Archive for Celibacy

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.”

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…

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.

The Awkward Spinster’s Best of 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Awkwardness of Not Having Kids

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

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

“Actually, I’m 39.”

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

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

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

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

But, I’m not sad.

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

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

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

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

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

The Top 5 Things I Hate to do Alone

As much as I love having the opportunity to do some things all alone, and often enjoy the peace and quiet available to me as a single person, there are a few things for which I wish I had a permanent date. I realize that being married doesn’t necessarily guarantee a partner for all of the following things, as some spouses are out of town, hate to go to these functions, or are otherwise unable to do so. Still, having a husband or a wife seems to increase the likelihood of not having to go to at least some or most of the following alone.

Eating Dinner Out

For some reason, dining out alone at lunchtime is fine for me. I can bring a book along and have a perfectly enjoyable lunch-for-one at a restaurant or cafe any time without feeling too awkward. Perhaps that’s because there seem to be other people who are ducking out on their lunch breaks at work to catch a moment alone, so I don’t stick out quite so much.

But the minute that menu switches from lunch to dinner, all sorts of embarrassment washes over me if I set foot in an eating establishment all on my own. Though I don’t look at other single diners with judgement, and honestly rarely even notice other diners, I feel rather pathetic sitting there taking up a table for 2 or more while others wait to be seated.

There are times in my life when it’s worth it to suck it up and get over my own feelings of discomfort by just getting comfy at that table and enjoy an isolated dinner, like when I travel alone, or really crave sushi. For the most part, however, I just avoid the dinner rush altogether unless I can find friend or family to drag along with me.

In Los Angeles, this was easier to deal with as I was a GrubHub addict and, at the press of a button on my phone app, whatever food I wanted would appear at my door. If I had a craving for tacos, chicken wings, pie, or even Himalayan food, I could have it delivered right to my doorstep where only the one delivery person could judge me for dining solo. Heck, I embraced this so much that I was totally that woman who’d open the door in my plaid pajamas, Netflix or Hulu on pause, and unabashedly accept a food delivery that could feed an entire family when obviously it was just for me. Now I live in a city where the only delivery available is pizza. Sigh. It’s just not the same. But set foot in a crowded restaurant at 6:30 pm on a Friday all on my lonesome? Never!

Parties

When I was younger, the ratio of single to married friends was very much in my favor. Yet, even then, that moment I walked through the door of the host’s house or entered a venue filled me with a small amount of dread. I’d stand there, looking around to find the face of someone I knew. As an introverted extrovert, parties are complicated for me. I both love and hate them. But as one single among many, I felt less of the odd one out.

Now that most of my friends and family are married, I’m no longer the 10th person to walk through that door alone, but am instead one of a dwindling number. All eyes swing to me, and I don’t have that partner standing next to me to hold my hand or bump my elbow to reassure me that they’re not staring at me like I’m a freak, but just in curiosity.

The other weird thing about parties at this point in my life is that most of them are for, or at least include, children. So not only am I often one of the few who arrive spouse-less, but I’m childless as well. This leaves me out of the vast majority of party small talk among women my age. Honestly, I sometimes feel more comfortable surrounded by the husbands because they are more likely talking about work or politics than kids. Sadly, this isn’t always looked upon favorably. Calm down, ladies, I’m not interested in your husbands and they’re not interested in me, I just want to talk about Star Wars instead of potty training. I wish this gender stereotype didn’t play out so often in real life, but I’ve been stuck in this situation more times than I can count and it never gets any less horrible.

There is also something a bit lonely about leaving a party all on my own. Once I get past my social awkwardness and selfishness, and start to try to find ways to talk to others on the fringes and include them in the larger conversation, parties can be quite fun. Then comes time to leave. These days I’ll often track down the host, give them a hug, and then ghost out of there. Then I get in my car and have to shake off the feeling of being alone again.

Fawn as a bridesmaid, photo by Erik Stalnaker

Weddings

Let me be honest here – I’ve never really been a huge fan of weddings. I’m a huge fan of love, commitment, marriage, and families, but the long, drawn-out, formal ceremony followed by an even longer reception brings out the worst of my attitude and my insecurities. Because I feel the awkwardness of others so acutely, and wish I could make everyone okay, weddings are particularly difficult.

