Hang nail, big toe, or _____ ?

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On Mondays at lunch, we pray (and fast) for godly men to be emboldened, for godly women to be softened, and for godly marriages to be formed and preserved in God’s timing and grace.

Ever wonder where you fit in? I don’t mean in the middle school boy “let me spray on more Axe” kind of way. As a Christian, I know that God has a plan and purpose for my life, a reason for sucking air on this planet. He tells us this in the Bible through verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and Romans 8:29. The creator of the universe loves us and designed us to “fit” into His kingdom.

So, why is it so hard for me to translate this cognitive understanding into a practical “fit” in the body of Christ, the church? In I Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church to the physical body. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). I have a part, but what is it?

If there is one place where I feel my singleness, it’s in the church. We file into an open room on Sundays where most people are seated in clumps. If you don’t have a cluster to sit with, it’s universally understood that you leave a seat buffer between strangers, unless it’s exceptionally crowded. Thus if I go alone, I end up sitting alone.

Then we run down the list of classes or small groups, where they are usually broken out into categories of life stages (young marrieds, married with kids, over 50, etc.). Again, I wonder where I fit. If there is a category for those single and over 30, I often struggle with feeling relegated to the corner of the room with misfits (no offense meant to other participants, just me feeling left out). Even with the women’s activities so much centers on wives and mothers, from the topics discussed to the time of the gatherings (like I can attend a 10am Tuesday Bible Study) that I often feel left out.

One church I attended would have special evening services on the eve of Thanksgiving and Christmas where at the end of the service they asked attendees to gather with their families for communion. I was living over 1000 miles from my parents and siblings at the time, talk about feeling awkward as everyone gathered in clusters.

It’s sad that within the family of God, singles can end up feeling more like a hang nail than a functioning, participating, and valued member of the body. But here is another thing that I know is true, if the enemy of our soul (Satan) can keep us focused on how much we don’t fit in and feeling unwanted then he can limit the full potential of the individual and the body.

I wonder how you avoid feeling sidelined in the church. How do you feel connected to the body of Christ? What advice do you have for other singles looking to have a greater role in the purpose of the church? Is there a place for single women outside of the role of nursery worker?

A card carrying member of the body of Christ,

Michelle

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36 Responses to Hang nail, big toe, or _____ ?

  1. Maribel Gonzalez says:

    Hi Michelle,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog today! As a single woman, I can relate to what everyone commented on. The church I belong to is pretty large, and I attend by myself. Once in a while I’ll find someone to sit with, but the majority of the time I sit by myself. I feel happy for the families I see sitting together with their children, but that also reminds me that I have no one sitting beside me.

    I have prayed and prayed about my singleness, and one of the things that has helped me is learning how to pray for God to help me draw closer to Him. I also changed my focus by praying that God would help me accept my single status instead of focusing on asking for a partner. God assures us that we should “…not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” — Philippians 4:6. I pray that all of us here and others going through the same thing are comforted in Christ!

    • Michelle says:

      Maribel, good point about how we approach God should be the same way we approach church… How can we know God better and through that relationship how can we serve others; instead of looking for what we get from God and church.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Although I am married, I am currently walking as a spiritually single mom & wife and can certainly relate to church sometimes feeling like the loneliest place to be when I walk into a big auditorium to find a seat alone or walk into a Sunday School class filled with couples by myself. The Sunday they had everyone come up as families to take communion and I was alone taking communion as everyone else (it seemed) stood in groups was a very difficult week. Quite honestly it’s often the need to get the three children to church that drives me to get there. The church I attend is pretty large and I have asked the Director of Women’s Ministry if she knows of anyone in a similar situation as me that I could connect with for support and she didn’t know of one other woman in the entire church. I’m thinking there’s no way I’m the only person walking in this situation but it is very tough to find support for these unique situations. I have sought out an older lady to be a prayer partner and am looking to join a small group but it’s tough for them to really relate unless they’re going through it themselves. It does seem there needs to be more awareness and plans put in place to reach those of us not fitting into the “standard” groups like 20 something singles or married/family groups.

