what it means to be single in the church
So yesterday we celebrated Unmarried and Single Americans Week, with a post reviewing a cultural look at singles. Today, let’s look at what it means to be single in the Church. Almost half of the US population in 2012 was single, so pastors – here’s what you need to know about the other half of your congregation.
1. Singleness is a suffering. God said it was not good for man to be alone. So our bodies and souls are designed by God, and physiologically hard-wired for union with another. This design can never be completely satisfied by a close friendship. Singles in your church live every day with a physical awareness that they are outside the intended order. It’s like someone missing a leg: they still live a happy, productive life, but in a body that does not exemplify its original design.
2. Living outside the intended order means a man does not have a helper (the same word used for the Holy Spirit). That’s significant. (Imagine living life without the Holy Spirit!) And a woman does not have a champion, or protector. Think car repairs – where women are seen as easy targets. Friends can often help with this, but again, it’s not the same as the unique partnership of a spouse.
3. Stop comparing. Stop saying things like, “A bad marriage is infinitely worse than your worst day as a single person.” It’s just another way to dismiss our feelings and say that marriage is still more important. And really – who’s to say whether the pain is far worse never being able to experience either the joy or the pain of marriage? (Please review #1 – intended design.) And why do we need to compare anyway? What does that accomplish?
4. We don’t get to share the load. Roommates help, but that’s still different. We have to work to support ourselves. We also do all the shopping, cooking, meals, cleaning, laundry, home repairs, car repairs. (I’ve often wished I could have a wife.) As noted yesterday, more and more we take care of everyone else, too. We also tithe, serve at your church, lead small groups and take responsibility for our spiritual growth. And most importantly, we do it often without anyone ever knowing or acknowledging. Including you.
5. Singles cross all demographics: black, white, Asian, Latino. We would never intentionally exclude or diminish any of these groups. Except that we do… when they’re not married.
6. You’ve been giving us the same one message for 40 years: A. Don’t have sex unless you’re married, and B. Get married. It might be helpful to consider how our culture’s views of sex have changed in 40 years. I’m not saying change the value for sex within marriage, I’m saying change how you talk about it. For example, see #7.
7. Do the math. If you looked at the informative link above, you would see there were 87 unmarried men for every 100 unmarried women in the United States in 2012. Getting married and living happily ever after isn’t even possible for everyone. So get real. What if I have to deal with being single for the rest of my life? The sexual purity issue, for example, takes on a whole new meaning. So does gay marriage. I’ll help with this one: Marriage isn’t the answer – the Cross is. Because we are all called to go to the cross and deny ourselves. Married people have to deny themselves wants and priorities and sex with other people. Promoting marriage as the solution to our needs has actually been a great disservice.
8. Based on the math, it’s easy to see why singles often give up and marry non-believers, live together, have affairs with married people. It’s possible that investing more attention and teaching towards singles would be a proactive way to improve marriage. Call me crazy.
9. In the Church, single parents are considered “heroic.” And here’s a different view on this. I know that good people get abandoned and dumped and cheated on, and end up with children and difficult financial situations. But I also know that frankly, a lot of people just made bad decisions: they got married too young, married the wrong person, rushed into it. They made a mistake. And now, to some degree, they are living with the consequences of that mistake. Yes, they deserve grace and support. But I’ll tell you what’s truly “heroic”: the single person who waited to make the right decision, and refused to make the wrong one. That’s heroic.
10. The truth is, we don’t actually need more attention on singles – we just need more sensitivity and consideration for them for the reasons given above, and as part of the body of Christ. What we really need is more focus on growing disciples, not marriages, or families, or parents, or abstinent singles. You will get healthy marriages, families, parents, and singles by growing committed disciples, married or not.