When “Staying You” Is A Bad Idea

When I was about 27 or so I had been dating a woman for a several months when she decided that I wasn’t for her and that someone else was.  It was a hard thing for me to take for a couple of reasons.  I had waited what felt like a long time already to get married and I really, really thought she could be “the one“.

As I was processing through the “breakup” I was fortunate to have some good friends and mentors who really came along side me.  But one of the weirdest conversations I had was with a woman maybe 20 years older than me said something like, “Wow it’s hard.  All these years you’ve been single.  How do you keep from blaming yourself?  How do you keep from thinking you’re the problem?”

I gave some sort of answer to that.  I don’t really remember what, but I’m sure it was good. But here’s what is interesting.  In many ways I’d like to have that conversation back.

While I think that this woman was honestly just trying to be encouraging and telling me that, “Hey, don’t worry – it’s not you” maybe what I needed to hear was, “So what part of this is you?”

The reality was in that particular case, it really wasn’t me.  But the fact that I made it to 41 and single – a lot of that was indeed me.

Do you remember when you were in school and you would get the school yearbook? There’d be a few pages or an insert or some other place where you would get notes from classmates. Have you ever read back over those?  It’s mostly generic stuff like, “Hey bro – great time rockin’ with you in English this year,” or “J Man – thanks for keeping me sane in Chemistry.”  But often we gave each other the worst advice of all – “Stay you.”  “Don’t ever change.”  Umm yeah – don’t grow or develop – good idea.

If I look back on mine, I could sum up the what every girl I was attracted to wrote – “J – you’re such a good friend.  Couldn’t have made it without you.  Don’t ever change.”  I’ll come back to this in a post soon – but that right there sums up far more guys’ lives than would want to admit it.

But for today, what I want to focus on is this idea that we don’t need to change who we are, what we do, how we act, think, or live.  I’m not saying people who espouse it don’t mean well, they typically do.  But when it comes to most things in life, and for sure dating and marriage – it’s just simply terrible advice.

In Christianese terms it usually means that God “has someone else for you” or if you stay true to yourself, then for sure God will bring someone at the right time. It could also be that every person you’ve ever been interested in had it wrong.  But the bottom line is, there is someone out there for you.  And you need to just stay strong and be “who you are” and then the “right person” will love you for “who you are”.

It all sounds nice, but I’m not sure how helpful it really is.

Without even getting into the dating/single/marriage stuff, we are not called to be who we are currently.  One could make a case that we are called to become who we are created to be.  But that is different.  Who I am right now is a flawed, broken by sin (my own and others’) individual.  I’m in Jesus and He is changing me over time to become who He meant for me to be.  But until I’m there – I should be changing, aka growing.

We all have stuff that we need to grow in and change.  Now to be clear, I’m not saying that you have to first get all your stuff together before you get married.  That’s part of the reason we have the problems we do, this false idea that i have to be “ready” to get married.

When it comes to dating, if the same stuff keeps happening over and over again, we need to look inward and ask what part of that is us.  What can we do different?  I think when it comes to dating, especially as a Christian guy, this seems to get skipped over.

Stuck in the friend zone over and over again?  That could be you.  In a new relationship every six months?  Maybe you.  Can’t seem to ever talk to or approach someone you are really attracted to?  Might be worth thinking about.

Look at this way.  In other practical areas of your life you grow.  When you were a kid, you got better at sports or math, or a band instrument.  You didn’t stay the same.  When you get a job – hopefully over time you get better at it.  Are your current friendships the same type as you had in high school? (If so, that might be a problem as well).

Relating to the opposite sex is no different.  If you’re stuck, maybe it’s time to change.  Maybe that means getting help -be it friends, counseling, books – you name it.

Most of the time in life, we know when change is necessary. We just don’t like it.  It’s easier to say, “it’s not me” than to say, “Maybe it is me”.

Final thought and clarification.  Am I saying be fake?  No.  Am I saying go out and misrepresent yourself? No – that’s called lying.  What I’m saying is it’s ok to grow in how you relate to the opposite sex.  In fact, I would suggest that if you are over 26 and single, it might be necessary.  It was for me.

