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Archive for Lifestyle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Awkward Spinster’s Summer

June meant the end of school, a trip to south Florida, a conference, lack of sleep, and lots of rest. But mostly it meant time with people – time for listening and deep conversations, time for meals/drinks together and car talks, time for late night chats and quick hugs hello/goodbye. 

Right now I know I should write about my week in Florida visiting a dear friend I’ve known since grad school, getting to know her husband, borrowing their car to zip around the area and sight see, breakfasting with another friend from my undergrad days, experiencing the southern summer rain, and having incredibly deep conversations over Star Wars themed beer, or Peruvian/Cuban/Jamaican food, or tea and seeing way fewer Florida Man incidents than I was hoping for. 

Or I should write about the biblical counseling conference I went to near San Diego the day after I got back and how I got to catch up with people from grad school and my LA home church, how I got to take part in a filmed round table discussion possibly to be used by churches as soon as next year, how I met women in my field of ministry who are inspiring powerhouses of intellect, skill, and desire to help the church, and how mum and I managed to squeeze in some vacation time in Carlsbad and San Juan Capistrano in the evenings and on the way home.

Or I should write about my disgust for how our country is treating the vulnerable and voiceless, migrant families and refugee children, how much I struggle with the attitude of so many Christians I know toward the least of these, our neighbors, whom we’re supposed to love, and how I didn’t really miss church because of this while I was out of town.

Or I should write about taking the last week off to REST for once, but also fit in a meeting with the LA Inklings (my writer’s group), breakfast with a childhood friend, church with an old friend from high school, and some family time with the kiddos in our paddling pool in the backyard, and also how REST doesn’t necessarily equal SLEEP for an insomniac like me, especially during summer.

But my head is foggy, full of allergies and a rough night without sleep, and the typical educator’s summer vacation inability to focus. Every day these past three weeks the thought “I should write a blog post” has popped into my head at some point, and then has been shoved aside in favor of, well, all the things above. But if I keep doing that, I’ll never write again, so here I am rambling along in happy summary of my recent life with nothing much to report. 

God is good. Church is hard. Living in the desert is hot and makes sleeping even more difficult. Family is still worth it. Singleness is still bringing me joy (minus those fleeting moments when I wish I could snog that one guy I barely know and won’t see all summer anyway). Paddington Bear (the best westie ever) is snugglier than ever. My little loves fill my heart. Fourth of July means Stranger Things 3 with the besties. And I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer.

Singleness and the “Mike Pence Rule”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Rambling Awkward Post

My back went out again, so I’ve spent the weekend in bed and on the couch, trying to move as little as possible, avoid deep breaths, and rest up so I can get through the next 3 days of the insanity that is the Book Fair. Did you know boxes of books are heavy? Yeah. They are. And with both my assistant and I with back injuries, it was an interesting time getting the book fair decorated and set up, and now staffing it. This is my first time running a book fair. It’s fun, but it’s incredibly exhausting.

It’s been good to rest this weekend, but that means I didn’t make it to church. Heck, I haven’t left the house since I got home from work Friday evening. Church: to be honest, that’s still a struggle for me. I still don’t fit at my church here. Which I know isn’t really the point, that it’s meant to be a coming together of a lot of people who “don’t fit” together but can love one another because God first loved us (I John 4:19). I’m trying. Well, when I can move, I’m trying.

My brain is so full right now. I realize I’m not my best when I have to make a ton of decisions all at once. Figuring out the logistics of the book fair, end of school stuff, end of this GriefShare session, summer travel plans, a conference at which I’ll be taking part in recorded panel sessions, book club, prayer group, writer’s group, getting a Real ID and renewing my passport, budgeting for summer (when I don’t get paid), birthdays, and visits to and from friends, well . . . it’s a lot to keep straight in a brain while on pain medication.

My poor blog has been the casualty of my busy life and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m still struggling to find direction in writing. I want to write. But when I’m happy and busy, I don’t really have as much to write about as I do when I’m dissatisfied and have tons of time. I suppose that’s a rather normal thing for humans – we love to rant when we’re unhappy, but don’t feel the need as much when we are doing okay.

But I want my readers to see this side of me, the side that might be in pain and overwhelmed but is still doing just fine. The side that, in this moment at least, trusts God with her future. The part of me that has already grieved my singleness and my childlessness and has moved forward to find a new normal that includes looking ahead to my future with less fear and sadness, and more joy and excitement even though I have no idea what will happen. The part of me that revels in my single life.

So I’ll leave you with this rambling, raw post today. I’ll try to write more frequently again, but am booked solid from now to the end of June so I might post on days other than Monday more often. I hope you’ll stick with me through the busy season ahead.

The Condescending View of Christian Singles Wasting their Lives

I know I’ve been away from my blog for a few weeks, which makes me feel bad. Then I start to think of how lazy I am, how undisciplined, until I realize that I’ve just been rather busy lately, that’s all. Busy working, ministering, and doing fun things with family, which is pretty awesome. Mum and I went to Disneyland a few weekends ago, then took a serendipitous trip to San Diego for a weekend which included staying in an ever-so-slightly-sketchy Airbnb and a St. Patrick’s Day Irish Festival. And then there was WonderCon with my sister and bro-in-law last weekend. So of course I then think I should be blogging on weeknights instead of watching Britbox shows, until I remind myself that I have prayer group and GriefShare and babysitting and family dinners almost every weeknight. Perhaps I’m less lazy than I think I am, but rather am just having too much fun living my life?

