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Archive for Celibacy

The Danger of Treating Singleness Like It’s a Practice Round

Today I listened to a brief podcast about singleness and read a couple articles targeting singles. They were all biblically accurate, all well-meaning, and all left me with the same concern: there was a subtle but pervasive insinuation that the point of singleness is to help us practice for a godly married life.

I don’t think that was the goal of either message, in fact, I think the people involved in creating these pieces would firmly say that is not the point of singleness. And yet, there it is, woven into phrases like “when a single woman learns to submit to and honor authorities God has placed in her life, earthly marriage will simply be an easier transition that had she not.” It takes the good message of singleness not being a “holding station for marriage” and turns it into just that by using words like “this season” or phrases like viewing “these unique single years as “super years” to serve God.”

To many, these words and phrases may seem helpful or at least neutral, but they reveal the deep down belief that singleness is a temporary phase of life before marriage. And, in fact, all of the women who wrote the articles I read and spoke on the podcast I listened to are now married. They may commiserate with singles because they were single until the ripe old age of 29, but for them, singleness truly was just a season. 

Since many Christian men and women who struggle with their singleness will end up married, what’s the big deal about teaching like this? For many, it is a season that passes, it is a unique stage of life that can be seen as a special, separate moment. My concern is that all of these lessons are particularly targeting singles, especially ones who would like to be married someday. And unless you truly believe that God has promised a spouse for each and every reader and listener (he hasn’t) then we need to be a bit more careful in our use of language when discussing singleness. 

This might seem overly critical or nit-picky, but as a kid who grew up in the purity movement of evangelical churches, words like these, subtle, pervasive words, are what stay in our heads as we grow older. Words reveal what we really believe. It’s easy for a now-married man or woman to look back on singleness and remember their own struggles with it. But looking back on it from the lens of a currently married person might make you forget one thing: some of us will never marry. Even some of us who passionately wish to. It’s easy to look back and say hang in there, use your time well, serve hard in this special season, etc. But what about when that season is your entire life? What about when it is no longer “unique” but it is everything?

Be careful about the words you use to describe singleness because if you give off the feeling that it’s merely a practice round for real life, that will affect both how the singles around you view their lives and how you see them. Do you look at your own single life like it’s just a phase to get through before things get better? Do you look at your single friends like they aren’t quite there yet? Like they’re still not totally grown up? 

I appreciate when married pastors and speakers include singles in their sermons, podcasts, and blogs. It’s nice to be seen, included, and appreciated because we so often are overlooked. I don’t want to seem ungrateful about these messages, which do hold good truths, because of a word here and a phrase there. But these words and phrases reveal a bigger issue in the church, that we still view singleness as something to be got through and moved on from. And for many of us, this is just rubbing salt into an open wound.

For me, singleness is not a season; there is nothing unique about this part of my life. It just IS my life. It might not be what I would have chosen, but it is the life God has chosen for me, and many others like me. It is the life God chose for many of his disciples and for himself on earth. It is a good life, a full one, and not just practice for marriage. Stop seeing singles at the caterpillar, and start to see the butterfly already there.

Singleness and the “Mike Pence Rule”

This summer, I’ll be visiting an old friend of mine who now lives, with her husband I have yet to meet, out of state. We booked the flight together so the timing would be just right, but then her work required her to be somewhere else the first day and half I’ll be there. Changing my flight at this point would cost us hundreds of dollars. I’m a pretty chill solo traveler, so don’t mind exploring her town on my own for a day or two so the question in my mind became: would her husband feel comfortable picking me up from the airport and letting me stay in their home without his wife there for a couple days, and would she be okay with that as well? Her fear was that I’d feel uncomfortable. After we talked, we realized none of us felt uncomfortable, we’re all pretty chill, all trust each other (a trust earned over years of faithful friendship), and we’re all fine just saving the money and not changing the flight.

The evening after this conversation had taken place, I was talking about my plans with my mum and found myself getting a little emotional. “Why?” I asked myself. And I told my mum how nice it was to be trusted, and to be treated, well, like a person. Because I am a person. And sometimes we singles are treated like “single people” which can have an air of distrust about it, an air of suspicion or danger. But this friend and I have been through an awful lot together over the past decade, and I have earned her trust as she has earned mine. And her husband has also been through a lot (as most humans have) and has earned her trust, as she has earned his. So instead of me being seen as some threat, a potential seductress, or a temptation one or both of us might not be able to withstand, I was seen as a person. A trusted person. Which is really nice.

