Every day, society bombards us with the message that if we are not in a dating relationship something is seriously wrong with us. Dating, love, and sex are unavoidable topics in this generation. Turn on the radio and you’re bound to hear about 20 songs back to back about love and heartbreak. Go for a walk and you will see billboard ads that suggest the reason you’re single is because of dandruff, bad breath, or your skin condition. Go to the mall to buy new clothes and your eyes will instantly be met with two half-clad lovers striking some type of sexy pose. The message that being single is not ok is everywhere – even, and perhaps especially, within the Evangelical Church. Every time I try to find a sermon to listen to the sermon somehow ends up being about godly marriage, fighting sexual temptations, or raising Godly children. Well meaning members of the church nosily ask if I have found someone yet. Am I married? Engaged? Dating at the very least? When I tell them I am in none of those categories they usually respond with, “what’s your problem? When I was your age I was married with two children and the third on the way.” It’s as if the weight of dating and relationships are placed solely on the shoulders of the one who is single. The message is set: the Church has no room for anyone who is over the age of 21 and not with the person they are going to marry (or in some cases are already married to).
Additionally, I’ve noticed that all sorts of Christian blogs have been written and shared on Facebook suggesting the following things:
* You’re single and you’re downright miserable about it, but all you have to do is just wait for Mr. (or Mrs.) Right to come along. God has chosen them since before your birth. Don’t worry, it will happen. In the meantime, try to get over how miserable you actually feel.
* I got married at 19 and I’m now 26, but I’m going to tell you how awesome living the single life really is. I know you might not actually listen to me, but I feel lonely even though I’m married.
* Don’t hate on me because I got married at 23. At 23 I was mature enough. Age is not everything. If you’re over 23 and not married…well…what’s YOUR problem???
* You’re absolutely, hands-down, going to marry the first person you date. God’s not going to put any duds in your life. There’s no point in dating unless you’re going to get married within 6 months.
* Anytime you even briefly think about sex (if you’re not married) you are committing a grievous sin. You’re lusting. Go to confession right away. Don’t you know you’re supposed to be asexual until you get married and then BAM! Everything will be figured out.
I got tired of continuing to read these often naïve, simplistic, and judgmental blog posts written by people who either are clearly begrudging their singleness or else toting singleness as the most amazing thing in the world (even though they have spent their entire adult life married) so I decided to write one of my own. As a single young adult who has never been married, engaged, or in a serious relationship for more than 3 months, let me give you my spin on the whole topic of how Churches can engage and care for single members of their congregation:
1) Don’t Idealize Singleness – Do Realize That For Many People Singleness Is a Stage, Try To Help Them See How It Can Be An Important One
A statistic that I’ve heard more than once is that the average Canadian woman gets married around age 26 and the average man gets married closer to 30. This means if you are a woman who got married under the age of 26 or if you’re a man who got married before 30, you have a relatively low concept of what it truly means to be single. This is especially the case if you happened to get married when you were 19 or 20 (thus spending your entire adult life in a committed partnership).
One of the most frustrating things for me as a single person is hearing people who have been married for 20, 30, or 50 years tell me how great they think being single is. They really have no clue. They are oblivious to the challenges a single Christian young adult faces (especially someone trying to get into vocational ministry – a profession that often implicitly requires marriage preferably with kids). If I tell them how difficult it is for a church to accept me as a pastor, they come up with reasons why it shouldn’t be a problem. Here’s the deal: it SHOULDN’T be a problem. But it is. Especially for women. It is hard enough for women to be accepted in leadership positions within the church as it is, but when that woman is single…well…that makes it even worse for her.
Rather than going on about how great you think being single is (when you really have no clue), don’t pretend like singleness is the ideal. Realize that some people are not married and that’s ok. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it just is. Sometimes the person can choose to change that and sometimes they can’t. Love and accept them for who they are – right now, at this stage in their life. That’s the best thing you can do for them.
2) Don’t Assume that Every Single Man/Woman Is Desperate, Sexually Frustrated, or Miserable – Do Find Out What Their Passions Are.
Oftentimes, I have well-meaning Christian adults try to console me by saying “don’t be desperate to find someone. Don’t rush into marriage. Don’t marry a non-Christian and compromise your morals. It will happen at the right time.” The problem is not in what they are saying, the problem is in how they are saying it. You see, these individuals never asked me how it felt to be single and consequently I never told these people what emotions were running through my head. Therefore, why should they assume that I am miserable just because I don’t have someone?
