This is a post that has long been on my heart, but I have been nervous to write it. Afraid of it being offensive–mostly because the things that I am about to say are things that are said to me on a near daily basis, and I never want anyone to feel like I am calling them out for saying these things. But I hope that this will be helpful to all of those who are in the church and have single friends.
Dear church: singleness is not a problem that needs to be fixed. But to be honest, so much of the time you treat it as if it is.
I’m months shy of turning 30, and I’m a single gal living on the east coast. The majority of my friends are married at this point, many of them even have kids. And while I would like to be married one day, it is just something that hasn’t happened yet. So much of my 20s has been spent wading through a giant healing journey, and has come with so much growth and so much personal development. It has been a gift in so many ways to be able to live my life and wade through so much baggage on my own. I’ve walked through a lot of things in my young life–a lot of tragedy and a lot of loss and illness as well. It’s been tough. But also tremendously amazing to see how God has shown up in it all. My 20s have been about me, and I don’t think that is selfish or wrong. I actually view it as a complete and utter gift. The whole “ring by spring” Christian college experience of so many of my friends is just not my story. And that is okay.
But I have to be honest with you, the older I get, the more difficult my experiences have been as a single gal in the church.
Recently I moved from Southern California to Maryland, and have been looking for a church ever since I arrived. And oh man, has it been tough! This move in general has come with major culture shock–the east coast is just so different. And I am seeing that in the churches that I have visited as well. It’s just different. Some of the experiences that I have had as a single woman looking for a church community have been much more pronounced here on the east coast than they were in California, although they existed there, too.
I have been asked when I am going to get married since I was about 24 years old. That’s when family and friends and people within my various church communities (I’ve moved a lot!) have started to seriously ask that question. “When do you think you’re going to settle down?” And can I just be honest with you? I don’t really understand the question. Does not being married mean that I am not settled in my life? Because I feel settled. Well, as settled as one can be after recently uprooting their whole life and moving across the country, but that’s another story and I’m getting there.
Truthfully, minus locationally, I have never felt so settled and content in my life as I do at this time of my life. My career is flourishing, and I absolutely adore the work that I do. I have amazing friends, on both the east coast and west coast. The Lord has been doing tremendous work in my heart and my relationship with Him is my deepest sort of joy. I own my own house (which is not really a marker of adulthood, but still–makes me feel settled). I’m content. Marriage does not equate settling down. I’ve never fully understood that term–I’m not living this wild single life. I’m not living a lifestyle that marriage is going to change in tremendous ways.
It is possible to be content and be settled and be single.
But let’s go back to that question–I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have been asked that over the years. “When are you going to get married?” Well, it’s not that easy. There is this whole component of A. Even wanting to get married (which I do), and B. Meeting a guy that I would actually like to pursue a relationship with (which is much harder out of college!), and C. Putting time and energy and effort into being in a dating relationship and feeling ready it for it. And a whole lot of other things, too. Basically, it’s not like there are just a line of guys out there waiting for me to pick from the moment that I decide I’m wanting to get married. There is no simple answer to that question.
When am I going to get married? When I meet the right guy and then when we both decide we are ready. I can’t dictate that moment just by wanting it or deciding the time is right.
Also, to be honest, that’s a deeply personal question to ask. And the older that I have gotten, the more bold strangers have become in asking that. Because I am a minority in the church. Never has that been more pronounced since my move to east coast and trying out dozens and dozens of churches. One of my top priorities at the moment is finding a church community here in this new home of mine, and it hasn’t been easy. But I have been trying so many different churches, and have been forcing myself to be brave and outgoing (introvert here!) about meeting with the leadership team or going over to welcome areas after trying a new church to learn more about the church and various ministries. Honestly, I’m basically dating churches right now. And the response to me being single has been pretty astounding.
At the church I went to in California, I led a small group that was for young professionals between the ages of 25-35. Most of us were single, some were engaged and about to be married. But it was nice to be part of a smaller community within our larger church community with people who were in a similar life stage as myself. And truthfully, I have been hoping to find that in Maryland as well, and I just haven’t yet.
When I’ve gone up to meet the welcome team or whatever they call themselves at whatever church I happened to try this last Sunday or the Sunday before that, the very first question I am asked is if I am married. Okay, the first question is usually my name, but after that, it is the first question that I am asked. And that answer somehow sorts me into the minority in all the churches that I have visited recently–and frankly in many of the ones that I attended in California as well. And before then, I lived in England for awhile doing missions work, and still found this there as well. This isn’t limited to location.