Once again, they were easier to attend when I was younger and went with a bunch of single girl and guy friends. But now, once again, I’m one of the few attendees sans date. I often attach myself to my married friends as soon as I walk in the door, and try not to let them out of my site for fear I’ll be stuck alone in a corner, nursing my champagne, looking pathetic.

Dancing is interesting as well because I actually like to dance at weddings. Just put some Spice Girls on, and there I’ll be in the middle of the dance floor with the bride and all her bridesmaids, grinning like crazy. But then the slow songs come on, and I’m always one of those who has to clear the floor as the DJ makes a big deal about how many decades each couple has been married. In high school and college, I used to swing dance. I took a few ballroom classes, and truly enjoyed them. My brother was my partner much of the time, and we had such a blast together. But again, the older I got, the fewer opportunities were left for a single woman who is socially awkward to swing dance. Classes have a skewed ratio, as do clubs, so there are never enough male partners to go around. And to be honest, the romantic in me always dreamt of having a boyfriend or husband who would dance with me, so now I just don’t do it at all, making that part of the wedding conflicted.

Weddings blend all my insecurities from parties with a culture that celebrates couples to the extent it can sometimes insult singles. Sadly, I’ve heard too many speeches from parents, siblings, or friends that mock the bride or groom for having been single for so long. One too many bad jokes including “we never thought they’d find someone!” or “it’s about time!” has created a PTSD-like reaction in me, including flinching, blushing, and feeling like vomiting as I am often the same age or even older than the bride or groom being so berated. No matter how many times this happens, I am always horrified on behalf of the bride or groom and all singles.

I’m not saying a spouse would make me suddenly love and embrace all the traditions that go along with weddings (don’t get me started on the misogyny of garter throw, or degrading connotations of the bouquet toss) but I do think they’d be at least slightly less difficult for me to attend if I had someone in my corner with me.

Work Functions

Extracurricular functions for one’s work are inevitably uncomfortable for most of us, but being one of the few singletons makes it even worse. Fundraisers, dinners, parties, galas, and other non-work work activities are usually built for couples. “Bring your spouse!” is highlighted on invitations, encouraged, and expected. And then there’s me. I don’t even bother to try to scrounge up a date – I just go stag. Every time.

Just like the awkwardness bred by parties and weddings, going to work functions alone brings out all my jitters. I feel young, immature, and very alone; it’s as if I’m missing some key ingredient to being an adult. Part of this is because I’m often treated a bit younger by bosses or coworkers in these instances because I’m there sans partner. I’ve even been hit on by someone else’s husband when he found out I was single because somehow he thought me saying “hi, how are you doing?” was flirting. Grrrr Argh.

Formal functions are the worst because even the tables are set up for couples. As a single person, I get squished in wherever they have room, often next to some other single person I may not even know. There is often dancing or some other couple-favoring activity. And honestly, these events can be grueling without a partner in crime to chat to all night.

It is here that I feel the most pity from those around me, as year after year, time after time, I still arrive alone. Most of my fellow single coworkers bring dates and eventually end up bringing their new spouse – but there’s Fawn, still alone. Always alone. And everyone knows it. Even if I’m at a point in my life where I actually prefer being single and am perfectly content in it, they can’t help but look at me like I’m just a bit sad somehow. I’ve learned that, since most people can’t imagine being single for their whole lives, they just can’t handle thinking that someone else might be happy this way.

Church

This one hurts the most. Being a single woman at 39 in the modern American church is hard for most of the reasons above plus a zillion more. Just this morning, I went to second service alone because my sister and her husband, with whom I often sit, had to teach a kids’ Sunday School class instead. So, in I walk, getting there just as the music starts and most people are already seated. And I have to go through the same anxiety-inducing decision of where to sit, yet again. Some Sundays I just look for the first person or couple I know and go insinuate myself next to them, whether they like it or not. Other days, like today, I just try to find a seat on the end of a row where I can sit alone. This is never not awkward. Never.

