Archive for Chastity

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 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 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.

Top 5 Things I Hate About Being Single

It’s time for the ubiquitous Top 5 lists – this week I’ll look at my top 5 reasons I hate being single, and next week I’ll explore the top 5 reasons for loving my singleness. I realize life has difficulties for everyone, single or married, widowed or divorced, for those who raise children and those who don’t. I’m not claiming life is more difficult for me than everyone else, just highlighting some specific things that I hate which stem particularly from me being single. Like most top 5 lists, this has changed throughout the different episodes of my life, so here are my current pet peeves in Episode VI as a single woman in my late 30’s.

1. Not Being Picked For a Team

PE was my least favorite period of the day. An energetic child often found at the top of a tree or the monkey bars, I loved being outside and constantly had scraped knees. Always adventurous, I was never athletic. I’m awkward, clumsy, and not very coordinated. So, like most nerdy kids, PE and little league were rather torturous for me. I remember the shame of being the last person chosen for softball practices, of having the coach just give up and assign a team so I wouldn’t be left out, of quitting after just one season because I was already so behind the rest of the kids. This feeling of insignificance, like somehow I missed out on what everyone else seemed to have, like I was irredeemably behind, still creeps up now and again.

No one worthy person wanted me for their team. Yes, there was the guy whose proposal I turned down, but he was not a good man, not a team you’d want to join. Other than that, somehow, I just never got picked. No matter how long your marriage lasts, at least a married person can look back and say “someone chose me to be their partner, someone wanted me.” The rest of us struggle to fight off the feelings of being left out, somehow unworthy of being desired as a teammate.

The most practical part of being on a team that I miss as a single person is having someone to help me shoulder life’s burdens. Financial, physical, emotional, and even spiritual burdens all lie squarely upon my shoulders. Yes, I have other family and friends who can lift a bit from time to time, but I don’t have that lifelong partner whose job it is to help me carry them for the long run. I hate that life is more expensive for single people. I hate that hotel rooms are cheaper if you get a queen or king bed instead of 2 doubles, family gym memberships give better deals than single ones, couples tickets to events will save individuals money over single tickets, and health insurance and tax rates are usually better for families. The statistics are rather disconcerting about how much a married person will save over a single person in their lifetime. Also, apparently, single people die younger, which is just a bit depressing – mostly, the experts think, because we don’t have that partner nagging us to go to the doctor when we’re sick so we just wait until it’s too late.

I’ve gotten better at speaking truth to myself when I feel this way, when these lies start to infuse my heart with doubt and sadness. The ever-present, whole, and beautiful love of God reminds me that I am chosen, was chosen before my frame was created, that I am wholly loved and adopted into God’s family.

Ephesians 1:3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

2. Future Fears

Every human I’ve met has some sort of fear about the future. Because of my singleness, many of my fears are about facing the future alone. Yes, for married people they may fear their partner’s death or abandonment, but if things go as hoped, they will live long lives together and take care of each other for most of it. They are meant to have a permanent roommate. Even that hope isn’t there for me. I take care of myself now, and I will be taking care of myself for the foreseeable future. No one wants to burden anyone as they grow older, but one of the benefits of having a spouse and some kids is it’s kind of their job to take care of you. Or it should be. But for me, I guess my nephews and niece will have to step up for their spinster aunt as well as their own parents? I fear being a burden to those who never signed on for the job.

Each time a roommate moved or got married, I had to scramble to find a new one. Each time a close friend marries the love of his or her life, after I’ve genuinely celebrated with them, I grieve the loss of yet another close friendship that will never be the same. As friends have children, I rejoice in the wonderful new life and also steel myself for the inevitable loss I will experience from their now more limited time and attention. Yes, this may sound selfish, but it is the truth of what a single man or woman goes through over and over again.

As our dearest friends and family move on to new milestone after new milestone, we are thrilled and excited for them but also a little bit brokenhearted. We know the future will not just look different for them, but for our friendships as well, and there is real loss there for us as we are much too often left behind.

Anxiety about the future is universal, not just for singles, but there are specific concerns that come up without having our own families there to partner with us as we age together. But what this does is give me endless opportunities to put my trust in God instead of the fickle securities of this world.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

3. Missing Touch

Because I believe that God’s plan for our lives is the best plan, I truly believe that a life of god-glorifying singleness will include celibacy. And, to be honest, I often hate that part of the single life. I do think humans were created to experience intimacy through touch, that we are created physical beings with sexual desires to connect us to one another. Just because I am single does not make me a less sensuous individual. Yes, there are some singles who do not have sexual desires, but they are few and far between.

