I haven’t always loved being single. And I most certainly haven’t always loved church.
To be clear, I mean single in the sense of being unmarried. I also mean church not as in “here’s the steeple” but in a broader sense. I believe the church exists outside of concrete walls and it hasn’t always been easy to love that broader Christian entity.
I should love being single, right? I should enjoy my freedom and my youth and my lack of commitments! I should love the church too. Mostly because I’m a Christian and that’s what “good” Christians do…right?
For a long time I felt really ashamed because I wasn’t living up to the expectations of my “should”. There was a season in life when, on Saturdays, I would walk down an aisle wearing an ill-fitting and wildly expensive dress looking at someone else’s groom. Then on Sundays I would turn around and walk down the aisle of my church and shimmy past couples as I made my way to my seat, sitting alone, and desperately hoping someone from the hospitality team would forget to be hospitable to me.
The last thing I needed was for someone to draw attention to the fact that, much like the day before, I was still sitting alone.
Here’s the problem about sitting alone in a church pew or at a wedding reception in the South. Everyone else feels really uncomfortable, as though they don’t know what to do with you, and so out of discomfort and fear they respond in one of two ways:
They either try to smother you or avoid you.
The smothering is certainly well-intentioned. It’s full of set-ups and not so subtle hints about the cute boy standing in line over by the coffee. Suddenly singleness is a disease to be cured, a problem to be solved, a match to be made. And again, sometimes the intentions are pure. But a lot of times it's just the easy way out.
It’s a lot easier to ask a single person about their “type” rather than actually asking them about themselves.
We would much rather fix a problem than know a person. Problem-solving isn’t nearly as messy and we feel a whole lot better about ourselves afterwards. Especially if all goes well resulting in 2.5 kids, a minivan, and a Goldendoodle puppy.
But in all honesty, avoidance hurts even more. Because of the differences in age and in stage of life it’s easy to get life behind as a single person. Instead of welcoming singles into a group they’re often relegated to what could easily be the Seventh Circle of Hell:
Which honestly feels like purgatory. It’s a holding ground until you graduate to the big leagues of marriage- then and only then do you get an invitation to the table. Once you’re married you can finally contribute to more than just the nursery on Sunday mornings. You’ll get the special seal of approval to join the married folks in their deep, intimate friendships with one another.
But until then you must navigate the lonely and muddy waters of singleness.
Singleness in the church and the South in general isn’t something to be fixed or avoided. It’s something to be embraced.
As a single person I don’t need you to pull me out of the depths of my singleness through a set-up. I also don’t need you to relegate me there in the form of a singles group.
What I need is for you to embrace me.
At the end of the day we’re all lonely. Married and single alike we’re dying for connection. In fact, I would imagine there’s no lonelier feeling than being married and waking up next to someone who, at times, feels like a complete stranger. As a single person I must admit there are times when I feel the deep pangs of loneliness. But there are also times to distinguish between the fact that just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I’m lonely.
It’s not a marriage issue, it’s an intimacy issue. Because marriage won’t cure loneliness and the fact that we think it will sets each of us up for the most profound type of failure:
It causes us to enter into any relationship with unrealistic expectations.
As a single person it causes me to look ahead to marriage to fulfill my deepest needs. It creates the expectation that then and only then will I finally be known. As a married person it forces us to shop for our self-worth from our partner. We look across the bed and ask for another human to give us everything we need and more.
Marriage won’t cure loneliness because it assumes another person can carry the weight of our identities when in reality people often get crushed under them.
But you know what does cure loneliness?
You know where we can find those?
As a church we have the freedom to be fully seen, fully known, and fully embraced in Christ. Then and only then can we turn around and offer the same to others.
Which means we get to be a safe place for single and married people alike to find deep, intimate relationships no matter what stage of life. It means we’re free to invite people in to see what our lives actually look like, rather than just the glossy Instagram versions in search of likes and validation.
And as a single person I am free to find intimacy in a variety of relationships. I don’t have to look to my future spouse to provide me with the depth of intimacy that I can have from a strong community of people. Instead I can first and foremost look to Christ to be known. Afterwards I can look to a mentor, a group of friends, and a few others as well.
Loneliness, like singleness, isn't to be fixed or avoided. Both are to be embraced.