Single-minded: A letter to the church

CTR-Lifegoals-singlenessMy church family are currently walking through a teaching series called ‘LifeGoals‘, asking ourselves what is God’s best for us – his wisdom for us – in all the different life stages and relational spaces we find ourselves. A dear friend of mine bravely agreed  to write down some thoughts about what she wished the church knew about singleness. This is the result. It’s a brave, frank letter to the Church at large, and I’d love us to read it through to the end.

Dear church family

First of all, I want to thank you for asking me to write to you about this issue.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how we refer to the “issue” of singleness? We don’t talk about the “issue” of marriage. I suppose, without really meaning to, we file singleness under one of those topics that we find a bit troubling, and are all quite glad we don’t have to deal with in our own lives.

Unless we do have to deal with it in our own lives.

In any case, I’d like ask the question with a different meaning. “What is the issue of singleness?” What does this state of being in which all of us will find ourselves at some point in our lives, offer to the body of Christ? What is its fruit? And how can those of us who are not currently single behave towards those of us who are in ways that are helpful and inclusive rather than damaging and exclusive?

Let me give you a bit of background to my situation so that you can weigh my words carefully against scripture and ignore what is unhelpfully written out of my own experience. I am in my 40s. I am heterosexual. I am female. I have never been married or been in a serious long-term relationship, although I have had my heart broken a number of times when relationships have not gone the distance. I have never experienced any sense that not being in a relationship is somehow a gift given to me by God. I guess I just haven’t met the right guy.

If there is a right guy. There’s a topic for another discussion.

So, having no sense that my single status is something God has specifically chosen for me, I have an interesting relationship with its reality. At times I have felt lonely, bitter, hurt, frustrated, left out, self-doubting, insecure, unloved. At other times I have been glad of my freedom, my independence and my capacity to empathise with those who are single, gay, bisexual, divorced, widowed etc. I have amazing relationships with friends and my family, and my relationship with Jesus, on my best days, is unconditional and unclouded by divided loyalties.

In any circumstance, we have a choice about how to respond. And I have found that when I choose thankfulness, contentment and joy, often they make their way from the outside in, and become my experience rather than just my posture. And when I choose to focus on Jesus rather than my circumstances, life is much better. But it’s a choice I make every day.

So, I thought I’d make some lists…hope they help you, they’ve helped me already. Some of them are for the single people, and some of them for the non-single, but all of them might help all of us.

Here are some myths we need to stop telling ourselves:

Life will start properly when you meet the right man/woman. That’s nonsense, but it’s amazing how easily we buy into that lie. I let it hinder me for a number of years before I realised that I had to seek God for the here and now, and trust him for tomorrow. It freed me to pursue God wholeheartedly and take some risks for Him.

Singleness is second best – something has gone wrong in the cosmos for me to be on my own. Maybe it has, but my life is not God’s second best life for me. I’m not living Plan B.

Nuclear family is God’s norm and you can only be truly fulfilled when you’re married with children (er…so, was Jesus normal? He was the most normal a human being can be!). We know that, but we often subtly reinforce in our church structures – all age services where the emphasis is really on the families, the metaphor of oikos being lazily applied to one or two nuclear families etc.

Sex is essential to a fulfilled life – that’s a message that absorb from our culture where sex is everywhere and sexual satisfaction is the ultimate goal (it’s not, but it does sell a lot of stuff to lonely people). And I’m sure it’s great – it’s a gift from God after all, so it would be good.

I can’t talk about this stuff because I’ll sound needy or vulnerable. We’re all needy and vulnerable – let’s help each other (see below re culture of grace and trust).

It gets easier as you get older. It really doesn’t! If anything, unless you watch out, you start feeling more out of kilter with your peer group. We need to find ways to honour and include older single people (and the separated, the divorced, the bereaved).

Here’s a list of the top dangers I need to notice and avoid:

Envy

It’s always easy to look at how life is for other people and assume that their lawn is much greener. For me, this can be about having a very romantic notion of how fantastic married life is, or about very basic things like the fact that a two-income household costs about the same but has double the income that mine does. I’m not saying that these generalisations are true, I’m saying that they are the assumptions of an envious heart.

Loneliness

I actually like living alone. I am very extrovert, but I like that I can choose to close the door and have time on my own to recharge. But, I don’t like the fact that there’s not one person that I am every truly ‘at home’ with. And I harbour a deep-seated longing to be the treasured other in someone else’s life. Loneliness is different from aloneness, and its positive side is that it pushes you towards God. Its negative side is that it pushes you towards…

Self-pity

If I’ve had a bad day, or I’m feeling as though the world doesn’t understand me, my default response is towards self-pity and blame of others. And when I feel a bit sorry for myself, there’s no one to call me out or to agree that I’m right to feel aggrieved. So, like anyone caught in that circle of self-pity and bitterness, it’s easy to find comfort in unhelpful places, usually in unhealthy patterns of eating, drinking and watching, and those things always lead me to a place of bitterness and regret.