Reflecting on this made me think of all the other single Christian men and women I know who are out living their lives to the fullest; they’re busy working, ministering, loving friends and family, traveling, and enjoying the life God’s given them. This isn’t exactly the picture we often get of Christian singles, and sometimes it even takes me awhile to wrap my head around the fact that my life didn’t go remotely the way I’d hoped it would, and yet I am happy, I am satisfied.

I think back to many of the conference sessions I’ve heard preached to singles with the main message of “don’t waste this valuable time of your life waiting around!” Like singleness is this temporary state we treat like a waiting room for the rest of life. I believe I’ve even spoken and written on similar things. And I have actually known some single men and women who were so focused on the need to get married, that they put off careers, education, and ministry opportunities only to spend much of their time miserably waiting for a spouse who may not even exist.

But today, when I realized just how busy I’ve been out and about doing things, I thought about all the other single men and women I know who are my age or older and realized they’re all out living life too! I actually couldn’t think of one single Christian friend who is “wasting their singleness” at this point in our lives. To be honest, once you’ve been single long enough, you either have to settle and marry someone you probably shouldn’t, throw Christian celibacy out the window and embrace relationships that don’t necessarily glorify God, or just get on with your life as a single person. After awhile, you just can’t sit around being sad about being single anymore. You have to work. You have to have somewhere to live. You need other people in your life to survive so you’ve had to find some community. You just get on with things.

This idea that the main thing we need to tell singles is not to waste this valuable time, I’ve realized, is rather condescending. Most singles I know are busy doing incredible things for humanity: they’re nurses or administrators in war torn and famine ridden countries with organizations like Doctors without Borders, they’re teachers and librarians raising the next generation of kids, they’re caring for elderly parents, they’re completing grad school, they’re helping deaf people hear again, they’re buying homes, they’re planting churches, they’re baking delicious food, they’re taking other widows to their doctors’ appointments, they’re adopting pets, they’re dedicated flatmates and friends, they’re raising their children on their own, they’re leading support groups and prayer meetings, they’re founding ministries and organizations, they’re interviewing for dream jobs over and over again, they’re influencing nephews and nieces and godchildren, they’re texting encouraging things to friends who are struggling with marriage or parenthood, they’re doing IT support and training for missionaries or they are the missionaries themselves, they’re counseling younger Christians, they’re writing books and leading conferences, they’re busy doing what the Lord would have them to do. Seriously, I know single people doing each of the things listed here – these are real examples.

When most of the people speaking to singles are married men and women, their main reference for what singleness is like comes from their late teens-early 20’s, the few adult years of their own lives before they were married. They assume they know what singleness is actually like because they were once single for like a minute. Their frame of reference for singles is often stuck in a time of life when we are all figuring out who we are and what we’re doing, when we’re all a bit more transient, and bit more unsettled and confused.

And yes, during that time in my life, my hopes for marriage were strong, the dream of a spouse and kids and all that were still alive. This did, at times, lead to feelings of discontentment and fear, especially as my 20’s turned into my 30’s. And yes, I did have some friends who seemed to let this overwhelm them, this desire for marriage became their main goal. And, for a few of them, I saw this paralyze them or lead them away from God. But, looking back, most of us just got on with it. We got on with life, work, and ministry. Because we had to. I mean, who really has the luxury to “waste” that time of their life? What other option did we have?

And now that my 30’s have turned into my 40’s, I’m less discontent, less fearful, and less concerned about the possibility of marriage than ever before. I can look back and see that not one year of my life has been “wasted,” and neither have most of my single friend’s years. We are, most of us, much more settled in who we are and what God would have us do. Ephesians 2:10 says “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If our main goal is to glorify God, to do his will, then our lives will never be “wasted” because he’s got plans for us. He’s got good works all ready for us to do. Single. Married. Parents. Childless. Energetic. Exhausted. Healthy. Disabled. It doesn’t matter. God still has good works prepared beforehand for each of us which we will be capable of doing, by his grace.

Instead of underestimating singles, instead of assuming most singles need to be reminded not to waste this time, as if it’s some temporary reprieve from responsibility, full of free time and endless opportunity, we all need to remember that singles grow up just like everyone else does. 30 year old singles will be different from 20 year old ones, and now at 40, I’m even more different – I hope I’m more mature, a bit more wise, and a bit more free in Christ. And my mother, in her second-singleness as a widow, has also grown as a single person now that she’s in her second decade of singleness after my dad’s death.

Instead of treating all singles like we’re college students sleeping in all day during summer vacation, shirking any ministry opportunities, dating around irresponsibly with a fear of commitment, putting our lives on hold until our “perfect mate” shows up out of the blue, let’s see singles as full and complete humans who will mature, like everyone else, as we age and experience life. Let’s see singles as individuals who are different and complex. Let’s stop the condescending view of singles as struggling with waiting for life to happen and realize, while lots of Christians were busy thinking that, most of us have been out there living our lives to the fullest, to the glory of God, for years, maybe even decades.