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How You Can Love our Singles Well

January 30th, 2015

by Jenilyn Swett

When people think about the demographic makeup of Crossroads, what tends to come to mind most quickly is “lots of families with young kids.” While this is true, if you take a closer look you’ll also see couples without kids, families with much older kids, empty nesters, college students, and a growing number of unmarried women and men. Our pastors have asked me to share a bit today from my perspective as a single woman at Crossroads. You may not be surprised that I’m delighted by this opportunity (and hence a bit wordy).

In her book Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, author Christine Pohl writes about the necessity of promise-making and –keeping in community.

We make and depend on promises because we know that, as human beings, we are often inconsistent, and we find it hard to live and love without some assurances. Commitment, as Margaret Farley notes, ‘is love’s way of being whole while it still grows into wholeness,’ […] In the words of philosopher Hannah Arendt, when we make and keep promises, we create ‘islands of predictability’ amid the ‘unpredictability of human affairs’ and the ‘unreliability’ of human beings (p 65).

This passage seems to name what is, for me at least, one of the deep aches of singleness. “We find it hard to live and love without some assurances.” The covenant made between a husband and wife creates a safe space in which love and unity can grow, and the two individuals involved can grow in wholeness as individuals and as a couple, dwelling together on an island of predictability in the midst of life’s unpredictable weather.

Certainly, marriage doesn’t last forever and promises can be broken. Marriage is not ultimate assurance, ultimate safety, ultimate predictability. But while that reality puts my longing in correct perspective, it doesn’t take it away. And it shouldn’t. Because marriage is meant as a good thing. Marriage was designed so that two would become one, and would be in it — whatever “it” turns out to be — together. ‘Til death do us part.

Yet while I lament the lack of such a promise in my life right now, this is why belonging to a church is so important to me. When I joined Crossroads (five years ago this weekend!), I made a promise to our church family, and y’all to me: a promise to walk together with one another, to rejoice and mourn together, to challenge and encourage one another in our spiritual journeys. This is a sweet promise and commitment, because even as individuals come and go from a particular local church and one-on-one relationships change, the church itself remains. There is still, by God’s grace, a place to belong, a wider community to whom to belong.

Crossroads is blessed to have an increasing number of single folks among its members and visitors. But, we find ourselves in the minority. I’ve written at length elsewhere about how single adults can embrace the church, but I want to take a moment now to scratch the surface of how the members of the church – especially those in the church who are married – can love and fulfill their promises to those who aren’t. Many of you are already doing some or all of these things; thank you, and please keep it up!

1. Seek to include and befriend.

If you find yourself juggling two or more individuals’ schedules in your family life, wrangling children, and managing home, work, and neighborhood responsibilities, it can be easy to overlook those who are single. But consider how you can include single people even in the midst of what your life already entails. Invite us to join you in the pew or for lunch after church. Invite us to join you at your dinner table (and a last-minute invite is better than nothing!). Invite us to join you for a community event or birthday celebration or family movie night. Need an excuse for a guys’ or girls’ night out? Invite us – maybe we’ll even be willing to take care of the planning! If it crosses your mind to extend an invitation, don’t talk yourself out of it – do it! Singleness can be a particularly solitary, lonely season, and pursuit and companionship are great gifts.

(I should add that there are also particular ways in which singleness can be busy and exhausting. If we have to say no to an invitation, we’d probably love to be invited again at another time.)

2. Don’t assume – ask!

We know that every person’s story is different and unique, but it can be easy to make assumptions about a group of people. As you build relationships with single people in our church and in your life, ask questions! As you get to know us – our stories, our vocations, what we’re passionate about – also learn about our experience of singleness. The blessings and challenges of singleness are not the same for each one of us. Not every single person wants to be married. Not every single person thinks online dating is the answer (nor does every single person think it’s not). Not every person is open to being set up with your eligible [cousin/friend/neighbor/co-worker], but some of us are! Don’t make assumptions. As you build relationships, ask these questions and listen well to the answers.

3. Make space for lament.

As relationships continue to grow, strive to create safe space for open conversation about the things that are hard and painful about this season of life. Talk about heartbreak and disappointment and the things we don’t understand, and bring these things before the Lord together. Most importantly, let this be a two-way street! That doesn’t mean that you should say that you understand how a single 33-year-old feels because you were single for approximately 2 months after college. That does mean that in the context of a trusted relationship, it is right and good to acknowledge the commonality we can find in our longings and in the pain of things that are not the way they’re supposed to be.

4. Consider our practical needs.

While our relational needs may be significant, singleness brings with it more than its share of practical needs. Most of us don’t have an automatic go-to person when we need a ride to the airport, when our car is in the shop, or when we’re miserably sick. We’re on our own for making decisions large and small. Many of us live alone, which means we’re the only ones who ever take the trash out, we take care of (or let slide) our own “Honey Do” list, and we probably do a little (or a lot) less cooking that we’d ideally like to. Consider the particular ways that you and your family might be able to minister to the practical needs in the life of a single person you know.

Unmarried and married – we all need each other as brothers and sisters in the family of Christ, and I am so grateful for the Crossroads family! Y’all know I could go on, but for now I’ll end this here. I’d be happy to pull up a chair and talk more over dinner with you and your family 😉

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