 

Top Reasons “While You’re Still Single” Lists Are Bad

So I recently read an article about “enjoying your singleness”.  It was basically a list of all the things you should do while you’re “still” single.  Many articles have been written about this.  “7 Things To Do While You’re Still Single.”  “10 Great Things About Being Single”  “6 Things To Do Until You Meet The One”  “10 Ways Take Advantage Of Your Singleness”  “What To Do In Your Season Of Singleness”.  “Blah, Blah Blah.”

There is so much wrong with this mentality and we have to, HAVE TO, change it.

Where to begin?  Staying in the spirit – here is a list.

1. These lists assume that your singleness is temporary.  Usually very temporary.  The idea is that you will for sure get married soon – so soak up all singleness has to offer now. Don’t worry, it will happen, but don’t miss all the great stuff you can have as a single.  Yeah, I’d say about age 28-29 I was pretty ready to miss all that stuff.

2. Often times these list come off pretty self centered.  Basically the message is go out there and be about you because once your married it’s not all about you.  Here’s the deal, it’s not all about you now.  It never was and never will be.  This is not “your time”.  It’s God’s – every time.

3. If it’s so great and there are all of these great ways to live single (and if marriage is so hard) then why in the world get married?  And we wonder why people are waiting forever.

4. The funny part is that a lot of these list are made up of things that for the most part are not really about taking advantage of singleness.  They are about engaging life.

Some things commonly on the list -

  • Travel – see the world – yes this is much more fun alone than with a spouse.  Um no
  • Save money – long run this is not even remotely true – and to top it off, 50% of single people live alone – so they aren’t even saving on that.
  • Do more ministry – yes because all the people who do ministry are single – oh wait. .
  • Hang out with friends – yes because we all know that once you get married you are required to drop your friends.  I mean all my friends that got married dropped me – oh wait, no they didn’t.  Yikes.
  • Spend more time with God – this is just terrible.  Yes there is a calling to celibacy that some have in which they have a different sort of vow with God.  But this is not true for the “not yet married” or the singleness that these authors are talking about.  In fact I would say that wanting a spouse can be more distracting than having one.  Let me promise you this – I have not prayed less since becoming married.  If we are honest, no matter what our context we need to be in constant relation with God.  If being married means being further from God then God would not have instituted it before sin.

Look – all of these things are good.  But they aren’t good to do because you are single. They are good to do period.  You should engage God, others, your friends, your job, and for sure if you’re married your wife, your kids.  I get it, it looks different married than single. But you know what it looks different in all sorts of different seasons.  There are always transitions and movements.  Situations evolve and change – jobs, moves, kids, deaths. Not just single vs. married.

5. On another note, none of these list deal with why you are single (A better list might be – “10 Things To Help You Get Un-single”).  They don’t deal with what you might be doing wrong, what might be holding you back, what fears you might need to face, what wounds you might need to seek healing for, what sin you might need to repent of, or even if you should consider if you might be called to celibacy.

It assumes that you don’t need to do anything.  Just kick back and enjoy this “season” until God brings you The One.  The whole this is where God has you right now mantra.  Look, it may be where He has you.  It may also be a combination of 100 other things.

Here is my encouragement to you friends.  Single folks – don’t do any of the things on the list because you’re single.  Do them because they are right and good.  Don’t do them thinking this will help you when you get married.  Don’t save money so that you’ll have more for marriage – save money because it’s smart – married or single.  Don’t engage friends thinking you won’t get to later – engage them because it’s healthy to do so.

Whatever you do, don’t delay marriage just to do these things thinking that you’ll miss out on something you could do single.  That will always be true.  There will always be sacrifice. But you know what, staying single means missing out on stuff too.  There could just as easily be a list “10 things you’ll miss if you get married after 30″.

It’s time to drop the handy dandy platitude lists attempting to soothe our hurt and justify our context.  Dive into life from wherever you’re at.  Jesus said He came to bring life to the full. Engage it – single or married.