This is another thing it is easy to feel I’m missing out on. I even get judged for this, thought foolish or immature because I am not partaking in what some consider a necessary rite of passage into adulthood. I’m not going to go into celibacy in detail here, but please check out my blog post on the topic “Committing to Celibacy.”

Possibly more than sex itself, I’m missing out on touch, physical connection. Holding hands, hugs, snuggles, laying my head on someone’s shoulder. I’m not sure if people realize how much touch single people miss, especially in the culture of white America where we are more standoffish unless in a sexual relationship. I hate this part of singleness – it is very lonely. If you are in a relationship, think about the number of times a day you experience loving touch – the kiss on the forehead, brush of a finger against your hand, the arm around the back of your chair, the snuggles from your children, the quick hug goodbye on the way to work, the hand on your back as you laugh together. Singles can go days without this connection.

In moments when I am missing touch, I remind myself of how blessed I am to have a family around me to hold me when I need it. I have a mother who will let me cry on her shoulder, a sister and brothers who hug me, a little nephew and niece who climb all over me, friends who will hold and comfort me. I remind myself that Jesus often reached out to touch those he healed, and and that God is sometimes portrayed as a loving mother to his child Israel, physically nurturing – not distant and cold, but present and warm.

Isaiah 66:12-13

For thus says the Lord: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

4. Justifying Myself

From traveling alone to buying a car without a male present, from counseling a married mother to sitting in a job interview, I am constantly in a position where I must assert myself. When traveling, there are certain places, even countries, in which it’s actually dangerous for me to be without a male escort, and many others where it will be uncomfortable. The car dealer treats me like a little girl instead of a financially viable adult who knows exactly what I want and what it’s worth. The married counselee often begins by questioning my ability to help her because I’ve never been in her exact situation. The job interviewer may see me as an irresponsible flight risk because I don’t have a family to take care of.

Because I’ve experienced this repeatedly in my lifetime, I am well versed in defending my right to be taken seriously. I was a teacher, I speak with authority. I have a loud, commanding voice inherited from my father, which I must use because I have no other voice to back me up. If I were a man, this would be seen as a good thing – to be confident, strong, and bold. Since I am a woman, this is often seen as me being too loud, bossy, or pushy, especially in Christian circles. Yet, it is necessary for my life. I wouldn’t even be able to rent an apartment if I couldn’t boldly walk into the landlord’s office and declare that even though I look young, I am older than I appear and have excellent credit, so no, I don’t need a cosigner, and would they just run the credit check to confirm, please.

In Christian communities, my opinion is often even more unwelcome or overlooked. I find myself having to remind people that I have a degree in this or that, so many years of experience, knowledge and training and skills in this area, in order to be heard. There are entire Bible studies in which I would not be welcome to speak. I’m used to not getting clear answers from pastors and teachers regarding my role in the church because, as an unmarried woman, they can’t just tell me to be led by my husband. My father is dead, so I can’t report to him. I am an uncomfortable outlier.

Honestly, I just get tired. Tired of having to explain to wives and mothers that, no, I haven’t had kids, but I’ve been a teacher, a counselor, an aunt, and I worked at a pregnancy clinic so I do know a bit about the subject and I can actually help. Tired of saying “I’m older than I look” as men are shocked that I have some knowledge in a lot of areas. Tired of having to justify my thoughts, opinions, and ideas. Tired of not going places or doing things because I don’t have a man to go with me and it’s dangerous without one. Just tired. Sometimes it would be nice to have someone else advocate for me. Or to not have to stand up for myself at all. I am, just like you, created in God’s image. That should be enough to at least have a voice, shouldn’t it?

Genesis 1:27

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

5. Being Judged or Pitied

At this age, one of the first things people ask when they meet me is “are you married?” and then when the answer is no, somewhat more awkwardly, “oh, so…do you have kids then?” Seriously, the only other information they’ll have at this point is my name, and these are the very next questions. Even before the omnipresent “what do you do?” And in that moment, the moment I say “no,” the judgement and/or pity is usually inevitable.