Then you have the thing where you meet a new person and they ask if you’re married and/or have kids and when you say no, they often have no idea what to say after that. The pity I get from some at work multiplies when at church, where many think it’s a theological truth that marriage is better than singleness, even though this is not true. The amount of little old ladies who want to know WHY I’m single is astounding. And then I have to come up with reasons, over and over and over again. Like, well . . . I just haven’t met the right person, or I guess God doesn’t want me to be married, or God’s had a lot for me to do as a single woman, or I have no bloody idea, actually.

All of this discomfort is magnified when trying out a new small group or Bible study. It’s like walking into most of the mortification found at parties, weddings, work functions, and church all together. It would be nice to have a partner by my side who knew how uncomfortable these situations make me feel and could help run interference.

Sometimes, I throw people off at church because I am a single woman who is educated in theology and speaks up. I don’t have a husband to temper my thoughts and for some Christians this is a bit disconcerting. I’ve had men gape at me for daring to speak to them or ask them a question about what they’ve claimed. I’ve had women glare at me for not staying quiet, or for speaking to not just them, but their husbands as well. Again, I am about the least threatening woman when it comes to stealing a wife’s husband! I’m an awkward, overweight geek who has zero interest in married men. Still, in the church being a single woman can limit my ability to have a voice or ministry. Heartbreaking, yes, but that’s how it is.

So, there’s my list of the top 5 things I currently hate to do alone. The church, in particular, needs to work on incorporating singles into its daily life in a way that is less alienating. And we singles need to develop friendships that can get past our single/married status. 

What do you hate to do alone?

The Top 5 Things I Like to do Alone

As a perpetually single adult, I’ve spent a large portion of my life doing things alone. I even lived entirely on my own in a tiny rundown studio apartment for a few years when I first moved to LA. In all these years, I’ve grown to adore doing certain things completely solo as much as I abhor even just the thought of doing others sans company. Today’s blog will explore my top 5 list of the things I love doing all on my own, and next week I’ll tackle the things I hate.

We singles often think about how we feel awkward or depressed without a partner to do certain things with, but are we forgetting the awesomeness that comes from partaking in certain activities without anyone else? The older I get, the more I appreciate the rare opportunity I have to do the following things without one, or several, other people tagging along at all times. There can be great beauty and joy in solitude if approached the right way.

Here are the top 5 things I like to do alone:

Shopping

Some of my friends just love shopping together, but carpooling to Target or hitting up the closest outdoor mall is a bonding experience I’d rather forego. Even when I was a teen, I hated shopping with my friends, especially for clothes. As a plus size woman, I know which stores actually have clothes for my body type, and which styles may be worth trying on. When I shop with friends, many of whom are much smaller and have never had to consider that a store won’t have anything at all in their size, they inevitably want me to try stores or clothes that I already know will not work, so I’d rather just avoid that awkwardness and frustration.

When I go shopping on my own, I can shop as methodically and efficiently as I like. I am a list-maker, so heading down the aisles for exactly what I need and checking it off my list quickly brings me great satisfaction. I love getting in and out of the grocery store with what I need quickly and smoothly. My mother, a diligent browser who always gets things for amazing deals, can browse all day. I cannot – I reach my “shopping limit” and just don’t have it in me to go on. Honestly, most of my Christmas and birthday shopping is done online so I don’t have to worry about dealing with other humans and their differing shopping styles.

Even when it comes to larger purchases, like my car or phone, I enjoy shopping on my own. I can do as much online research as I like to find out the exact product I want, what it’s worth, and what I want to pay before heading into the dealership or shop on my own to get exactly what I’m looking for. I didn’t always enjoy doing this alone, and even cried when I was treated badly by a car dealer the first time I bought a car years ago. But, after another decade, I grew more confident and learned how to present myself, and I also learned how awesome it is to just get up and walk out if you are treated badly as a customer, especially if they are treating you disrespectfully for being a woman on your own. Now that I’m older and more confident, I don’t have that problem very often. When shopping with others for these big ticket items, I find myself trying to be polite by deferring to their opinions when I should just go with my instincts. Also, since I do extensive research and know what I’m looking for, it is easier to shop on my own without other people putting in their two cents when they don’t actually know what they’re talking about.