I’m asked if I am married and I say “no” and the looks of surprise on people’s faces when I give that response has been shocking to me. Many ask my age when I say “no,” and then are shocked that I could possibly be 29 years old and unmarried (which, since when is 29 considered old?). Some of the churches that I have visited don’t even ask, they just immediately go to “what does your husband do?” assuming that I am already married. Which why? Why is marriage such a defining thing in the church? So much so that that is the very first thing that we ask people?
I mentioned earlier that I have been looking for a church that has a young professionals community as part of their congregation. I’m not even specifically looking for a young professionals small group–just a church that happens to have other single people around my age. And I have yet to find it. I’ve asked about small groups at all the churches that I have visited, and most of them for my age are young marrieds groups. Singles groups are only for college students or for those over the age of 50. Not for those of us who are in the in-between. One of the churches I went to even told me that the only sort of small group they had for people my age is a mom’s group.
A mom’s group.
Are you serious?
Single people in the church are seriously under served. Especially for 30 somethings. Many churches have amazing singles ministries for those in later years, who may have been married previously and who are divorced or lost a spouse. But this middle ground–these middle years of no longer being in college and your early twenties and entering into your 30s as a single person is a whole area I hope the church will start to learn to serve. It is like there is this unspoken expectation that at this time in your life, you must be married. And by treating people that way, you are actually ostracizing them.
You make me feel like there isn’t a place for me in the church. That’s honestly how I feel.
Why am I treated differently the moment that people find out I’m essentially 30 and single? Why is there such a look of surprise on people’s faces when I say I’m not married? And why oh why do you, stranger who I just met whose name I have already forgotten, then go on and ask me if I am dating and start to mention guys you might know that you could set me up with?!
My relationship status has become what defines me as a person in the church, and I don’t understand why. I’ve never been married, so I can’t speak from a place of knowing, but I imagine that if I were, I would still be the same person that I am right now, as a single woman. Yes, there would be someone that I do life with, and that would come with a whole lot of growing on its own, but I would still be me.
Why can’t I be seen for me? Why am I only seen for my relationship status?
And why is singleness treated like it’s wrong? Because that is how many of the churches I have visited have made me feel. There isn’t even a place for me there. The second I mention I am single, people try to “fix it.” They ask me about dating–which if I don’t know you, I don’t feel like you have the right to know about something that could potentially be very personal. They try to fix me up with someone’s best friend’s niece’s third cousin. The subtle (blatant?!) message that I have been getting for the last five years is that I can’t possibly be content in my singleness and it is something that needs to be fixed.
And church, you are wrong for thinking that.
For one thing, I have friends who feel that they are called to be single. They do not desire to be in a relationship or to be married, ever. They feel that that is the kind of life that God has called them to, and they are happy. They are living out their calling by being single. And people who try to “fix it” are actually wedging themselves into something between that person and God. Are you going to tell them that God’s calling on their life is wrong?
It’s the same thing with some of my married friends–I have two sets of married friends that do not desire to have children. It’s just not something that they want, and they are very content with that decision. And it is just so not the norm in Christian culture to be married and not have kids. But it doesn’t make them any less of a couple. It shouldn’t detract from their relationship with God, but I know that a lot of the time they feel pressured by people in their lives to keep up with “the norm” even though it is not something that they want for themselves.
“The norm” doesn’t always mean what’s right.
My relationship status is not the defining piece of my life. Unless you are talking about my relationship with Christ–He is who defines my life.
Yes, the church treats my singleness like a problem that needs to be fixed, but the moment I express that I do desire to be married someday, I am given such mixed messages. I am told that it’s strange that I am 30 and single, but that I am wrong when I express that I want to be married.
This is probably the most hurtful of all. When people try to rationalize my singleness (which, once again, implies that it is a problem). “God’s just doing a big work in you.” “God’s just waiting for you to give Him your all and then He’ll bring someone into your life.” “God just wants to be your everything before you get married.”
One, I don’t believe in that theology. That God is waiting for me to “get my act together” and then He will bless me with what I want. That’s basically the opposite of the gospel. And also, since when does my marital status have anything to do with the depth of my relationship with God? Oh, I believe that God is very present in our relationships and marriages, that He is deeply at work there. He is absolutely part of our stories of meeting people and falling in love and pursuing Him in marriage. But the number one thing I am told is that “Jesus is just waiting for you to fall deeply in love with Him” before He will bring someone into my life.
Please. Just stop.
Basically you’re telling me that the reason I am not married is because I don’t love Jesus enough. Which is absolutely not your place to judge. Most people who say this to me, don’t actually know me. (And most of them are those ring by springers, actually). They don’t know anything about what my relationship with Christ looks like. I actually think that is a pretty terrible thing to say to someone.
The reason you are single is because you don’t love Jesus enough.
