My Church Doesn’t Get Singleness And I’m Mad Pt 2

Yesterday I said that a reader had posed the question, “what do we do about anger at the church when it comes to singleness?”  I offered some reasons why it’s important to deal with and some reasons why that anger can be legitimate.  I then said we could leave the church, ignore the problems, or actually engage the problem.  If we choose the third problem I offered that there are at least three things we need to do.
  1. Do our best to understand why it’s the way it is, and trust that most of it is not personal.
  2. Earn the right to have a voice.
  3. Exercise our voice in a way that can be heard.

Yesterday I offered some thoughts on part one.  Today I want to comment on part two and three.

The second part is vital and it starts with this.  We need to do a good job of loving people. We need to love an help shepherd younger single people.  We need to have married friends and learn to minister to them as well.  We can speak into married people’s lives and marriages.  We need to love our married friends well – and this includes loving our married church leaders well.

If we want to change the stereotypes then we have to be different.  There is no reason why we can’t lead a small group with married people in it. Attitude is important.  For example, what do we do when there is a marriage sermon series?  Do we check out, or double down?  How I love other singles, married people, and leaders in the church carries weight. What I’m kind of saying is get off of the defensive, “no one gets it” level and onto the “I’m an equal follower of Jesus and I’m going to live it” level. Church leaders may not pick us to lead naturally, but we have to actually try to serve and lead.  Maybe more than once.

This leads naturally into point three.  That is, once we’ve earned the right to have a voice, freaking exercise it.

I’m not saying it will be easy or that they will listen to that early on.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t listen at the end of the day.  What I know for sure is that if we don’t speak, and don’t act, then nothing will happen.  But if we earn the right and speak up, someone (not everyone) will hear us.

Someone once posted in the comment section , “I wish I was brave enough to share this post with my minister and elders”.  I’m not trying to be self promoting here, but if you like something I or someone else writes about this stuff, share it with people that count.   Have conversations (not just complaining sessions).  Point out that the bible talks about celibacy and that maybe your church should think about it.  Go missional on them (churches are all about “being missional”) and tell them that 50% of people are single and that those people are WAY less likely to go to church.  If they approached it differently maybe those people will come.  Speak up when it’s not right, not just under your breath to your friends on the way out the door, but with your elders and leaders that you’ve earned the right to talk to.

What we need is to lovingly challenge the church.  Not softly mind you.  Firmly and with conviction, but in love, for the good of the whole body of Christ and for the lost.

Offer solutions, and offer to help make those solutions happen.

This blog, and my whole writing and speaking ministry, started in one conversation about four years ago.  My church had a singles seminar that went bad.  I met with an elder and pastor at my church and after some niceties said essentially, “So, your singleness seminar sucked.”  They knew it.  Now understand, I was mid-30s, had helped our church plant a new campus, led several community groups and genuinely loved these guys.  I said, “Look, here are some of the things I would have maybe talked about.” and I shared some new ways of looking at it, from a single perspective.  Less than a year later they asked me to come to a weekend on Marriage and Family (of all places) and present on singles and marrieds together.  I just finished teaching (with another single person) a four week course on Singleness and the Gospel at my church.

Now does it look like it should?  No.  Do we as a Church get it?  Heaven’s no, not even close.  But is God moving in it? I’d say yes.

I don’t have a list of easy answers but here’s my point.  We can sit around, be mad and/or be the victim, or we can get off of defense, go love people, trust that they might have a good heart, forgive them for what they probably don’t even realize they are doing, without selfish ambition offer ideas – and then back it up.  It needs to be bigger than just me and it needs to come from a heart of conviction, not bitterness.  It will not be easy, but it could be good.

The question isn’t “does the church get singleness?”  It doesn’t.  Maybe a better question is if my church doesn’t get singleness – what am I going to do about it? If we don’t initiate the conversation, then who will?

My Church Doesn’t Get Singleness And I’m Mad Pt. 1

A few weeks ago, a reader asked me if I would write a post about anger at the Church and what to do with that so I thought I’d take a stab at it.

Let’s do two things by way of prologue.

Bitterness Is An Enemy and Not From God

I’ve written before about how as a single we can easily fall into the trap of bitterness. There are a lot of mad singles.  I’ve been there.  Believe me.  There is an anguish.  There can be a sense of entitlement.  There is a sense of loss and we react to it.  I’ve written before that we can be mad at God, mad at women, mad at other guys, and mad at ourselves.  All of these are important things to consider and deal with.  I believe that we are mostly mad at God.  Really all of us at one time or another feel this.  We can also be mad at The(a) Church which brings us to:

The Church in general and in particular within protestantism, has really messed this up.

