We fast and pray asking for the Lord to bring healing in our times: for men to be bold and to walk in to relationships with women, for women to be soft and willing to be molded by God’s gracious plan in their lives, and for God to give the good gift of marriage to those who desire it.
There are so many reasons that church can be hard as a single adult. It’s hard to know where to find our place in a body of believers that seems more concerned with families and marriages and children than it does with the flourishing of all believers. Or heaven forbid, concerned with the theologically-valued place for singleness and its application for married and unmarried believers alike. It’s hard when you’re new and have no place to sit. It’s hard when you’ve been there for ages and watch your friends have their spouses and eventually their children join them in the pews, while the spots next to you seem conspicuously empty. And it is hard when that voice of Singleness Shame is screaming at you the entire service: “You’re alone. You have no place. You’re a second-class citizen. No one sees you. No one knows what to talk to you about. Look, all those other people have a place to belong. You don’t. You’re alone.”
(By the way, the voice of Singleness Shame is from the pit of hell. We must be diligent to take our thoughts captive and to tell it, in the name of Jesus Christ, to go back where it came from.)
I’ve heard several single friends basically say that belonging to church is too impossible. It’s too hard when no one understands singleness. It’s too hard when all the perfect husbands are putting their perfect arms around their perfect wives and perfectly chubby babies. It’s too hard when something is always wrong (the worship, the pastor, the ministries, the graphic design, the service times, the people). It’s basically a losing battle and after a certain point, it’s just not worth it emotionally. It’s easier to be a distant consumer on the edge of the church body than to wade into the awkward, painful reality of being an active part of a church community.
And, in a sense, they’re right. The cost/benefit analysis on being an active single adult participant in the 21st century Western church is not good. It’s not a winning formula. But I’ve been thinking about it more and watching some of my single friends who have found a true home at church, and here are a few summed up thoughts and ideas about how and why it might be worth – even if it’s hard.
- Face the shame. It is so easy to feel shame at church. And this is the place where my identity in Christ has to be rock solid. It doesn’t matter what other people think when the incarnate God of the universe did not think that marriage was a non-negotiable in his earthly ministry. Church, of all places, should be a place where I can stand in my Christ-purchased identity and celebrate God’s goodness. Satan would love to turn church into a place of judgment and self-consciousness and self-hatred for us. We must expect and face those fiery arrows with God’s strength. Jesus already faced and defeated all our shame (Hebrews 12:2; Psalm 25:3; Psalm 34:5; Romans 5:5). And celebrating the victory of Jesus is precisely why we go to church in the first place.
- Welcome, and be welcomed. With a cloud of shame, it is so easy to see and feel nothing but exclusion. One of the surest ways to emerge from under that cloud is to welcome others. Extend the “hospitality” of serving with the children or being a greeter at the front door or making food for someone after surgery or visiting someone who is lonely. Invite others into your home (if possible) and invite others into your row at church. Or even ask a couple or family you enjoy if they could “adopt” you for a routine Sunday morning spot to sit.
The flip side of this is being willing to be welcomed. Allow others to minister to you in the ways that they can – even if it’s not exactly how you might have imagined it. I once joined a family for dinner even though they lived over an hour away and have five boisterous kids and were in the middle of renovating their house. But I was so happy to be welcomed in their real life and wanted to honor the invitation. Be vulnerable and allow yourself to be welcomed, even if your preferences might point in a different direction. (Probably also applies to dating, but that’s another post!)
- Share your story. Listen to the stories of others. I often feel that talking about singleness is the thing I most want to share with church friends, but that it often makes everything so awkward and difficult. People don’t know what to say, or run out of things to ask about…and so I had just started covering it up. I’d talk about my job and my housemates and whatever else seems pleasant. But that had the effect of cutting me off from intimacy with others…also not helpful! Ask the Lord for safe friendships where the real ups and downs of singleness can be shared honestly. We all need safe friendships – regardless of life stage. Ask the Lord to guide your steps to healthy, God-honoring, truth-and-grace-filled friends where you can give and receive around these issues. And look for the places where you can be the healthy, safe friend to others – regardless of age, stage or need. We need children/married/divorced/widowed/single friends, and they need us!
- Give it time. Expect difficulty. Strong relationships, even inside of healthy families, take time to build and grow. Quickly expecting our church families to magically be everything we hope for isn’t helpful. It will take time. It will take hours spent with others in their homes, and hours spent inviting folks into our homes. It will take serving together, celebrating together, grieving together, and worshipping together. It will require painful transitions and good boundaries and holding others with open hands. It will require sacrifice and putting the needs of others before our own. It will require asking for forgiveness and extending forgiveness.
And the whole thing will hit a brick wall at some point. No one who has been committed to a church body for an extended period of time will say that it has been a magical garden of delights the whole time. I sometimes wonder if committing to church is sort of like committing to marriage – we sign up knowing that we can’t see what is around the corner. We commit knowing that we have to rely on God to provide the strength to love one another. We voluntarily submit out of reverence and love for God – knowing that the other party will absolutely disappoint and hurt us (and vice versa). And yet we commit because we are sure that there is something bigger here than just a good cost/benefit analysis…we commit because it says something about who God is and how He loves us.
Life at church is not easy. But, I think, that when it goes well – it becomes a tiny taste of heaven – the place where we are home, doing thing we are most designed to do: worship God together.
Worshipping Him with you this week,