Being single in a romance obsessed culture is HARD (there’s no way around that), BUT there are also additional blessings that single people receive that married people miss out on. What am I talking about, you may ask? Well, singles have a lot more freedom. For example, I often think of the fact that I am my own person. I can choose to get up at a certain time or sleep in. I can choose to stay up all night celebrating my friend’s birthday party, or leave whenever I start to feel tired. I can choose to leave my room however I want it. I can choose what I want to do with my life – where I will study and what degree I will pursue, whether or not I want to spend a year abroad, whether or not I want to take more hours at my workplace. I can do all of these things without having to consult another person. Additionally, as a single person, I feel I can really pour more into my ministries because I don’t have the additional pressures of being a wife and mother yet. I don’t have to worry about the youth group going overtime because I have two screaming babies who refuse to sleep until I tuck them in. You see, there are actually several good things about being single.
One of my friends once told me that everyone not in a dating relationship is miserable and the people who try to say they aren’t are just trying to cover that up. To me, nothing could be further from the truth. In A Living Alternative I share that “singleness is a gift, not a consolation prize.” I still hold firmly to that truth.
So, instead of assuming the worst of your single friends, why not find out what else is happening in their lives. What they find fulfilling and how they are planning to live into those passions more. Ask them questions like: What Makes Them Tick? What Do They Enjoy Doing? What Brings Fulfillment In Their Life? What Relationships (With Family Or Friends) Do They Have That They Can Cling On To and Live To the Fullest?
These kinds of questions are fun, take the pressure off the person, and show that not every conversation needs to be about dating, love, or romance.
3) Don’t Constantly Pressure, Nag, or Cajole Someone to Date – Do Ask Open-Ended Non-Specific Questions
I have often found that Christians like to pressure their friends to get married and date. The problem is: what if the person is just not ready for that yet? Some people will be ready at 19, 21, or 23 and that’s great. But it’s unrealistic to assume that everyone is going to be in that same position. Asking someone why they aren’t dating or worse yet, if something is wrong, just puts added pressure on the single person. Being single is hard enough without guilt trips, sympathy, or jokes. Instead of the first question being “So Have You Found Someone Yet” ask “So What’s New In Your Life?” By asking non-specific open-ended questions, you’re actually engaging in a conversation with your single friend. Not one that tears them down, but one that empowers them.
4) Don’t Needlessly Set The Single Person Up With Someone From Your Congregation Or School Who Is Clearly Not A Good Fit For Them Just Because You Are Desperate For Them To Get Married – Do Continue To Encourage Them To Spend Time With Their Friends and If You Know Of Anyone (Same Gender or Not) Who Might Have Things In Common With Them Then Introduce.
Okay, this one is the absolute worst one for me. I hate when people try to set me up with individuals who are clearly not a good match for me – we don’t have anything in common, our personalities are polar opposite, and the spark of attraction just isn’t there. And why? All because they think I should no longer be single. In the past 4 months alone, I have had someone try to set me up with a guy who was already dating another girl, another guy who wasn’t dating yet but was clearly very interested in someone else, someone in their first year of university (meanwhile I just completed my masters) and someone more than 20 years my senior.
Rather than seeing every opportunity as a chance to date, churches should try just try to foster friendships. It’s okay to be friends with someone of the opposite gender without it turning into some romance obsessed relationship. It really is. It’s okay to hang out in mixed groups without it being awkward. It’s possible to have a very good male friend who you do not find attractive at all, but still respect and treat as a brother.
When churches take the pressure off dating, and instead focus their energy and effort on friendships in general, I think the dating will just happen more naturally. Best of all, it won’t be forced and it will be meant from the heart.
5) Don’t Exclude Them From Church Events – Do Continue To Have Intergenerational Events And Don’t Make a Big Deal About Whether People In the Mixed Group Are Single, Engaged, Or Married
After I graduated from grade 12, I no longer had a place in my church. There were several young adult happenings, but when I inquired about them I was told that these groups were reserved for newly married couples and young families. Suddenly, the very hub of all of activity and social life ceased to exists for me. I was too old to be a youth, but not at the same life stage as my young adult peers.
Looking back, I feel this is a grave disservice to single young adults. There’s no reason they should be excluded from the church. We can all learn something from one another. What about making the church more intergenerational? Children, young adults, and seniors all hanging out together, sharing stories and sharing life. The young adults mentoring the youth and the older adults mentoring the newly married couples. I believe that with less segregation, our church will go far.
Conclusion: God wired each one of us for relationships. We are meant to do our life in community. We aren’t meant to do this Jesus-thing alone. BUT community will look very different to each person. For some, that might mean having a community right in their own home with their husband and three children. For another, that might mean living in an intentional community for some time. And for yet another, that might just mean being involved in their town or city. Regardless of where someone is at in their life stage, we are called to help them cultivate and grow this sense of community, this sense of belonging. By taking away the pressure to date, and instead instilling it into God’s mandate for all to belong and live in relationship I believe that our church will go far. So the next time you meet a single person don’t assume they are miserable instead ask them “what’s new in your life? What gives you fulfillment?” You may be surprised at the answer. And you may just learn something.