I thought I’d take a break from all the “France” blogging and talk about an issue that I’ve been ruminating over for the past few
years months: Being a post-grad single in the church. Now, I know that a lot of ink has been spilled over this issue, telling girls to be patient and for boys to “man up”. Instead of talking gender roles I’d like to address the role of (in my case) a single girl as she navigates the (sometimes) uneven waters of church ministry. You should also probably keep in mind the fact that I’m only in my mid-twenties, not dating, childless, postgrad. What I say is not set in stone, it’s just my personal observation, buoyed by some insightful commentary. I’ll give it my best shot and you’re going to take it with a grain of salt, deal? Imma warn you now, this post is going to be long.
Today on Yahoo Mail’s news “feed”, I can across an article, entitled 10 Things Not To Say to Your Child-free Friends. While I didn’t agree with every point, some of them were actually things that I heard before from well-meaning friends and family members. One, in particular, stood out to me. I’ll just quote it directly, just for the sake of context:
5. “You’re so lucky you get to sleep in/shop/travel.”
We understand that you give up a lot to be the amazing parent you are — and we do appreciate our extra cash and free time, and god, yes, the sleep. But too many offhand comments like this make us feel like you assume the reason we don’t have children is that we’re lazy, selfish, or shallow. The decision is never that simple.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard something along those lines within the confines of Christian ministry. Some friends of mine, with spouses and children, seem to live vicariously through my quiet evenings and disposable income, although there isn’t much to speak of. And every time one of my girlfriends with babies has said this to me, I’ve instantly felt selfish and petty, like my time and finances were wasted. Why bother buying a new pair of shoes when there were diapers and baby clothes to be purchased? In ministry, especially one where singles and married people combine, the grass always seems to be greener. From where I’m standing, it always seems that single people want the blessings of marriage, and married people want the blessings given to singles. We always want what we don’t have.
Singleness, for most, is a season. For a woman in the church, it’s a very uneven one. On the one hand, you’re expected to serve, something I relish and enjoy. My ministry and participation in the local church is something that I take very seriously. One the other hand, I’m expected to “desire” marriage, prioritizing it, prizing it, “working” towards it. I never really understood that, to be honest. Yes, I’d like to get married. Yes, I’d like have a family. But I’m not going to wear a sign that says “single” around my neck each week at church, hoping some guy gets a clue. While marriage is most certainly a high and holy thing, bringing two individuals together, it’s not a given. Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t necessarily indicate a perfect marriage or 2.5 children, living in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a dog. There isn’t a lot of thought or consideration given to staying single – for life. Providentially, Desiring God posted this article about singles in the church, something that really touched home with me. The author, Carolyn McCulley, talked about what is the “ultimate prize” for any individual, single or married, within this context. She writes,
While I believe all churches should prize marriage and family, I also believe we have to be careful about the unintentional messages potentially conveyed about marriage and family. Both are gifts for this life alone. The one relationship that survives eternally is the one we have as the Bride of Christ to our beloved Savior. The relationships that we all have as brothers and sisters in Christ are the ones that will not end—and these need to be cultivated as much as family life is cultivated. Additionally, single adults need to be reminded that God has not withheld his very best from them if they remain unmarried.
Ouch. That point really stung. Coming from a large college ministry with an emphasis on dating, marriage, relationships, etc, it’s a good reality check. I’ve come home from church some days, almost in tears, because I felt like I wasn’t cultivating “proper” Biblical femininity. I’ve met with my college pastor for guidance about my grad school applications, wrestling through what it meant to be a Godly woman who wanted to get a Ph.D. I’ve had to swallow the bitter pill, the reality that I could possibly not get married or have children. And in some sense, I have to take that bitter medicine every day as I look myself in the mirror. In the Desiring God article, McCulley makes another good point, something worth weaving into ministry for both singles and marrieds alike. She writes,
Extended singleness is a form of suffering. There is an appropriate time for mourning with those who mourn. This is especially true for women who see the window of fertility closing on them without the hope of bearing children. Don’t minimize the cumulative years of dashed hopes for unmarried adults.
That said, we single adults need loving challenges when we have allowed a root of bitterness to spring up and block our prayers to God, our fellowship with others, and our service to the church. Deferred hopes cannot be allowed to corrode our thankfulness for the gift of salvation.
At 24 years old, I realize that I am young. To others, I have the world ahead of me. But to many in my shoes, a lot of it seems empty. The prospect of “dashed hopes” for any single woman is a frightening thought. It’s easy to get angry, to get bitter, to grow despondent and “drift” away from ministry because it’s not providing me with what I want. I’ll admit, sometimes I just don’t feel like serving just because I don’t feel like it’ll have any impact. I’ve told myself lies like this: “Will washing dishes at this Bible study dinner really bless anyone? I feel like I could really minister to a husband and children!” Sometimes, I feel like I’m shooting myself in the foot with this attitude. Not only do I fail to serve others (and ultimately, the Lord) but I forget the reason why I’m serving.
It’s hard to see myself as “suffering” because I’m unmarried and don’t have children. My life isn’t spent wallowing in self-pity and angst because I don’t have an engagement ring. Then again, at vulnerable moments, it feels like the cruelest torture to face getting older and going through the rest of my life alone while all my friends have families. But the point here isn’t to complain, just to illuminate a “niche” in church ministry that really needs serious prioritizing and ministry. Although singleness is (often) a season, bitter seeds can be sown, seeds that slowly grow into weeds that choke ministry and fellowship. But at the end, we need to keep our eyes on the prize, something that is unseen and eternal. Christ, in and of himself, is our hope and our perfect fulfillment. At the end of the day, whenever I feel discouraged or despondent because a relationship didn’t work out or that guy didn’t like me back, I need to remember where my joy is coming from, where this endless fountain is sourced.
It’s not about me. It’s not about the mythical “him”. It’s about Jesus, about the gospel, about the hope of forgiveness and the promise of tomorrow. That is what singles ministries are sometimes missing. And at this point, I am ready to accept whatever Christ has for my life, whether that is serving in the context of my own family or the church family (not that the two are mutually exclusive). After all, I’d never want to call the shots in my own life, if I had, I’d have missed thousands of blessings. I’m just trusting that God will give me one of two options, both glorifying him and growing my faith. End of story.