In an era where the “Mike Pence Rule” (formerly known as the “Billy Graham Rule”) is touted by many church-going people as the way to live a pure life, and when the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements remind us how often vulnerable people are preyed upon, being reminded that we can still be treated like people instead of sexual objects or temptations, still earn each other’s trust, still respect and care for others, is beautiful.

Now, I have known a couple of single people who I wouldn’t trust around married friends of the opposite sex because they were grotesquely flirtatious when inappropriate, or worse. But, to be fair, I’ve also known married men and women who were as bad, or worse. So just labeling singles as the dangerous ones, and only hanging out with other couples, isn’t going to stop someone who wants to be unfaithful to their spouse from giving in to that temptation. Married people cheat on their spouses with other marrieds too, not just with singles.  

Yes, men and women should be wise in how they interact with others of the opposite sex, but this wisdom should apply to everyone – married and single alike. If we boil down the relationship between the sexes into men and women who are married, men with male friends and women with female friends, we are severely limiting the body of Christ. Jesus himself spent time alone with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) and had women as some of his closest friends like Mary, Martha (Luke 10), Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others (Luke 8).

If married couples only go out with other married couples, married women only go out with women, married men only go out with men, then single men and women are going to be significantly cut out of the fellowship of the church. And we are. This happens in most churches. We aren’t invited to lunch or dinner as often as other couples are. And we aren’t given as many opportunities to get the perspective of members of the opposite sex, to be influenced by their wisdom and insight, because we aren’t trusted to be alone with them. We are often only allowed public, cursory, shallow relationships with them which hinders our ability to participate in the very community that is meant to be our family.

I’m not suggesting people put themselves into dangerous situations – there are people we should never be alone with, people who are untrustworthy, situations in which it would be foolish to be alone with a particular member of the opposite sex. But if this becomes the rule instead of the exception, our communities will suffer. We will start to see the unmarried of the opposite sex as dangerous objects of temptation and view them with fear, threats to our chastity, as if every single is just dying to have sex with your husband or wife.

Rather, we should see them as valuable members of our churches with insight and wisdom that could help everyone. And, since the majority of church leadership is made of up married men, the concerns of single people, particularly single women, will never reach their ears and therefore will not be given a voice in the decision making of the church. Since we don’t have husbands to share our concerns, it pushes an already vulnerable population in the church into even more obscurity.

So instead of cutting off personal relationships from every person of the opposite sex except your wife or husband once you get married, let’s work to create god-glorifying ones that defy what the world might think – single people are not threats to your marriage. We’re just people. Some of us are trustworthy. Some of us aren’t. But hey, some married people aren’t trustworthy either. Welcome to humanity. Let’s judge wisely who we spend time with not based on gender or marital status, but on who we actually have proven to be.

I realize that, in many churches, what I’m saying is controversial. I’m here for the debate, so please feel free to comment or message your concerns or questions. But let me assure you that it is possible to live a life free from anything shady (“above reproach”) and have friends of the opposite sex who are single and friends who are married. And, as a single woman, I value my friendships with my male friends tremendously – my single guys and my married ones – as they are often the main thing that holds me back from becoming sexist and anti-male in this era of toxic masculinity so pervasive in our country and in the church.

When I start to despair of all men, I think of my guys and how good they are, how kind, how wise, how godly, how fun, how loving, and it reminds me to be more balanced and careful. If you took them away from me, if I wasn’t allowed to have these friendships, if lunches and dinners and e-mails and counseling sessions weren’t allowed, I’d lose that perspective. And they wouldn’t know that many women are struggling in this current climate because they’d have no one to tell them. I need that perspective. They need that perspective. We all do.

I’m Dreaming of Expanded Ministry Opportunities for Celibate Single Christians

The singles ministry is led by a male pastor in his early 30’s who happily married quite young, had three little kids, and thinks everyone else should follow his example. The women’s retreat speaker has been married for 20 years and all of her illustrations refer to being a wife and mother. The high school youth group is run by a still-in-seminary early-20-something man who just got married two years ago, and his newly pregnant wife who helps out. The Women’s and Children’s Ministry Directors are married women with children who home schooled their kids and never had careers outside of the home. The break-out session at the parenting conference for single parents is facilitated by a middle aged married couple who blended their families from previous marriages. The entire paid counseling staff of the large church is made up of married men (a couple of women are available for an hour here or there as unpaid counselors who voluntarily counsel in the little spare time they can offer up). In fact, the entire pastoral staff is made up of married men.

