Single in the Time of Coronavirus

My life has changed entirely in the past few months, as life has changed for many. Not all, apparently – I’m still amazed to look at my social media feeds and see so many people going on vacation, visiting friends and family, eating in restaurants, traveling, dating, hanging out in other people’s houses, and acting like there isn’t a raging global virus going on all around us. Sigh. 

But for me, life is nothing like it was before mid-March. I have no job. I cannot leave town. I can’t touch anyone other than the person with whom I live – my mum. Some days, I don’t leave the house. Other days, I only get out to take my dog for a walk or go for a quick local drive, or to get take-out. I watch sermons on my laptop on Sunday mornings. About once every couple of weeks, my brother and sister and their families come over for a very socially distant paddling pool party for their kids in the backyard. Separated by picnic benches, two pools, two inflatable unicorn floaties, two sets of folding chairs, and mum and I off to yet another side on our porch swing. No hugs, yelled chatter, and a deep appreciation to even be able to see them in this limited way.

I might be taking extra precautions because I live with my mum, who is more at risk due to her age, or perhaps it’s just part of my conscientious personality, or my current lack of health insurance (why on earth does the US have our health insurance attached to our jobs??????). No matter what the reason is, I spend every day thinking through the options I have and which ones might kill me, my mum, or anyone who we come in contact with. And I spend every day wrestling with anger toward those around us who don’t seem to care at all about how they could affect us, our community, and how more and more people just keep dying.

For those of us who are taking this coronavirus seriously –  what an odd time it is to be single, to not have that life partner to make these decisions with, to not have that physical contact with a spouse and kids. My single parent friends are struggling more than anyone right now as they try to balance one income with kids doing school from home – an impossible task.

My single friends who live alone are struggling with loneliness and the extra stress of being entirely alone other than Zoom or Google meetings. My elderly single friends who live in senior living communities are even more cut off than normal, not being allowed visitors and having to totally quarantine for 14 days any time they leave the campus for doctor’s appointments or supplies. My single friends with roommates are having to evaluate how much exposure each of them has with jobs and family obligations and make incredibly tough calls about how to live together safely. My single friends who, like me, lost their jobs are dealing with the fall out of not having another income to rely on, not having a spouse to float us on their insurance, not having extra support. My single friends who still have to go into work (thank you, essential workers!!!) go home after stressful days to empty apartments. 

I don’t have a solution to these struggles – they are part of the reality in which we will most likely live for many months more. I just want to let you know that I see you, I see the extra layer of loneliness and sadness, the extra layer of stress, the extra layer of grief many singles wear at this time. Yes, married couples struggle too, and there are many others who have it even harder right now – the chronically ill, black men and women, those sick with Covid-19, those who have lost loved ones recently, poor and vulnerable populations. I do not pretend this is an easy time for anyone and, in fact, have two separate friends who are in the very beginning stages of divorce in the midst of this craziness, so I know marriage doesn’t solve hardship and can actually cause more of it.

But today, I wanted to recognize my single brothers and sisters out there who are doing what they need to do to survive each day in the face of a constant looming threat. You are making all the decisions for your household yourself. You are creating quarantine bubbles so you can still reach out and love others. You are crying in your rooms alone. You are overcoming shyness and exhaustion and other difficulties to get on yet another Facetime to try not to become a total hermit. You are checking your finances and trying to be wise, all on your own. You are grieving the loss of dream jobs, family members, friends, travel plans, and other things the coronavirus has stripped away from you. You are “attending” church online and texting your greetings. You are going to work in person or online or looking for work. You are battling anxiety and depression and grief and fear each night, alone. And, on top of all this, you are still dealing with everything you already struggled with in “normal” life. 

I see you. But, more importantly, God sees you. And He loves you. And He is with you – you are not alone. Our Christ was a single man with the weight of the world on His shoulders, separated from His Father, often alone and misunderstood. He understands your fears, your worries, your concerns. You do not have to be strong on your own. 

Romans 8:35-39 

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God is here with you. I know this knowledge doesn’t make the hardships go away, but I encourage you to turn to Him in prayer with your concerns, loneliness, and fears. 

Know that there are many of us out there in similar positions – the world of singles is vast. You are not alone. I encourage you to reach out to your friends. And I’m here for you too. Comment, e-mail, reply. And if you’d like to hire me for a Biblical Counseling session or a few, just fill out the bottom form on the Speaking and Counseling page.

It’s Valentine’s Day. I’m Single. Now What?

