Archive for Church

Sick Days and the Blues

You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as regularly over these past few weeks. You see, I’ve been ill, and between sinus, eye, and now possibly ear infections, my uterus trying to kill me, anemia, dizziness, and exhaustion I haven’t been able to stare at a screen for very long without my head getting floaty. Sigh.

But in the midst of this, today, I still want to blog. Because this is real life, right? We get sick. Our bodies rebel against us. We have to miss work sometimes (I HATE missing work) and we have to rest sometimes (which is not nearly as fun as it sounds if you’re not feeling well) and we have to trust that God is still at work in our lives when we are quarantined and can’t go anywhere or talk to anyone in person.

Today, on top of the illnesses and weaknesses, I am feeling blue. One of the benefits of being ill is I’ve been sleeping in and have missed my usual morning podcasts. I’ve been limiting my screen time so I don’t get dizzy, and therefore haven’t been paying as much attention to the news. But this morning when a local city voted down California’s Sanctuary City laws, and Christian men that I know and respect posted about it in glee, I was done. The tears I’ve been holding in for weeks fell. Seeing Christians celebrate harming people, separating children from their parents, and turning against the beauty that the word “sanctuary” supplies, which should be part of every Christian’s life, just broke my heart. “What happened to compassion?” my mum just breathed in a deep, soul-wrenching sigh.

I tweeted about it, but daren’t post on Facebook because I’ve gotten some brutal backlash there before for posting my “liberal” ideas and I honestly don’t have the energy to deal with that right now.

The battle within me about whether or not I can remain a part of the white evangelical church rages continuously.

A friend’s recent experience at a Biblical Counseling conference in her city isn’t helping. She was texting back and forth with me throughout the day, part excitement for the excellent talks given on anxiety and depression, and part dismay for her experience as a single woman there. She went up to speak with the youngish male director, and right away his wife came and joined the conversation very awkwardly.

She texted “I feel like in some Christian settings girls can’t talk to guys. Like I felt awkward when she joined in some way. Like I can’t control that I am a girl or that I don’t have a ring on my finger. But I am not a threat and I felt that perception in that moment. And if I was a guy with an MABC [Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling, which this friend and I both have] they would be thrilled.”

My response: “Yeah. Being a mature, single, educated Christian woman in evangelical circles can be so awkward. I kinda want to wear a sign saying ‘I’m not trying to steal your husband. Calm down.’”

Friend: “I feel like sometimes I am only seen as a threat or someone with ulterior motives or a temptation instead of a person.

Me: “We should make t-shirts!”

Friend: I was going to Master’s Seminary library once. I had to write a 20 page research paper and only the seminary had the books I needed to check out. And the ladies at the circulation desk made a comment about me finding a husband and I felt like as a non-seminary wife, everyone there would think that I just wanted to look for a husband instead of purely intending to study the Bible. I wanted to wear a ring on my ring finger to avoid that perception and awkwardness.”

Me: “Yeah. They did that when I had to work the Shepherd’s Conference. Sigh.”

Friend: 

One of the many sad parts about this conversation with my incredibly intelligent and very conservative (way more conservative than me!) friend was that instead of discussing the wonderful resources for anxiety and depression she’d learned about, or expressing her joy for being accepted into the new Biblical Counseling center as a potential counseling volunteer, she left feeling awkward and unwanted, and possibly even like a threat.

Welcome to how so many of us often feel around other Christians these days: awkward and unwanted, and possibly even like a threat.

But instead of despairing completely, I’ve reached out to some of my closest friends for prayer. My dog snuggled me until I laughed again, not leaving me alone until I was smiling. Our roses and primroses are blooming, and I can enjoy them because they’re some of the flowers my sinuses are cool with. I’m brewing a cup of my favorite apple cinnamon tea. And I will remind myself of God’s love and goodness, remind myself that God does not look at refugees, immigrants, and unmarried women like we are awkward and unwanted, but with compassion and deep deep love.

Psalm 9 speaks to me today. It is long, so I’ll leave you with verses 1-2, 7-11, and 18:

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High . . . But the Lord sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice, and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness. The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forgotten those who seek you. Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds! . . . For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.”