When a single person does appear in paid ministry in these churches, it is usually an annoyingly energetic young man, currently in or freshly out of seminary, being groomed for future leadership in the church with the very strong expectation that they will soon get married and have kids,just like every other man on staff. A single young woman in a similar situation is never even a consideration.

This is the status quo of the churches in which I grew up and continue to be a part of. Every. Single. One of them. There may be an exception here or there in some more open minded churches, but for the vast majority of evangelicals, this is our experience.

In some denominations, most, if not all ministry is performed by single members of the clergy. Monks, priests, and nuns who took vows of service and celibacy led (and still lead) parishes and churches worldwide. They were and are respected, useful members of society and leaders in ministry. Yes, there are some who abused and continue to abuse this position (horribly and with lasting effect on those abused and the church itself), but this isn’t because they are single (married pastors are capable of just as much abuse as unmarried priests). The ability for ministers to marry is allowed in Scripture and has benefits of its own, so I get why the Protestant church pushed for that change in leadership policy. But instead of building a church body that allows married AND single men and women to minister in varied ways that utilize their skills and encourage spiritual growth across the board, the conservative evangelical church has relegated single Christians to the corners of ministry, especially single women.

Single women are encouraged to work in the nursery, or maybe the church office. Single men are encouraged to help out in youth group with the sporty stuff and help pass out the communion trays. Both are encouraged even more strongly to find Christian spouses and start “a family” as their main focus of ministry. And, for almost everything else, married men and maybe women will fill ministry roles.

So why is this? If I offered to speak at the next marriage conference, to married couples, about marriage, I’d be considered a bit nuts. So why is it that married people get to lead everything, even ministries specifically to singles? Why has marriage become a seminal part of the conscious or unconscious criteria for what it means to be a ministry-ready mature Christian? Christ was unmarried, as were Paul and Timothy and many other saints of the early church. It’s time to remember that.

Here’s what I’d like to see:

  • I’d love to see middle aged single men and women encouraged to lead the singles ministry, even hired (gasp!) to do so. If the main goal of the singles pastor is to get his parishioners married off, and to teach them how to be good future husbands and wives, then you’ve hired the wrong person for this job. If they view singleness as a temporary state to be raced through as quickly as possible, then assign them to a different ministry. We do not have singles leading married ministries, so why do we have married pastors leading singles?
  • I’d love to see youth groups invite dedicated, celibate, older-than-20-or-30-something single speakers when they discuss “purity culture” so there can be a balance to the whole “save sex until marriage” and “your virginity is for your husband/wife” message. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our teenagers realized that not everyone is actually going to get married? And that marriage isn’t actually the only way to honor God? And that celibacy is not punishment, but a form of worship? Only a single speaker can convincingly make this argument, not a married one.
  • I’d love for the next women’s retreat or conference to headline a single woman speaker rather than just have one break-out session (if any) for the singles that focuses on not wasting this valuable time until marriage (with eventual marriage assumed, of course). Let’s have sermons by women where being a wife and mother fills 10% of the illustrations instead of 100%, just every once in awhile to remind the other women that probably over 50% of adults in church actually aren’t married. Let’s have single male speakers at men’s conferences too, who can shift the focus from godly man=husband/father to godly man=godly man.
  • I’d love for every church that has a counseling program to hire a full time female counselor on staff, and why not some single ones while we’re at it? See, most of the people who turn to churches for counsel are women. And by most, it’s like 80%. Sadly, due to our culture’s weird view of masculinity, men don’t tend to ask for counseling. It’s tragic, really. But this does mean that more women are coming to churches for counseling, and most churches only have male pastors on staff to help them. They may have a few women who volunteer to counsel in between their jobs and kids and everything else, but our time is always limited, and we rarely get paid for it meaning we can’t offer as much. And, when women are not on staff at churches, the elder board will actually have zero clue what needs the women of the church actually have because they have no voice at the table. Single counselors would be awesome too, as we have a lot to offer!
  • I’d love for the next parenting conference to host a break-out session by a single teacher who can help them speak to their kids about the possibility that Prince Charming or their Disney Princess may not exist. Parents need to know that God may have chosen a path of singleness for their children, that they may not get grandkids, and that this, if it is God’s will, is truly beautiful and fine and good. Parents need to be told that putting undue pressure on their kids to find a spouse and “settle down” (as if all singles are unsettled???) is not showing trust in God. They need to know that it’s okay for them to pray for their kids’ future spouses, as long as they’re also praying for God’s will which may actually not include a spouse at all.
  • I’d love for Christian colleges, universities, and seminaries to hire single male and female professors to teach and mentor and for churches to hire full-time single Christians on staff. The next generation of Christians needs to see there are valuable places in the Christian community for singles. They need mentors who can minister differently. They need a variety of voices and perspectives pointing to the same God, using the same Scripture, loving the same body of Christ. They need to see that singleness can be used for the glory of God, that committed celibate singleness is respected, and that life is not over if you can’t find a spouse.