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I know a lot of singles have a rough time today. I’m here for you. But let’s be honest, we can have tough times on average, nothing days, so it’s not that unusual. Oddly, Valentine’s Day has never been a trigger for me. Perhaps it’s my realistic (some call it cynical) nature that doesn’t think it’s that great for most couples either, or the fact that I love decorating for holidays, or the relief I feel in having absolutely no pressure to make someone else’s V-Day super special. Maybe it’s the fact that, other than one awkward day in junior high, I have always been single on Valentine’s Day, so I’m pretty used to it. I also got See’s Candies from my mum, flowers from a friend, and adorable little cardboard valentines from some students, so there’s that. 

I happen to have today off because of a 4 day President’s Day weekend, so I find myself with much more time to fill than usual on Valentine’s Day. So for my friends out there who are feeling a little more alone than usual, here’s how I’m dealing with it:

Step 1: Get some exercise. Shocking, I know, for a couch potato like me to suggest this, but it’s how I started my day. My exercise consisted of my last physical therapy session for my crappy back which was pretty much lots and lots of stretching. Lots. And lots. Of stretching. Anyway, instead of sleeping in and starting off slow like my insomniac body loves, it was a mood lifter to start with movement.

Step 2: Eat yummy food. On my way home from PT, I drove through the local Tom’s and treated myself to one of the yummiest breakfast burritos around. Tonight, mum and I will be grabbing our favorite kebab plates for take out, and I will finish off the bottle of wine I opened a couple nights ago, because I’m classy like that. And yes, there will be chocolate.

Step 3: Rest. I brought that burrito home and ate it on the couch while watching the cheer-leading thing on Netflix. This helped me rest and recover from PT before moving on to some chores, while reminding me how insane I think people that do athletics at that level are. So it was a win-win.

Step 4: Help someone else. After the burrito brunch, I did some house cleaning for my mum because she’s nicer than I am and is having lots of (mostly older, widowed, or divorced) people over tomorrow for a post-Valentine’s Day lunch. The windows haven’t looked this good in a long while. (Except for the ones that seem to be dirty between the double panes and impossible to reach? Those are beyond my skill level.)

Step 5: Do something creative. I have a short story deadline tomorrow for a project with which I’ve been helping, so I got that done today and sent off to the editor. Something about gospel care, suffering, and lament. After a couple months off from writing (sorry!) it was nice to get back to it.

Step 6: Spend some time with God. The story I was working on required some biblical research and prayer, so I was able to spend some time talking with God and reading his word. I was also able to spend a lot of the window washing time in prayer for my friends and family because my wireless speaker stopped working so I couldn’t listen to podcasts, so that worked out well.

Step 7: Avoid the interwebs. For some, it might be best to stay off social media so you don’t have to witness every couple on the planet shove their adorableness in your face via three different types of media. For others, like me, you might just need a break from the insanity that is Donald Trump and his ilk.

Step 8: If possible, spend at least some time with another person. I know this isn’t always possible. I lived alone for many years, so I get it. But if you can, spend at least some of this weekend around other people. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my mum tonight and watching “To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You” together. If you are alone and can’t find someone to hang out with, feel free to send me a note here and we’ll hang out in spirit.

Step 9: Hug a good doggo. Again, if you can. You might need to borrow a friend or neighbor’s pet for this. Or, if you’re not allergic like I sadly am, find an obliging kitty. Anyway, I’m getting lots of oxytocin hits by snuggling my old little puppy. He’s a gift.

Step 10: Don’t take it all so seriously. This goes for singles and couples alike. It’s just another day. And yes, it’s cool to have a day to express love for the people in our lives, but it’s not the only day we can do that so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Don’t take all the happy couple photos too seriously either, it’s just one nice moment amongst the very hard work it takes every one of those people to make their relationships work. Props to them. Be silly. Wear pink or don’t. I currently have on a black t-shirt stating boldly “Books Not Bullets: march for our lives av”. (That made for a could-have-been awkward moment in PT this morning when the Air Force veteran was on the table next to mine. But we’re good. I thanked him for his service, he cracked some jokes about the stretches, and we were best buds by the time I had to go away to the leg press.) I do have hedgehogs with hearts socks on.

Step 11: Tell people you love them. But not just today. Tell them all the time. Tell your family and your friends. Tell God. Tell your pets. Tell anyone you love that you love them. Let them know. 

How do you get through Valentine’s Day (or any other time where singleness is a bit more obvious than others)? What are your plans? Oh, and dear readers, I love you.

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.