It Takes a Village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Value of Representation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church’s Silencing of Single Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I end this post somewhere between heartbreak and hope.

Single and Celibate in 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 Sacredness of Friendship

When I was a little girl, I saw good marriages and strong families as pieces of the sacred: special and consecrated to the divine in their own small, flawed ways. I assumed that, someday, I too would enter into this type of relationship; one dedicated to God, two people (probably plus some kids) mutually working for his glory. I don’t think I had a romanticized view of marriage and family, as I saw many a marriage and family fall apart around me, and witnessed time and time again how hard these relationships were. I knew they were work, knew they were messy, knew they didn’t always last. I am, after all, a rather pessimistic type. Yet still the sacred shines through in the ones that endure, my parents growing together until my father died, family members struggling through those first few tough years into beauty, friends who by God’s grace found second loves greater than their first, women and men who repent and forgive and strive to be better together. The sacred can be so apparent in marriage.

Like T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each. / I do not think that they will sing to me.” Each year I understand more and more that the sacred partnership of marriage is something I will most likely witness from the outside alone. Does this mean I am, and other singles are, cut off from experiencing sacred, beautiful, deep relationships? Are the human bonds we make merely secondary, the most important one held out of our reach? Are we relegated to an inferior experience?

On the contrary, John 15:12-17 records Christ speaking to his best friends, his disciples. Here he uses sacrificial, selfless friendship as the picture of the greatest love. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

Jesus did not marry and have children, nor did he emphasize that as necessary during his teaching on earth. Instead, Jesus formed deep, beautiful friendships. His relationships with Peter, James, and John, with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, with the rest of his disciples, were powerful and God was glorified through them. They were sacred, set apart for the purpose of service to God. Indeed, the Bible is filled with holy friendships that bring glory to God; look at Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, Mary and Elizabeth, Paul and Timothy as well as the many other friends Paul calls on by name with great love in his letters.

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis defines four kinds of human love: affection, friendship, eros, and charity. The dust jacket claims Lewis depicts friendship as “the most rare, least jealous, and, in being freely chosen, perhaps the most profound” form of human love.

In his article in Christianity Today, “The Way of Friendship,” Colin Duriez looks further into C.S. Lewis’ view on friendship. He claims “Lewis took a classical and Judeo-Christian view of friendship, seeing it as “the school of virtue.” Properly lived out, friendship could open one’s eyes to previously unseen aspects of reality.” Using The Inklings as an example, Duriez reveals “Lewis’s belief in the restorative and perception-changing nature of friendship.” If this doesn’t describe a sacred, set apart, consecrated bond between people then I don’t know what does.

Here are a few things C.S. Lewis found in friendship that he did not find in any other kind of human love:

Sacred friendships are actually created by God, not us.

“But in Friendship, being free of all that, we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. They are no greater than the beauties of a thousand other men; by Friendship God opens our eyes to them. They are, like all beauties, derived from Him, and then, in a good Friendship, increased by Him through the Friendship itself, so that it is His instrument for creating as well as for revealing.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sacred friendship helps us form and hold fast to our views and standards.

“Alone among unsympathetic companions, I hold certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put me back among my Friends and in half an hour – in ten minutes – these same views and standards become once more indisputable. The opinion of this little circle, while I am in it, outweighs that of a thousand outsiders: as Friendship strengthens, it will do this even when my Friends are far away. For we all wish to be judged by our peers, by the men “after our own heart.” Only they really know our mind and only they judge it by standards we fully acknowledge. Theirs is the praise we really covet and the blame we really dread.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sacred friendship is not jealous, but generous, drawing others into relationship.

“But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important. . . In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. . . Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves. Two friends delight to be joined by a third, and three by a fourth, if only the newcomer is qualified to become a real friend. They can then say, as the blessed souls say in Dante, ‘Here comes one who will augment our loves.’ For in this love ‘to divide is not to take away.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Sacred friendship is built upon humility, equality, and affection.