Self-reliance

A number of times in my life people have told me how much they admire my independent spirit or my practicality. I don’t really want to be remembered as the woman who was so fiercely independent that she let her heart become untrusting and brittle, nor do I want people to thing the fact that I can change a tyre or a lightbulb without batting an eyelash is a personal life goal…Sometimes you’ve just got to get on with life, otherwise you’d be sitting in the dark or in a car that won’t go anywhere. I love that my life has enabled me to travel and study and move for work, but I suppose it’s important to remember that the grass isn’t always as green as it looks over on the independent side of the fence either. I can choose to rely on others, but sometimes that’s hard.

Lack of accountability

Footloose and fancy-free. It’s not always a good state of being, and in our highly individualised culture, the church can offer a community that is full of grace but also challenge, and that is a good thing for those of us who could easily be drawn towards selfish habits and uncommitted relationships. But accountability works both ways, and it only works in a culture of trust and grace.

Here’s a list of things that really help me as a single person within the church:

Invite me over with people of my own age. Often I have found that I’ve been invited to events with other single people, many of them students or people in their 20s. I love mixing with people of all ages (that’s one of the things that makes church so counter-cultural and magnificent) but sometimes it’s nice to hang out with people who get your cultural references and understand your pressures. And the students would probably prefer not to have that slightly weird middle-aged person getting down with the kidz. It’s hard work for everyone.

Think about inviting me along with you to events we’re all going to. One of the times I find singleness hardest is when I have to turn up at a church or social event on my own (and the Plus One isn’t the answer!) There is a couple in Central who once told me that if we ever all going to something I should always feel able to call up and arrange for us to go together. It’s not a big thing – it’s a huge thing – and I love that we had that conversation. It’s as simple as keeping an eye out for anyone who is one their own and making them feel welcome in our friendship groups. Come to think of it, that’s not about singleness, it’s about being Christ-like.

Affirm me when I want to take some time off or tell you I’m not available. Often it’s tempting to assume that single people have more time on their hands. Sometimes that’s true, and I stand in awe of my married friends who juggle work, family and church responsibilities, but it’s not always the case. Sometimes that’s my fault for filling my life with activity in order to alleviate my loneliness, but sometimes it’s because I give into the demands of other people and there’s nobody there to help me guard my yes with a thousand nos. Encourage me to rest well.

Remember I’m just a girl the same as any other. We’ve got a funny attitude to sexuality within the church. We feel uncomfortable about it and disguise our discomfort under a veil of pseudo-holiness. Single people are sexual beings too. I’m not going to get into a big thing about gender and sex here, but suffice to say that, in my humble opinion, femininity and masculinity are not just about attracting a mate. So I don’t mind it when people tell me I’m looking good, and I’d rather not just give up, let the hairs grow on my chin and start wearing polo shirts (not that there’s anything wrong with polo shirts – that’s a choice). If I’m wearing lipstick it’s probably not because I’m looking for a boyfriend, I just like wearing lipstick. Treat me like an adult with dignity.

Hold me accountable. Ask me about my prayer life, my physical life, my emotional life – we are whole beings, and one thing affects the other. When my relationships are healthy, I’m exercising, eating and resting well and I’m feeling my brain with good things that’s generally a sign that I’m doing OK. If I’m not, it would be good to ask me how I’m doing. I’ll ask you too, if you like.

Here are a few questions for those of us who are single to ponder:

Is this what God wants for me? Should I stop looking around for a partner? Should I be more intentional about looking for a partner?

Do I have to make a choice between following after God whole-heartedly and having a relationship?

What do I do about my human need to find intimacy? Physical? Emotional? Spiritual? Sexual? How do I stay open to intimacy with God and others when I don’t have it with that one other person?

Where are the companions I’m walking alongside? What might God have for me to do that I couldn’t do if I was married?

What safeguards am I prepared to put in place to stop me growing a shell of self-reliance and competency around my life? Do I need to repent of some of this? Do I need to get some prayer ministry?

Who can I call when I lock myself out? That’s a real question. Am I prepared to trust someone else with my house keys? And who has offered to take them?

And finally

Well, that was all a bit of a rant, wasn’t it? But you did ask…and people often don’t. Thanks for that.

A Fellow Human Being (who happens to be single) x

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Nursery drop off & the simplicity of Jesus

This post was originally posted on saturday as the weekly comment for our church’s shared devotional resource called ‘rooted’. Rooted is a daily rhythm of word, worship and prayer. Last week we read through the beginning of the story about Jesus from Matthew. I’m part of the team who pull this together and if you’re interested you can check out our shiny new app here

I’ve believed for a long time that a moment spent with Jesus can change the course of your whole day. But it can be a glib truth sometimes. I stash it in my back pocket, along with yesterday’s bus ticket and an emergency baby-rice cake, ready for the moment when I find I really need Him again. But I got a pretty precious reminder of how genuine bona-fide real this truth is this week. Here’s how it went.

