I’m still on the fence about open letters. I am not sure one letter could be applicable to all audiences who read it. However, I do happen to know about being single and being in the church so I think I can speak to this aspect openly.
Dear *Church – the body, not the building,
I have been single for the majority of my life. In the church body, this often has some unintentional hurts.
First is the idea that the single people in the church should be married (and then married with children and then…). The idea that marriage is a goal has been set up since I can remember. This has been said verbally as well as non-verbally; directly and indirectly. And let’s be fair, this is not as much about the church casting the single people into a shadow as it is about previously held culture expectations (as well as the Biblical design of men and women). Then, when the culture began to shift, the church proclaiming (with good intentions) that True Love Waits and Kissing Dating Goodbye that created good boundaries for safety in a shifting world but they were boundaries so tight that we never really learned how to relate. And what began as hope for the single person has somehow been tainted as sympathy regarding marriage. Whether this rests with the church body as a whole or the single people for choosing to interpret the message this way, the outcome is the same.
There is also the Disney effect that let us believe that we would be rescued from ______ despite _______ . If not Disney, then Jane Austin. Because Mr. Darcy is just as unattainable as Prince Charming. If not Jane Austin, then another fairy tale that has been told to pass the time and let us dream (these are good things; too much of a good thing though…).
And don’t tell me that men do not suffer from any of the above and that they do not want to be the hero. Look at the biggest fear of man and you will see their greatest desire. I have seen the hearts of man and the biggest fear I can see is failure – to not be enough, to not be able.
(This is such a large soapbox for another time.)
Second, that singles should have their own ministry or place of intentional inclusion for concern that they would be marginalized. This comes from both the natural tendency of people to form community with those they are most like and perhaps the culture of individualization. If the church can afford to have individualized ministries, this perpetuates the belief. Allowing single people to be single together creates an atmosphere that fosters encouragement and friendship – and we all know it’s also a pool of eligible people to date (even if you don’t intend for this, it’s still a thing).
I used to think all of this was true: that singles were counted as less because we are single and that we need our own space in the church.
The older I get the more I realize I saw in the church what I wanted to see. So I saw myself as an outlier and wanted to feel comfortable in a group of people like me, single.
And I am coming to realize and then believe that this is just not true.
But addressing singleness in the church has become another platform from which to throw blame onto one another.
Let society have their individualized needs and “I am unique and special” messages. That is not the message of the church.
The church is not about every single person. Although the Lord is concerned with each person, his love does not outweigh his perfection. Meaning, he knows everything about you from before you were even conceived. He knows your darkest moments and thoughts; yet, he loves you still. But ultimately, in that concern, we are lost in the exchange. There is no way to respond to such a perfect love. So he made a way. Jesus, the Son of God, died as a sacrifice for that sin – the darkest of thoughts, actions, and beliefs – so that we could respond to God and be reconciled with him.
Basically, we are lost. And we are found. But then we are lost again – this time due to his overwhelming glory. When we begin to seek to understand the Lord, with each revelation, we grow smaller and smaller. As the song sings: and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.
We are of the earth.
When the story is less about you and me as single people, there is a huge amount of space for singles in the church, and not just in the nursery or babysitting.
And if singles only spend time with singles, how will we know what marriage actually looks like or what it is to raise toddlers when they just want to smoosh their food and take off their pants? How will single people have the ability to comprehend that marriage is more than a wedding and is better and harder and worth more than they can fathom?
Dear church, do not let the singles be singled out – envelope them into the body.
Let the single people voice their discontent just as you have voiced your own about your place in life and struggles with your spouse and kids. Let the single people feel the tension of their creation for relationship and lack of this. Let the single people hurt in a way you may remember but will not fully understand.
And then let the single people join in the body and then fill their place according to their unique design. Let the single people not just help, but lead. Do not let them resign to their own perceived devastation or the lies of the enemy that seeks to isolate and keep them in the dark.
Celebrate with those who are single over their own victories as you have celebrated your weddings and exciting announcements. Be excited with and for those who are single; they need others to join in and sometimes lead their parade.
But, whatever you do, love them.
Just as they are.
Without expectation that they will be anything more.
Without giving in to the tendency for them to form their own group.
Just love them, genuinely.
And I know this is possible because I have seen it lived out and loved out in my church.
So do not lose hope.
Because at the end of the story the horse does carry a Savior when he returns. But he returns for the bride of Christ – the church. He returns for one and all at the same time and we should not lose sight of that.
P.S. Single people, if you feel left out, then move in. Take the steps to get connected to your body. Your church is not designed to serve you, but it is designed to care for you. So be honest with your church but be willing to do the work that the married/with kids people cannot. You have the time and attention to your own needs and you have more ability to take action to meet your own needs within the church than the married/with kids people do; move towards them, not only each other or away. There is some responsibility of the church to include you, but there is a weightier responsibility for you to take the steps to include yourself.
*I want to be clear that The Church body addressed is collective and these are only two pieces of a topic that has many perspectives from many different people and places of singleness. In other words, this is a generalization in response to what seems to be an increasing perspective from those with strong words, loud voices, and high platforms.