“In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walk have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread out toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Last winter while I was in England for a few months, I had the opportunity to go to Oxford twice. Both times I made the requisite pilgrimage to the Eagle and Child pub, the main gathering place for one of my favorite groups of friends, The Inklings. My “fly on the wall” moment has always been to be able to observe these men mid-debate, 2 or 3 pints in, on a cold English night. The first time I went to the pub by myself, and actually got a tiny table in a corner of the the Rabbit Room, right next to the bench at which these writers, teachers, and theologians would have sat. For a couple hours I nestled there with my beer, shepherd’s pie, and journal, yearning for something like what they had. I knew when I got back to the States everything would be different for me. Most of my dearest friends would still be in LA, and I would be starting almost-fresh in my hometown. My greatest longing was for creative, intellectually stimulating, challenging, deep, Christian community and I knew that would be hard to find.

These days, back in the US in my hometown, instead of yearning for the partnership of marriage, or pining for the close community I had in my church in LA, I am learning to appreciate the friendships the Lord has brought into my life both in Los Angeles and here. I am working to grow these friendships, to create space and carve out time for them. For some of us, these times and spaces may come organically through mutual friends, work, church, Bible study, or other weekly activities. For the rest of us, we may need to create groups that meet monthly or quarterly so we can cultivate these friendships on a deeper level. Singles in particular need these bonds; they are not secondary or superfluous but valuable and, as Lewis claimed, “perhaps the most profound.”

May we all find sacred friendships and draw others with us; may we create time and space in our lives to find warm places to gather like The Bird and Baby, and create stimulating friendships like the Inklings.

A Single’s Survival Guide to the Holidays

Are you facing the upcoming holidays with a blend of excitement and dismay? Happy to have a few days off to celebrate, worship, and see friends and family, but also dreading the inevitable stress, awkwardness, and loneliness that can tag along? Not quite sure exactly how to survive relatives asking about your love life, being the only one at the office party without a spouse, or being minus one on New Year’s Eve yet again, without wanting to toss all holiday cheer out the window? I’ve been there. I lived there. And, after a couple decades of adult singleness, I’ve got a few tips that might help you make the next two months more joyous and less anxiety-inducing.

Make a Game Plan

For those of you who live in cities like Los Angeles where no one ever RSVPs, creating a schedule will feel wrong. What if something better comes up? Everyone plans things last minute anyway, so you might miss out! Bear with me. I had a few LA years there where I looked ahead to my time of at Thanksgiving and Christmas as a blank slate, and rather than giving me the freedom to fill it as things came up, it left me anxious and depressed. Things did come up, but somehow they came up all at once, leaving me frantically balancing multiple events, anxiously picking and choosing what I’d do as I tried not to offend anyone. And, since everything happened all at once, there were often large swaths of time where I’d sit at home waiting for something to happen, feeling quite lonely and sorry for myself. Thus, the game plan was born.

I’ve found the best way to do it is create a blend of set-in-stone events, a couple flexible ones, some down time, and some free time to be filled in as things arise. I also try to make sure my plan includes time with family and time with friends. For instance, I have this week off for Thanksgiving Break and, instead of feeling stressed out with the million things I have to do or sad because I’m waiting around for others to make plans, I am looking forward to the week with great enthusiasm. Knowing I’ll be busy next week, I planned to stay home the Saturday before so I could get this blog done, do laundry, and rest up a bit. Then, on Sunday I’ll head to LA to go to my old church for second service, leaving lunch plans up in the air so I can go out with whoever is available after church. I’ve got dinner/drinks plans with a few friends for Sunday night, lunch plans with other friends Monday, and dinner plans with my girls Monday evening before heading back to the desert for the week. I’ve squeezed some appointments in Tuesday since they have to be done when I’m usually at work, Wednesday is left free to help my mum cook and bake for Thanksgiving, and Thursday-Friday will be for family. The weekend after Thanksgiving I’ve left open because I know my mum will want to decorate for Christmas, and I value being able to help her put the tree up. That also gives me to time to blog, do chores, and gear up for going back to work next week.

