I recently saw a sign outside an elementary school that said, “When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” That sure sounds good. Especially in our current culture.
There are at least two big problems with this statement. The first is that it sort of sets up the idea that there is no right and wrong. Which may be true to a degree in certain situations, but also is the post modern dodge for actually having any sort of absolute truth. Of course this is not working out super well and makes no logical sense whatsoever.
However, for the sake of this blog I want to talk about the other problem. That is that choosing between being right and being kind is a false choice. You can be right and be kind. You can absolutely do both.
False choices abound when it comes to singleness and especially the way we talk about it in Christian circles. I want to name a few here.
Being a good guy vs. being attractive to women
Here’s how this one plays out. Women are attracted the bad guy. Therefore I need to be a bad edgy guy to get the woman. Now I’ve written a ton here about the idea that women are not generally attracted to the nice guy. But nice and good are not even in the same ball park. At least not the way that I’d define it. You can absolutely be a good Christian guy and be attractive. Of course you can also be a good Christian and not be attractive. But being a good Christian and being attractive are not mutually exclusive in any way.
Dating in a secular way vs. not dating at all
This is the idea behind a bunch of books from about 15 – 20 years ago including of course I Kissed Dating Goodbye and my all time “favorite” Choosing God’s Best. These books label dating as secular dating, which I think in their minds means sleeping around, dating all sorts of women without any desire for marriage. They contrast this with their versions of “courting”. The problem with these books are many. But for this post, let’s just realize that if you unless you are under 25 and in a very particular environment, their version is going to be tough to come by. You can date without sleeping around and you can for sure date with the intention of finding a spouse.
Being closer to Jesus vs. being married
This is where we tell singles to enjoy their singleness because they are able to be focused on the Lord without distraction where as once you get married you are now somehow less focused on the Lord and completely distracted. Now if they were talking about the actual call or choice of celibacy for the Kingdom they would have a point. But . . . . they’re not. Oddly they are also for everyone getting married. The reality is this. You can be single and being completely distracted by the desire for a spouse and/or sex. You can also be married and be focused on Jesus. At least I hope so because basically every person espousing this false choice is in a Christian leadership position.
Living life to the full first or getting married
Flowing from the previous thought is the idea that you need to go out and experience life before you get married because once you do life is not fun anymore. Marriage you see is hard. So take your time. Get your masters, travel the world, live for you, and there will still be time to do the marriage thing later. Beyond the fact that this is a completely self centered way to look at things, it is a false choice. Life is always hard, fun, challenging etc. Marriage can be hard at times. Guess what, singleness can also be hard at times. Shocking I know.
Getting married vs. staying an adolescent (or immature or selfish, or unholy, or incomplete as a person)
Marriage does not make you holy. It doesn’t make you a grown up. It doesn’t make you mature. Now God could use it to do those things in you, for sure. But he could also use singleness to do those things. Is the priest in town a grown up? Holy? God wants to use whatever situation you are in, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, to help you mature, grow and become more holy. And marriage does not make you a complete person. Only God can do that.
Working on getting married vs. waiting on the Lord
This is the idea that I don’t need to work at finding a spouse, becoming attractive, learn how to interact with women, or even go on a date to get married. I just need to let God bring me the His perfect person, in His perfect time and in His perfect way. In other words regardless of what I do, it will just happen. As I’ve said here ad nauseam, we don’t do that with any other area of our life. Need a job? – you send out resumes and interview. You grow your skill set. Need a new car? – you research and actually go look at cars. It doesn’t mean that you don’t pray about it. It doesn’t mean you don’t walk with God in it and try to listen to His leading. By no means. But you act.
These are just a few of the false choices we are given as singles. I’m sure there are more. Perhaps you’d share some more in the comments section. But we need to be aware of these false choices because false choices set us up to fail. They often paralyze us, limit us and most often leave us exactly where we started. We need to not get caught in the middle of them and we for sure as leaders in the Church need to stop espousing them.
OK, so for full disclosure: I am an ex-evangelical single woman who is now, when it comes to faith, between progressive Christianity and agnosticism. So you may or may not take my words with a grain of salt, but here goes: I find that the false equivalency argument is a great start in the conversation about singleness in Christian circles, but it doesn’t go far enough. In my experience, it really boils down to several key things that are prevalent in evangelical Christian cultures:
1.) Most people (especially in leadership and administration) of the church have never really directly said what they mean directly to the person (or persons) they want to. Many are woefully ill-equipped in navigating the tension between being a spiritual advisor to the congregation and being a master manipulator of people for their own agendas. Add the socioeconomic and technological circumstances of being single, and you’ve got the false equivalences described. I say all of this to say the following: When you create an image of perfectionistic, over-simplified formulas when it comes to the unknown of protracted singleness, this is the result. The bottom line is to be specific, strategic, and simple if possible, which leads me to next point:
2) It’s OK to say you don’t understand. But it’s not OK to oversimplify with super-spiritual language and cliches. You can mean to be comforting as much as the next person, but that doesn’t mean that the harm isn’t done. When you’re offering advice or comfort to someone, ask the person what they need from you. Don’t just give them what you think they need, because maybe what you think they need has already been said and done. And if you still persistently want to continue to not listen to the person you are “helping” then you deserve to get called out on it.
So yes, there are a plethora of false equivalencies in this conversation. But half the false choices would become moot points if the Church was willing to really rethink some long-held cultural assumptions, such as:
1.) conflating spiritual maturity and leadership readiness marriage and family
2.) Expecting marriage and family to be the demographic cure for the Church’s future.
But I’m not holding my breath on seeing any changes happen.
You do have a few points here, but I think it really boils down to this: If Church is not a place for people to say what they really think and what they really mean to the necessary audiences, you will continue to have these false narratives. Sometimes, what really needs to happen is that people need to specifically tell the other person the truth, and that conversation needs to happen one on one, not in the pulpit. And sometimes, if we’re also really honest, we need to admit that we don’t know why some people struggle longer than others to marry, and we need to be OK with, at the very least, sitting and praying with someone who is struggling. Then maybe, in the moments of overcoming and rejoicing, we remember the struggles and the tears, so we won’t be so quick to give out the trite, cliched, super-spiritual and vague advice.
I can’t agree with this enough. Trite “spiritual” sayings or tossing a scripture at a situation like it’s some sort of fix won’t always help. Though a situation may be the same from one person to another, it’s still different due to the fact that each person is different.
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