Singleness: Lise Speaks

Many of you recognize the intelligence of so many of our commenters, an illustration of which is the exceptional comment from Lise last week on the post about singles. So good was it that it deserves a post by itself:

DeGroat wrote about the importance of safety. I think that is all any of us want from a ministry – that and authenticity. The problem with singles’ ministries is that they do tend to feel like a pick up joint or a place where people who don’t really have a life congregate. I personally don’t feel safe when I know I’m being sized up, and I very much have a life. The latter isn’t my problem.

Then if there is no singles’ ministry, basically one’s options are the women’s ministries or men’s ministries (depending on gender). While there can be great benefit to same sex groups, I find women’s activities in churches can be quite tedious – i.e. teas and quilting groups. I’d rather go to the men’s watch the ball game event. Or to something where both men and women come together for I don’t have a lot of male energy in my life and I miss that.

At one church I belonged to I was in the prayer ministry that happened to have a bunch of older couples on the team. I loved this because I was treated as a sister and as a person by the married men and women. While I didn’t meet any singles in the ministry, I felt safe and seen. This was the best ministry experience I’ve had. I also greatly benefited from watching loving couples relate to one another for my parents divorced when I was quite little. However, when it came to holidays, etc. people typically spent these with their blood kin. My parents are deceased so I have spent holidays with friends for years (Christian and non-Christian).

I think it would be really neat if instead of married people always mentoring a younger married couple, they instead picked a single person to mentor. But as this doesn’t happen often, some of my closest friends in the church are with women who are widows. Even though there is about a twenty/thirty year age difference between us, I find we relate well.

DeGroat also mentions desire and longing and this is a very important topic. Within desire are seeds of the divine so whenever I find myself in touch with these feelings, I ask the Lord to reveal to me the higher intention behind them. Instead of pushing the feelings away, I invite them to teach me something in the service of my spiritual formation. Likewise, we live in bodies and the sensual aspect of our earthly experience can’t be negated. For instance, why do the elderly yearn so much to be touched and why is my cat sitting on my lap right now as I type? We are embodied creatures and must learn healthy ways to live into this phenomenon.

I wonder if there is much distinction between the single woman’s experience and the single man’s. One thing I’ve noticed is if you’re a single older woman, your sexuality can be viewed as a great threat. It seems a single guy can chum more with a married couple but somehow if a female chums with a couple, there is more fear of seduction. I find this really sad. In fact, I even had someone in a church express concern when I joined FB because somehow by being engaged in social media, something bad was going to happen. I simply want to belong. I’m not looking to upset any apple carts. I’ve lived long enough on my own that I’ve actually become quite content.

Finally, I think people can grow in their sensitivity to those who have never married or had kids. Sometimes there is an outpouring of support for the young single mom – as there should be. But this support gets all tied into the cuteness of the child and Christian idolatry of babies. But what about the woman who attends baby shower after baby shower with a smile on her face of support for the other but who can’t conceive and/or has no partner to conceive with?

In my entire life experience, few have asked me what it is like to have all my friends marry and have children and me not. And although I’ve made peace with this I think, I still tear up at baptisms. I don’t think people intentionally miss the mark on empathy. They simply don’t think. If it’s not part of their life experience, they don’t imagine themselves there.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Darcyjo

    Wow. Can I get a witness? Thanks, Lise. As an older single (widowed at 39), I can totally relate. I’m being transferred to another part of the state this summer, and I’m already dreading going through this all over again.

  • Paul

    I appreciate this post. I love having community with our single (male & female) friends, both for my wife and I and also for my kids (nothing better than having other adults pour into my kids lives).

    My experience though is that most singles in our church want the church to provide more singles type opportunities (“things for people like me” is what I often hear). Our single friends have confided in us that they often do not want to spend time with the couples/families for either schedule reasons (hard when you don’t have kids to understand the time restraints on parents) or for personal reasons (many of our single friends don’t want to be single and see our family as a reminder of their situation). As a result many of these friends seek out churches/groups filled with other (often younger) single folks.

    Is there ways I as a father/husband am contributing to this problem/divide and can work to help single folks feel more part of our community?

  • http://coffeesnob318.wordpress.com Suzanne

    Yes, Lise. Exactly this. Thank you.

  • http://faithamuses.wordpress.com Garland

    One of the issues I see in churches is that we tend to arrange our ministries by marital status and age. We should consider alternative categories to carry out ministry both within the body and outside of the body.

  • Jim

    That’s wonderful. I pastor a small church and we work toward inter-generational gatherings always. We figure if people want to take time to hang with their own (e.g. age wise) they will without our assistance.

