Single–Still or Again


According to some recent studies, singles are on  the rise and beginning to outnumber marrieds. The church, however, doesn’t reflect those numbers. “Your church should be filling up at least half of your pews with single people,” writes Joyce Chiu. “So what will get them there?”

What emerges is a portrait of an church that is still firmly family-centered even while the demographics within it have shifted. Single people make up more and more of the church body, which means forward-looking local churches benefit from understanding singles and incorporating them meaningfully into community life. Although single and married believers are in the same boat together, we’re all at church to worship and serve God, singles can be overlooked. They want to be visible–they want to belong. They have unique contributions to make in advancing Christ’s kingdom.

So how can your local church create a welcoming space for singles?

Recognize that single people’s needs may look different from yours.

When a single person talks about feeling lonely, it’s common for a married person to counter that he or she often feels lonely, too. However, studies show that singles are more likely than married people to feel lonely. And singles often experience a different kind of loneliness that includes physical as well as emotional isolation. The church needs to acknowledge singles, take them seriously, and  listen.

If have you capacity, draw them into your family life, too. “Single people can feel invisible in the place they most need to be seen,” Micha Boyett writes. “You can invite single people to hang out with you at home, participate in family activities, and enjoy the occasional meal. Everyone, single and married alike, can learn something from putting aside preconceptions and simply being in community with one another.

Recognize their disadvantages.

Those who are single often find themselves “outside the system” of family-focused churches and face the awkward silence that ensues when they say they don’t have spouses or kids or grandchildren. They often end up sitting alone in the service week after week. They sometimes get overlooked when people are getting together socially. And they are often treated like misfits– herded off because no one knows what else to do with them.

It’s time to start rethinking how you look at fellow worshipers. A church isn’t made up of family units and spare parts—it’s made up of people, all of them made in God’s image and worthy of fellowship. As one single woman shared, “I wish there was greater understanding that we are not ‘strange.’” Or as Lisa Anderson put it, “Single isn’t synonymous with alien.

Serve singles, and recognize that singles often serve without reciprocation.

The book of James encourages Christians to “look after orphans and widows” (James 1:27). Although contemporary single women (divorcees, never-marrieds, and widows) don’t face the same challenges as first-century widows,  many experience significant financial instability, vocational disruption, and other notable challenges. In that sense, the church needs to come alongside.

Even small things matter. One woman told me that she didn’t mind caring for children in the church nursery, but sometimes she wished some of those parents would reciprocate by helping her with household repairs or offering other assistance. Think of  the time and money spent on weddings and baby showers, yet no  one spends such celebration, such time, such money on singles.

Of course, singles are called to serve the church simply because it honors God and others.  But taking time to serve singles, recognizing, and celebrating their accomplishments is encouraging and kind.

As Paul writes, “If one member [of the body] suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26, NKJV). In other words, your calling as a member of the body is to recognize those who suffer, empathize with them, and make sured Singlee they have what they need to be fully functioning members. Similarly, their calling is to do the same for you. In doing so, we honor not just those around us—we also honor Christ, to whom we all belong.

(Enjoy more about the single expereince in Mary Haight’s blog post, “Singleness is My Only Companion.” Her blog, Thoughts From A Seasoned Single is linked under “Just A Taste” on the SALT’ homepage.)

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Where Are You?

Not too many years ago, I met a particularly dark period in my faith walk. I was afraid of death–even to the point of having to avoid news programs and television shows. I struggled with shame (where’s my faith?), doubt (what if God really isn’t there for me?), and discouragement (what’s the point?).

Just wait, my wise friends advised. And although the wait was years long, I did come through to the other side with a new understanding of faith.

Let me be clear. Mine was not an anemic, untested faith. I had known God’s touch on my life through rebellion, reconciliation, sorrow, poverty, cancer, and Multiple Sclerosis. But this was a new season, and it was scary. Since that time, I have heard other women speak of similar experiences. And I hear women my age talk about how their church experiences have changed, as they near retirement age.

James Fowler’s Stages of Faith and a second work called The Critical Journey by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich–helped give me the words I had been searching for to describe the changes taking place in my life. Here is a simplified version (adapted from the above works)–you may want to read more. This is not a prescription of how things are supposed to be–merely a description of common experiences. Where do you see yourself?

  1. I believe! New believers are willing to do whatever a strong leader or church group says is necessary to grow in faithfulness.
  2. I am learning about God through connection with other believers. I am learning about my gifts and talents and what I have to offer the church community.
  3. I work for God. As I grow more sure of my role in the church, I show my commitment with action. I show up, serve, and share.
  4. I hit “The Wall.” My old practices aren’t resulting in growth. I wonder if there’s something more.
  5. I am living with God. On the other side of The Wall, fresh surrender to God comes along with a renewed sense of my vocation or ministry, a deepening of my faith, and a less-frenzied relationship with the church.
  6. I believe again. As I move toward life’s end, I detach from the stuff and stress of life. I receive God’s love and shalom and am sharing it with those around me.