Wednesday morning. 8.42am. I’m on the school nursery run with my wee man Charlie. He’s three, and this is his second week at his new, large and quite noisy nursery. Call me a worrier, but my mind had hurried on to anticipating his morning in this space. Five mornings a week away from our influence and care has not been a small adjustment for me (and him, but definitely more me.) Realising we hadn’t read rooted yet that morning, I got my phone out my pocket, opened up the app, and asked Charlie if he’d like to hear a great story. Pull up a chair, here’s your toddler equivalent of Matthew 8.23-27.

Mummy: Jesus and his friends were in a boat and there was a HUUUUUGE storm going on.

<Cue buggy wobbles to simulate rocking of waves>

Charlie: Giggles

Mummy: Jesus’ friends were really scared because they thought they might fall out of the boat and they didn’t’ know how to swim.

<Ok, liberties with the text here, but, haters gonna hate, you got to keep the toddlers engaged.>

Charlie: What happened Mummy?

Mummy: Well, Jesus woke up and told the wind to stop roaring, and told the waves to stop crashing. And they did! The waves listened to Jesus. And Jesus’ friends thought that was amazing. They said ‘Wow, Jesus must be pretty special.’ So that means when its really noisy at nursery this morning, or you’re feeling a little bit scared, Jesus wants to be your friend and look after you.

hh

We totally love the Jesus Storybook Bible in our house… the pictures are amazing.

So, clearly it’s not going to win me any exegesis prizes. And we can explore my parenting foibles another time. But right in the middle of my dreich nursery school run, I found myself in a boat with Jesus, reminded of the sheer simplicity of Him. Even a three year old can understand that Jesus is the friend who wants to be with us when we’re scared. (Sometimes the 29 year olds need to take hold of that kind of truth too.)

In a week where we’ve read through some fairly direct chapters in Matthew about how to live a God-honouring life, and then explored some of the early narrative around Jesus’ early ministry, I don’t’ want us to lose the simplicity of Jesus and his story. Let’s not turn these 5 chapters into something complicated when we don’t need to. Honestly, it’s hard enough responding to the message at a simple level! Jesus himself says if we look for Him, we’ll find Him. (Matthew 7.7-8) Let’s keep opening scripture and encountering Him, together.

Giant Hedgehogs and other ridiculous tales

What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done?

In the interests of self-exposure, I’ve put together what are probably my top three most ridiculously ridiculous moments.

One. I once belly surfed a giant cushioned hedgehog across a wooden laminate floor. (I tripped on the tail, landed on my chin and ended up in casualty with stitches. For all the kids and youth pastors reading this, I was supposed to be tidying away the toddler group toys. It’s a dangerous job, people.)

Two. I backpacked India aged 19 with just one fellow female traveller. (It didn’t seem ridiculous then but perhaps looking back that 2am arrival into Delhi train station and subsequent taxi journey wasn’t the wisest.)

And Three. Most recent ridicule. I went camping for a week IN SCOTLAND with TWO CHILDREN UNDER THREE. Need I say more.

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Camping was made possibly only by the heroic efforts of Grandad and Grandma who came to help.

Ok, serious point time. I’ve been thinking a bit about the word RIDICULOUS recently. I’m coming to the realisation that actually one of THE most ridiculous things I do is the way I count myself out before I’ve even stepped in. I can talk less, contribute less, and pursue less than what I am capable of, desiring of, or called to. Maybe you can relate to what I’m talking about here. Basically, I’m wondering when did I stop speculating?

Vulnerability alert. It’s been a wonderful but equally sometimes weary season, becoming a Mum. I’m probably not the only one, but tiredness and the relentless pace of nappyland can easily sneak up on me, whispering that I should sit down and shut up. ‘You’ve got enough that you’re already not managing (the cleaning/laundry/potty training of the toddler if you’re interested) never mind dreaming about anything else. Who do you think you are; yaddah yaddah yaddah.’

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Here I am in my happy place… with the laundry. ahem… NOT!

Well, enough of that! I choose speculation AND laundry. Here are my speculations, aged 29 years, 6 months and 7 days.

I’m going to speculate that I do in fact have thoughts, words and ideas that might impact, influence and inspire others for the better. I’m going to speculate that my kindness and love can change somebody else’s day. I’m going to speculate that being a Mum enables me for the more not the less. And I’m going to speculate that embraced in the love of my Father God, there are numerous significant things He is already doing and will do with me, in me and through me to serve the world.

Karl Martin said this in our church gathering recently;

Do something ridiculous in the now for something you’re trusting for the future.

So, I’m reclaiming the ridiculous, and I’m going to spectacularly speculate!

Part of this challenge for me was about having a go at this whole blogging thing. Enough of the procrastination; here it is in all its unfinished and unpolished glory. Here it is before I feel ready for it. And here I am believing for the best that God might do in little old (getting older) me.  I’ve got a few things I’d love to write about and share with you – thoughts on parenting, leadership, church, politics, and potentially even some poetry if I’ve had a glass of wine too many and made it to the laptop… <gulp>

Here’s to speculation. Come and join me.