Are you kidding me?
Look, I’m not going to pretend that my relationship with the Lord is this perfect, magical, wonderful thing day in and day out. Oh, He is the center of my life and my heart’s greatest delight, but I have seasons where the last thing in the world I want to do is open my Bible. Seasons where He is just silent and it is hard. And also seasons of so much wonder. I’m not the perfect Christian (and, ahem, neither are you). None of us are. But to imply that the reason (read: problem) behind my singleness is that I don’t love Jesus enough is just a lie.
What if I said that to you about whatever you were walking through?
The reason that you struggle with infertility is that you don’t love Jesus enough.
The reason that you have an eating disorder is because you don’t love Jesus enough.
The reason you lost your job is because you don’t love Jesus enough.
The reason ___________ (insert whatever you are going through in your life right now) is because you don’t love Jesus enough.
LIES. All of them are lies.
That is not how it works in God’s economy. It is just not biblical. Read the Bible. That implies that the things that happen in our lives (or don’t happen) depend on us. That we are in control of our circumstances. That elevates who we are in the world and diminishes who God is. Imagine if we said that in the area of salvation and sin. The whole Bible talks about how we don’t measure up and we are not enough on our own, and God came and made a way for us despite us.
The state of my life does not determine who God is. And THANK GOD.
But so many people are afraid of those words when I say them. When I express that I would, in fact, like to be married someday. I would. I long to be married and have kids. It’s one of my biggest dreams. And yet the second I express that, the church treats it like some taboo and all of a sudden these desires somehow make people decide that I must just not love God enough. That it’s wrong for me to have these dreams and I shouldn’t say that and I just need to focus on my relationship with Jesus.
And that’s not true either. God created marriage. He created us to be in relationship with one another in marriage. Yes, not all are called to it, but it still part of the DNA of creation. Genesis 1-2. Go read it. And He also often plants dreams and desires in our hearts that align with His will long before they come into our lives. And we can pray over them and walk in step with Him as these things unfold in our lives. We get to be active participants in the things that He will someday bring in our lives now. I’ve had so many God-sized dreams, and desiring those things doesn’t mean I don’t love God. That I want them more than Him. Most of the time, I want those things because I do love Him.
I’m almost 30 and I am single, and honestly, I am completely content. I have thanked God so many times over the years for my singleness, that I have not been married before this time in my life. He has done so much work in my heart and in my life in my 20s, and I am glad that I got to walk through them as a single woman. I am profoundly thankful for that. And I also hope to get married and have children one day, and it is okay for me to want that. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love God–it is because I love God that these dreams are there. I hope to someday live them out in a way that honors Him. But expressing them doesn’t mean that I don’t love Jesus enough as I am, right now, in this moment.
And also special note to those of you who are twenty and recently married (you ring by springers)–you are the ones who most often tell me that I just need to fall in love with Jesus and then He will bring the right guy into my life. Can I just ask you to think about that before you say that to someone? Because it is not true, and also not cool. And also, can I just say that being twenty and single (which I am sure you have many friends who are) and being in your thirties and single is a much different thing? When you want to get married and have kids and all of your friends have been married for years and started families years ago, those words of yours don’t sound encouraging, like I’m sure you meant them to. They actually sound very callous. It’s hard to watch the people closest to you enter into a season of life you have been desiring and praying about for years and are still kept waiting. Frankly, you just don’t know.
So church, please stop treating singleness like it is a problem that needs to be fixed. Learn to serve those who are single instead of treating us like they we something other. Like we don’t belong. Like there is something wrong with us. Make a space for us. Welcome us. Consider the fact that we might be perfectly content just as we are, and even called to be single. But also don’t fly off the handle when we express our desire to be married someday. Don’t judge our relationships with God, especially not on the basis of our relationship status. Don’t tell us that we just need to fall in love with Jesus more and then He will bring the right person into our lives–it is not up to you to judge the state of my relationship with the Lord, and you also have absolutely no idea if and when He will bring someone into my life. Who are you to say that? Unless you have some sort of prophetic abilities and God has specifically spoken that eventuality to you, who are you to really say whether or not that is true?
Walk alongside us. Embrace us. Don’t diminish who we are just because we are single. We still have just as much to offer as we would if we were married. We might even have more to offer in this season of our lives as we live out who God is calling us to be right here in this season. Some of us will get married someday, and some of us won’t. We’re all children of God. And there needs to be a place for all of us within the church.
Don’t see me for my relationship status. Just see me for me. See me as your sister in Christ. The truest thing about me is not whether I am single or married. It is my identity as a child of God. There is nothing here for you to “fix.” God has already seen to that in the way of a cross and an empty tomb.