Many of my friends who are married with children have shared with me how much they miss just being able to shop without kids at their heels. For moms especially, shopping can become a chaotic chore. As a single woman, I can browse my way through bookstores (the one place my “shopping limit” is extended) for hours peacefully without having to worry about little ones knocking things over or husbands getting bored. Instead, shopping can become a quiet, enjoyable, independent experience.

Driving

Sometimes, when I’ve had a rough day or am just feeling antsy, I’ll get in my car and just drive. I’ll crank up the music, roll down the windows or blast the AC, pick a road or freeway, and just head out for an hour or two. When I lived in LA, my favorite time to do this was late at night – after traffic got less claustrophobic and the lights of the city blinked on to cast a romantic glow over buildings and concrete.

I remember when my dad was dying, just driving alone through the hills surrounding my desert town at night, listening to Damien Rice, crying a bit, and trying to process my grief. When you live with other people – family or roommates – a drive alone can be the best way to process tough emotions. While it is important to be vulnerable and let others help us when we’re feeling sad or are grieving, sometimes it’s nice to have the space to not have to worry about other people worrying about us.

Solo drives are also excellent opportunities for conversations with God, for crying out to him or singing his praises. Yes, sometimes I talk to myself or to God while driving, so don’t judge me too harshly if you see me driving by chattering on to no one. There is also great catharsis in blasting loud punk or rock music and singing along at the top of your lungs. Seriously, try it, it’s amazing.

Going for a solo evening stroll along a Santa Monica beach.

Beach Strolling

When I lived in West LA, one of my favorite things to do was stroll the beach by myself just before sunset. I’d park in that pay-by-the-hour lot off Ocean Park that the locals know about and the tourists never use, kick off my shoes, and walk along the sand just above the water line. Sometimes, friends would join me for this stroll, which I loved, and some of my best memories are walking with friends on the beach. But other times, it was just me, and it was beautiful.

I find my mind reaches a peaceful kind of clarity by the ocean which it rarely finds elsewhere. With my toes in the wet sand, the breeze in my hair, and the view of seagulls, giggling kids chasing waves, surfers way out where the whitecaps start, and the lights of the ferris wheel on the horizon, these walks alone were therapeutic. Again, I would find myself talking to God, though this time not out loud (I’m not that crazy yet).

In the last decade, quite a few big life decisions I’ve had to face were mulled over as I sat on the sand, looking out over the Pacific as the sun began to set. Infinity is easier to process when there is no end to the horizon, and big decisions seem more palatable. The edge of the ocean is a great place to spend some time alone.

Reading the Chronicles of Narnia alone over tea at the Vaults and Garden cafe in Oxford, England.

Reading & Writing

I was that nerdy kid in high school and college who abhorred group projects and would rather just get my work done on my own. I knew I’d either get stuck with a bossy partner who wanted to take over but do it worse than I could, or lazy students who’d make me do all the work. Either way, it wouldn’t be good. As an adult, I still feel this way.

One of my favorite things to do alone is read and write. I have some friends and family who also love to read, but even then it’s better alone because they can’t distract me, and I can’t distract them. When sitting in a room with another reader, inevitably one of us will end up commenting on something to the other and concentration is broken.

When the weather is good, it’s lovely to go outside in a garden (Descanso Gardens is great for this), or the backyard, iced tea or water in hand, and read for an hour or two. Cafes and coffee shops are perfect when it’s colder. I read well with ambient noise that doesn’t include people talking directly to me.

I also like to journal, but am rather shy about it so rarely do it when others are around. Since I’ve lived with family or roommates most of my life, I often wait until everyone else has gone to bed to write. My mum kindly set up a little desk for me in the guest room as my “home office” so I can blog peacefully in the back corner of the house without interruption.

The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite places to be alone.

Traveling

One of my absolute favorite things to do alone is travel. I also enjoy traveling with friends and family, so this isn’t exclusive – I’m pretty much going to love any chance to explore new places. But, traveling alone does have some of its own perks.

As someone who is very aware of those around me and how they are feeling/reacting to the situations we’re in, traveling with others can be particularly stressful. I feel responsible for helping those I’m with feel comfortable and have a good time whether I’m actually responsible for this or not. Perhaps this stems from the fact that much of my world traveling has been as a chaperone to 50 high school students when I actually was responsible for them!

