woman, married or single, and single women are definitely the bottom of the barrel.

There are individual churches that work hard to hear women’s voices, even those of single women. I’ve been lucky enough to be part of churches like that. But this seems to be the exception more than the rule.

Two weeks ago, as I stood side by side with almost 600,000 other women in the streets of Downtown Los Angeles, I felt like my voice might actually be heard. Yes, I am different from many of the women there – I am a Christian feminist. But the response to my sign was 100% positive, with many people commenting on it, wanting pictures of it, and telling me they were just like me, were glad I was there, or were so excited to see that represented. Surrounded by women who often feel voiceless, and men and children who wanted to give us the chance to be heard, was a profound and beautiful experience. But no one in the church will discuss this with me. No one will even ask about it. No one from church commented on my social media pictures, no one asked questions, no one even tried to debate my going. Because what does it matter? I’m just one single woman. My thoughts and ideas don’t make a dent in the church.

I realize this post is a bit more emotionally charged than usual – it is not researched and backed up by Bible verses. But guys, I’ve got to tell you, it’s incredibly demoralizing to feel silenced over and over again. To feel like the very church I’ve grown up in, been educated in, have served and ministered in, and thrived in often sees me as someone to be silenced, or maybe just ignored.

I’ve considered, very seriously, just leaving the modern evangelical church altogether and seeking out more progressive pastures, as most of the single women bloggers and writers out there have done. I get the appeal. I’m drawn to it. But my heart, and my head still belong to the reformed church. This rebellious liberal is actually quite theologically conservative. Shocking, I know. So I can’t bring myself to jump ship. Besides, if everyone who is struggling with the post-Trump views subtly (or obviously) infusing the American evangelical church today leaves, what will become of it? If we all run away, will we not be partially complicit for allowing these poisonous views to grow and thrive?

Or maybe this feminist Christian will just chuck it all and move somewhere I can happily be a liberal Christian, drink wine with communion, and go to women’s marches with a whole truck load of my fellow church-goers. Who knows.

For now, I’ve decided to be a gently squeaking wheel in the machine I’ve so loved. Maybe, just maybe, if I’m at my new church a little longer, make more friends, get more involved in ministry, maybe, just maybe, my voice will be heard. Maybe, if enough of us speak up, if enough single women share our concerns with love and grace, the church will take us more seriously. Maybe, if we stick around trying to help the vulnerable, lift up the weak, and love the least loved in policy and practice, the church will follow our example. Yeah, we’re not supposed to be in leadership, but persistent examples of Godly love for others are hard to ignore.

To all the non-singles in the church, I challenge you to listen. Just listen. Ask your single brothers and sisters in Christ questions and listen to their answers without trying to “solve” their concerns. If you are in leadership in a church, ask yourself how you can give single women a platform, how you can help them grow and teach and speak and minister. Find ways to involve women in the decision making aspects of the church. Run sermon ideas by women to see how they’ll come across to the other half of the audience. Get creative. Consider that only getting input from those who represent 1/2 the congregation might not work. Consider that single people have as much to offer the church as married ones. Just ponder the possibility. Start there.

My challenge to all the single Christians out there is to make your voices heard. Become so involved in the ministries and day to day lives of your churches that they can’t help but listen. Help peel away the prejudiced views that have been built up over decades regarding the value of singleness in the church and in the world. Do not allow yourselves to be silenced, but with humility and grace, keep speaking.

I end this post somewhere between heartbreak and hope.

Single and Celibate in Relationships

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

Just as I’ve discovered over the years that being a single, celibate, adult in the church and the world can be incredibly difficult, leading to all sorts of awkward or even degrading perspectives, trying to be a single celibate person in relationship with others can be just as difficult. Therefore, this final entry in my Single and Celibate: Always the Odd One Out series will focus on how intimacy in relationship is just as important to the celibate single as it is to the married person, yet how difficult this can be to put into practice.