When we’re single past the age of 25, people love to judge why. Like the WebMD aficionados who are addicted to deciphering illness, they see our singleness as something to be diagnosed and cured. They say things like, “you know, if you just lost a little weight” or “maybe men are threatened by you because of your education,” or “maybe you’re not putting yourself out there enough.” All these comments and worse every single has heard much too often. They think to themselves things like “there must be something wrong with her/him if they’re still single after all this time” or “no wonder they’re still single, they are too (enter your choice of negative trait here)” as if all married people have somehow figured out how not to have any unpleasant character traits.

Worse than the judgement are the pitying glances and unhelpful condescending encouragements. A couple months ago I spoke at a conference on singleness in which I discussed what the Bible says about it being a gift, and the struggles and the beauty to be found. Afterward, just like every time I speak on the subject, a woman who meant well came up to me and told me not to give up hope, that God has someone out there for me and I just haven’t met him yet. I hear this every single time I speak, and I find myself wondering if they were listening at all because they seem to have missed the point.

Being encouraged with unbiblical promises that someday my prince will come is a pet peeve. They don’t know this, God didn’t tell them this in His word, so why on earth would they say this to a single person? If singles are led to believe this, the least it can do is momentarily get someone’s false hopes up, the worst it can do is continue to build up a false idol of “the one” with which they may already be struggling. Help me firmly place my hope in the Lord, not on a future spouse who may or may not exist.

I am single. That’s it. It’s not a sin to be judged nor a weakness to be pitied. Single adults do not need condescension or sympathy – we need respect and compassion, genuine interest in getting to know us and understanding, grace and empathy, a willingness to listen and commitment to join with us in our lives, and most of all we need biblical encouragement, admonishment, friendship, and love. Just like everyone else.

Romans 15:4-7

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomes you, for the glory of God.

Please like, share, and comment – I’d love to hear what some of the top things you hate about being single are! And be sure to come back next week for the “Top 5 Things I Love About Being Single.”

The One About Dating

At this point in my “What Do You Believe About Singleness” series based on the conference at which I spoke, I’m supposed to talk to you guys about dating. I’d rather gush about how brilliant “Wonder Woman” was, or rant about the latest Trump tweet; heck, I’d rather write about most things other than dating. However, it’s important in the life of the single person, so it’s important to me.

But, in the spirit of full disclosure, I don’t really date so I’m not an expert on this topic at all. To be fair, I like to think of my lack of dating life as something almost entirely out of my control. You see, I did date a tiny bit here and there when I was a younger, thinner, and an ever-so-slightly-more-optimistic 20-something, but even that was usually accidentally ending up dating a friend with whom I probably should’ve just stayed friends. I even experienced one incredibly awkward proposal which I declined (cold-hearted vixen that I was) because I didn’t trust him. Turns out my instincts were good and I frequently praise God for saving me from that potential disaster, but that’s another story.  And then I moved to Los Angeles and I only went on one date in almost a decade; my dating life was a desert. This is where people either *GASP* in shock or think, “well, at least you had some dates, I’ve never even had a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

This nonexistent dating life was unexpected, unplanned, and almost completely involuntary. I had a rather large group of friends that included dateable Christian guys, but it was totally platonic between all of us and ended in amazing friendships, most of which are still valuable to us today though many of those young men have since married. I tried various forms of online and app dating, only to be shunned by anyone remotely normal and approached only by 65 year old men with various levels of English looking for a Green Card Marriage (for real, guys) or easy sex. The one date I went on was with a nice-ish Christian man I met on Coffee Meets Bagel but he was deathly boring, it was so awkward, and there was zero chemistry so I decided I’d rather be single for the rest of my life than go on another date with him. And that was before he kissed me when I was belted into the seat in my car and couldn’t dodge it! Blech. Chemistry-less kisses are pretty horrible, especially when you can’t get away. I’ve never even been set up on a blind date because none of my friends has ever met maybe-possibly-the-perfect-geeky-Christian-guy-for-Fawn.

So the first thing I wish people out in the world knew about singles and dating is that some of just don’t seem to have that as an option. If I hear one more professor or older Christian say singles today “are just too picky” I might have to pull out my soap box and spiel. I suppose there might be that young woman out there who won’t give a wonderful Christian young man a chance just because he doesn’t fit some unrealistic standard she has of perfection, but I have yet to meet that young woman. I’m even guilty myself of judging some of my guy friends for not asking the young ladies in our church out, but instead dating women from other circles – but then I see who they chose to marry and am nothing but pleased with the women they eventually ended up with! So yes, I do think some people are possibly too picky, but I don’t think it’s the majority of us. It’s not like guys are begging to date me and I’m standing there like “No! I’m sorry! You’re not the Benedict Cumberbatch of my dreams!” Most of the adults I know are perfectly capable of telling the fantasy from reality and not expecting the former over the latter. Actually, the people I have met who had unrealistic expectations of a spouse are usually already married and quite possibly should have been more picky when dating.