    • Michelle says:

      Will be praying for you to find more connections at church and for your marriage, Stephanie. I’m glad that you’ve been able to connect with an older woman in the church, reminds me of Titus 2:3-5.

      • Stephanie says:

        So today, I’m sitting at church alone and this woman came up and asked if anyone is sitting there and sat right next to me.. no buffer seat! That never happens and I just had to laugh inside remembering this conversation and thinking….”God’s just cool like that.”

  3. Jonathan says:

    I have to admit Michelle, I was a little hesitant on posting a comment, but I was moved by the conversations. I’m a 30-something man who has been single since his early 20’s and let me tell you it has been everything but easy, but can say I’m “successfully” single. As for finding my place in the Kingdom while being a single preacher, that has been a huge challenge. I feel sort of a non-verbal pressure from my church family [which I love] to be married as they observe me entering a leadership role. It gets annoying when someone thinks I’m trying to steel their wife though. The one thing that keeps me from losing my mind and keeping my sanity, is the “Helper” the Holy Spirit the one that walks along side. I’ve had to learn to trust Him in my weakness. God challenged me before, asking me,”what if you never get married, will you still follow me? And that very thing provoked me to go on a hot-pursuit for his presence and purpose for my life. We might have to shed a few tears and have a few sleepless nights, but during this time of singleness pursue the heart of the father… In His presence all of our desires are fulfilled..

    • Michelle says:

      Jonathan thanks for pushing past the hesitancy and sharing with us. “In His presence all our desires are fulfilled,” I’m reminded again when reading this that desire is insatiable outside of His presence. Keeping desire in check now, can only help us to have a right perspective on marriage (where we will be faced with a different set of unmet desires).

      There is something you alluded to that I’ve noticed as well in some circles and have marveled at. It might need to be discussed/pointed out in a future blog or survey or beach plane banner… Married women (particularly in the church) feeling like single men are a calling card for their matchmaking services. I know someone that kept a budding relationship a secret because of the frenzied questions from the mother hens. I guess it can be chalked up to everyone has a “part” to play in the body!

  4. Anna Ramey says:

    I agree with the many comments about being part of a small church! I too am a member of one (for many years) and rarely feel disconnected. I have discussed singleness with my elders and all have responded with great concern and increased awareness. One even did a special seminar on singleness as a response.

    Our mentality will dictate our life. We MUST avoid a victim mentality. It’s just self-centeredness. If I my identity = ‘Single’ then I will interpret everything through that lens. I have never found it to be that simplistic. Every situation in my life has many variables: personality, hormones… God has commanded us to take charge of our life (Gen 1 – rule, subdue). I don’t let my singleness get in the way of serving at my church, and so I’ve never had a problem with people having an issue with it either. I find no command in Scripture regarding my role as a woman in the church that I cannot obey because I am not married. There is so much desperate need out there for discipleship, hospitality, service, etc that I have a hard time understanding why people don’t know where they fit in the body of Christ. Granted it takes a long time to find our specific gifting. I’ve had to just throw myself into things and figure it out. It’s not always fun, but there is just no other way to know. Even if we don’t find a specific niche in our local gathering, the needs in our larger community and other christian organizations are massive!

    I think Michelle hit the nail on the head when she said “But here is another thing that I know is true, if the enemy of our soul (Satan) can keep us focused on how much we don’t fit in and feeling unwanted then he can limit the full potential of the individual and the body.”

    Of course we’ve all had people say and do stupid things to us related to being single. But I’ve also said and done stupid stuff to mothers, wives, widows, elders, children, men, divorced, the chronically ill… Every stage in life has its special needs, and we ALL need greater awareness of others. Singleness is just one of those stages. So like another commented, let’s use our own hurt to identify with the hurts of others and serve them for Christ’s glory.

    • Michelle says:

      Anna, great perspective! Thank you for serving where you are and looking outside of yourself to find those hurting and in need. Making a difference one person at a time!

  5. Jennifer says:

    I’ve given up on attending church for the foreseeable future. I’m not saying I’ll never return, but I doubt it will be anytime soon.