 

 

 

My Grandmother And My Singleness

This last week my nearly 102 year old grandmother passed away.  To say that my grandmother had a full and incredible life would be an understatement.  She was strong, strong willed, and loving.  She loved God and her family.  She was a pastors wife, teacher, and mother to four, and she understood ministry – both vocationally and personally.

She loved Jesus and never stopped growing.  She always read the bible. Always.  She prayed for every person in our family – probably pretty much every day.  She was traditional, but yet always tried to learn new stuff – be it from the bible or the ministry that I was doing.  I remember being sort of amazed when “The Passion” came out that she wanted to watch it.  She was 90.  I’ve never known anyone closer to Jesus than my Grandmother.

This was a woman who came into her adulthood in the depression.  She was a woman of faith, strength and love.  She was the true Matriarch of our family.

Today’s post is going to be a little different and a touch longer than normal.  I want to talk about what, looking back, I can learn from my grandmother about singleness.  I do this because there is no way to tell my story of singleness without her in it.  So let’s start there.

From when I was in my twenties, grandmother always wanted me to find a spouse. I mean it was a constant question.  I’m not going to lie.  Sometimes it was annoying.  I’ve written before about family and singleness and responding to others.  But this woman was so determined for me find a spouse that it was tough.  I remember thinking, “maybe you should just get me a wife for Christmas” or “if it were that easy I’d have found one by now”. She didn’t really ask why I was single as I approached my thirties.  She just told me what to do about it.  Haha!

In a letter she wrote to me (remember letters?) she said, “I know you are enjoying your work, and you have a house.  Now find a woman to share it with!”  As my younger brother was finishing school she said, “Get a degree, get a job, and get a wife.”  All of which he did, in succession by the way, long before me.

But here’s what made her more than annoying.  She meant it!  She wanted it for me even when I didn’t.  It wasn’t some sort of “I want some grandkids so get busy” thing.  It was never demeaning and she never viewed me as incomplete in any way.  She just loved me and wanted me to be happy with someone.  And what’s more, and this is important for all you married people talking to single people, SHE BACKED IT UP!

This woman prayed for me constantly to find someone.  She didn’t have one or two prayers.  She prayed for years – no two decades.  Yes she talked to me about it (without using platitudes by the way).  But her prayer to talk ratio was probably at least 100:1. Think about that.

I had one other cousin that was unmarried.  We were both 40 or older.  My mom said, only somewhat jokingly, that she was not going to die until we were married.  We both got married last year.  Well done Grandmother.  Well done.

I hate that my grandmother wasn’t able to be at my wedding.  I know she would have loved it.  One of the hard things about being unmarried for an extended time is that there are some things that we lose along the way.  It’s appropriate to mourn those.  I know that my grandmother was thrilled, but it isn’t the same.  She would have loved our wedding. Absolutely would have loved it.

For my grandmother getting married wasn’t complicated.  She knew every story was different but to her, you meet someone and you get married.  Grandmother met my grandfather (a visiting young pastor) at age 22 on November 17, 1934.  She writes that they went on their first date the next afternoon.  Six weeks later as they drove around her hometown he asked, “Do you think you could marry me” or something to that effect.  She said yes and they were married 6 months later.  Talk about not playing around.

Now it’s easy to dismiss this as old school etc.  But here’s the reality.  1935 was no American utopia.  They had it a lot tougher than we’ve ever thought about having it. They had nothing. But they knew what they wanted.  As she writes, “we had known each other only six weeks, but we felt we knew what we were doing.”  Apparently.  They stayed married over 54 years until my grandfather passed away.  This leads me to another great point we can take from my grandmother.

My grandmother lived nearly 25 years longer than her husband.  So she understood what it meant to live alone.  She never slept in their room again for the four years she lived in that same house.  But she didn’t sit around and feel sorry for herself.  In fact as we shared stories this past weekend, no one could think of one time that my grandmother complained.

She moved twice.  She always joined a church and made friends.  She encouraged others – be they in her study group, her neighbor, or even her pastor.  Being married for 54 years was a gigantic part of her story, but it wasn’t her whole identity.  The significance of that can’t be overstated.  To completely and selflessly love another person while keeping your identity in Christ.  What an example.

