The church I attend has two worship assemblies on Sunday mornings. One of my children likes to help out in the nursery during one of them. So my Sunday routine is usually to attend the first worship assembly by myself; my daughter goes to the nursery and my wife and sons join us for the second one.
So this means I am by myself during early worship. Normally, I sit with a friend of mine, but this past Sunday I sat alone. By alone, I mean there was no one in the seat immediately to my left or my right. I knew the family in front of me and behind me. I was sitting in a row with a family of visitors. But for all intents and purposes I was sitting by myself.
Which led to anticipated questions: where is the rest of the family? So why are you by yourself today? Are your wife and kids sick?
Most of these questions may have been exactly what they sounded like and nothing more. Or, there may have been an underlying question beneath it: is your family about to fall apart? Because it is not normal for someone to be here all alone.
I do not know the motive behind the question (because I did not ask). I was not particularly concerned about the motive behind the question (because my family was on the way). I knew everything was okay with me, so I received the question as a curiosity, nothing more (which is likely how it was intended).
But I started thinking: how difficult is it to be a single person at church? More than that, how difficult is it to be a single again person at church? Churches are not particularly known for having great singles programs. Church culture often venerates marriage, family, and child-raising. So the person who is not married and sits by his- or herself on a given Sunday morning may feel…
- Left out.
None of those are particularly comfortable emotions.
Have you ever noticed that the thing that makes us different is often the thing we try and hide?
- I don’t want to talk about my depression because then you will think less of me.
- I don’t want to talk about my addiction because then you will think I am weak and lack self-control.
- I don’t want to talk about my problems with my partner or my children or my parents because then you will think I have a dysfunctional family.
- I don’t want to talk about my sexual orientation because then you will think I am a deviant and you will turn your back on me.
- I don’t want to talk to you about my loneliness because then you will think I am weird and you will do everything you can to avoid me.
- I don’t want to tell you I am afraid because then you will think I lack faith.
- I don’t want to tell you I am sad because you will think you need to cheer me up.
But here is the difficult thing about being single at church: it makes you different, and you can’t even hide it.
I have been writing this year on some things I wish all churches knew about how to deal with recovering addicts and alcoholics. There are also some things I wish all churches knew about how to deal with the single members in their midst.
First, singleness does not equal sickness. There is nothing aberrant or wrong about being single. But our current church culture emphasizes family so much that many singles are left to feel as if something is wrong, or at least lacking, with them. We need to stop acting as if marriage is a victory and singleness is a loss. That is not the case. We need to celebrate the fact that some people embrace their singleness and use it to God’s glory.
Second, not all singleness is alike. Some people are single because of circumstances beyond their control. Their partner may have left them. Their partner may have passed away. They may have never had a partner but are actively seeking one. There may have been a number of different factors that led to them being single.
Others are single as the result of an empowered choice. There are some people who have been called to singleness. They have accepted that call and are not in pursuit of a relationship. Or they are single again and have prayerfully decided they will not seek out an intimate relationship again.
Some are lonely. Some are not. There is no specific formula for “handling single people.” Instead of treating single people as “them,” how about we treat them as human? Single people are not a problem to be solved or an issue that needs a program. They are active, vibrant parts of God’s Kingdom, gifted and talented and looking for ways to be included.
Third, that which makes us different is that which unites us all. And we need to be talking about it. Because whatever I deal with makes me human. Regardless of what I deal with, I am a child of God. And so are you. It is in our struggles that we are all reminded we are not God. We are His sons and daughters, though. We are on a level playing field. Your struggle might be different than mine, but the fact that we both struggle means we can find a common ground.
So if you are single or married or in a relationship that is crumbling, let’s talk.
If you are riding high in life right now or you are mired the depths of your depression, let’s talk.
If you are getting along great with your kids or have no idea what you are doing, let’s talk.
If you are trying to figure out how to keep from feeling alone, even in the midst of a throng of people, let’s talk.
Whatever the case may be, let’s talk. It’s what a community does.