Intimacy is something humans need – we were created for it. Not meant to be independent creatures, we thrive in community, with the mutual help and support of others. But more than this we need closeness, understanding, familiarity, and affection. Modern American culture, including the church, often sees marriage as the cure for this need. Genesis 2:18 becomes the prescription for all human intimacy – “it is not good for the man to be alone.” So Eve was created. But more than that, Eve was created with the powerful ability to produce family and community. Adam was not just given one other person who would fulfill all of his needs for intimacy, he was given the very person who would extend their closeness beyond themselves as a couple to others.

Sadly, both the church and the world often pair intimacy down to sex. They are frequently used synonymously, so much so that my high school students would snicker if the term “intimate” appeared in any piece of literature, no matter how benign the context. What a tragic stripping down of such a powerful term. And, by depleting this beautiful idea of its many nuances, we place celibate single adults in a particularly lonely tragic place, one in which we will always lack fulfillment.

I read an article this week based on the underlying premise that intimacy = sex, and since intimacy is required for full human development, anyone who is not having sex is not fully developed psychologically and therefore will have all sorts of issues. It was one of the more disturbing articles I’ve read, and yes, it stemmed from a religious background, making it all the more concerning.

Let me knock this argument down at its base. Intimacy does not equal sex. Sex can and will help many people become more intimate, but it is not the foundation. I’ve counseled enough people who have experienced abusive, harmful, careless, or selfishly motivated sex to know sex can even diminish one’s ability for intimacy if it is abused. Also, if intimacy is mainly or exclusively related to sex, where does the profound closeness experienced by children and parents come from? How about the special bond of twins or close siblings? The profound intimacy experienced by elderly couples whose sexual desires have ebbed? The aunt or uncle’s deep committed love for and bond with their nieces and nephews? Best friendships that last a lifetime, sometimes even outlasting sexual partnerships those friends have had with others?

The best sex should indeed increase intimacy, it should help a couple bond emotionally and physically, increase understanding of one another, develop familiarity with each other in a profound way. However special this bond can be, it is not the only path to intimacy, and, as stated before, it can often be a path away from it if used harmfully.

So if intimacy does not equal sex, then what is it? It is a closeness between individuals, a deep understanding of one another, a familiarity with another based on time and experience, and a true affection for the other. This is intimacy. It is beautiful and multifaceted. It is not limited to one type of experience.

The greatest intimacy in existence is between God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are bonded for eternity, incredibly different and yet the same, independent yet reliant on each other. This intimacy was extended to us, his children, when God gave up Christ, his son, to die for us and then sent the Holy Spirit to indwell us. There is no greater closeness than that. In fact, marriage, including sex, is merely a metaphor for this relationship between Christ and us, his church, his bride, meant to help us grasp something so profound our finite minds can only understand a piece of it.

Some of the most intimate relationships depicted in the Bible are between fathers or mothers and sons, daughters and mothers-in-law, best friends, teachers and disciples, brothers, sisters, old friends, cousins, and even strangers being brought into Christ’s fold.

So while I do agree that intimacy is necessary for human development and fulfillment, I take great issue with narrowing this down to one’s sexual experiences. Deep lasting relationships in which we know and are known, understand one another, care for each other, and actively practice loving another are possible without even a hint of sex.

This does take a lot of work, however, and a lot of vulnerability. We singles can easily grow into our independence, and after years of disappointment in dating relationships, loneliness, or lost friendships, we can withdraw. We look at our married friends and think how easy it must be for them to have this one person assigned to be their intimate partner – they don’t have to seek closeness outside anymore because they have this person living with them to fulfill that.

Two truths about that – first, many a married individual feels lonely, and struggles with truly being intimate with their partner for many reasons, so our grass-is-greener view is often not true. Married couples who do indeed have a deep level of intimacy have probably worked darn hard at it for a very long time. Second, it may indeed be a bit more difficult for us as singles to develop intimacy because we don’t have one person who has committed to try and work at it for a lifetime. And, our intimacy will most likely come in the form of more than just one person, which is awesome, but also takes quite a bit of work on our parts. Also, lacking the lifelong commitment part up front can make it scary and risky to put so much into our relationships as we try to develop the level of closeness and understanding that can be called intimate. However, in this era of easy divorce, marriage is no longer a guarantee for that anyway.