She lost her husband of 54 years.  She mourned but she didn’t complain.  She lost a brother, a daughter, even a grandkid.  She lived by herself and the last few years in a nursing home but she didn’t complain – she adapted.  She lost her sight and one of her biggest loves – reading.  She listened to audio books – including the bible. One of my last conversations with her she said, “I’m in some pain, but hey, I’m 100.”  True that.

Yes she had the love of her life.  But she also lived without him for longer than most of us will.  There is something for us to learn from that.  So much that there isn’t space here even if I could explain it.

What it comes down to is the woman was powerful in the Kingdom of God.

So thanks Grandmother for walking me through singleness – for pushing me, challenging me, loving me, praying for me and maybe most of all backing it up with how you lived it out.  Unbelievable.

 

 

 

 

 

Paralyzed By Choices

Just over a year ago, I was driving home during a huge storm with wind, rain and some hail.  I remember thinking, “Man, I hope my car doesn’t get hail damage.”  Then as I turned onto my street and headed towards my house it happened.  I hit what I at first thought was just a huge puddle as I saw a huge splash.  But then all of a sudden I realized that instead I had driven directly into a flash flood.  It was up over my bumper and my engine stalled.

It’s amazing what goes through your head.  At first I tried to restart my car – um that wasn’t happening.  Then I rolled down my window to survey the situation.  It was not good.  I shut the window because we wouldn’t want the leather to get wet.  Water started seeping in. (For free – if you’ve ever wondered how long you would have in your car if you drove into say a lake, before water filled up the inside of your car . . . answer. . . not very dang long.)

All this to say, my car was completely totaled.  Water got in everywhere.  I was sad as I really liked my car (which was paid for) and planned on driving it for about another 100,000 miles.

Fortunately Nationwide really was on my side and gave me a very fair amount for my car. But now, I needed to find a new car.  So I of course had to set up some qualifications for this car. I wanted a car similar to my old car with the same features (heated leather seats, v-6 engine, sporting looking, lots of leg and head room, moon roof, at least 30mpg, etc). But I had some restrictions.  I was committed to not having a car payment for example.

So I set out to find “The Car”.  Shopping for a car is sort of crazy these days.  Almost all dealers have multiple locations and websites.  You can go online and search cars, values, compare and contrast.  But of course you need to go test drive it.  This is a big decision.  I mean whatever I get, I’m planning on driving a long time.

I did it all.  I booked marked cars online.  I went to a ton of dealers.  I gave my number to dealers who would call me if something came in close to what I was looking for.  I test drove easily 15-20 cars.  I almost pulled the trigger a couple of times but decided no, or the car was sold.  Once I had one that I really liked but I couldn’t afford it.

Finally, at a dealer two hours away, I found a car that worked and a dealer who worked with me.  I had my car.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a solid choice.  I still like my car a year later.

Friends, that was searching for car.  Now find go and find a spouse.

We live in a world with a ridiculous amount of choice in all categories. Groceries, restaurants, items at restaurants, Cable TV, hundreds of channels.  Really there is a choice for everything.  We’ve bought into the idea that more choice is good. But with more choice comes more confusion, indecision, panic, regret, and anxiety*.  No where is this more true than our current dating culture.

When you go back in history, our choices for a spouse were much more limited.  For most of history you had basically no choice.  You married who you were arranged to marry.  But even in recent history, you married who you knew.  You grew up in one geographical area, met someone you were attracted to, and tried to make it happen.  You maybe had a few choices and comparisons.

Today because of travel, technology and urban explosion, we live in a world where there is always someone new to meet.  You could literally spend your life going on first dates.  And if there are all these choices, then there must be the right choice.  That one perfect choice.

Our Christian dating culture just exasperates this whole idea.  You are looking for the right one. Not only are looking for someone you are attracted to and get along with, but there are all these criteria.  Do they love Jesus?  Are you equally yoked?  Are they THE ONE God has for you.  Talk about pressure.

Throw in the fear of choosing wrong (this is for life after all) and we often end up paralyzing ourselves.  We have so much choice that many of us can’t choose.

