If you are reading this blog post and you’re single, here’s the first choice you have to make as you move forward in your life: will you let the absence of a partner drive you to inertia and bitterness, or will you embrace this seeming limitation and let it open up new avenues of creativity and service?
Here’s the deal. Almost every invention we have today exists because someone needed something they couldn’t find. Benjamin Franklin wanted to understand and use electicity, but no one had figured it out yet. The Wright brothers wanted to fly like birds could, but how could a human being aviate like that? The list of people like them is endless — Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Booker T. Washington, Guttenberg, Eli Whitney………
When I told the leaders at my church that single people were not being included in the big, regularly-gathering meetings that happened during the week, they apologized and said they’d try to make some changes.
The next week, they did make a few changes in the bulletin announcements. The marriage announcement said, If you’re married or want to be married, you can come.
The moms group announcement said, If you’re a mom, or want to be a mom, you can come.
A few single people called me that week in tears. The additions made it sound like “if you’re the real thing, or a pathetic wannabe, you can come.”
We are not wannabes. We are grown-ups, too. We are your equals. We have different life circumstances than you do, but they are not inferior to yours. They’re just different.
I think we can agree that adding “wannabe” clauses to the groups is not a valid way of including single people in our churches. So what options do we have?
We have two choices when it comes to how we create space for single people. To put it simply, we can embrace unity or affinity.
Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. There were many events across the U.S. to commemmorate the man who made such important strides in the civil rights movement. There were also a lot of quotes in my Facebook feed attributed to this great man. Quotes about love vs. hate, quotes about justice, quotes about a vision for a better future.
Two days ago, I got back from Ecuador. I took a trip there with Compassion International to visit the villages where Compassion has a presence. Donors in the U.S. pay $38/month to sponsor a child. With these funds, Compassion has partnered with local churches to have after-school programs where kids get tutoring and a nutritious meal. They get regular check-ups and vaccines. Their family gets a basket of food every month. If a child has to go to the hospital, Compassion asks the parents to try to pay for 10% of the bill, and Compassion picks up the rest.
I got to hear from kids who are now in their early 20′s, who were sponsored as children. They talk about the amazing difference the program made in their lives. Without being sponsored, these kids would’ve ended up living in mud huts — or, if they were lucky, a two or three-room concrete house that measures less than 700 square feet. They would’ve dropped out of school after 6th grade. They may have died from malnutrition or other preventable causes of childhood mortality.
When I was in Portland, I went to a church small group for a while. About 20 of us came every week. I went to the group for a few months and then I stopped going. Not because of my schedule or personality conflicts or anything like that. I stopped going because the only social events for the women were wedding showers and baby showers. And I realized that, as a single person, I would always be celebrating other women’s lives, but if I never got married and never had a baby, no one would ever celebrate mine.
When I say that I left the small group because of wedding and baby showers, it sounds like I’m either selfish or a really bad sport. But I can honestly tell you — I didn’t feel uncharitable towards these women. I didn’t feel jealous or envious; I felt left out, like the group was unconsciously discriminating against me.
It was like working for catering company where you are always expected to serve food to other people, but you never get the chance to eat food yourself. How long do you work in that environment before your starvation drives you to find employment elsewhere?
The only time people come together to celebrate a single person, plan a reception and give money and flowers is at that person’s funeral. Seriously. We have to wait to be celebrated until after we’re dead.
It probably helps that I’m writing this post at a hotel in the Andes mountains in Ecuador, experiencing one of the upsides of being single, which is having a vast amount of freedom. I’m a spokesperson for Compassion International, and I’m here for a week with a team of artists to meet the children that Compassion serves. It took 15 hours of plane travel and layovers to get here, which gave me a lot of time to think. I just wrote three posts about the challenges of singleness. And now I’ve been thinking about the benefits of being single. I jotted down a few things on my napkin on the planeride from Miami to Quito. I’m sure this list is not complete, but here are some of the top reasons I appreciate my singleness: 1) I’m not trapped in a bad marriage. If you gave me the choice between a contentious or toxic marriage and singleness, I’d pick singleness every time. 2) There are less variables in my decisions. If I want to move, for instance, I don’t have to worry about what school district I’m in, whether or not my partner can also find a new job, etc. 3) I have more free time. I don’t just mean free time in terms of relaxation and recreation, I mean free time to help other people, visit family, serve at church, etc. 4) I have more flexibility. For instance, I can drop everything and fly to Ecuador for a week. My schedule is malleable because there aren’t other people to take into account, and no one’s depending on me to cook dinner every night or run the monthly PTA meeting. 5) I can pursue my gifts more freely. If I were married, or married with kids, there’s no way I’d be able to do as much writing, traveling and speaking as I do now. As I contemplated these things on the napkin in front of me, I started wondering why singleness can be both amazing and awful. There are seasons in my personal life where singleness swings between these two extremes, but also, there are single people whose experiences of singleness is vastly different. Why is that? Read more →
I want to treat today’s topic with a little more sensitivity, because I don’t want this to seem like a church-bashing session. So before I tell you why it’s been hard to be single in the church, let me give a few qualifications.
