“Singleness is a gift.” I had heard it one million times. I was lonely and I was afraid I would be single forever. I felt like my feelings were invalid or uncalled for because I was ungrateful for this “gift.”
In a well-intended attempt to care for me, church people seemed to offer a tiny, Christian Band-Aid for a wound that only Jesus could heal. Some of their encouragements included the following:
“IT’S ALL IN GOD’S TIMING.” “YOU JUST HAVE TO TRUST HIM.”
For the most part, singles in the church have already learned and relearned these truths. Eventually, they will come around to be comforted by them, but to be loved well in the moment, they just need somebody to say, “That sounds really hard. How can I be helpful and encouraging to you in this?”
“GOD HAS SOMEONE PERFECT FOR YOU – I JUST KNOW IT.”
This was the one that sent me into really defensive language: Do you really know this? Because I haven’t heard this from God yet. And we are not actually promised all of the things that we want in this world. I would walk away from this statement feeling like I had been handed an empty promise.
“WELL, HAVE YOU TRIED ONLINE DATING?”
Yes. Obviously. I’ve tried everything! A discouraging part about unwanted singleness for me was that I had done everything “right.” What I mean by that is this: I had lived a social and outgoing life. I had always been open to meeting new people. I had gone on several dates, tried speed-dating, been an active member in a church community, and yet I had never experienced feelings for a guy that were reciprocal. For people to question my dating “strategy” and approach just left me feeling like I had exhausted my resources.
In response to these kinds of remarks, I dismissed the credibility of the married advice-givers who had what I so desperately wanted.
There was some part of their words that seemed true, but I often felt like there had to be a better way for my friends and family to walk this with me. In my heart of hearts, I knew that marriage wouldn’t make my life perfect, that there was goodness to be found in singleness; and still, I didn’t want to hear that “singleness was a gift” one more time.
I think about the times that I’ve felt most loved as a single. A few stories come to mind. In each of these moments, there was a gift to be found in singleness, though singleness itself did not feel like a gift.
In my heart of hearts, I knew that marriage wouldn’t make my life perfect, that there was goodness to be found in singleness; and still, I didn’t want to hear that “singleness was a gift” one more time.
Some of those times include when I hosted a BBQ where all in attendance were either dating or married. At the close of the BBQ, one of the couples was lingering. They told me that they were familiar with the lonely feeling that follows an evening like this when everybody else goes home with their significant other and you are home alone. They asked if they could hang out for a bit. We spent the next couple of hours talking. We had a ton of fun, and I felt so seen and loved by them in that experience.
Another time a friend from church invited me over for lunch after Sunday gathering because I had mentioned that Sundays after church feel particularly lonely as a single person.
And finally, a friend who had been in a serious dating relationship as long as I had known her consistently celebrated with me. She made sure I knew that I was loved and rallied-around through birthdays, graduations, accomplishments. She also sat with me when I felt really lonely in a season where several close friends of mine were getting married.
SINGLENESS WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF THE CHURCH
In her blog post, “Singled Out: How Churches Can Embrace Unmarried Adults” Christena Cleveland, social psychologist and professor at Duke Divinity School, shares six tips on how married Christians can better demonstrate love to single people in their lives:
1. Admit that singleness is complex and that you know little to nothing about it
A lot of people seem to think that singleness is to marriage as junior varsity is to varsity. As a result, married people sometimes mistakenly believe that they know something about singleness when in fact they don’t. Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage. It’s an entirely different sport!
Like marriage, singleness is complex. The challenges and joys of singleness are equal to but different than the challenges and joys of marriage.
2. Recognize that as a married person, you are privileged
Married people run the Christian world. For example, since many pastors, board members, and organizational leaders are married, the married perspective is well-represented in the church in ways that the single perspective is not. Married people are much more likely to get hired as pastors.
A quick search at Amazon.com reveals that for every 1 Christian book on singleness, there are 298 Christian books on marriage.
When married people recognize their privilege, they can work to restore balance by:
- Listening well
- Being an advocate and raising questions (e.g., How can we make our “family camp” relevant and inclusive for singles?)
- Inviting single people to the table (hiring, boards, preaching, conference speakers, etc.)
- Making sure that issues that are pertinent to singles are raised in meetings, from the pulpit, while vision casting, at retreats, at conferences, etc.
- Reframing policy, values, and expectations so that married people are no longer the gold standard.
3. Affirm that marital status isn’t correlated with godliness or maturity
Many single people feel that they are often automatically stereotyped as spiritually immature, morally dangerous, and unsuitable for leadership simply because they’re single. I’ve even heard pastors unapologetically and explicitly discriminate against single people: “I don’t want to hire a single woman to direct the worship arts ministry because she’ll probably end up sleeping with all of the guys in the band.” This is both hurtful and wrong.
Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage. It’s an entirely different sport!
It’s been said that financial independence is not a fruit of the Spirit. Well, marriage isn’t a fruit of the Spirit either. Married people aren’t more holy or godly or mature than single people. Married people haven’t “arrived” in a way that single people haven’t. Married people aren’t even “on track” in a way that single people aren’t.
4. Celebrate single people
If you get married and/or have a baby, Christians will pull out all the stops to celebrate you. That’s a good thing! But Christians should also recognize that many single adults never get celebrated with such fanfare. We might not be walking down the aisle or gestating a baby, but God is doing some amazing things in our lives – from the “monumental” (such as helping us obtain degrees, launch ministries/businesses, pay off college loans) to the “mundane” (such as helping us serve our neighborhoods, pray for each other).
We must celebrate what God’s doing in people’s lives, whether it’s similar to what God’s done in our own lives or not. So, find reasons to throw big parties for the single people in your community. And if you have the resources, feel free to buy them expensive gifts as well. Single people use Kitchen Aid mixers too.
5. Recognize that you need single people to show you what the resurrection is really all about
Rodney Clapp (and Stanley Hauerwas) said it best: “Without children, the Israelite fears the single’s name will burn out, sift to ashes and be scattered and forgotten in the winds of time. But Paul has seen the arrival of a new hope. Jesus has risen from the land of death and forgetfulness, and so someday shall all who have died. And Jesus has inaugurated the kingdom, a kingdom most fundamentally known and seen not among brothers and sisters in kin, but among brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus Hauerwas says of singles, ‘There can be no more radical act than [singleness], as it is the clearest institutional expression that one’s future is not guaranteed by the family, but by the church. The church, the harbinger of the Kingdom of God is now the source of our primary loyalty.’”
6. Finally, invest in the single people around you.
There are myriad facets, experiences, and perspectives about singleness that we do not address. As a single person, I have learned to deal with this unmet desire in the pull between two extremes. In one, I allow myself to feel the pain of living with this profound, yet unmet desire. In the other, I submit myself to the goodness of singleness and celebrate it to no end. It is in this in-between space where I have learned to acknowledge the pains and the joys as they come.
This both/and space is not exclusive to the topic of singleness and the desire for marriage. We all sit in places where we feel two ways about something, and I pray that we all learn to find God in these spaces and support one another in whatever space we find ourselves in.
And that is where I would like to leave us: sitting in the in-between of all sorts of things. Today, we sit with the joys and the pains in singleness.
mcKensey Wise, a fellow Sea Lion, has a heart for starting conversations. In her eight years living on campus at PLNU as a student and Resident Director of Klassen Hall, she found students craving honest conversations around singleness. This, along with her own personal journey, led her to write the first issue of her zine, Both&, on the topic of Singleness.
Photography by Mitchell Prins.