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Archive for loneliness

The Transient Existence of the American Single

A childhood friend is staying with us for a few days. Like me, she is a single woman starting out her 40’s. One of our frequent conversations starts with “where will you go next?” And while this conversation isn’t limited to singles, it is one I have much more frequently with unmarried friends than married. It’s one I’ve had with myself at many different times in my life. 

The single life can have less permanence than the married one, and this is a cause of stress and anxiety for many of us. It’s also a cause of adventure and excitement, so it’s not all bad. But at certain points, the thought of “where will I go next” is exhausting and scary.

Part of this is financial – single people often can’t afford to buy a house/condo/apartment on their one income, so we are, for the most part, renters. Again, not all singles – I have single friends who are homeowners – but most aren’t. And, for most of us, renting can be too expensive for one income so we can’t even rent a place on our own – we must find one or more flatmates or roommates to share the costs. As roommates move, get married, or find other situations, we constantly have to find new ones. This, again, is exhausting and scary. 

We move back home with parents for seasons of our lives, we switch jobs to go where God leads us, but most of all we switch apartments as landlords raise rent, property values go up due to gentrification and we’re priced out, health concerns arise and we need to move, we find a better place than the last, or our roommate moves on so we must as well. 

Yes, married couples move too due to job transfers, family commitments, raised rents, and other things. But the married couple can work through those decisions together, and other than military placements or other careers where they might be separated for a time, they get to move together. That panic of “who can I rely on?” or “how do I find someone to live with yet again?” isn’t there. The frantic calling around of everyone you know, emailing local churches, looking on online forums, and praying you don’t end up with a psycho seems to be limited to us singles. 

It’s interesting because even those singles who are financially stable enough to get a place on their own may find themselves judged for living alone. We can then be seen as selfish for not having roommates, or antisocial. The cliche of the Crazy Cat Lady comes to mind. Friends who decide to buy a place together and commit to living a single life as flatmates can be judged as codependent, suspected to be in a homosexual relationship, or just seen as weird. 

Those of us who move back home to be part of a family are also judged harshly. We’re viewed as unable to be independent, taking advantage of our parents, immature, and, yet again, weird. Jokes about unmarried men living in their mom’s basements and old maids never leaving their parents’ house abound. There must be something wrong with us. Our parents are to be pitied. 

But we’re just like everyone else, trying to figure out where we fit, trying to find community and family, trying to feel at home. So the next time your single friend asks to stay for a week or two as they figure things out, do what you can to help them feel loved and at home. Do what you can to help them figure out where God would have them go next. Do what you can to help them make those scary decisions. Do what you can to help them feel less alone. Give them a home away from home.

From Sprained Ankles to Leaky Hot Water Heaters

This time of year is always a mixed bag of emotions. In the span of one week we celebrate my mum’s birthday as well as my littlest nephew’s, then move right into the anniversary of my father’s death. This year my life decided to also throw in a mild ankle sprain and a leaky hot water heater.

In the midst of hobbling through my usual workday, birthday parties, a writer’s group dinner, the Downton Abbey movie, GriefShare, a going away party, church, heating up water on the stove, and all the various other little details of daily life there was a low-lying hum of something just not being quite right. For others in my family this year, the hum this week was more like incredible sadness or constant anxiety, but for me grief remained under the surface. It doesn’t always, some years they are pretty unaffected and I’m the one with more obvious symptoms. It’s rarely the same for all of us at the same time, which is nice because we can help each other through when needed. 

So this year I managed to get through the 17th anniversary of dad’s death without too much sadness, but with a couple tears alone at night, digging up a beautiful old photo of us snuggling, and stopping every once in awhile to recognize how much I still miss him. The moment of digging out his old crutches from the garage, the very ones he and I used to trade off between our constantly sprained ankles, brought memories flooding back. And I know the thought of “I wish Gordon was here to help deal with this” is constantly in the back of my mum’s head as she deals with the broken hot water heater. But God gave me encouraging students to help cheer me on as I hobbled around this week, and an endlessly kind and patient neighbor to come rescue us with his special vacuum, and tools, and truck, and knowledge. 

Ah Fall, my favorite season and yet one filled with so much emotion. Our house is already decorated with fake fall leaves, pumpkins, scarecrows, and various adorably haunted things. The nights are cool enough that I can snuggle under my top covers again, bringing me better sleep. Even the days are finally cooling down – I’m even wearing a long-sleeved top as I type this! We are burning pumpkin or apple scented candles non-stop, and may even fire up the fireplace tonight! I love it. But I also have that undercurrent of melancholy coursing through my body at all times.

Perhaps that’s part of growing up, of becoming an adult: we learn to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time, to celebrate life and grieve death simultaneously, to yearn for something lost or that we know we will never have while also reveling in the beauty that surrounds us. I no longer fear holding both things at once, no longer feel the need to only experience one at a time. Part of how I’m able to do this relies on talking to God about it, letting him know what I’m experiencing throughout the day and relying on him to give me peace.