Also, dating today when you are a committed Christian, celibate and passionate about Christ, is tough. Every article I read about creating a great online dating profile says not to limit by religion, that is the kiss of death for options. But for me, that was the most important thing in my life. Why would I talk about how I like to travel and eat gelato but leave out my savior? It just doesn’t make sense. We can also end up the wrong age, the wrong size, and the wrong personality for many “Christians,” apparently. And I’m good with that. I like my age, and size, and personality, but I do realize it’s not typical – I’m always way too liberal for conservative Christians and a bit too conservative for liberals.

So if you are single and don’t seem to get dates, realize that’s okay, and actually surprisingly normal. There are a lot of us out there. You then have a couple of options:

  1. You can mope and be sad about it (easy, but terrible option).
  2. You can embrace your singleness and seek contentment in it for the long run (hard, but awesome option).
  3. Or you can seek contentment in it but also keep trying to date (hard, but also awesome option).

If you decide you want to date, then my encouragement to you is to be picky. Only date Christians. Look for people you think could be interesting, good to talk to, to hang out with, but most of all who love Christ and are trying to grow in living godly lives. Trying is the key word here. No one is perfect, but if they are willing to grow and learn then that’s a great sign. One great thing to look for is if your potential date is active in their church. There are a lot of people out there who believe in God but don’t have an active faith. If being part of the body of Christ is important to you, then seek someone who has it as a priority as well.

Dating someone who doesn’t believe in God or believes in a different God is a seriously bad idea. If you love God more than anything else, then date someone else who at least has the potential to have that same love. I adore books, reading, and geeking out over literature – if a man says “I don’t like reading, I just don’t see the point” then that’s a turn-off for me. How much more so should I not be interested in a man who says “Yeah, I don’t really believe the whole God thing.”

As for online dating, only try it if you can do so and hold to a high standard and not let it consume you or depress you. Don’t allow dating apps to become the main priority in your life. Don’t allow them to take over your thought life. There are more important things to focus on. And be smart and safe.

For my married readers, please realize that some of us have little to no control over whether we date or not. If we have high standards for a godly partner we actually like and aren’t willing to just date random people who may or may not love our God the way we do and who we’d be miserable living with for the rest of our lives, then we honestly might not get asked on dates. It happens. We are not being too picky. It’s not like flocks of men and women are knocking on our doors and we’re turning them all away. A lot of people never get asked on dates, not for years.

If we view singleness as a gift just as marriage is a gift, then dating becomes less of a priority, there’s less pressure to find “the one.” Because if we meet a godly man or woman who we like and who likes us back, then great, we should date them and see if maybe the like can be love and if they are a worthy person to marry. And if the rest of us crush on people who don’t return it, or are asked out by creepy people only or no one at all, or are attracted to those who are bad for us, or aren’t really attracted to anyone, then we can just live awesome single lives. If our churches could move in this direction instead of the “everyone should be married by 25” model in which many of us were raised, then maybe churches could better support and encourage their singles in the ways they need it without the constant emphasis on dating and marriage.

So, rant over (for now). Please like, comment, and share. I’d love to know your thoughts, as there’s a lot more to say about this topic.

 

Committing to Celibacy

I love Disneyland. Always have, always will. You can rail against the consumerism, crowds, expense, and all other evils Disney inflicts upon the world and I will not budge in my love of this magical place. As I walk down Main Street and look up at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I see magic and whimsy and fun. Sleeping Beauty is, in fact, my favorite of the classic Disney movies on which I grew up. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather will always make me smile and laugh. Maleficent is a fabulous villain who turns into one of my favorite creatures of all, a magnificent dragon. Prince Phillip is by far the most dashing of the classic Disney princes, and his horse, Samson, is brilliant. The incredible use of Tchaikovsky’s waltz makes my soul soar, and the widescreen background paintings by Eyvind Earle inspired by the Flemish and German styles of Van Eyck, Bruegel, and Durer are stunning works of art in each and every scene.