Inclusion of mature, dedicated, celibate single Christians is even more important in a time when we demand that same-sex attracted Christians remain celibate for life, closing themselves off to the possibility of any kind of traditional family, or marry someone they are not attracted to. We expect a woman who has never been sought after as a wife to remain faithful to God alone and find her fulfillment in Him instead of being a wife and mother, even when we preach that a woman’s highest calling is to be just that. We look at older single men in the church with suspicion. We demand a difficult commitment to purity and service, yet relegate singles to second-class status with few opportunities for Christian vocation, little respect, no possibility of paid ministry, no voice in church leadership, and ultimately a life on the fringes of the community that is meant to be our family.

The church is meant to be made up of all image bearers of God; this includes both men and women, people of every tongue and race, all socioeconomic backgrounds,  and it should also include singles as well as married Christians. If any of these are lacking, then the church is bound to not even realize the gaps in who they are not able to serve. The blind spots will be insurmountable because they won’t even know they exist. It’s time for singles to be involved in every aspect of church life, including leadership.

The Awkward Spinster’s Best of 2018

There is one day left of 2018, one more day to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly that this year offered up. Instead, I think mum and I are going to go play in our city, LA, for the day, and try to squeeze the last bits of Christmas out of the year before undecorating and starting fresh. And yes, just in case you were wondering, I will be wearing this sparkly fuzzy tiara and drinking mini-champagne-for-one tonight at home with my mother. Because as great as my life is, I am still a total singleton surrounded by marrieds who can’t go out on New Year’s Eve. Alas.

This year, blogging has become more difficult as I’ve grown more and more content in my status as Awkward Spinster. I guess it’s always easier to complain and grumble and point out all the down sides than it is to express contentment and joy in something that used to be so difficult. Yes, singleness at 40 still isn’t my Plan A, never was, but God has other plans for me and I’m loving them. Thank you, as always, to my readers, both single and married, for continuing on in this awkward yet fabulous life of a recovering cynical single! 

To continue the tradition I started last year, 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 2018:

5. The fifth most popular blog post of this year delves into a topic most people try to avoid because they’re worried it’ll be too painful, or too personal, or just too awkward: The Childless Woman.

4. Even though I’ve discovered more peace with my singleness this year, there is one area of my life which is still an endless struggle. Sadly, it’s the church: When Sunday Is the Most Difficult Day of the Week.

3. The third most popular post was one of my more cheerful, optimistic posts about how lovely life can be for a single person who comes to accept it and stops trying to change their status: The Freedom of Not Even Trying to Date.

2. Coming in second place is my contemplation on how the church often squashes the voice of the single woman in its congregation: The Church’s Silencing of Single Women.

1. The most popular post this year, by far, explored how difficult living a single and celibate life can be, even in the modern protestant church: Single and Celibate in the Church. This article was Part One of the series “Single and Celibate: Always the Odd One Out.”

And here’s my choice for the most underrated post that I wish more people had read because I love it: Of Toddlers and Time Travel.

This year, I also updated my About page and added Speaking and Contact pages, which have added a lot to The Awkward Spinster.

Looking back on 2018, here are a few more favorites of the year:

Favorite Song of 2018: “This Is America” by Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover. This is one of the more powerful pieces of music from this year of increased militant nationalism.

Favorite TV Show of 2018: Season 5 of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I love this show so much and am thrilled it was picked up by NBC for a sixth and final season. Follow them on social media for some uplifting fun posts.

Favorite Movies of 2018: There was no way I could pick one. This was the year of “Black Panther,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” I can not and will not choose just one.