Whew! It seems like a lot, but it has a lot of space planned into it so I can love others, let others love me, celebrate, give thanks, and rest. I also remember that Christmas is coming up soon, when I’ll have some more time off, so I don’t feel pressured to see everyone or do everything this week. Never try to fit EVERYTHING into your schedule because it’s impossible and will only stress you out. Pick a couple things for each holiday as your set-in-stone plans, and save the rest for another time. Then try to hold these plans loosely, ready to be flexible if they fall through. Cold and flu season overlaps the holidays, weather can get bad (in non-southern Californian parts of the world, I’m told), and things come up. Be prepared to modify your plans if needed.

So, singles, start texting your friends and booking some lunches! Let your family know which days you’ll be there with them, and which days you’ll be gone. And don’t forget to set aside time to actually rest.

Embrace Friends as Family

When I was younger, I used to feel guilty when I wanted to spend some of my few days off with friends instead of the entire time with family. But the longer I lived in one city, the more my friendships became like family and I yearned for quality time with my friends as much as my biological family.

This became more pronounced as I got more involved with my church. Because of this, I started changing my plans to head up to my mum’s a day or two later, or head back to my apartment a couple days earlier so I could make it to church and spend time with that family as well. Now that I live with my mum, I am blocking out time to go back to my old LA neighborhood, including my old church, as part of my holiday plans.

If you don’t really have family, or they’re too far away to visit during the holidays, embrace your friends as family! Friendsgiving can be one of the most beautiful, enjoyable, worshipful meals you can have. Reach out to other singles, or married couples who live too far to travel to family. Be bold, ask what people are doing, get adopted by families in your church, or adopt a few other singles and create your own holiday celebrations with them. I had a friend who hosted Friendsgiving in her apartment every year for those who stayed behind in LA, and another who always had a Christmas Eve party for stragglers. Don’t be alone. And don’t feel like family has to be related by blood.

Start Your Own Traditions

One of the things people do when they get married, and even more when they have kids, is start their own family traditions. This is awesome as it helps them celebrate the things God is doing in their lives by marking certain days and seasons. As single adults, we often get caught up in the traditions of others and rarely make our own. If you’ve been single for awhile now, it might be time to finally embrace the holidays by creating some traditions.

When I lived a couple hours away from my family, and most of my friends were also single and away from theirs, we created a few traditions together. At the end of each semester (I was a teacher then), some of my friends (mostly teachers) and I would go to our favorite fancy Korean BBQ spot to celebrate getting through finals. These times were precious, as we could give thanks that we survived another semester, and celebrate it being over. Another tradition was my friend’s annual Christmas party; we’d all chip in by bringing food and drinks, and mark the holiday a little early before everyone went our separate ways out of town. As most of us would head back into the city on New Year’s Eve or Day, another friend hosted an annual New Year’s Day Brunch open house, where we’d slowly trickle in throughout the late morning/early afternoon for coffee, mimosas, cinnamon buns, and french toast casseroles.

Roomie Christmas was one of my favorite traditions. My fabulous flatmate and I would set aside an evening the week before Christmas, before I left town, to celebrate Christmas together. We always decorated our flat for the holidays, even getting a 6’ tall live Christmas tree a couple times, so sometimes roomie Christmas was just spent at home, eating seasonal snacks, having hot toddies and watching “Die Hard” or introducing her to “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” One year, we went to an Andrew Bird concert in a gorgeous old cathedral, another we went to Disneyland for our roomie Christmas date. That time was always special, for just the two of us, and set apart from the rest of the holiday busyness.

I would also make sure I was back in my hometown a couple days before Christmas so I could go to Christmas Eve service with my mum, brother, and sister-in-law at their church and then partake in our family’s tradition of opening our stockings that night.

Since I just moved back to the town much of my family lives in and instead live a couple hours from most of my friends, I’m working on creating some new traditions outside of my family ones, so I can still celebrate with my friends.

Get Over Not Having a Plus One

I honestly can’t remember ever having a plus one for anything – not a wedding, family Thanksgiving dinner, work Christmas party, or New Year’s Eve celebration. I had a couple boyfriends in my early 20’s, but I guess they weren’t around during the holidays, or weren’t serious enough to bring home to meet the family. So, while every one of my four siblings brought significant others, some of whom eventually turned into spouses, with them to Thanksgiving and Christmas family meals, I never did. While almost everyone else attended the annual work Christmas party accompanied by a spouse or date, I stood in the corner nursing my drink, feeling oh-so-alone. And don’t get me started on the horrors of one New Year’s Eve party after another, standing there alarmed as everyone else around me seemed to have someone to kiss except for myself and the one awkward single guy who had no intention of kissing me.