    I was a regular attender at one church and even volunteered weekly. Yet very few women would ever talk to me. I’m not a wife or mother, I’m not a size 2 scrapbooking fashionista, I’m not in “the industry,” so I was ignored. After leaving that church, I spent several weeks at two other churches where, despite my best efforts of getting involved in smaller groups, etc., nothing ever clicked. Going to church each week was becoming such a depressing event that it seemed rather pointless. Now I record church programs on my dvr and/or listen to podcasts. I’m getting about as much out of “church” as I was before without feeling depressed about it, and I’ve had more people talk to me in Meetups than ever did in all of my Sundays at church.

    • Michelle says:

      Jennifer, thank you for your honesty, for I’m sure you speak for more people than the church would like to admit. Your comments make me realize that I need to be more aware of who is around me at church. I’ve been attending a church that is 45 mins from my house, which makes getting more involved very difficult, which in turn leaves me feeling disconnected. That however, does not preclude me from being aware and trying to connect to those that I can interact with while there.

      I’ll be praying that God will bring people into your life that will begin to heal the wounds you’ve experienced from the church. There are many times when my christian friends have formed the community that I needed to challenge me and grow my faith.

  6. Theresa says:

    I attend a very tiny church. It rocks. You cannot be ignored or invisible. And as far as being “shy” goes – introverted you may be, but even shy people need to find some sort of way to reach out to others. Introverts should be praying for divine appointments and open doors to building relationships with others. I have learned over the years how to be an outgoing introvert. I force myself to talk to strangers, it’s not comfortable, but it’s worth it.

    • Theresa says:

      The shy comment was in response to other comments, not the actual blog.

      • Michelle says:

        It’s interesting how many people have commented about finding community in small churches. Glad that you have found a way to “force” yourself to connect with others, Theresa. You have a good point that sometimes we need to take responsibility for connecting with others and not just blame others for not making the effort.

  7. Danielle says:

    Our recent Bible studies at my church have been about this very topic: everyone having a part to play in the body of Christ. If we’re a spleen, we have an important part to play and can’t compare our jobs to the ear or wish we could be like the tibia bone (just picking random parts, no rhyme or reason :P). And along with finding our ‘part’ in the body, we should actively reach out to others so they know that they are ‘connected’. Our leadership has emphasized for a while now the importance of breaking out of the usual pew space, finding someone who is new to you, introducing yourself to them and even going a step further and inviting them to sit with you (or you sit with them). Now that we’ve recently moved into a larger church to accommodate our growing congregation, this is even more important. And while there are people that don’t feel comfortable doing that, many have and I’ve heard from quite a few people (single, married, young, old) who are now regular members that said being so lovingly and quickly embraced by others when they were new helped ease the awkwardness of it all and they were compelled to come back to our church because they felt like they immediately belonged. A few months ago I introduced myself to a new woman I saw. This led to multiple chats after services, then a small lunch here or there, and exchanging of e-mails and phone numbers. Come to find out she’s going through a difficult situation that I similarly went through several years back. She’s single and her family is hundreds of miles away. God’s been able to use me to minister to her during this tough time and help her out in ways others (who haven’t faced this situation) wouldn’t be able to do. I was just thanking God for this yesterday, because in my extended singleness, I’m finally realizing that it’s not all about me (imagine that! hahahaha!). If I had gotten married back in my 20s, then I might not have the perspective of wanting to reach out to others because (knowing me) I’d be too preoccupied with myself, my husband and my family to have the eyes to see another’s need. But God’s been opening my eyes and ears more and more over the years to the needs and hurts of others and I’m thankful for that. And that’s only one example of how He’s redeeming my season of singleness…and I realize that yes I’m single *and* I’m also a fruitful member of the body contributing in my own unique way. I have a part because I *am* a part 🙂

    • Michelle says:

      Love this Danielle! “I have a part because I am a part!!!!” YEPPER
      How cool is it when we help someone and end up learning more about ourselves in the process. Thank you for sharing a little of your learning with us!