When I travel alone, most of the stress is removed. I know how to pack, how to deal with airports and transportation, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to food and places to stay, so when it’s just me, I don’t worry as much.

Traveling in groups is also difficult because everyone has different tastes in what they like to do. When I’m on my own, I can wander through museums for as long as I like, or plop myself down in front of one painting for an hour. I can discover an old cathedral and kneel to pray silently. I can stroll through cemeteries and libraries without worrying that people will think this is an odd hobby to have. I can sit at a sidewalk cafe with a cappuccino reading or journaling, people watching, and just enjoying the scenery.

Traveling alone also affords me the opportunity to stretch myself socially as well, which is stressful indeed, but good for me. When I travel with friends or family, I am usually just with them. When I travel on my own, I tend to stay at places like hostels or communes, where I am forced to interact with other people and make new friends. This is incredibly difficult for me, but also one of the most rewarding things in my life, and I now have friends all over the world who are dear to me because of experiencing new cities and countries together as strangers.

Some of my deepest spiritual moments have occurred while I traveled alone. Without the comfort of friends and family, it is easy to get lonely and feel a bit lost when traveling, especially in other countries and on other continents. It is in these times that I turn all the more to God and his word, finding comfort in knowing he is with me, finding joy in knowing I can always rely on him.

Traveling alone is not for everyone, and must be approached carefully, especially for women, but I have found those trips to be some of the most fulfilling experiences of my life.

The single life has some amazing benefits and we should remind ourselves of them more frequently. Much of what is spoken or written about singleness focuses on the negative side when some things are tremendously fulfilling and sometimes even more lovely when we get to do them on our own.

What are some of the things you enjoy doing alone?

Top 5 Things I Love About Being Single

Last week I looked at the Top 5 Things I Hate About Being Single, so it’s time to explore what I love about the single life. The more I ponder this, I realize the things I currently love coincide well with what I hate about it. Instead of just giving me what I think I need or want, removing difficulties, and fulfilling my desires, God is giving me different gifts to fulfill my needs, using difficulties to grow me, and helping me prioritize my desires to recognize that his will truly is best. I have a long way to go before my mind and heart constantly dwell on this list rather than the previous one, but when I do, I realize that my single celibate life can actually be pretty sweet. Just as life can be tough for everyone no matter what state they find themselves in, it has joys and good gifts from the Lord as well, so here are my current favorite aspects of life in Episode VI as a single woman at the end of my 30’s.

1. Embracing My Own Team

I may not have been chosen by one other human being to be his lifelong teammate, but I have an epically awesome team in my life. And the fact that I’m not committed to a husband and possibly kids allows me to build closer relationships with the rest of my family and friends.

At the end of last January, I sat in the room I’d just moved into in my third Los Angeles apartment trying to catch my breath in the midst of some of the deepest grief I’d felt. I was now living with my 11th amazing roommate (not counting family) in the 16th residence (not counting study and travel abroad) of my life. And all I could see ahead of me was a lifetime of moves like this, from flat to flat, flatmate to flatmate, never having someone else help me carry the burden, always fighting through life alone. I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I must’ve always thought I’d have a husband by this point, a more permanent roomie, so it hit me hard – panic, grief, anger, fear…all of it. The depressed, suicidal thoughts of my teenage years crept back into my mind, unbidden and unwelcome. I was crushed, exhausted, lost. I was much too focused on what I didn’t have to see what was right there in front of me – a family.

Whereas in the past I faced my depression alone, hiding it from the world, this time I shared it with my pastor, weeping in the counseling room as he listened. I visited my mum and cried on her shoulder. I told my sister that the dark thoughts were back. And it helped – they all helped. They listened and cried with me, held me, brainstormed ways to overcome these feelings, and challenged me to change my perspective. I was not alone. I did have a team – a very dedicated one.

Those dark couple of months last year spurred me on to view family differently – less traditionally, and hopefully more the way God views it. I felt so alone, but that feeling wasn’t trustworthy. The “American Dream” still thrives in the modern American church, forever including the husband/wife, 2.2 kids, house, and dog. But this isn’t necessarily God’s dream life for all of us, just as it wasn’t the goal of the disciples nor Christ himself. While he may not have provided spouses for all of us, he does provide us all with family.