One of the benefits of being perpetually single for a couple of decades is that everyone gets used to it. Your Bridget Jones awkwardly trying to make small talk with Mr. Darcy in a reindeer jumper moments decrease. Relatives eventually stop asking the horrible questions about your love life. People stop putting “Plus One” on your invitation as it becomes assumed you’ll come alone. The lone single guy at the part stops being threatened that you’ll want to flirt with him because, well, you’re older now and never really learned how to flirt in the first place. When this started happening (or not happening, I suppose) I was offended. How dare my cousin stop asking if I had a boyfriend, did they think I would be single forever? How rude for my friend to not even give me the chance to bring a Plus One to their wedding, did they think I couldn’t find a date? How condescending for the guy to assume I’m not interested in flirting, is it  just because I’m over 35? But to be honest, at this point in my life, all of these answers are pretty true. I think I will most likely be single forever, I haven’t had a date to any of these functions and probably never will, and I am probably not interested in the guy at the party at all. And I’m pretty happy this way.

So, my tip is to embrace being single during the holidays. Instead of yearning for the rom-com movie ending of every Hallmark movie, learn to love your independence. Instead of getting upset that your cousin is bothering you about not being married yet, tell her how happy you are in your current life because you’ve been able to reach out to others more and serve God in particular ways only a single person can. Explain how awesome work, travel, friendships, church, and ministry have been lately. Change the focus from your single status to your life as a child of God who is fulfilling his plan for your life.

At the office holiday party, enjoy getting the opportunity to meet the spouses and significant others of these people with whom you spend so much of your time. These are the humans that mean the most to your coworkers, so embrace getting to know them. I actually became friends with the husbands and wives of the teachers I worked with through holiday parties like this, and looked forward to getting to catch up with them each year. Don’t stand in the corner feeling awkward, instead be confident that you are just as valuable and have as much to offer as they do. Also, remember that pretty much everyone feels awkward at parties like this! If you make it  your goal to help others feel at ease, you’ll focus less on yourself and end up having an even better time as you help others feel more at ease.

As my friends dated and married over the years, they shared a secret with me: New Year’s Eve is actually one of the most overrated holidays and is almost always a let down for everyone, even when you have someone to kiss. So, take this and other holidays less seriously. Lower those romantic expectations of adventure. Yes, I spent last New Year’s Eve with my only date a nervous doggy trying to hide from the fireworks. Unexciting New Year’s have less to do with being single, and more to do with the fact that we’re all getting old! It’s not like everyone is out partying while I’m home alone. Most of my married friends with kids are in bed by the time the actual West Coast midnight rolls around. Realizing this has been freeing, and now I can enjoy my quiet holiday nights.

Worship

Holidays help us mark our days and remember what God has done. I love them. They break up our usual day to day routine, giving us days off for worship and reflection, celebration and observation. I admit that some years, the holiday season has come and gone without this as my main focus; life gets busy and I get distracted. However, many of my favorite holiday seasons throughout my life were infused by times of worship, moments of looking back at what God had done that year, glimpses of his grace, times of thankfulness, and reflection on what the nativity truly means for humanity. This year, I’d like to infuse these upcoming days and weeks with worship.

One of my favorite parts of studying at L’Abri Fellowship in England last winter was being there for some of the holiday season: Halloween, Bonfire Night, an ex-pat Thanksgiving, the beginning of Advent and the weeks leading up to Christmas. Each morning, one of the workers read to us at breakfast, bits and pieces from the Bible, literature, poetry, and even songs, all meant to focus our thoughts upward and outward. The local church I went to, in a centuries old stone chapel, celebrated the first Sunday of advent with special choral music, liturgical readings, and mulled wine warmed over the pot bellied wood stove at the back of the church. At the Manor House, we had our first advent reading in a candle and wreath filled chapel on the grounds. Now that I’m back from sabbatical, back in the busy routine of humdrum daily life, I’m working to find special ways to worship, on top of the ordinary ones.