I mean it’s not good.  Where to begin?  The don’t get it.  And maybe worse, they don’t like it.  We don’t honor or even teach about celibacy.  We often don’t let singles into leadership.  The church is in a defensive position on marriage, and is actually often unwittingly helping to hurt marriage in the process.  The Church as a whole has created an idol out of marriage and family.

Rarely does a church address the singles in it’s midst (let alone the outside of it) and when it does, mostly what it does is tell us is what not to do, wait for the one, and then your questions of sexual prowess will magically be answered.  Of course as a guy the church has told us it’s all our fault, and therefore we are all (men and women) set up to fail.

So basically most of the church’s answer to singleness is to offer spiritual platitudes, worry more that we might marry wrong that if we would marry at all, and never address any of the things that we go through – including have to walk into their doors all by ourselves. And that is just a brief warm up.  So yeah, there is a lot to be mad about.

What Do We Do With It?

The real question isn’t are single people generally frustrated with the church.  It’s not even should they be, because frankly they probably should be. The real question (and the one that the reader was wanting to know) is what do we do with it.

I think there are three choices really.

  1. Say screw the church and leave – if I get married think about coming back
  2. Go to church at least at some level, but not engage the battle.  Maybe find a church that at least isn’t anti-single.
  3. Engage the church, forgive our leaders, earn the right to be heard, and then fight for what we know is right.

We all know option one is wrong, but it is an option.  The problem here is that it hurts the church, and that really shouldn’t be our goal. Taking ourselves out of the equation won’t change the equation in our favor (or anyone else’s).

Option two is where a lot of people I know (and myself for a long time) seem to be at.  It’s kind of a surrender really – this is just the way it is.  That is easier in a lot of ways and I guess at least you are there.

But option three is where I think we need to be.  So how do we do that?  We need to do three things.

  1. Do our best to understand why it’s the way it is, and trust that most of it is not personal.
  2. Earn the right to have a voice.
  3. Exercise our voice in a way that can be heard.

Today, I want to tackle the first one and tomorrow I’ll write about the other two.

I’ve written a lot about this part before, but let’s sum up some thoughts that can help.  We need to understand that the leaders of the church (most of the time) have the right heart, even if the wrong solutions.  There are so many factors in play.  Many in the church are looking around and watching the family fall apart.  They see it and want to help. This is where all the family focus and effort comes into play.  It’s why there are hundreds of Christian books on marriage and family.  They are trying to rescue the family, which isn’t all bad.  To their credit, I think these resources have helped a lot of families make it. That’s a good thing.

They also don’t want to see us hurt ourselves or others, which is why they constantly are worried about sex outside of marriage and all that goes with that.  As I told an audience of singles at our church, the surest ways to get the pastor to stop talking about not having sex, would be if all of our singles would . . . stop having sex.

And finally as I’ve written about before, on a practical level most pastors and church leaders have never been single.  They really don’t get it.  It doesn’t mean they don’t care. They just literally don’t understand.

What knowing these things can do, if we can get past the bitterness, is allow us to forgive people for getting this wrong.  I think we have to start there, because otherwise it’s just about us and that’s not enough.  This whole thing is way bigger than just our own personal situation.  It’s a real problem in the Church and we have a chance to help.  More on that tomorrow.

The Single Christian’s Anguish

This last weekend I borrowed a buddies truck and went down to my parent’s town to pick up some various items from my Grandmothers house that had just sold.  Things like a bookshelf, patio furniture and oddly enough Christmas dishes (some things really do change when you get married – Christmas dishes?).

At any rate, it’s about a 3 hour drive and since I didn’t have my ipod, I grabbed a few random old cds.  As I slid one of them in and the music came on, I just smiled.  It was a cd that a friend and I had made in a studio just over 10 years ago.

Now I wrote all kinds of songs but most fell into one of two categories.  The first was worship type songs – I mean I’m a Christian right?  But the second, was songs about the hurt I had in the dating world.

This cd was no different.  But it was the third song that made me famous among my friends.  It’s a great song.  It really is. It’s so full of emotion.  I wrote it in my basement at age 23, literally in under 10 minutes.  I had just been told by another female that she just saw me as a friend.  To be honest it wasn’t really about her, it was about the whole damn thing.

