May 14, 2013

In Her Shoes: Single Women

Ministry life is rewarding yet difficult. However, the longer I live, I recognize that everyone is walking a hard road in some way, and they simply want to be known, listened to, and understood. As we relate to women in our churches, the best thing we can do is ask questions, listen, and try to put ourselves in their shoes. 

In order to help us with this, I invite women in different life circumstances to share on the blog in an occasional series I call "In Her Shoes".  Today, I've asked one of my dearest friends, Marylyn, to share. Marylyn is in grad school, studying to become an occupational therapist. She is a faithful leader in our church, having served in numerous capacities, including children's ministry coordinator and prayer ministry team leader. I asked her to help us understand what life is like for her as a single woman in the church. I invite you to read and listen with a heart to minister to women in her same position.
As a person who is single in the church, there are many things that bring me great joy. I have an abundance of time that allows me to invest in the lives of many different children and families. I love that I have an impact on the lives of a bunch of kids through our children’s ministry and through loving on the moms in our church well. I love that I have opportunities to babysit and encourage married friends to have date nights, which allows me to get life giving time with kids while also serving my friends. I love that I have freedom. I can go overseas for a summer. I can invest money in grad school. I can go on spontaneous road trips. I can make decisions without asking for permission or getting a babysitter or planning weeks in advance. I have an abundance of time that God can use for his kingdom.
That's my sweet friend, Marylyn, in the turquoise sweater, greeting people at our church.
However, I would be lying to you if I said that being a single in the church is not without its challenges. On average, it definitely feels like Christians marry at an earlier age, and since I went to a college in the south, the vast majority of my friends are married. Because singleness is currently my deepest source of pain, Sundays mornings are often times where I feel the most lonely. I always sit by myself on Sunday mornings. Church is often a place where all I see are couples holding hands and babies being rocked, where all I see is what others have and what I long for.

People often ask me how they can encourage me, and so here are some things that I have found helpful and not helpful. However, I would also encourage you to ask the singles that you know what is and is not helpful for them, because every single person is different and most likely they have unique things that are encouraging and discouraging to them.

Pray for your single friends. I pray often that God would grant my desire for a spouse, and it is so encouraging to hear that friends pray for me to remain content and live well in singleness, as well as for a spouse. I don’t take for granted having people who pray for me because often I feel alone and isolated.

Invite your single friends over to spend time with you and your kids…and also with you by yourself. I love getting to know families and being apart of their life as a family, but I also know that if their kids are there, we both are only going to be able to pay 50% of attention to our conversation and the other 50% will be interrupted. My best relationships with moms involve time with their whole family and time with just them.

Ask how they are doing with singleness….but not too often. There is this balance of the topic not being totally off limits but also not wanting it to be the only thing you ever talk about it. So ask about it, but not all the time.

Don’t say “I understand what you’re going through,” if you don’t. If you met your husband and married your husband soon after college like many Christian women, you don’t understand what it is like to be single 5/10/15 years after you graduate. You don’t know what it’s like to have not dated or kissed a man in years. When one of my closest friends had a miscarriage, I never pretended to understand what she was going through; I just cried with her. Sometimes rather than hearing a pat answer, it is more encouraging to hear, "I can only imagine how hard that must be."

Don’t act like God for sure will give me a husband because He might not. A spouse is not a promise that God gives in the Bible. God may choose to fulfill my desires in a different way, and I want to be ready and accepting of that. When you say it is a guarantee that God will give me a husband, this just affirms a lie that I already struggle not to believe.

To set up or to not set up on dates. That’s such a tough question…and to be honest, my answer has changed over the years. Right out of college, my fear was that my pastor and his wife would set me up with any eligible Christian fellow that came to the church (Thankfully, they did not do that). I was not in a place where I wanted other people seeking out marriage material for me. However, now that I do not have much interaction with the opposite sex (my profession is 97% female), I value people who have connections to other people and thoughtfully consider whether or not to introduce me.

I love the thought behind this series because it highlights that even though we all have unique callings as a ministry wife or a doctor’s wife or a single woman, much of our experience is the same. We all feel lonely and misunderstood sometimes. We all long for deep friendships. We all rejoice in our callings some days, feeling a great sense of purpose and hope. We all have days where we resent the life that God has given us and struggle not to compare what God has given everyone else around us. What a blessing it is that we get to live in community with one another, encouraging each other to turn to our Father, the source of our purpose, hope and joy in our unique calling.

Isn't she great? I love her. If you are single, how do you relate with what Marylyn shared? Is there anything you'd want the rest of us to know? Married women, what questions do you have about serving single women in the church?