There are many online articles about the small number of singles in churches, the even smaller number of singles in church leadership positions, and explanations of why singles do not come to church. Many churches see the need for singles ministry, but are puzzled as to how to begin and maintain. Well, I guess it’s time for me to weigh in on some issues as I see them repeated online.
- The many differing aspects of singleness have similar, but unique, needs.
- Singles get lumped into “one size fits all” regardless of age and reason for their singleness.
- Family, family, family.
- Marriage is celebrated, singleness is not
- Many questions simply do not have answers, and may be trivialized.
“Single” is a simple designation for someone who does not have a spouse. There are church ministries up through high school, and in some cases, college. Where does the post-high school or college person, who is now called “single,” fit? Suddenly they are faced with questions about independence as well as the realization that they are now “single.” Where do they go? The many categories of singlehood have the “single” thing in common, but physically, emotionally, mentally, and certainly age-wise, they may be worlds apart. One thing is common: Churches do not know what to do with them – with us – with me.
Categories as I see them:
- * Single but in a relationship; or single but not in a relationship.
- * Widowed – death of a spouse.
- * Divorced – separation from a spouse.
- * Single with children, whether widowed or divorced.
- * Never-married.
There is simply not a “one size fits all” way to deal with singleness. While every person on the planet needs relationship to thrive, thoughtful consideration has a place in dealing with widely varied needs and desires. Singles are thrown together with the assumption they will “bond” simply because they are single. The ages may span 20s to 80s with the host of life-stages in between. Many singles simply do not see a compelling reason to be in a church which does not speak to their own life.
Churches develop grief classes for those who have lost a spouse, and divorce recovery groups as more and more Christians walk that very difficult road. The need arises for single parents to talk together so they can see they are not the only ones in that situation. Something else arises which makes it uncomfortable for some widowed, divorced, and single parents to come to church, particularly if they were part of a former couple in the church. They may no longer feel the acceptance they felt as a couple. Where couples may have exchanged dinner invitations, it feels awkward to invite just one. In divorce, one or both have decided not to attend any more because it is just too uncomfortable.
Many churches will not recognize that their important emphasis on family makes it difficult for some onesomes to fit in. Of course, young families and children are necessary for the future of the church. Too often, though, conversation is limited to children or family life, making some singles feel as if they are sort of pasted onto someone else’s family and not an important unit on their own.
Marriage is celebrated. Singleness is not. Now, these days, many single couples decide to live together and even have children outside of marriage. The widespread practice has changed the complexion of the church as parents struggle because what they believed to be right is not followed by their children. Celibacy outside of marriage is considered impossible and unnecessary – and even laughable. Marriage sermon series abound, often without the realization that perhaps more than half of their congregation is in one of the single categories – and they are aching to be recognized with compassion and understanding.
Some questions are able to be handled in loving ways. Who knows if/when I get home at night? Who is there to talk to when I really need to talk? I love Bible study. Where can I find someone to go deeper with? The answers to these and others like them all hinge around fellowship and relationship with others.
Other questions are not answered so easily, or they may be trivialized. What do I do with the God-given desire for physical, emotional, and mental intimacy with another person – a spouse? How do I handle desire for sexual contact? Who mentors me in self-discipline to practice celibacy? How can the desire for deep heartfelt conversation with a spouse be filled? Apart from the Song of Solomon, romance is not particularly addressed in scripture. But, it’s enough to bring up the question – Who chooses and cherishes and romances me?
Phew! Now it is definitely time for a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie! I know this post is longer than usual.
I hope it has sparked some thinking – and I really want to know what you think about you and church.
This quote from renowned family therapist, Virginia Satir, sounds nice, doesn’t it? But, if the statement is true, my guess is that there are a large number of “living dead” folks running around – unmarried and married. I love Webster’s definition of a hug: “to press closely within the arms.” Who doesn’t want that?
Here are some titles gleaned from an online search:
- ♥ 10 reasons we need at least 8 hugs a day.
- ♥ 7 reasons we should be giving more hugs.
- ♥ 4 benefits of hugs for mind and body.
- ♥ 9 compelling reasons why you need hugs every day.