The question becomes how the heck do you know?  How do you choose?

Am I suggesting we throw out our qualifiers and criteria?  Not exactly.  Am I saying attraction doesn’t count?  Heck no.  But what I am saying is that we can’t live in fear of choosing wrong.  We need to hold it loosely to be sure.  Its to our advantage to know that we can walk away, that we don’t have to choose a person.  But at the same time there is no perfect person and no perfect decision.

I want to talk more about how to choose and what I think a couple of qualifiers that I personally think everyone needs to consider.  But for today I want to leave you with a couple of questions.

How has this plethora of choices affected you?  Have you ever been paralyzed by the fear of choosing wrong?  Have you accidentally convinced yourself that there is the one perfect choice?

Do you want to know the craziest part?  Love itself is a choice.

 

* For a great article on choice in our culture read this from The Economist.

 

 

Responding To Platitudes

One of the most annoying things that you deal with as single person is all of the things that people say to you about your singleness.  I’m talking about all of the platitudes, quick answers, and questions that people say to you.

I was single until I was nearly 41 and believe me, I’ve heard them all.  They come from all directions.  People who care, people who don’t.  People who feel sorry for you, people who are frustrated with/at you.  From behind the pulpit to in the small group to heck, behind the counter.

  • I’m sure God has someone for you.
  • God is preparing someone for you – just be patient
  • Be grateful for your time as a single – once you get married it all changes.
  • Are you praying for your spouse?
  • Have you tried online?
  • It’s when you aren’t looking that you find someone
  • Just seek to be content in your singleness and God will provide
  • It will happen at the right time
  • Just focus on serving God right now.
  • God must have someone really special for you
  • Better to be single than married to the wrong person
  • Don’t settle
  • Are you too picky?
  • Are you dating anyone?

I could go on and on and on and on and on.  It can be funny, awkward, frustrating, or even infuriating.  The question is how do we respond well to this stuff.  I mean do you blow it off? Do you give a great sarcastic answer? “Are you praying for it?”- “Wow!  I’ve never thought about praying for it.  I’ll be sure to do that.”  Haha.

I think how we respond matters because it affects us and sometimes others.

There are some key things to keep in mind.  What is the intent? What is your relationship to this person?  What is the goal of your response?

Most of the time people are just making conversation.  It’s a question, in our culture that we lead with. It’s just a way of talking about something. The weather, the local sports team, your marital status. It’s all the same. There is zero reason to let it bother you. This last weekend I celebrated my one year anniversary. You know what everyone asks me? “So hows married life?” “Hows your wife?” “First year of marriage huh – bet that was fun.” “So has the honeymoon worn off?” Depending on how I answer that, they’ll have a nice thing to say about it. It’s no different as a parent. “How’s the kid?” “How is school going?”

Most of the people at church, in our neighborhood and even many of our family and friends will fit this category.  I think this is where you smile and take it.  And then ask about their kids. . . or the NBA finals.

There are others who ask out of some sort of sense of arrogance or wanting to fix you. This is more troublesome and might be worth challenging.  One time when I was on the golf course with a business associate who was about my age.  He was a Christian and married with kids.  He began to tell me how I should lead my dating life.  Basically he was pulling rank and telling me how to “stay pure”.  When the conversation moved to “I tell my 14 year old son. . . ” I stopped him.  I said, “Do you really want to have this conversation?  Because I’ll have it with you.  Do you really want to be in this with me?  I’ll let you in, but if you want to go there, it’s about to get real right now.”  That oddly enough kind of stopped the conversation.

Finally there are those who really do care about us.  I’m talking about our close friends and family who actually walk with us.  This is where, if we are bothered by what they ask us or the “wisdom” they dispense or if we are just tired of being identified as the single person in the group, we need to speak up honestly.  If we can’t challenge what these people say to us in a loving way, then we are in trouble, and not just in this part of the conversation.

But we need to realize some things from our end.  Do we really want to move beyond it?  Do we really want their actual opinion and help?  And finally, have we set the stage that way ourselves?