At Thanksgiving, my sister and I make place cards by writing Bible verses of thanks on index cards and decorating them with stickers. After dinner, we go around, read our verse, and say something we’re thankful for. Singles, this is something you can do with family or friends! And this thankfulness should infuse our lives; instead of thinking about what we don’t have, we can thank God for what we do have. Holidays give us a unique opportunity to set aside time to meditate on specific things, whether it’s what God has done in our lives this year, praising him for giving up so much to become human in order to show his love for us, or looking ahead to the next year and how we can glorify him better.

As a single person, one thing I’ve missed is family worship. I don’t have kids to create a Pinterest-worthy tree filled with hand-traced leaves with thanksgiving messages on them. I don’t sing Christmas carols, read the story of the Christ child, and light the Advent candles like we used to as a family when I was little. So we singles might need to get a little creative with our worship, find ways to incorporate it into our lives, set aside time to actually write a list of our thanks, write letters to friends who have blessed us, or pray through Psalms of thanksgiving. We might need to search out a devotional book to go through for advent, or download a schedule for Advent reading such as the one offered by the Revised Common Lectionary. We might have to be bold and ask our friends, roommates, or families if they’d like to join us for the lighting of Advent candles and prayer. We worship God through how we live our lives, but sometimes we need a bit more than that to help us refocus – sometimes we need the tradition and liturgy. Seek it out. Fit it in.

My mum and I have decided we’re going to observe advent together, our first year experiencing the entire season together in a decade. We haven’t quite figured out what we’re going to do yet, what we’ll read, how often, and when, but we’ll dig out the old Advent wreath and light the candles. If you have any ideas for readings my mum and I and other singles can incorporate into our own Advent rituals, comment below.

There are many ways singles can grow in our enjoyment of the holidays, these tips merely offer a few ideas. If you have more tips singles can use the survive during this holiday season, I’d love to hear them, and I wish you the happiest of holiday seasons!

Join me next week for the Skint Spinster’s Guide to Gift Giving.

The Top 5 Things I Hate to do Alone

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

Eating Dinner Out

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

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

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

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

Parties

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

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

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

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

Fawn as a bridesmaid, photo by Erik Stalnaker

Weddings

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

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

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

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

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

Work Functions

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

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

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

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

Church

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

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

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

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

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

What do you hate to do alone?

Responding to Marrieds for Dummies

Welcome to Part 2 of my “for Dummies” series. This is a response to last week’s blog post Talking to Singles for Dummies. Go on, read that first, I’ll wait.

Okay, so now that you’ve read about how married people should talk to singles, let’s look at how singles should respond to the mostly well-meaning married people in our lives who just don’t know how to talk to us about our singleness. We have a few options:

Get Annoyed, Offended, or Hurt

Although this is not the best option, sometimes it just happens. For the fifth time today, someone tells you to “buck up because it’s not too late, you may still find a husband or wife” and you can no longer contain your eye roll or exaggerated sigh. I get it. We deal with this constantly and, as flawed human beings, we can’t always respond with patience and grace as much as we may like to. In these moments, I think it is important to ask ourselves if the person talking to us is trying to hurt us, or trying to help us. I guess there are probably some vindictive people out there who would say such things in order to rub in the fact that we’re single or to make themselves look better, but honestly I can’t think of anyone in my life who most likely had that motivation. Everyone I know who awkwardly stumbles through platitudes and cliche phrases about my singleness is doing so because they are trying to encourage me, make me feel better. They may do it very badly indeed, and actually make me feel worse in the process, but that was not their original intent. Remembering this can help, remembering they are saying these things out of love. I might still be annoyed, but hopefully will be able to stave off being offended or hurt.

Ignore the Statement

One way to respond to these unfortunate statements about our singleness is not to respond at all. Sometimes it’s best to just move on to a different topic and act like the person said nothing rather than delve into the issue. This is part of picking your battles. The older I get, the more I realize that many battles are just not worth fighting. I used to struggle with the meaning of 1 Peter 4:8 which says “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” As someone who thinks honesty and forgiveness are key to reconciliation, I used to think most sins needed to be aired. But when offense is given accidentally, and even more so out of a motivation of love, just smiling and moving on can be an incredibly gracious act, and can be freeing to us as singles as well. It’s not always our job to educate every person we come across about how best to talk to singles.