Yet, there is one thing that bothers me to no end, that rubs the wrong way against every feminist fiber of my being – the waiting. Aurora spends her life, protected as Briar Rose, in the forest with her fairy godmothers until her 16th birthday when she will both be finally free of a potential curse and also get to jump right into an arranged marriage. She falls asleep, and must wait for her prince to kiss her to break the spell. Her life is actually on hold until this happens, and not just her life, but that of her parents and the whole kingdom. Everything hinges on her waiting. Her life doesn’t start until she is rescued by her man. She has no power, no choice, but to wait.

The Sleeping Beauty by Edward Coley Burne-Jones

I didn’t grow up in the “Purity Movement” of the 90’s, but I was adjacent to it and I can’t help but notice the parallels between that lifestyle and Briar Rose’s. Like Snow White, those of us who grew up in Christian circles are often taught that “someday [our] prince will come” and then we can fulfill our roles as godly women by being wives and mothers. Oh yeah, and then we can finally have sex, the sex we’ve been holding out on so we can be the perfect pure brides on our wedding night.

So what happens when our perfect prince never shows up? Do we continue to wait and wait and wait, holding out hope that he’ll appear and we’ll be sexy-yet-pure brides later in life, when we’re a little plumper and saggier and a lot less patient? What if it turns out that some of us aren’t even attracted to the prince, but would prefer a princess? What then? What if the princes we like just don’t like us back, but choose other princesses instead?

Do we throw what the Bible says about sex out the window and just have at it with whomever we like? Do we listen to what much of the world teaches about sex, that it’s a necessity, a right, a rite of passage to maturity, or not that big a deal? Do we grow frustrated, bitter toward the church and perhaps even God for not following through on the things we thought we were promised?

When what we are taught about sex as Christian children can be boiled down to “wait until marriage to have sex” even with “because this is how God designed sex and it’s better for you” added on, a lot of us are left flailing around to find our own way. Because, well, it assumes we will get married to some snazzy godly man, and probably sometime between high school and the age of 32. So what about the rest of us? The man who would love to get married, but the women he’s interested in just aren’t into him. The woman who fell in love once or twice, but it was never reciprocated. The man who has never been attracted to women, but yearns for another man. The woman who has no interest in men as anything other than friends. The divorcee, widow, or widower who had a lover they thought would be lifelong, but instead is lost to them. The rather surprisingly large amount of us who just end up waiting a lot longer than we thought we would.

Waiting, as a theology of sex, sucks. It requires a fulfillment at some point for it to work. When one waits, one assumes there will be an end to it. Rather than WAITING for sex we should COMMIT to chastity. And this commitment to chastity should be between us and God. No one else. Other than just being a bit creepy, the whole promise ring to someday be replaced by an engagement ring then wedding ring thing is flawed. This turns our promise for purity into one made to an imaginary future spouse, which brings up the issue mentioned above. If anything, this purity for a future spouse is a mere side effect of the greater beauty. It is good, yes, and is indeed God’s plan for Christian marriage, but it is not the main purpose of chastity.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 shows us that everything, even our very bodies, are meant for the Lord.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

We are not our own. We should choose to be chaste because that is what the Lord requires of us, what glorifies him. Because if he truly is the Lord of our lives, that should mean our entire lives. Our relationship with God as single people committed to him so much that we trust him even with our own bodies and desires is beautiful, and so much deeper than purity for the sake of a maybe-someday-possible marriage. When we say to God, “I desire to have sex, to feel that connection with another person, to enjoy that pleasure, but I trust you with everything in my life, even this” we are trusting that he is good and his plans are best. This is just another of many areas in which a single person can practice putting God and his desires for us first, rather than giving in to our own desires. It is not easy. It can hurt, can even break our hearts, but it is the evidence of a true commitment – one to our heavenly father instead of another person. Trusting ourselves in his hands. Celibacy is a beautiful act of worship.

My encouragement to anyone who is single is that you research what the Bible actually has to say about chastity and sexuality because it is a much deeper, more beautiful, more whole theology than the perfunctory teachings of “wait until marriage.” Romans 12:1-2 says, 

“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.”

Please don’t think I’m trying to give all the answers to all people regarding this complicated subject in one short post. There is much more to say, and I hope to continue this conversation in the comments, in future blogs, and in personal conversations. I just hope to see generations of single men and women who do not merely wait, but actively choose to worship God in our bodies and with our very desires and dreams. May we trust in God so much that we can sing to him the way the Sons of Korah do in Psalm 84:

“How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Hosts!
My soul longs, yes,
faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for you
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
Selah
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper
in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!”