The last lines go like this:

Outside, looking in/ You’re using that excuse that you’ve used again and again and again/ It may be your loss, but it sure as hell ain’t my win/ It seems I’ve been caught, following my heart once again.

As I listened I had a range of emotions.  In a way it is so long ago.  That song is almost 20 years old.  And yet there is so much of my story there.  When it came to dating and marriage, I really was outside looking in.

There is anger in the song but anger it too simple a word to describe what I felt for really 15 years of my life.  A better word is anguish.

Here’s your google definition – Anguish – Severe mental or physical pain or suffering.

Yeah, that about sums it up.

Now there were all sorts of parts to my story and why I felt that.  I was not good with the ladies and I knew it.  I also had come to know Jesus at the end of high school, so now I needed to date not only someone where there was attraction, but also who knew Jesus. So as I left college, I was now looking for the one.

To be honest, as I got older, the anguish got worse, not better.  As I hit my late 20’s doing ministry in a college town, I was surrounded by great women who liked Jesus -none of whom I could date (or at least that is what I thought then).  Toss in some religion and self righteousness and I was in trouble.  To be honest, I just shut it down.

Then I moved to St. Louis and all of a sudden, there were options.  But the problem was, now I was screwed up.  I was a complete mess in this area of my life.  It was like somehow my awkwardness had grown.  All of this was exasperated by religious platitudes about how God just hadn’t sent me the person yet.

I share this because the anguish of many singles (especially in the Church) is completely underestimated and un-dealt with.  There are a lot of really hurting people.

Not everyone who is single wants to or should be married.  Some are called to celibacy for the kingdom.  But most are not and frankly it hurts.  And as you get older it raises a lot of questions.

The Church needs to deal with this by loving these people well.  We need people who step into our lives for real, not just with passing judgement and advice.  If we are going to face our anguish and get free of it that probably won’t happen alone.

But we as single people must actually face it.  We have to because if we don’t it will grow.  Anguish doesn’t get smaller.  You can disguise it, funnel it into work/ministry as I mostly did, or even just try to kill it.  But if we don’t deal with it and the wounds that both caused it, and come from it, we are screwed.

For me it came crashing down as I began to see that I was broken.  A woman I had pursued told me that she wanted to like me but didn’t.

I knew stuff was off.  All the things that I thought were holding me back, actually weren’t.  I had completely lost my way in this area of my life.  I remember thinking over and over again, “No!, No, No, No.  This isn’t right.”

All of it kind of came to a head and instead of going home, I sat in my office all night.  I literally sat on the floor and cried.  The anguish was real.  I told God, “just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

I was 35 and I was lost in this one.  I sought counsel and God provided.  People stepped up, mentors fought for me and frankly I had to do some hard work.  It was humbling.  It was awesome.  God changed me.

As I listened to “Outside Looking In” I smiled.  It’s a great song!  But I’m glad I’m not there now.

If you are in anguish may God step into your hurt.  May you one day be free from it.

Here’s the song Outside Looking In

Quit Beating Yourself Up

I don’t get mad super easily.  It’s a gift from my family, as my parents are the same way.  I can get pretty fired up and intense (those who know me are laughing) but in my heart it takes a lot to make me actually mad at another person – with the exception of the guy who cut me off in traffic, but that’s a whole other problem – Ha.

But when it comes to myself, it takes very, very little for me to get mad.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the fact that we are mad at God.  This is true for basically everyone but as singles it is very easy for us to become bitter towards God because He hasn’t “delivered” a spouse.  But the second person who I’m most mad at, if I’m honest, is me.

Now I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog challenging us to look at our crap and deal with our sin.  I’ve said we spend too much time over spiritualizing singleness, marriage and dating and it keeps us from dealing with reality and our shortcomings.  I’ve said a lot of the reason that we are single is us.  I absolutely, 100% stand by all of that.  But today I want to flip the script a little.

There’s so many directions I could take this but let’s start with a couple of key points.  First off it’s important to realize that we are not the only actor on the stage.  In our current Christian Culture we often act like the whole thing is about us and God and that only the two of us are in the story.  This is so bad on so many levels theologically, philosophically, and practically.  But it is also bad in our context of singleness.  It assumes that either I or God is to blame for everything that goes into me being single.