    I can’t think of any other “organization” (for lack of a better term) that is more consistently inter-generational than the church yet we sure seem to undermine it at every opportunity.

  • Adam

    Paul,

    The two examples you give (schedule and personal) seem strange to me. I get that if you have small kids, they need to be in bed by 8 and therefore hanging out from 8-10 is probably out of the question for parents. Or with slightly older kids, with homework and soccer practice and dance, all your week nights and weekends fill up really fast. But is this just a busyness issue? And the busyness thing can be applied to singles as well. If they’re so busy getting drinks, or working, or whatever that they can’t be present to families and children we might have need to have a look at priorities. I really don’t see the issue as a singles vs families. The root question is “Are the people you church with a priority in your schedule?”

    The second example of personal reasons seems to have some unspoken underlying connotations. The desire to be married is not a bad desire but if it goes unmet it becomes painful. That pain is also not a bad thing. What typically happens however is that people try to avoid the pain. The single is told “they just need to be happy with who they are and not place all their hope in being married”. That sentence communicates “I have no interest in the fact that you’re hurting”. And that just increases the pain of loneliness.

    I just recently celebrated a birthday and out of the 20 people there, I was the only one who was not married or engaged. In the same way that Lise speaks of in her last paragraph, no one is interested in knowing how I feel about that. I can’t figure out why this is, but if you’re single, your singleness is your problem and no one else should be expected to get involved.

    So far, I have speaking about this solely in terms of singleness because that’s what the topic is, but in reality it’s much bigger than that. We can put any label in place of singleness; childless, divorced, black, gay, poor, jobless and on, and on, and on…. I agree with Lise that people are not “INTENTIONALLY missing the mark on empathy” but we are missing the mark. What we should be doing to reduce the divide is to bear each others burdens. I carry yours, you carry mine. This is how we build community.

  • gingoro

    “While there can be great benefit to same sex groups, I find women’s activities in churches can be quite tedious – i.e. teas and quilting groups.” Quilting probably is tedious but at our church they make quits for children in shelters from abuse homes. Very tedious but necessary.
    DaveW

  • Paul

    Adam,

    I think you are partly correct with priorities, but I don’t want to point fingers and say that others need to change. Part of the issue may be that I am in my early 30′s and many of our friends are under 35 (and we have young kids, which changes things)…but the way folks without kids (single & married) my age and younger expect to spend their time/life is radically different than the way those with kids do. This is about priorities, but it is also about cultural assumptions of how life should be lived. And in the meantime, I find that my family is often left to spend time with other families because many of our friends are unavailable at the times we are…

    As for the pain/hurt…thanks for your comments here. I will spend time thinking about this for sure.

  • Adam

    Paul,

    I don’t disagree with you, comments on blogs are difficult to include all situations, but I think we can do work on changing what our cultural assumptions should be. One cultural assumption is that I should focus on what’s best for me and I should gravitate towards those who are similar too and agree with what I am (politically and religiously as well). A different cultural assumption would be I should focus on what is best for my neighbors and I should embrace those who are very different from me.

    I agree that insisting that other people should change doesn’t really work or get us anywhere but I do think we need to start asking the question “Are our priorities really serving us?”

  • Naomi

    Could you link to the original post? I’m curious who “DeGroat” is that she keeps referring to. Really interesting insights though! Thanks for sharing, Lise! I think a lot of churches could learn something from you.

  • EricW
  • http://lisesletters.wordpress.com Lise

    Thanks for the wonderful, thoughtful comments. In particular, the dialogue between Paul and Adam resonated with me, as well as the need for more intergenerational activities not only in churches, but in society in general. The young and old have so much to offer each other. And don’t even get me started on how we neglect the very elderly in our society….

    Darcy – I was touched by your comment about being a young widow. I have a friend and a family member who were both widowed at young ages. It’s a situation most are completely out of touch with. When my friend was widowed many years ago, she was friends with a friend of Joe Biden. Because he had lost his first wife and children in a car crash, he took the time to write a letter of support to her, even though he had never met her. She says she still cherishes that letter and that it gave her incredible solace at the time.

    Gingoro/DaveW – I didn’t mean to make light of either the quilting art form (for it is an art indeed) or the necessity of ministries that provide important services to those in need. I was being a bit tongue in cheek to make the point that women can have similar interests to men. For instance, I love football and to surf – but I also enjoy knitting…. :)

  • Meghan

    Beautiful. Thank you for articulating so well.


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