Philippians 4:4-13 keeps coming up, at GriefShare, in my own study, and at church again this Sunday. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I’m learning that rejoicing in everything and not being anxious require facing the truth of what’s going on and relying on God to get me through it, knowing he always has done and always will. Peace and contentment don’t magically appear after I pray, or throughout the day as I talk to God, but this week I’ve experienced moment after moment when I can choose anxiety or peace, when I can panic or trust God, and this week God’s been gracious enough to grant me the peace. 

As September turns into October, I’m looking forward to more and more crisp, cool weather and nights by the fire with cups of tea and delicious smelling candles. I know the melancholy will be there, but so will the joy. And, as I’m about to dash out to go shower at my sister’s house, I’m really looking forward to hot water again. Praise God for fall, and for healed ankles and appliances.

Singleness In the Church Isn’t One Size Fits All

It’s disturbing to me, a very single 40 year old woman, to hear the much younger, married, male singles group pastor express his frustration with a young widow because she hasn’t started dating again and still has photos of her dead husband up all over her house which might discourage a new guy from being part of her life. When I asked him if she was even interested in dating at this point, or even remarrying ever, he looked confused and had no answers for me. When I stated that her husband was the father of her children, so she will have photos of him up in her house probably forever, he looked surprised. When I went on to say that perhaps she doesn’t want to remarry, he was stunned. He couldn’t imagine a world in which a single woman would want to remain single. Even in the midst of deep grief over the loss of her husband.

The GriefShare group I help facilitate is giving me a new perspective on singleness as many of its participants are widows and widowers of varying ages, some with children, some without. Since my widowed mother is and has been one of my best friends, this second singleness has always been a concern for me. One thing that comes up over and over again is how many people in churches think grief ends when a new relationship begins. That “moving on” is the goal of grief recovery (it’s not, moving forward is, there is no “moving on”) and this will be recognized as complete when there’s a second marriage.

One of my beloved widowers was telling our group that he hadn’t gone to church since his wife died. He said “I just can’t do it. It’s full of couples and families and I just don’t fit anymore.” This is where I stepped in and told him that this isn’t a true thought. The church is actually full of single people as well as couples and families. I reminded him that my mum and I, both single in different ways, go to first service each Sunday and he’s welcome to sit with us. I encouraged him to go, and look around more closely the next time and he’ll see quite a few singles either alone or with friends or families. The church is full of perpetual singles like me, widows and widowers like him, divorced men and women, single moms and dads, young singles who may or may not marry, even men and women who were married more than once and have lost more than one spouse. The body of Christ is made up of all types, not just the typical family. We just need to look more closely.

I understand why he feels this way though, I struggle with that feeling as well. I think it’s because the ideal held up of Christian life is husband, wife, and kids. From the pulpit (since every pastor I’ve ever had has been married with children) most examples of Christian living involves being married. Church leadership tends to be completely made up of married men, with perhaps one or two exceptions. We don’t often see an ever-single man or woman on stage, or a widow or widower, or a divorced and not remarried man or woman (even if it was a biblically allowed divorce). And, since we don’t see ourselves in leadership, nor hear our lot mentioned in most sermons, but see the opposite held up as the perfect Christian life, it’s easy to think we’re alone. And, since we’re often not involved in the leadership of the church as much, our voices aren’t represented so our concerns may not even be noticed or recognized.

This is such an odd state of things, considering the early church was founded by single people and the church, historically, held singles in high esteem. The entire catholic leadership model formed around single believers. The Protestant church has, sadly, not really found a place for celibate single Christians in our average churches. Again, there are exceptions, but it certainly is not the rule.

Singleness isn’t a one size fits all type of thing, so our churches shouldn’t treat it as such. The joke of most “singles ministries” is that most of the single people in a church won’t be included. Once you pass the age of 30, or you’ve been divorced, or your spouse dies, or you’re not actively looking for a spouse, you don’t fit into the singles ministry. Rather, all ministries should embrace singles – in women’s and men’s groups, in Bible studies, in Sunday School, in counseling ministries, in college groups and elderly groups. Sunday morning sermons should include examples that can apply to many different demographics, different types of singles included. Messages that end with applications should work for unmarried parishioners as well as married ones. And articles about singleness shouldn’t focus on the usual “don’t waste this season in your life” and “pray and wait for God to bring your meant-to-be-spouse to you.” There’s more to singleness, and more types of singleness. Let’s make sure we’re asking questions and listening to the singles in our churches so we can understand their specific circumstances, and learn to love and serve them better as one of the unique and varied children of God.

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.

How the Awkward Spinster Does Valentine’s Day

One of the benefits of having been perpetually single throughout my life is that my expectations of Valentine’s Day are incredibly low. I’m pretty sure I only ever had one boyfriend on this holiday, way back in Jr. High (and he did great, got me a stuffed bear music box that played Elvis’ “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” and little gold plated heart necklace, well done Jr. High boy!), so I don’t really equate this day with big romantic gestures or expensive gifts. It’s actually a day I enjoy, which isn’t the case for all singles, so below I’ll list what I’ve done or am doing this year to celebrate this day of love as a single in the hope that it will inspire you, single or not, to enjoy it too.