First, the things I’m going to say today are based on observations, personal experiences and the experiences of friends. There are many churches to whom these do not apply.
Second, churches do amazing things. There are beautiful, generous, wise people in the congregations and on staff. So I’m not trying to disparage churches in general; I’m only describing an experience that I believe lies in the blind spot of many churches.
Third, I don’t think the pain singles experience is intentionally or even knowingly inflicted by most churches. As I said above, I think it’s a blind spot. And hopefully, by having an honest conversation, we can help each other see.
Ok. That being said, here are the top 7 reasons why I think it’s hard to be single in the church.
1)The mythical “gift” of singleness.
I’ve heard many, many times from church leaders that some people have “the gift of singleness,” which is divinely given and has nothing to do with that person’s free will. Furthermore, if a person has the “gift of singleness,” they know from a young age that they’re meant to be single for the rest of their lives.
Therefore, if you don’t know that you’re supposed to be single forever, that means you’re supposed to get married.
This is nowhere in the Bible. Nowhere. Paul says in I Corinthians 7 that marriage is a concession, something you’re allowed to do as a last resort if you can’t resist sexual temptation.
I know lots of single people, even single people who have been single for decades and died single. And I don’t know of a single person who knew they were going to be single forever.
In the last post I wrote about single people thriving rather than just surviving. That begs the question, What makes it hard to survive and/or thrive?
So I want to spend the next two posts talking about what makes it hard to be single. Don’t worry, I’m not going to spend the whole blog series whining about it. I just think it’s good to articulate the problems before we discuss some potential solutions.
In this post we’ll unpack why it’s hard to be single in general, and in the next post I’ll talk about about 5 reasons why it’s hard to be single in the context of the church.
Let me start by acknowledging that marriage is hard, too. I’m not saying that singleness is harder than marriage. I’m not trying to persuade people that single people deserve more sympathy than anyone else. Not at all. I just think that being single is hard for different reasons, and I think it’s worth delving into what those reasons are.
1)Singleness is challenging because singles are called “unmarried.”
When we refer to single people as “unmarried,” all of a sudden, single people are defined by an event that hasn’t happened to them yet. (Or, in the case of divorced individuals, a previous event that isn’t true of them now.)
When we call singles “unmarried,” it implies an absence of marriage, which makes being single seem inferior to being married.
If you’re still on the fence about whether this is true, think about calling women “unmen” or Asian people “unwhite” or living people “unburied” or students “unalumni.”
This month on the blog I’m going to be writing about SINGLENESS, a topic that’s near and dear to my heart — and a source of a lot of consternation for me and my friends. If you’re single, I hope you read along and let me know in the comment sections what you think, and what questions you have. If you’re married, I hope you read along and follow the conversation, too, so you can have a better understanding and appreciation for your single friends.
With that being said, here’s post numero uno.
In March of 2014 I made some big changes. I had been living in Portland, working as the Director of Communications at my church and working on some projects for a medical company on the side. In March, I left my job(s) and moved to Santa Barbara, California…mostly for the sunshine.
I worked two days/week at an urgent care clinic, and spent the rest of the time traveling and speaking about themes from my book, The Invisible Girls.
Before I left Portland, I sat across the desk from one of the pastors on staff. He wished me well and then said, “I’m excited for your California adventure.”
The he added, “And, by the way, you’re going to get married soon.”
“Excuse me?” I said.
His comment caught me off guard. I wasn’t dating anyone — and hadn’t dated anyone for a while, actually. Why would I be getting married soon?
This year has been kinda crazy.
When I take stock of the year, what comes to mind first is the calendar of all the events of 2014.
The paperback version of my memoir The Invisible Girls came out.
I had the opportunity to speak all over the country, hopping on and off planes, driving rental cars and sleeping in hotels once or twice a month.
I traveled to Arkansas, Kansas, California, Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, Maryland, Washington D.C., Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland.
I wrote for magazines like Huffington Post. I gave talks to thousands of people. I signed hundreds of books. I had lots of amazing conversations with people after events, and gave (and received) lots of hugs.
On paper, my year was awesome. I loved all the opportunities. I discovered that writing and speaking are not just a hobby or a side vocation; they’re more like a calling.
This piece was published by Huffington Post Religion December 2014.
Usually I love to listen to all-Christmas radio stations while I’m running errands or baking cookies or wrapping presents because the music cheers me up. But this year, I’ve found myself focusing on the words of the songs rather than getting caught up in the emotion of them, and I can’t believe what I’ve been singing all these years.
I was on staff at a church for a year, and I understand the pressure people must’ve been under in past Christmas seasons to bang out a new song their people could sing to celebrate baby Jesus. But it seems that in their haste, they have created some shoddy work, and they’ve altered the theology of the Christmas story — sometimes because it’s cute, and sometimes merely for the fact that it rhymes.
And we tolerate it. No, not just tolerate. We actually enjoy and embrace it.