When Wesley Hill, Ph.D. spoke at my church in December, he commented that for many of us who are single, it is hard to find our “place” in the church since our institutions have a tendency to glorify marriage and children. Often “singles groups” are not much more than glorified dating centers, hoping to match up eligible singles with each other so that they too can become the “married with children.”
I’ve been a church-goer most of my life except for college (when I was too busy with academics and sports) and two brief interludes when I was living with my fiancés before marriage (too embarrassed to sit in a pew). However, I’ve been single more than I’ve been married and find that my observation of the church is similar to Wesley’s. What I have always longed for is not a place to meet another Christian to marry, but instead a place where I can be encouraged to grow into my discipleship in serving Christ.
Wesley pointed out St. Paul’s view of singleness and marriage that I often return to after being single again for the past 8 years (1 Corinthians 7:8, 32-35): “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am…. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.”
There are many members at my church who have never been married or are divorced or widowed and are wonderful examples of how single people can serve the Lord. Some people do better as a team, but others are called to be single, at least for a period of time.
In Spring 2012, my church announced that it was offering an evening class, “The Marriage Course.” It sounded wonderful, but I wasn’t married. As an alternative, a few of us created another course offered the same night in a different room: “Holy Desires: Creating Redemptive Relationships.” We didn’t exclude married people, and class titles included: Solitude, Putting God First, Circle of Holiness: What Is Your Purpose?, Spiritual Friendship, Forgiveness, Love and Respect, Setting Boundaries, and Community.
An internet author writes, “The most important thing in life is not finding a mate and having children, but serving God.”
As mainline churches, we lament that we “lose” our children when they go off to college, yet they may return after marriage when they have children of their own. Although this observation may be true, it may be more about us as “church” then about them as “people”. If we were to offer more opportunities for single people to grow in serving the Lord (and not just in offering them an alternative dating scene to the neighborhood bar), would our churches be filled rather than empty?
Blessings, my friend,