More on singleness (No clever titles)
I’m a word aficionado, a trivia collector, an all-season cyclist, a homework tutor, an editor, a worship team leader, a daughter, sister, aunt.
But most importantly, I’m a beloved child of God.
And I’m single.
Is there a place in your church for me? Or will I be alone in hostile territory?
God has opened doors along my path to study language, and teach English, and live and serve with Mennonites of many stripes, and teach school to MKs. Now I write and edit for the denomination, and I study, and I tutor children, and I sing at church, and I sit on committees.
But sometimes, it feels like I haven’t graduated yet. Because in the church subculture, the entry requirement to sit at the adult table seems to be marriage and children.
Recently, I had the honour of writing about the experience of being single in the church. I offered a challenge to our churches to emphasize the right thing – discipleship, not family.
I received a tide of personal responses to that piece, and I’d like to share some of those usually silent voices here.
“One of my biggest frustrations with the North American church is its obsession with promoting & defending 'family values' instead of being like Jesus,” wrote one.
Another wrote: “My church puts so much emphasis on family and couples that as a thirtysomething single woman, I’m not really part of the group. I’m trying to follow this faith in a culture that is highly focused on 'finding prince charming,'” she said, begging the church to help her be a Christian – to retain the countercultural perspective that our ultimate fulfillment, completion, and intimacy is found not a romantic partner, but in God.
“I want to see the church take the emphasis off social needs (especially matchmaking), and help singles steward the gift of singleness well in the context of being disciples of Jesus in the here and now.”
And, most heart-breakingly, several said, “I’ve stopped going to church. I could only hear so many sermons on how to be a better wife, how to be the best parents your child can have.”
As singles, we’re asking for help, not because we’re especially broken, but because we’re human. As human beings, we’re all wired for love -- and we’re all called to follow Jesus. It’s not an easy path, but he equips us: with strength in our spirits and with family to come alongside. That’s not a family of blood but a family of adopted siblings: co-heirs with Christ.
Created to be in relationship not only with God but with other people, we each need intimacy. The gift of sex is a particular expression of intimacy, and as a single person, I accept that God’s standards for purity preclude my participation. However, intimacy is not only physical but also emotional and spiritual. As a single person, I am perhaps in greater need of relational intimacy -- yet in a church culture that idolizes nuclear families, I’m less likely to find it.
I admit: I have an independent spirit. Rudyard Kipling’s children story of “The cat that walks by herself” for whom “all places are the same to me” resonated with me even as a child. I pride myself on being able to do things myself – I can remodel a closet, make repairs on my bike; or enter a room full of strangers or go to a movie alone.
But where did we get the idea independence was a virtue? Isn’t the body of Christ all about being built up through each other’s gifts? My independence isn’t godly if it allows me to think I don’t need others – or they me.
The irony of the cat that walks by herself is that she keeps going back to where the others are. In fact, she schemes to secure a place by the fire in the middle of the home. But Jesus calls me to drop the pretense of independence, and humbly gather at the hearth with brothers and sisters.
As a single adult, I need the church to be the covenant community promised in the Confession of Faith: “[members who] love, care, and pray for each other, share each others’ joys and burdens, admonish and correct each other.”
This journey of Jesus-followership goes over terrain rocky and smooth; through joyful sprints and tedious plodding; in sparkling sunshine, pouring rain, and whirling snow. Co-heirs with Christ, will you walk alongside me?
Fellow children of God, will you remind me of whose I am?
Delivered as a testimony at the study conference on human sexuality