This can lead to a inaccurate view of the truth.  There are other players in the game.  For example, when you ask someone out, you have no idea what is going on in her world. Maybe her saying no has nothing to do with you.  The other person is on the stage.  I mean there’s been times when I think I’ve missed on someone I should have pursued – someone could make a mistake with you.

Even when it comes to dealing with our own brokenness we need to be careful.  Let’s say I struggle with passivity towards women.  Well being mad at myself for being passive isn’t going to help.  I need to dive into where that comes and while that will include my own sin, most of the time it will also include healing from wounds inflicted by . . . you guessed it. . . other people.

All of this doesn’t even take into account the fact that we have an enemy.

Usually what I do is first I get mad at God, then realize how stupid that kind of is, and start being mad at myself.  It’s very easy to just start pummeling myself – usually pouring salt into the wounds I’ve faced.  “I’m just not good enough” “Why did I say that to her – I’m so stupid.” “If I had my stuff more together” “I’m pathetic (worthless, ugly, a screwup, etc.)”. By the way this all get’s turned up a notch if I think there is only THE ONE and I’m scared of blowing it.

Making matters worse is that often the Church accidentally pours it on.  In attempt to remind us that we don’t earn salvation we often seem to define ourselves as just sinners.  I get the point but man we have to be careful.  All bad stuff comes from sin, but not everything that happens comes from my sin.  It’s not all my fault but I’m a part of the problem.

Worst of all what we usually do is get it backwards.  We view how we got wounded as somehow our fault and then we excuse our sinful reactions to it.  Holy smokes that’s bad.  We HAVE to reverse that.

Dealing with our sin, wounds, and shortcomings is critical.  But beating the crap out of ourselves adds to that.  That is not from God.  It is not humility.  In addition when it comes to dating it will never, never be attractive.  Never, not even a little.

When I’m mad at myself, I need to stop and ask what is going on underneath.  (For me personally it’s a huge check engine light – time to get under the hood).  I need to stop and get an accurate view of what is going on (community is key here), and then if it is something that has to do with me, I need to take that to Jesus and go about figuring out how to change it.

Where in the context of Singleness do you beat yourself up?  Do you only see you and God on the stage?

Don’t Blame Women

Last week I shared that a lot of our bitterness comes from the fact that we are mad at God. We also often get mad at the opposite sex.  Here’s the reality – rejection hurts and there’s only so many reactions you can have to that.  What can happen is over time we end up kind of mad at the opposite sex in general. This doesn’t mean that we are mad at every person of that gender who we know.  That certainly isn’t usually the case.  But we can begin to have an attitude that can cost us.

Every guy is asking if they are a man, if they are successful, if they have what it takes. What often happens is we end up taking this question to the woman.  What I mean is that if I’m asking in my life if I am a “man” when I ask a girl out, I’m often taking that question to her.  Now she doesn’t actually know that, and it’s completely unfair to ask her to answer it, but inside, mostly subconsciously, that is what we are doing.  So when she says no, she’s not just saying, “No I don’t want to go out with you”, we are also hearing, “You aren’t man enough (good enough, successful enough, strong enough, or other enoughs).”

Most guys are fighting against failure.  And we often use women as the grade card.  This is a really bad idea.

First of all, whether you are single, married or whatever, if you as a man are going to have your date, lady of interest, or even your wife as a grade card, let me go ahead and give you your grade right now.  You fail.  You can not ace the date, boyfriend, husband test.  It’s not going to happen.  If you get your identity from that you are screwed.

Typically when we “fail” we respond in one of several ways.  All of which are bad when it comes to being single.

One way we respond is to keep trying harder.  When it comes to pursuing women its a disaster.  I’ve already talked about it but you do not want to chase the girl.  It makes her a goal instead of a person.  Additionally, being try hard is not attractive and won’t make her like you.  You can’t talk her into it.

Sometimes guys also just decide that women aren’t going to like them and just quit trying. This is no good either.  Just because you fail with one person doesn’t mean you can’t ask someone else.  It may mean I need to look at what I might be doing wrong but constantly beating myself up (next weeks post) doesn’t help at all.

A third reaction is to be mad at the her or women in general.  This is where we automatically think all of the bad things about her.  We say that she likes the wrong guys or that she just doesn’t get it.  Maybe we judge her faith and assign all sorts of false reasons as to why she wasn’t attracted to us.