So, the older I get, the more I embrace my rambling, internationally scattered, diverse family made up of old friends and new, of my mum, siblings, nephews, niece, and cousins, of pastors and biblical counselors, former flatmates and travel buddies. I no longer see these relationships as mere ministry opportunities for me to serve others, but as loving, complex, mutually challenging and beneficial bonds between people who love each other. I am not all on my own or insignificant – God has provided me with an entire family to help me try to glorify him and enjoy him forever.

Romans 12:4-5

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 one of another.

2. Future Freedom

One of the most awesome things about being single is how much freedom it allows. I’ve never been that person who knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. Other than wanting to help people, there was no specific dream occupation. Because I don’t have to worry about what a husband wants or my children need, I’ve been able to pursue a couple of different careers in my life, from social work to teaching, and to move so I could live close to these jobs and give my all to them.

When I was a high school English teacher, our school offered international trips each year and since I never had to worry about who would take care of my kids for 2 weeks, I got to go on more of these trips than most of my married coworkers. I had passport, could travel. I got to see the world through the eyes of dozens of teenagers, which was surprisingly moving. I got to serve them and care for them while they were far from home, and experience some of the most amazing countries on earth.

As in the past when I decided to go to grad school, move, quit my job to go to England for 3 months, or work 3 part time jobs I enjoy instead of 1 full time one I might hate – I currently have the freedom in my life to figure this out. I can spend focused time in prayer, get wise counsel from people I trust, delve into what the Bible has to say, and be free to walk the path I think God has for me without hesitation, not having to acquiesce to a spouse’s desires. Singleness does not mean we should be foolish and make selfish, careless decisions but it does give us a slightly more blank slate to work with.

When I think ahead to my future, I have no idea what it will look like. Other than my couple of months of panic last year and when future fears crop up now and again, I usually find this exciting. God can do what he pleases with my life – he can keep me in the desert with my family, or take me somewhere else. He can allow me to continue on as an elementary school librarian, which I adore, or he can lead me to a different job. He can open up doors for me to get into counseling ministry again or keep them shut. No matter what happens, it’s just between God and I, and that is beautiful and freeing. I can be anxious about the things of the Lord and not worry about having to please anyone else.

1 Corinthians 7:32-34

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.

3. Gaining Space

The whole not having sex part of the celibate single life can suck, and as mentioned in the last post, it is difficult to live without the human connection of touch. Still, I’ve gotta say – having a room all to myself is one of the greatest things ever. I often think if I ever do marry I’d prefer to go Ricky and Lucy in it and have separate beds at least, if not separate bedrooms like the upper class gentry in all those period pieces I love to watch.

Growing up the fourth of five children in a family that at times was middle class and others was, well, just poor, I shared a room with my sister and sometimes our little brother too. Memories of sneaking out of my room after everyone else went to bed to raid the bookcases for the next classic I hadn’t yet read, of reading by flashlight or just laying there frustrated until tears came, an insomniac trying so hard to just sleep like everyone else still haunt me to this day. On family trips, I was often found at 2 or 3 in the morning sitting reading in the motel bathtub so as not to disturb the rest of the peacefully slumbering family. Even now, traveling with others or staying with friends can be difficult as I must take my night owlish ways into consideration. Just the sound of someone else’s breathing, let alone snoring, can make falling asleep that much more of an arduous task.

As a much younger single in college and just out of grad school, I always had to share a bedroom, so at this point in my single life having space to myself is a treasure. I can stay up as late as I like, lights on, reading away. I can light scented candles without worrying about someone else’s allergies. I can sit on my bed blogging quietly, or dance around like a maniac to the Hamilton soundtrack. And I have uninterrupted time to pray and worship, journal and read my Bible.

The older I get, the more free I feel to carve out some space for myself without feeling selfish. As an extroverted introvert at L’Abri Fellowship in England last year, I felt guilty for struggling so much in my dorm room with up to 8 other women and in a manor house with 40 other people. After being encouraged by my tutor to seek time where I could be alone – especially space for me to be alone with God, I was better able to serve those around me. I started waking up a bit earlier so I could have time to read,journal, and pray at the desk in the morning room while everyone else was getting ready after breakfast. On some of our days off I went into a neighboring town on my own to rest and recharge for the very social days ahead. Having my own room for the last couple of weeks allowed me to sleep – and it’s amazing how necessary that is for this whole life thing, especially when that includes reaching out to help others.