  8. Alice says:

    When I moved to a new city, I chose a church that was smaller so people would notice if I was missing and that also had a meal each week in the small groups. This helped me get to know people. I have also talked with the pastor about making sure the older singles in the congregation are included in illustrations and just the general ethos of the church. When I first arrived (three years ago) the motto was that our church was a family of families. I asked the pastor where I fit. Am I a family? Now he just talks about church being family. Period.

    I think we can do much to educate people on an older single’s perspective. At the same time, we can be alert for other people who are alone or new and reach out to them the way we want to be reached out to. I sit down next to someone else – whether they are alone or not. I engage those who are new in conversation. My housemate has a group of people that she does something with almost every week after church. Sometimes they go out to eat and other times they have a simple meal at one of their homes.

    • Michelle says:

      Great to know that you took a proactive approach to being a voice in the congregation. There was a comment made from the pulpit the other week at church and I knew I should speak up for the single, over 30, perspective, but time marched on and I didn’t… Thanks for the reminder that it can make a difference!

  9. Amy says:

    I’m in an intergenerational small group at my church, one perk of which is that I automatically have people to sit with if my roommate doesn’t make it some weekend. Also, I really appreciate belonging to a church where people don’t observe the mandatory-seat-buffer rule. If I’m sitting by myself, it’s not unusual for someone (often one of the many salt-of-the-earth older couples) to file in and sit down right next to me. Those kind of norms have become something I look for when choosing a church or visiting other congregations.

    • Michelle says:

      What? No seat buffer? Maybe this is a matter of geography, my area has a huge personal space rule. I just might try to change that one sitting at a time! Thanks for sharing about how you’ve connected with your church body!

  10. After much prayer, I made the decision to leave a large mega-church in my area and began attending a much smaller one. And it was the best decision I ever made. The church is small enough that it would be impossible to divide everyone up by age and marital status, so I am simply another adult in the congregation, not one with a big “S” on my forehead. It has been wonderful getting to know the older folks and the younger families. I never wanted to be defined by my marital status! It was easy to be anonymous at the large church, and the pastor didn’t even know my name. But in the smaller one, the pastor has taken an interest in my life as a single, even asking my input on a recent sermon series on marriage. And so, we are learning from each other. Attending a smaller church or even considering changing churches might not be for everyone, but for this single, it turned out to be a very good choice.

    • Michelle says:

      Love the cross-generational sharing that you are experiencing at the smaller church. We would probably be amazed at the different “categories” within a church that feel disconnected, age being one that could be overlooked. So glad you got rid of the letter on your forehead!

  11. Margi says:

    I live in Florence, Italy for 10 months of the year and go to an episcopal church. In the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe we have discussed having a singles’ ministry. Many people find themselves single for various reasons these days, not everyone is looking for a partner but we all need fellowship and we feel there is a new ministry emerging there. I spend summers in Vancouver, Canada where St. John’s Vancouver, an Anglican church, has a ‘singles’ dinner on Tuesday nights, meaning a dinner for people who don’t have a family to go home to and would enjoy a meal and fellowship with others. Sometimes people who do have a family to go home to come. It’s great spiritual sharing and togetherness.

    • Melody says:

      Hey! I’ve been to that dinner!! I also am involved with some of the programs at St. James! Small world.

    • Michelle says:

      Ciao! First, your residence choices sound amazing! Food seems to be a good way to bring people together and foster conversation, I think Jesus was a fan of this method too. Will pray for your singles’ ministry and for it to connect people together and to God.

  12. Melody says:

    I have always struggled with being unintentionally single and then having these feelings of loneliness and left-outedness during church events or just getting to know people in the church. I live in Vancouver, a large urban center in Canada, where lots of people are away from their extended families. One thing I have valued about my current church community is an emphasis on inter generational activities. We are a smaller body so, even if their was a 30-something singles category, there probably wouldn’t be very many of us. Either way, it’s important to be in community and relationship with those in different life stages and those at different stages of their spiritual development, and I feel blessed to be part of a community that values this. I do have to say that even becoming a part of this community is HARD! It is hard every where we go and it doesn’t help when we are shy or have a hard time meeting people. I think what helped me in my setting was the way I was able to fulfill needs and desires of families around me. As I mentioned, without extended family around parents appreciated when other adults would pour into relationship with their kids, and didn’t mind an extra emergency contact when someone was sick either. I still have other single friends for sure, but my small group, my invites to birthday parties, my experience at church would not be the same without these different people, with their different wisdom in my life. I think the most important thing for us to remember is WE ARE VALUABLE!!! We are single, beautiful, intelligent women, who may have a different schedule than our married friends, but are appreciated by the ways we can be volunteers in the church, pour into relationship with others in the church and be welcoming, and, for me, by pouring into the lives of other peoples children (and for many other reasons not listed). My hope is for us to find and see our value to our community and to trust that it takes time and perhaps a little risk taking too!