If for example every time someone says what can I pray for, we say, “a spouse” we don’t have a lot of room to be frustrated with them bringing it up.  If I’m focussed there, it’s pretty natural for the people around me to want to help.  Do we really want honest answers?  For example would we be willing to ask “why do you think I’m still single – for real?”  “Do you think I’m doing anything wrong?”  “How am I around the opposite sex?”  Are we willing to hear the answers?  Here’s what I’m saying.  WIth our close friends, how do we help them help us.

I’d love to hear from my readers on this one.  A couple of questions.

What are some of the things people say to you that drive you the most crazy?  How do you respond?

 

 

 

Why Married People Need A Singles Sermon Series

Recently, I was asked by a pastor friend of mine to help him consider how to handle singleness from the pulpit and frankly throughout his church.  I of course said, “Read my blog – duh.”  Just kidding.

First of all, this man should be commended for taking it on and asking questions (not just of me).  I’ve written before about how your pastor probably doesn’t get it.  This is how one gets out of that situation – because anyone can get it.

Now I have some thoughts on what a sermon series on “singleness” would look like.  I’ll share some of that soon.  But one of the things I think a pastor runs up against if he wants to talk about singleness from the pulpit is that most likely the majority of his audience will be married.

This is one of the good reasons that churches do marriage sermon series.  They are trying to help people who are married.  And they know if they do have single people there, that most of them want to be married and therefore might be able to gain something from it.  In fact as I’ve written before – as a single you really should pay attention to that sermon series.

But the problem comes when this same pastor wants to talk about singleness.  How does he “sell” that to a mostly married crowd?  Today I’m going to tell you exactly how I’d do that.  In other words, I’m going to tell you why all this stuff we talk about here should be important to married people in the church.  Very important actually.  There are many reasons, but here are a few – in no particular order.

For starters, most married people, have single friends.  They work with single people, live down the street from them, sit next to them at church.  Married people need to know how to best minister to these people – and not from a place of superiority.  I think there are a lot of married folks who want to care about their single friends but don’t know much about it.  Learning more would help.  In the same way that I tried to learn to minister to my married friends (and even challenge them) even though I wasn’t married, married people need to do that as well.

This leads to a secondary point.  50% of American adults are unmarried.  Most of those people (as in literally most) don’t go to church.  So if we are going to invite a friend to church, there is a good chance they will be single.  If we are serious about reaching out into the community, learning how to think about singleness and the Gospel is pretty key.

Another reason married people need this information is that many of them entered marriage under wrong premises.  Yes the marriage sermon helps here.  But so does the sermon about not being married.  When you knock down all of the spiritual platitudes that we tell single people (God has someone for you, hasn’t brought you the one yet, is waiting for you to be ready, save yourself for marriage, etc.) we also help married people who are struggling in their marriage because they believed in those exact platitudes and now they are being let down by them.

Let me promise you this.  If a church did a gutsy sermon series on the unmarried and the Gospel, they would rock a lot of married people’s worlds.  In what would eventually be a good way, some crap would hit the fan.  Not only that, but there would be some marriages that are struggling in which by the end of this series, they would become committed to figuring it out.  They would be thankful.

Talking about singleness in all it’s forms, also reminds married people, that yes, you are in a covenant relationship for life, but your identity is not in that.  You were created unmarried and will be resurrected unmarried.  Not to mention, that talking about the holiness of celibacy also raises the holiness of marriage.  When we look at both together we get a better picture of the Kingdom.

Further, most married people will also become (or already are) parents.  If I had a church with a lot of parents of adolescents, I for sure would want them to know the stuff we talk about here.  Because how else are they supposed to help their kid walk through it?

Parents need an accurate view of what is going on out there.  If all they know how to offer their kids are the spiritual platitudes that the church throws out to the unmarried, they are setting their kids up to fail – and possibly fail hard.  It is vital that parents understand as best they can the scene today and all that goes with it.  The more they understand the better they will be able to advise, comfort and hopefully guide their children.  I don’t think this can be overstated.