Favorite Comic Book of 2018: Image Comics released graphic novels 4 and 5 of “Paper Girls” this year. This time traveling, sci-fi story of newspaper girls from the 80’s, futuristic humans, and dinosaurs is always a favorite of mine.

Favorite Book of 2018: “Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness” by Joy Beth Smith. I don’t often like books about singleness, especially not Christian ones, but this one broke the mold and is worth the read. Check out my book review, “A Galentine’s Reading Recommendation,” if you’re interested.

Let me know what your favorites of 2018 were, and have a happy new year.

I wish you all a 2019 filled with love, joy, and peace.

My Not-So-Perfect Relationship with Romantic Fiction

Though I like to present myself as the type of girl who dwells in science fiction and adventure, I have a confession to make: much of my fictional intake involves romance. Shocking, I know! Not “romance novels” per se, that genre has always grated on me. But give me a good YA (young adult) rom-com, a dystopian boy-meets-girl, a beach or Christmas read, a gothic romance, a black and white musical, or a teen angst drama and I’m there. 

This Christmas season alone had me driving to Hollywood to watch “The Holiday” with my sis and an old flatmate on a rooftop (#dumbledamn), then Pasadena for “Love Actually” with my mum in an odd heritage center with Victorian buildings. I’ve consumed both “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” and plan on watching many other Christmastime classics which all seem to feature romance.

I like to think my tastes run a little more high brow than Hallmark-type movies, but in the past few years, on occasion, I have been known to fire one of these up and thoroughly enjoy it. Usually alone. With wine.

My reading in the past few weeks has also reflected this bent toward romantic threads. I just finished Sophie Kinsella’s “My (Not So) Perfect Life” to cleanse my palate from the disappointing “Twelve Days of Dash & Lily.” Now much of my reading this year has not focused on romance, it may have been a subplot, but wasn’t the main story line. Still, at this time of year, after some more heavy reads, I’m all about the fun, light happily-ever-after.

Two of my absolute favorite viewing experiences this year were “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” which I’ve already watched twice on Netflix, and “Crazy Rich Asians,” which I saw opening weekend.

So how on earth do I, a perpetual spinster, enjoy delving into these fictional realms? Don’t they stir me up into a frenzy of discontentment, lust, and bitterness? Doesn’t my usually cynical brain find them immature and frustratingly unattainable? Wouldn’t it be better for me to avoid them like the plague?

The answer to these questions is “Sometimes yes, and sometimes no.”

There have been times in my life when watching a rom-com or reading a YA romance would increase my dissatisfaction with my single lot in life. I would have to check my heart after a reading or viewing and make sure my view of myself and my life was in line with God’s view of it. And sometimes it was better to avoid such plots completely, thus my passionate love of “Die Hard” as a Christmas go-to. That bromance between John McClane and Sergeant Al Powell is better than most love stories. At this point in my life, where I have come to find true contentment and deep meaning in my singleness, I seem to be able to enjoy the fantasy of it all with no problems. Yes, I’d still someday like to experience a tiny piece of that kind of romance myself, but I trust God’s plan for me. I know if it never happens, that his plan is even better.

My cynical brain may actually help me to enjoy this type of fiction because I realize much of it is fantastical. I’m not sitting there reading these novels or watching these films thinking how perfect it all looks. I’m more likely to be giggling to myself as I realize how preposterous it all is. I can enjoy it like a fantasy novel, a made up realm where things work differently than here on earth. I’m 40. Most of my friends and family are or have been married. I’m a counselor. I’ve walked through enough broken, complicated, or just real relationships with people to know how much work goes into a lasting romance.

Actually, I’ve found that sustained singleness seems to be the most difficult for my optimistic, idealistic friends. I have an acquaintance, a man in his early 40’s, who is still horribly brokenhearted that he has yet to meet and marry his One True Love. And yes, once again, I too would like that to be a reality for me, but I don’t think it is or will be and have come (mostly) to terms with this. Because of our perspectives, romances are difficult for him to enjoy without coming away depressed and despairing. For me, these days, I come away smiling, having enjoyed the story, or laughing because I thought it was rather stupid after all.

So this holiday season, while I plan to indulge in a few more Christmasy romances (a reread of the fabulous gothic romance, “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier, is up next for my book club), what will you be reading and/or watching? Write a note in the comments telling me about your relationship to romantic fiction.