Model How You’d Like them to Talk to You

Often, one of the best responses is to reply to them with a statement you’d love to hear them say to you about your singleness. So if, on finding out you’re single, someone says “don’t worry, my friend just got married at 45, so there’s still time!” you can reply with, “Actually, I have an amazing life as a single person, for instance this week I got to visit my friends in LA…” This both gently changes the subject but also shows them there is a lot more to talk about with you than your relationship status. You can remind people that singleness has its positives, not just negatives, and they can rejoice with you in those aspects instead of merely pitying you for be unattached.

Gently Remind the Speaker of God’s Truths

When bad theology creeps its way into these conversations, this may be a battle worth gently pursuing. Some questions to ask yourself before doing this are: Is this the right time and place to address this? If we’re in a group, can I do this in a way that won’t mortify them? Am I angry, so should bite my tongue until I calm down, or can I do this lovingly? How can I make sure my words and tone are gentle, yet true? When your mature Christian friend who got married in her twenties says, “You just need to have faith that God will bring a man into your life at the right time!” you may gently remind her, that “Actually, I have faith that God is working in my life in the best way for me, and that he will complete his good work in me whether single or married” (Philippians 1:6). We can gently remind them that a spouse is not promised for everyone, but God has many other amazing promises for each of us which we can all rely on, married or single.  We can remind them of the benefits Paul sees in singleness and how Christ and most of the disciples were single. This approach is important, especially for people we know believe in the God of the Bible, because it will remind them to look to the Bible for their truth instead of the romantic ideologies of modern America which have seeped into church culture. This needn’t be a lecture, but a sentence or two to bring their encouragement back to the actual life-giving, perfect, beautiful promises of God can build up all who hear.

Privately and Lovingly Rebuke a Repeat Offender

For those who repeatedly bring up your singleness in a way that increases your pain, discourages you, or gives you false hope it might be time to have a private conversation. If you’ve already tried the above and someone just can’t seem to stop, then Matthew 18:15 is very helpful. It says “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Honestly, I’ve never had to go beyond this point, because this one is very powerful. It can even develop a closer relationship between you and your married friend. In a one-on-one conversation, let them know how their words affect you and how they can help lift you up instead. Again, do this with love and grace instead of blame and anger and it can be an incredibly beautiful bonding time in your relationship. Being open and honest about your struggles and how their words increase them instead of alleviate them will mostly likely open their eyes to things they didn’t realize they were doing. Telling them what they can say/do to actually help you can be empowering for them as a friend, because they now won’t have to search for words or actions in, what to them might be, an uncomfortable situation with which they are unfamiliar.

Embrace Teaching Opportunities in your Church

The last thing which I’ve found very helpful is for more single people to embrace leadership and teaching opportunities in the Christian community. Sadly, many churches don’t offer many to singles, so you might have to approach your pastors or elder board yourself with suggestions. Earlier this year, my Los Angeles church held an evening conference on singleness and we marketed it for both singles and marrieds. This was important, as I believe married people are actually the key to changing the way the modern evangelical church views singleness by how they raise their children. I was able to speak at the conference to both audiences at once, to singles, and marrieds, and this was a breakthrough moment for some of my married friends. Many of them had no idea how the words they used without much thought could affect the singles in their lives, or how saying “when you get married” instead of “if you get married” to their kids added an unbiblical expectation and pressure on them. In fact, some of the best feedback I got after that session was from married men and women. Churches need to give more opportunities for single adult men and women to have voices in the church so that it becomes normal – not something to be pitied or looked down upon. So, my encouragement to you is to seek these out, and if they don’t exist, talk to your church leadership teams about creating opportunities for singles to teach other adults.

I’m sure there are other ideas on how to best respond to our married friends when they address our singleness in unhelpful ways.

Singles, let me know what has worked for you in the past.

Marrieds, what do you think would be the most helpful way for us to respond?