- ♥ “Lord, I need a hug.” (book title)
We know that touch is imperative for the tiniest among us. If babies are not held often, their emotional development is arrested. You hoo! I think it happens to the rest of us, too. I don’t think we ever outgrow that need! Can I hear a very loud, “YOU’RE RIGHT!” Truth be told, too many singles go for weeks, even months without even a good side hug. Now, I know that many married folks don’t spend a lot of daily time hugging – and I think that is a crying shame! The opportunity is there, though. Built-in hugging sounds good to me.
Personally, I am fortunate to have a very huggy church family, so I get caught up on that activity on Sunday mornings. However, I barely make the “survivor” mode. That’s 28 hugs to account for 7 days.
About 15 years ago, I began to invest in monthly massages – mainly to deal with the knots in my shoulders – but realize that it also benefits the health and welfare of body, soul, and spirit. Of course, the fact that it just feels wonderful doesn’t hurt. I certainly have never made it up to the 12 hugs a day Satir thought was necessary for growth. I doubt many have. We are a hug-deprived society, methinks.
While the word “hug” does not appear in scripture, we see the concept as a loving and protecting gesture, especially for the tiny ones among us. We get the touching image of the shepherd holding little lambs close. (Isaiah 40:11) Most notably, we see Jesus taking little children in His arms and blessing them. My guess is that Jesus laughed and played with children frequently. (Mark 9:36; Mark 10:16) Another notable example of hugging is in the story of the prodigal son, where the father throws his arms around his returning son and kisses him. (Luke 15:20) Of course, the Song of Solomon is full of intimate touching as the writer expresses an ageless love song. Now, the word, “touch” is used often, but not so much in context of warm affection – until we read of Jesus touching folks.
- ♥ He touched those who had contagious diseases, such as leprosy, fever, etc. – forbidden in the Old Testament. (Matthew 8:3; 8:15)
- ♥ He touched those who had died in order to renew physical life. (Luke 17:4)
- ♥ He touched the blind, deaf, and mute. (Matthew 9:29; 20:34)
- ♥ And many people touched Jesus and even His clothes knowing that His love and healing would result. (Matthew 14:36; Mark 3:10; 5:27-31)
So, fellow hug-deprived persons, let’s work our way up to growth – 12 hugs a day. That’s 84 hugs a week! Ha ha!
But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life! (Jude 1:20-21 – MSG)
It’s the week after Thanksgiving, and if you are like the lion’s share of the country, you ended your Thursday with a full tummy and the thought that you wouldn’t need to eat for 3 days. By the way, “lion’s share” is a term meaning “the most of.” Watch any wild life documentary, and you’ve probably seen lions growling and biting and groveling for every bit of food they can get without concern for their furry family members. Of course, most of us didn’t wait 3 days, but were happy to see breakfast the next day. Hopefully, most of us also stopped to ponder things to be thankful for in 2014.
Celibacy is often put into the same category as appetite and hunger. Our body signals when it’s time to eat. Our body also signals when it wants physical intimacy. Just as hunger pangs increase the longer we do not eat, physical desire also increases when it does not receive release. There’s just one gigantic difference. One hunger leads to physical death if we do not eat again. The other can lead to a variety of different places – frustration, anger, despair, or even contentment and self-control. No matter how strong the urge,no one dies if they never express their sexuality in physical intimacy.
Not expressing sexuality in physical intimacy, however, has become a laughable, irrational, unreasonable concept to the lion’s share of the country. And, too many of the lions are those who say they consider the Bible to be the faithful transcript of God’s mind in rules of conduct, yet they also agree that it is not reasonable – or even possible – to save physical sexual expression for marriage. I have to admit that I have never seen a really good answer to “how does a single deal with intense sexual feelings without giving in to them?” The church in general has opted to keep repeating, “Just don’t,” “Wait,” and “Take cold showers.” None of these responses even begins to touch the core of the depth of desire many onesomes experience.
I admit that at times I am baffled by the lack of specific instruction in Scripture for the single person, especially the onesome in unwanted protracted singleness. I have often read I Corinthians 7:9 with puzzlement.
- * KJV – If a man cannot contain, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.
- * NIV – But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
- * NLT – But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.
- * AMP – But if they have not self-control (restraint of their passions), they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame [with passion and tortured continually with ungratified desire].
- * MSG – But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married. The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single.
A cursory reading of this verse makes it sound as if marriage was sort of like a peach on a tree available for the picking. It speaks to the “unmarried and the widows,” so men and women were addressed alike.
But, what happens to those who “burn” with nary a future spouse in sight?
I admit to a few flames at times. How ’bout you?