In full disclosure, I need to mention that I am writing this while listening to the soundtrack from “Buffy the Musical: Once More with Feeling” as my “romantic” background noise. So yeah, that may effect my subconscious.

To get into the holiday spirit, my mum and I decorated. We have some heart garlands, red glass birds, ribbons, and Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals (from my dad years ago) to scatter about the house. I even brought a garland to hang up in my school library, as well as a sparkly heart. This might seem cheesy or unnecessary, but my family is one that loves to celebrate holidays, and nothing gets you in the mood like a few decorations to mark that this season is a bit different. My students are loving even the couple of little things up in the library because it makes it feel special.

My mum hosted her annual Valentine Tea for the ladies in her Sunday School class. My sister and I used to help host this, but haven’t participated in the last few years as it’s harder and harder to get our friends to come as they marry and have kids and life gets more complicated. But, when we do it, it is surprisingly fun. Finger sandwiches, pots of tea, pastries, and tons of art supplies with which to make homemade valentines will brighten anyone’s February. But, since my mum was having mostly older ladies over who I don’t know well, I took the opportunity to have a few hours on my own – took myself out to lunch, and stopped by See’s Candies for a box of chocolates for mum, and a few truffles for myself. I may have also purchased a nice cabernet sauvignon for myself this week.

(My little niece just came into my “study” to give me a cuddle, then quickly left and said “Ok, now you can continue your work.” Who needs a Valentine when you’ve got this kind of love?)

Another thing I love to do this time of year is rant about the insulting marketing targeting singles. So many companies are trying to include singles in their ad campaigns for Valentine’s Day, as we are a growing economic force, and most are doing it quite poorly. We get the “You don’t need no man, so buy yourself an expensive, unnecessary diamond” ads, and the crate boxes full of stereotypical feminine things single women are supposed to crave like self-help books, skin care items, and chocolate. There are the companies encouraging bitterness toward your exes, ogling scantily clad women, and the ever present call to selfishness as a lifestyle choice since we don’t have anyone else to care for, apparently.

We’re planning on making homemade valentines tonight with our women’s global prayer group, Tea Persisted. And we have Marie Callender’s pie to go along with it. Who do you make valentines for if you’re single, you may ask? Come on guys, love comes in many forms. Just pick anyone you’d like to feel special for a moment – a family member, a godchild, a coworker, or your friendly neighborhood librarian. Stick them in the mail, hide them on a desk, drop them on doorsteps, wherever. Valentines are for everyone.

One of the ladies from my mum’s tea even brought a squeaky, fluffy, heart-shaped dog toy for our westie, so even pets can get valentines!

I’m also going to be contacting my state representatives this week to ask them to fight for government policies that will help the vulnerable. One of the best ways to show love is to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves: the poor, the refugees, the children, the disenfranchised, the sick, the elderly, the disabled, the unborn, the abused, the forgotten. We can say we love people until we’re blue in the face, but it means little if we aren’t trying to help our country enact policies of love rather hate, of care and protection rather than hatred and violence.

And then, on Valentine’s Day itself, my plan is to get in my pajamas as soon as I get home from work, make some dinner with mum, and settle in for some Midsomer Murders or another cozy British mystery series. Avoiding couples taking over restaurants is important. Ice cream or pie or chocolate will be involved for both of us, and quite possibly a good single malt scotch for me.

For those of you who are struggling with this season because of grief, loss, and deep loneliness, know you are not alone. There is a whole army of singletons out there just like you. Feel free to message me through my blog or social media, I’d love to send you an encouraging note. Reach out to others in your life who may also be feeling this grief and offer them comfort, especially single men and women who recently lost loved ones. One of my favorite British comedians, Miranda Hart, is creating a community on social media for those of us who might struggle with grief on Valentine’s Day, so check her out under #HartsValentinesDay. She is in England, so there will be a time difference. But I’m in the States, so again you are welcome to message me!

I’m also working at reminding myself WHY we love in the first place. 1 John 4:19 makes it very simple, “We love because he [God] first loved us.” Simple. Easy. God loved us so much he sent his son to die for us. His love is unending and true. And that’s why we love others. Because if the God of the universe can love a broken soul like me, I should offer that love to everyone around me.

So this year, I encourage you to embrace having no expectations for great gestures, and instead embrace the little expressions of love you can make for the loved ones in your life, near or far. Text your other single friends to let them know you love them. Instead of ignoring it, why not enjoy celebrating the kinds of love we singles have in our lives? Coworkers. Fellow church members. Community members. Pets. Friends. Family. Take a moment out of this week to remind yourself that you are, indeed, loved, that there are people on this messed up planet who care about you, and that the God of the universe loved you first. It might not look like the traditional end to a rom-com, but love comes in many forms and it is all worth celebrating.