Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Refusing to be 'Singled' Out

How Should the Church Treat Singles?

“Another one bites the dust” is the relationship theme song I resonate with lately. I can barely go a month without one of my friends telling me they are dating or engaged. I have been in—or behind the scenes of—quite a few weddings in the last year or two. This is not the first round of this life-season for me. It happened a couple of years after high school, again after my higher education terms, and now that many friends are approaching their late twenties and thirties. There have been quite a few seasons of babies among my friends, too. It is a constant ebb and flow.

None of this is surprising—it is the rhythm of life. It feels new and exciting and surreal when it happens to you or your closest friends, but it sounds pretty normal to everyone else. What might sound abnormal to some is that I am pleased for my friends, but I don’t want to be in their shoes. Oh, I have twinges of unfulfilled hopes when I watch the father-daughter dance at weddings. I am human, I want someone to go through life with—to care about and to be vulnerable with. Sappy songs make me sad every now and then. Sometimes I feel at loose ends, like I should have someone to share something with, but they aren’t there. The longing to be loved is natural, put in our hearts by Divine Love himself.

More often than not, however, I am thankful to be single. Singleness is not synonymous with loneliness. This truth often seems to evade people—especially church people. They ask some strange questions at times, and snarky me replies in my head (well-taught-me answers with much more tact). The one I hear most often rings hollow to me, “About the time I became content with my singleness, I met my spouse.” Strange, I think to myself, I’ve been contentedly, cheerfully, single for many years and ‘Poof!’ I have no husband. Thanks for sharing without caring to enquire whether or not I enjoy being single. Every now and then someone will tell me (none-too-subtly) they would like me to meet their son, though no one has ever followed through on helping such a meeting to take place. Now, I’m not opposed to getting married, it simply isn’t my calling at this point—I am quite satisfied with all that I have and am called to right now.

Words upon words have been written about relationships—both the dating kind and all others (as if those are the only two categories there are). I have heard plenty of married people tell me they wished they had enjoyed their single years while they had them. Many a single friend has told me of their ache to be married. That pain is real, I understand. Usually, I choose not to add my voice to those conversations, as they have been had many times already by people who are wiser than I am.

Rather, I choose to opine about feeling like someone who grew a third head on the spot, or like the Invisible Man at various church gatherings. How should the church treat singles? For starters, it would help not to be pitied or unseen. Singleness isn’t a disease. It would also be great if people wouldn’t ask all those frustrating questions—”Have you tried online dating?”—as if I were dying to get married, or am unaware of how to meet people of the opposite sex. If you are so concerned, invite a few unmarried men and women over for dinner so they can spend time together comfortably. It would be a relief not to be “singled” out—either made an outcast or lumped into groups of other single people. What I am trying to say is that it would be helpful if singles were treated simply as human beings, not as ‘singles’. We are persons, not slices of Kraft cheese.

Churches that don’t have a singles’ group receive my mental applause. The ones that have small groups of mixed ages are hailed with gratitude. How will I ever learn what marriage is if I don’t see it lived out in front of me (in others besides my parents)? Peer groups often feel like the blind leading the blind. I need folks who are older and wiser than I am speaking into my life, telling me their stories, sharing their wisdom and what God is teaching them through Scripture. I have friends in their forties, fifties, and sixties with whom I love spending a long evening—to hear and to share about life and Godliness. I probably need more of these friends. These are the friends who share their homes, their meals, their thoughts on literature and society—the friends who open the Word of God to me.

We are all human beings first. Yes, we are male or female. Married or unmarried. Old or young. Gifted in this or gifted in that. Dichotomies aside, however, we are all in need of Love, of Beauty, of being made Holy as God is Holy. We all need Truth to anchor our lives. We need our family and friends. We need to give and to receive—graciously, humbly. We need stillness and the sounds of life. We need time alone and time in fellowship. We all need Jesus.

Why focus on the things that divide us? Perhaps that is the reason I don’t like being labelled “single”—or “female” or “white” or whatever other label people try to stick on each other. It is not an us-against-them sort of life. Life that truly is life is lived together—and that is much harder than separating off into our little factions or comfortable autonomy, isn’t it?

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