The Valentine’s Day confession you’ve all been waiting for: It’s hard being single.
The real confession I’ve been waiting to make: What’s harder than simply being single is being single in the Church.
There, I said it.
I mean, I get it. Biblical marriage is good and it’s wonderful and it’s ordained by God and it should be celebrated at church. For sure—I’m a fan of celebrating marriage and family. BUT there are some in-between-the-lines messages about the unmarried (single or single again) that get sent alongside that celebration if you’re not careful.
Somehow it feels as though marriage is the standard of maturity and viability of an adult. But adulthood is changing. People aren’t getting married until late twenties or early thirties, for a variety of reasons.* This is not necessarily a bad thing—in many cases it is very, very good. But when the Church fails to recognize cultural trends, it fails to meet and love people wherever they are.
Somehow, when you’re single in the Church (and particularly when you’re a single woman in the Church) you’re approached with a downcast, mournful, I’m-sorry-your-life-hasn’t-started-yet tone. Whenever someone asks me if “there’s anybody in my life yet,” I want to respond with another question:
“Am I Not Enough?”
I know, I know. They’re only asking because they care and they want me to be happy.** But they don’t realize the message that gets sent in the question: You’re missing something. You’re incomplete. You need a husband. You’re not enough.
Can I just say—there are plenty of other voices in our lives telling us we’re not enough: we’re not thin enough, we’re not pretty enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not competent enough, we’re not sweet enough, we’re not enough of this or enough of that.
Shouldn’t the Church—of all places and of all people—be affirming our value? Our completeness? Our enough-ness?
Fact: God says I am enough. God made me in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). God has called me His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). God values my sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). God does not require marriage (I Corinthians 7). God uses me as a living room for the Holy Spirit, married or not (I Corinthians 6:19). God loves me no matter what (Romans 8:38-39). God sent Jesus to die for me whether I’m married or single (John 1:12).
Fact: I want to get married someday. But that’s not happening right now, and it would be wrong to make an idol out of marriage in my life. So for now I’m just doing the next right thing—whatever it is God puts before me, that’s what I’ll do. Right now, it’s being single, being the coolest aunt ever to 7 kiddos, and changing the world through stories with Shattered Magazine. I’m okay with that.
Fact: Here’s the thing—I may never get married. It’s very possible God does not have someone for me. I might never get married and eventually I’m going to have to be okay with that. And I need you to be okay with that. Because you not being okay with that is not helping me be okay with that. Okay? Okay. Thanks. 🙂
Let me be clear about two things. First, I am not alone in this plight. I’ve talked with unmarried women all over the country—literally—who are experiencing the same things I am. This not just an off-kilter perception in my own head. It’s a problem in churches everywhere.
Second, I’m very thankful for the people in my church who always respect and treat me like I am a real person, regardless of my marital status. Thank you—you know who you are, because I’ve thanked you for this before.
The Solution? Affirmation.
What the unmarried need from you is love and affirmation. Affirm our significance and value apart from our marital status. Ask us what we’re doing for work—what we love about our jobs, or what we hate about our jobs (work is a love-hate relationship for everyone, isn’t it?), or how to pray for us in our jobs. Ask us what we’re excited about in the next few months—a road trip? A new ministry? The beach? Don’t avoid the topic of marriage entirely, but be aware of the tone and frequency of your comments.
Tangible affirmation is also a huge encouragement: Invite us to dinner at your house or out after church. Invite us to sit with you at the church dinner.*** Drop a Starbucks card in the mail. Send us your favorite recipe that can be frozen. Maybe, if you know someone who lives alone, give them something you might take to a wedding shower. Or pick up one of those small crockpots for that single guy who’s probably eating Ramen four days a week. Pick out some favorite slow cooker recipes or pick up the ingredients for an easy meal.
Whatever you do, whether tangibly or not—be you. Do something you would do—but be the you who intentionally cares for and loves and values and affirms people regardless of what’s on or not on their left hand.
Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Please don’t pity me because I’m single on Valentine’s Day. (Or any day.) It’s not a curse. It’s not a disease. I’m not miserable because I’m single, so please don’t assume I am. Don’t feel sorry for me about something I don’t even feel sorry for. Instead, just love me for who I am, and don’t pity me for what I’m not. Affirm my personhood and love me no matter what’s on—or not on—my left hand. And I’ll do the same for you.
Spot on Em. Well written and reasoned. I love your blend of humor, clarity, and transparency. Unfortunately, I have had married friends tell me (or show me) “I wish I could go back to being single. I choose poorly. Now I’m stuck.”
Keep writing about your life and relevant topics.
Thanks for your good work!
Thanks, Darrell. And thanks for always being a voice of affirmation in my life!
Excellent article. Thanks for being real.
Spot on! I have noticed and despised this trend in the church. Love your perspective. 🙂
Thanks! And thanks for recognizing and helping to solve this problem. 🙂
Good “In the Real World “stuff Miss Emily ! Thanks for writing.