Yes, the desire for space can be a selfish one, but it can also be necessary and good. We were built for rest, with limitations, and different people rest in different ways. Some recharge when they’re around other people, and some of us need a bit of time between human interactions to refocus. Christ, even in the midst of his busy season of teaching and healing when people needed him and sought him out, made a habit of going off completely by himself to spend time in prayer to his father. While married people can often use moments alone too, it is a lot easier to find them when you’re single.

Luke 5:15

But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.

4. Justified Self-Confidence

As much as I hate constantly having to justify myself as a single woman who should be taken seriously, I do love the fact that I can be independent. After a couple of decades as a single adult, I’ve learned how to take care of myself. I can look back on years of having to make the tough decisions on my own and trust my judgement. I can look forward to the unknown future and have confidence that I am equipped to face it.

I’ve bought cars, rented apartments, researched phone plans, Googled how to fix laptop issues, and killed all my own bugs long enough now to have a level of confidence in my own abilities. I also know when something is beyond me and how to either get a friend to help or hire a professional. Instead of going to my husband when I have a concern or question, I have to ask myself what God would have me to do, look in his word, remember the wise teaching I’ve received throughout my life, trust my education, and have faith that God will lead me.

Because of my track record of being a relatively responsible independent adult, I embrace my autonomous decision making opportunities. As a woman who paid her own way through college, and life thereafter (with some help here and there, thank you mum!) I have become very good at budgeting. My singleness means I get to spend the money I earn the way I think the Lord wants me to, the way I want to, and I don’t have to worry about my husband not seeing eye to eye on this. I’ve had friends who marry men who are thoughtless with money, which causes their wives a lot of anxiety as they try to balance not being nags with being able to pay the bills. I know people who married others who didn’t grow up donating money to charity or giving to the church, so there are arguments about how much they help others. As a counselor, I’ve had many married women express deep concern about the stress caused by the differences in how money is used in their marriage. I just have to look at my list of necessary expenditures, make sure they’re covered, see if anything is left over, and wonder what God would have me do with it.

The same joy of being able to do what I think is best applies to how I use my time and skills as well. Singleness allows me to say yes to what I think God would have me say yes to, and no to the rest, without having to double check with a spouse. Singleness is never an excuse for selfishness or wasting what God has given us. To counteract this temptation, I have amassed quite a few friends and family members who are wise advisers and counselors, to whom I can turn for advice when needed and who will hold me accountable if I start to make foolish decisions.

Proverbs 4:5-13

Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. Hear my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness. When you walk, your step will not be hampered, and if you run, you will not stumble. Keep hold of instruction; do not let go; guard her, for she is your life.

5. Being Grown and Loved

The last thing I love about being single is how much I have grown to rely on God. Not fitting into the typical view of what a Christian woman my age is expected to be makes me turn my eyes to God, wondering how he sees me. You might judge me or pity me, but since Christ’s death has covered my sin, God looks upon me with love and joy. I am not missing my other half, I am wholly his. Instead of judgement, there is grace; instead of pity, there is compassion.

Instead of focusing my future hopes upon the shaky possibility that I may one day marry, I can place all of my hopes, current and future, upon his unshakable promises. And so far I can confirm that he is, indeed, enough. As a woman who lost her father and never married, I feel especially cared for by my father in heaven. There have been moments when he was all I could cling to, and he sustained me just as he promised he would.

The best part of this point is that we can all experience it, whether married or single. God reveals his love to us and grows us in all of our circumstances. If you are married, he will use your marriage, if you are single, he will use your singleness. He will also use our jobs, families, friends, locations, hobbies, and even things like technology or the weather. God is using everything in our lives to reveal his endless love and grow us into his likeness.

Psalm 68:4-6a

Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity.

So, all in all, although there are some things I hate about the single life, it can be pretty spectacular if my eyes remain fixed on his.

Psalm 16:8

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.