Finally, and maybe most important, many of the things that we need to talk about with singles, have just as many (if maybe different) implications for those who are married.  The Gospel is the Gospel.  Switching contexts won’t change that.  Just like I’ve heard pastors say in a marriage sermon, “Single folks this applies to you” they would be saying, “Hey married folks, this applies to you.”

 

 

 

Focused On Which Family?

When I think about family, one of the first things that comes to mind is dinner around the table. Kids grow up there. Couples grow old there. It’s where the day is reviewed and the world’s problems are solved.  What’s amazing is even if there isn’t much to eat, you still do it together.  There is something about it.

A mentor of mine (father figure is more accurate) lives in a beautiful large home.  In that home he has a dining room table.  Interestingly the table is round, not long, so there is no head of the table so to speak.

Let me describe what happens when you go to dinner there.  When you pull up in the driveway you set off the driveway bell.  They have that bell so that by the time you get the door they are already there to greet you – usually with a hug, not a handshake.  Then you go inside.  Typically there are some drinks and often even some sort of good snack.  This is followed by the choicest of meals.  You eat this while seated around the round table.  My mentor will then have some sort of question that he wants each person to answer. (By the way, this is the furthest thing from fast food possible – you could be there for three hours – but it won’t seem like it).  He genuinely wants to know about the people around his table.

All sorts of people have sat around that table.  Politicians, dignitaries, business partners, business competitors, refugees from third world countries, people from a bunch of different walks of life, and even me.  And every one of them is welcomed and listened to.  “Now wait, we haven’t heard your story yet. Tell me about. . . . “

It’s a picture of family – God’s family.  It’s a picture of The Kingdom.

We live in a time where it seems like the nuclear family as we’ve known it is being blown apart.  There’s the divorce rate.  There’s the fact that more women in America have their first kid out of wedlock than in it.  More and more people are choosing to not actually get married or if they do it’s much later than ever before.

This actually hurts our society in several ways (shrinking middle class anyone?). And the Church has seen it and often has become focused on changing it.  But the problem is, focusing on the nuclear family won’t turn the tide.

First, it leaves out and alienates too many people.  Families go to church.  Single people don’t.  50% of Americans are unmarried.  And guess what, most of them aren’t going to church.  Part of the reason? Focus on the nuclear family.

Secondly, Jesus wasn’t focussed on it.  Jesus said things like, “unless you hate your mother and father, or brother and sister, you are not worthy of me.”  He said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, . . . a man’s enemies will be members of his own household”. Once when he was teaching, his mother and brothers came and he says, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” He points to his disciples and says, “Here are my mother and brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  Try preaching that one on Mother’s day.

None of this is to say that family is bad or that the church shouldn’t speak to what marriage and family should look like.  It should.  People who are married need to know it and people who aren’t need to know what it would mean if they did get married.  Not only that, but marriage and family are set up by God.  Marriage happened pre-sin in the garden.  It’s not a concession, it’s a gift.  But the problem with focusing there or calling the family “the foundational institution of human society” is that God never said that.  God’s Family is the foundational institution of humanity – not my family – thank goodness!

The point of marriage, family, or for that matter celibacy, is to point to God, how he loves us, and the Kingdom, not the other way around.  When we lift one up over the other, we limit the picture of the Kingdom and we leave people out – the exact opposite of God’s picture.

You know what the safest, most welcoming place in the world for the single person should be?  The Church.  It should be the place that calls them family, not the place that makes them feel like they dont’ have one.  You see the Church should be a place where you can find fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.  Maybe if we could figure out how to do that, we’d have less to worry about on the back end.  What we need is for the Church to focus on the Kingdom Family.

Which family is your church focused on?  Who are your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters?

I believe this:  There is a family dinner table – and you are invited.  When you show up the Master meets you at the door – with a hug, not a handshake.  He serves the choicest of meals.  It doesn’t matter what your story is, how “important” your earthly role is/was. Married, never married – whatever.  It won’t matter except as part of your story.  Everyone has a seat.  He wants to hear everyone’s story – your story – even though He’s knows it. There’s no hurry.  You’ve got an eternity – and after all, this is family.