So how does a single, celibate, Christian adult develop intimate relationships? There’s no perfect recipe for this. Sometimes they just happen over time! Those are the best – friends that have just been around so long, and you’ve experienced so much together, that at some point you realize they know you better than anyone else and will always be part of your life, no matter what happens. Others take more purposeful effort. If you desire friendships that go beyond just having a few things in common and hanging out sometimes, it often takes some work. Texts, phone calls, emails, coffees, dinners, crashing at each other’s places on the weekend, camping trips, etc. Time. Lot of time. And an openness to be who you really are around each other, to talk about real stuff, not just the fun things. And commitment to the friendship, being willing to debate and argue when you disagree but still come back as friends.

I honestly think the most important thing for us in creating intimate friendships as celibate singles is to think how we can love them best. If the entirety of our motivation in friendship is having them pour into us, take care of our need for understanding and affection, then we’ve missed out on being able to be that person for them as well. There are times when we will need more than they will, and vice versa, times when we’ll be a bit weaker, times when they’ll need our support most of all – that’s normal and good. But if your whole friendship is about you taking from them, then you probably won’t experience that intimacy you seek, the intimacy of two people who build each other up, point each other to God, and bring out the best in each other.

This intimacy will not happen in all of our friendships. As humans, our capacity for that level of depth with others is limited. Even Christ had his close circle of most intimate friends within his larger group of friends. Sometimes we already have these beautifully deep relationships in our lives, but don’t recognize them as such because we’ve been trained by society to only see sexual partners as intimate soul mates.

I can’t help but think of Anne and Diana in Anne of Green Gables – bosom friends, soul mates. Or Frog and Toad, some of the dearest of best friends from my childhood imagination. Even in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the most important relationships were those of the Scooby Gang, the friends and mentor, the romantic ones came and went, but they were the one constant. The Gilmore Girls developed the mother/daughter relationship more than any other in the show. Every buddy movie depicts soul mates in friendships, not romance.

In my life, I was surprised a few years ago when I realized I actually already had several intimate relationships. There was a time when all I could see ahead of me was a lonely single life, moving from apartment to apartment as roommate after roommate got married and rents went up – an endless stream of temporary. So I decided to change that, decided to move to where I could experience permanent a little bit more. And there it was! My mother, my brother, my sister, my niece, my nephew. People who knew me, truly, who understood me. And I was so afraid that by moving I’d lose my bosom friends in LA, the ones who’d been my family for almost a decade. But I didn’t. They’re still there. It takes some work on both ends, but they’re still there. They still know me, still love me. Because of the effort these friends and I put in over the years of getting to really know each other, of opening up in the hard times, of supporting one another, and truly living in loving community with each other, we can go our separate ways and still hold on to that intimacy. Most of them have gotten married, some have kids, and some of us are still rocking the single life. Yet, when I need them they’re just a text away. When they need me, they know I’ll be there.

So, singles, don’t take so much pride in your independence that you don’t ask for help. It’s often in times of shared weakness that intimacy develops. Reach out to your roommates, your community groups, your families, your neighbors, your coworkers. You won’t have deep lasting relationships with every single one of them, but find the ones you connect with most and work to develop that. Spend time, real time with them. Open up and let them open up. Let your actions prove your friendship, not just empty words. Start to see these friendships as permanent, not temporary. It will change how you treat each other when you know you’re in each other’s lives forever. Love them. And let them know how they can love you. It can be hard – I was very much the strong one for most of my life, trying to help everyone else but not letting them help me. But that’s not reality, and without letting your friends into your reality, intimacy can’t grow. Needing people isn’t weak, it’s what we’re created for.

The Bible is full of incredibly powerful, beautiful commands to love one another. Few of these commands are aimed at couples; they’re aimed at the church, at brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ himself gave a new command just before he proved his love for us by dying on our behalf: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34).

Interestingly, the command for husbands to their wives echoes this: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Thus, marriage is only one example of Christ’s love for the church, only one aspect of true intimacy in relationships. We too, not just husbands, are to love one another just as Christ loved us, just as he gave up everything for us. Take heart, single Christians! Intimacy is possible even when marriage may not come, even without sex. Intimacy is greater than that and is available to all.

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.

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.