It helps to know that these seasons are not the result of having done something wrong–rather they are reflections of growth.

Betrayed


This post has been a long time coming. Not only has there been a gap between the last post and now, but I began writing this post over a year ago. Then I thought maybe it would work for Good Friday. Why the delay?

The topic is all too painful for me. While it has been some years since I encountered betrayal, the pain still surfaces and with it come doubts. I was not ready to share, and I am not sure about it even now. Those looking for a dramatic, confessional post had best look elsewere. No high drama here–just deep pain.

I will warm up with some generalizations. Betrayal happens in Christian lives–perhaps particularly in those who seek a deeper walk with Christ. Those who betray us are often, usually, believers.

When we are young, such encounters are painful, but knowing there are probably years ahead to heal and maybe reconcile helps ease the way. When betrayal occurs late in life, it brings with it whisps of feeling that the situation is permanant, and a sense of hopelessness creeps in.

Betrayal comes in many forms (we will leave physical decline for another post). After decades of marriage, spouses depart for younger partners, a boss decides you are no longer necessary or valuable, friends suddenly withdraw from your life,  a church turns its back. Whatever form it takes, it hurts like hell.

First, our Lord, who was innocent, experienced betrayal. Second, no one else is totally innocent in the complicated relationships that comprise betrayal. And finally, Judas did not need thirty pieces of silver. He wanted to wound—he wanted to exalt himself in the eyes of others. He wanted Christ to be brought low.  It is important to keep those factors in mind while recognizing that not every disagreement, not every slight, not every separation is a betrayal.

Characteristics of Betrayal

A sudden rupture in fellowship

A break without logical reason or explanation

Attempted triangulation 

Refusal to discuss situation

My Story

I had plenty of warnings, but rather than setting personal boundraries, I allowed a relationship to become harmful. So I was blindsided by betrayal by someone I named friend. It remains one of the most painful and destructive experiences of my life.

With the sudden withdrawl of friendship,  part of my social circle, my support system, quickly followed. We went from personal and online interaction to nothing. Silence. Distance.

I had to negotiate this with my sons as well. Sons who do not think very much of today’s church. Sons who have suffered terrible betrayal at the hands of Christians. All I could do at the time was remain silent, but the situation underscored their suspicions that Christians are intersted only in those who think exactly alike, and hell is for the rest of us.

At the same time, I encountered some months of my life turning upsidedown. I needed fellowship and prayer, but I could not trust. I paced the floor days and nights. I threw myself into projects to escape pain. I examined my heart and scoured my emails and writings for clues of my own condition. Alone,  I probably repented of things I had not done and missed the obvious. My belief that  believers do not have to be in complete agreement to fellowship was challenged.

After some YEARS, my relationship with this friend eased. At least they no longer completely ignore me. I have set some boundaries and adjust them often–not a guarantee that this will not happen again but less likely that I will have a hand in it. They have never discussed the reason for the break nor for reentering my life.

I struggle most with those who  believed my friend’s woeful tale of what I did or did not do. How could they, knowing me, think that I would say or do cruel things? How could they, knowing my so-called friend, not see the situation for what it was? How can they think their coldness, loyalites to falseness, reinforcement of the lie–how can they think that is Christian? Yet lives go on in pulpit, pew, and and parking lot–unscathed, unaware, and uncaring of the pain such attitudes cause others.

What To Watch For

Manipulators–the need for control

Gossips–would rather talk about someone than to them

Narccisitic Personalities

Passive-Agression–it is still agression

Those who have no interest in prayer

How To Heal

Reverse the process. Do the opposite of what the betrayer did. Attempt clarification and intiate contact.

Repent of your part–an unclear message? A hurried email? An insensitive comment of your own? Learn more care in communication.

Shut your mouth. Do not engage in your own campaign for vindication. This is not a democracy where the one with the most votes wins. It is about total surrender to a benevolent monarch.

Pray for enlightenment. Seek truth even if it means you were wrong.

Do not plant your heart in a defensive posture.

Seek new relationships. God will bring them to you–whether you are thirty or eighty.

Refuse to return to unhealthy patterns that allowed the break to become so costly.

Do not become part of someone else’s betrayal. Send gossips packing. Instruct others to untell the lies they have spread.

In Conclusion

We are at once the betrayed and the betrayer. We are in need of forgiveness just as surely as we need to forgive. If we do not grasp that truth, we will nurse on bitterness, spread discord, and disrupt fellowship. Stop keeping score–love does not keep a record. Refuse to swallow the lies of hopelessness. Behave as one redeemed with brokenness and humility. You may have expereinced betrayal in the past, but right now you are reading a blog post–you are free.

When someone shows you who they are, believe them.’ – Maya Angelou