    • Melody says:

      Forgot to say: Could we be the ones to educate our church family on how to treat us singles? No longer can we anticipate, or expect, that everyone at some point will be paired with someone else, and that is OK. I know, there is a lot of change in attitude that has been happening in our community of late around what sorts of things we have large celebrations for. It is important to celebrate those relational things like marriage and babies, but also equally important to celebrate achievements like education, work, or birthdays. I just turned 30 and decided to throw a significantly large party than I had ever before. I thought, I may never get married but I am still worth celebrating! Perhaps we can start being advocates for ourselves?

      • Deb B says:

        i heard of another website (Boundless) that was challenging singles to “rock the body” by showing up for church. If those that have been avoiding it for awhile suddenly showed up en masse it might open a few eyes!
        I love the idea of a celebraton “just because”. I was pondering this yesterday as I walked past a baby shower that was being held at church. Us single ladies never get to be “showered”. It reminds me of the older brother in the story of the prodigal son when he complains that his father never threw a party for him the father explained that all he had was his and he could have had a party any time he wanted to. Hmmm, I might start talking to the ladies at my church about having a “just because” shower…

        • Michelle says:

          Hey Deb, I, for one, would like to see some attractive men show up en masse at my church:-) Is there a date they targeted (I don’t want to be sick that day)?

          I think we, as fellow singles, should be on the lookout for reasons to celebrate each other for those special or just needed parties!

      • Michelle says:

        Good stuff Melody! Thanks for joining the conversation. I visited Vancouver in January and loved it! I went to a church and happened on a mission’s conference, it was awesome to see God at work in another part of the world. I think it’s great that you connect with couples living away from family by providing child care, it does more for the health of the church than we probably realize.

  13. Holly says:

    I’ve found that by volunteering to be a part of the liturgy by reading (or being a greeter or giving communion…fill in what is needed at your church) has helped me to take the focus off my “I’m by myself at church AGAIN” status. With my action I hope to say to Christ that I’ll give thanks for the Living Word and contribute to the body of Christ through my participation. And I at least know some familiar faces through volunteering for that ministry. This in no way completely erases feeling alone when I often sit by myself at church, however I will go to mass either way….Thanks Michelle for the thought provoking blog and your honesty.

  14. Heather says:

    I too would love to hear thoughts on this topic. Church is one of the places that I feel most lonely. I’ve gone to the same church for the last 5 years (every week) and still sit alone. I have a more shy personality so showing up to a church activity or event where I don’t know anyone is very intimidating! I’ve tried different services and sitting in different areas but still no one has reached out. I would be interested in knowing how others are breaking this barrier.

    • fast. pray. says:

      Heather, I’m glad you joined the discussion. Putting yourself “out there” to meet people can be very intimidating, but I bet there are others in your church feeling the same way. An ad in the bulletin probably isn’t a good idea, right? Just kidding!

  15. Lulu says:

    No way Michelle, I was just discussing this exact topic with my brother last night. I’m stuck in pharmacy school 3 hrs away from my family. I have no time to get plugged in and I’m too shy to start introducing myself. This is not who I am, and feel like I’m stuck in a rut and hate sounding like I’m dwelling in my singleness. Would love some advice as well 🙂

    • fast. pray. says:

      Lulu, I love when conversations become themes! I think there are times in life, like working on a degree, when our connection to the local body isn’t as involved and that’s ok. It’s good to have family and friends to be a support from a distance during these times. Will pray for a way (& time) for you to build local connections too.

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