Well, this is where the whole area of self-control, restraint, and management of desires and emotions comes into the picture.
Thought and physical desire become partners.
- * Jesus speaks of lust and immorality beginning in the mind. (Matthew 15:19)
- * Taking part in things not glorifying to our Holy God leads to sin. (Acts 15:20)
- * Alcohol can lead us to drop our normal boundaries. (Romans 13:13)
- * The body is meant for sexual morality. (I Corinthians 6:13-18)
- * Sexual immorality is idolatry. (Colossians 3;5)
- * Flee immorality! (I Corinthians 6:18)
Are restraint and self-control feasible in terms of celibacy even in a sex-crazed society? Absolutely! We have to make difficult choices every day. Why not in this area?
NIV – Titus 2:11-12 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age . . .
One of the funniest conversations I ever had was trying to explain the mimeograph to my younger work colleagues. One was complaining about how slow the copy machine was – even though it was a new state-of-the-art creation at the time. I told him to be happy he didn’t have to use a mimeograph. He turned to me with the same question marks in his eyes that I’m sure are in many of your eyes. What in the world is that?
The mimeograph was a precursor to the copy machine. It used a legal-size waxy sheet which went into a typewriter – another fine example of a “what-is-that.” The typewriter was set so that the ribbon didn’t come between the key letters and the sheet, making sharp indentations. The machine had a large drum filled with toner around which the waxy sheet was carefully stretched so as not to tear it. The drum was rotated using a handle. Thousands of inky pages were sent into classrooms and businesses for quite a few years using this device, and people had to endure black finger tips if the ink had not totally dried. Thank goodness for the inventor of the copy machine which made the mimeograph obsolete and thankfully left behind.
There are many who would say that celibacy is one of those obsolete, outdated, old-fashioned, and ultra-conservative concepts. Of course, trying to compare “concept” with “concrete” is like the proverbial apples to oranges – obviously two different entities.
So, is celibacy a gift or a discipline? My personal opinion is that the practice of celibacy is a honing of self-control, which is empowered by the fruit of the Spirit the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22-23. The exercise of celibacy is the practice of growing discipline meant to reflect an inward decision to demonstrate sexuality in a righteous way as an unmarried individual.
Is celibacy punishment for an unnecessary rule? Exodus 20:14 – “You shall not commit adultery.” Non-celibacy falls under the understanding of this word which means, “don’t fool around with someone who is not your spouse” which includes the married and unmarried alike. Jesus repeated this commandment in Matthew 5;27-28, expanding it to mean that even thinking about adultery somehow becomes as strong a reality as the act.
When Moses descended the mountain with stone tablets upon which God had written commandments with His finger (Exodus 31:18) the Israelites did not have to ask for definitions of honoring God, idolatry, cursing, keeping the Sabbath, murder, adultery, stealing, giving false testimony, and coveting material things and relationships. They already knew what they meant, and they knew they had already broken them. For the most part, we do not need definitions to tell us that not following these things continue to be detrimental to maintaining an orderly life.
The argument is that while we can exercise self-control in areas like murder and stealing, it is not reasonable to expect that the same self-control can be exercised in areas like adultery and coveting relationships. Why are these things singled out as unreasonable while the others are not?
Let’s face it. Feelings can be so strong as to overwhelm us. It’s obvious that if we ignore the feeling of hunger indefinitely, we die. We’ve come to equate sexuality with physical appetite. While there is no evidence that abstaining from sexual acts is fatal, many would say it feels just like that. They might also say abstaining from sexual acts while unmarried simply is neither reasonable nor rational. Jesus’ mention, however, of the thought of adultery being in the same realm as the act, puts it solidly into the area of reason.
There are no celebrations that I’m aware of for faithful celibacy outside of marriage. It is unfortunate that the church at large simply ignores the issue most of the time, leaving many onesomes feeling like they are less valued than they would be if they were married. That’s why you see very few of the never-married in churches today. And, that’s one of the reasons why many churches do not consider it an issue compelling enough to address. The church does not think enough of us exist!
But, does that make celibacy unreasonable, irrational, outdated, and obsolete? Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers and the flowers fail, but the word of our God endures forever.” (NIV) If He valued sexual faithfulness when these words were written thousands of years ago, He continues to value it – to value us!
Well, these are the thoughts I woke up with this morning. How about you? I’d love to read your views.