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.

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.