A woman is either attracted to you or she isn’t.  If she isn’t attracted to you then what is she supposed to do?  She doesn’t owe you attraction.  She doesn’t owe you a date because your such a “Great Christian Guy”.  You are not entitled to a date with anyone.  It’s actually fairly ridiculous to be mad at someone who doesn’t want to date you.  Making matters worse is that when you begin to have this attitude, you get even less attractive.  It comes through in how we interact with women.  They can feel it, trust me.  They are extremely uncomfortable with the “angry” guy.

To be honest, most of the time when I’ve been mad at a woman or women for not liking me it’s pretty much a cop out.  I might actually be mad at them but really I’m more mad at myself and God.  It’s yet another way I can blame someone else for why I’m not with someone.  “Women just don’t want good guys.”  “Women are only interested in guys with (money, success, titles, etc).” “I’m just not good enough for her”.   It’s Adam in the Garden, “It’s her fault.”

The truth is that “women” are not the problem or the reason I’m single.  Thinking this way is a colossal waste of time and emotional energy.

We need to focus on us and God.  I need to take my questions of worth and manhood to God.  If I let Him answer those, an amazing thing happens – the woman is no longer my grade card.  I’m free to pursue or not, free to invite instead of chase, and free to walk away if she isn’t interested.  Which might just make her interested.

So have you been mad at women?  Ladies how does this work from your angle?  Have you blamed the opposite sex for your singleness?

We Are Mad At God

When I was in college and right out of college, ok until I was 32 or so, I spent a lot of time (and I mean a lot of time) praying to God about getting a spouse.  It was a focus, I would now say an idol.  I wrote songs about it. The songs were about hurt, pain and angst.  Haha. I can laugh now but it’s what I felt.

I think it’s really easy as a single to become bitter.  You watch others have something that you want and you don’t have it.  It’s in your face – especially in the Christian culture. We desire to be with someone and we aren’t.  That seems like grounds to be upset.

For me I feel like my anger really started as a teenager.  I just wasn’t good with the ladies. But I never saw what I did wrong, what I saw was that I couldn’t get the whatever girl I was currently obsessed with.  College was ok, but then after college I fell into the trap of bitterness again.  It’s understandable, but it’s not a very good path.

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to write about the people we get mad at as singles.  For today I want to focus on the main person we are mad at – God.  That’s right. We might not say it, but really that is where a lot of our bitterness and anger comes from.

Why God?!  Why can’t you bring me someone?!  I remember one day in my late twenties walking out of my office on a beautiful fall afternoon.  I looked at the day, my work (which was going extremely well), the opportunities I had in ministry.  I looked at the car I was driving and I thought about all God has provided for me.  But I also felt confused.  Why could God bring me all of that but not a wife?  I would think, “Come on God, I’m trying to follow you.  I’m doing your work.  I’m trying to live a pure life – when is it my turn.” Can you hear the entitlement?  Does God owe you a spouse?

Look I think it is good to be real.  If you are frustrated then you might as well take that to God.  But it’s dangerous as a single to stay there.  It’s so easy to let our focus slide to what we don’t have, what we want so much and what we think we are missing out on.

It’s one thing to share my frustration but it’s another to live in bitterness.  

It’s bad because I begin to view the world around me through that lens.  It changes how I view my married friends.  It gives the enemy a foothold to work with.  Can you just hear the enemy’s voice, “See, God doesn’t deliver on the stuff that you really want.” or, “God could do it but He doesn’t want to.”

In one sense it puts the focus squarely on me.  It becomes all about what I want, what I don’t have and I’m mad about it.  It’s all about me.  It also affects me because it makes me way less attractive to the opposite sex.  No one wants to date the mad, bitter, feeling sorry for themselves person.  I see this in my single friends a lot.  I know it because I’ve lived it. Ladies, no guy wants to date the girl who is whining about being single.  We are scared of the desperate chick.  Trust me.  And gentlemen, no girl, and I mean NO girl, wants to date and angry, depressed, focussed on what’s wrong guy.

This leads me to another key problem.  When we make it all God’s fault we tend not to deal with the parts that are our fault.  I wish I would have had less people who fed me spiritual platitudes about God’s timing, God’s preparing someone for me, and God’s got stuff to teach me, and more people who would have told me how I was doing it all wrong.

We all have wounds that mess us up in this area, are we working on those?  Maybe we date all the wrong people – is that God’s fault of something from inside me that I need to figure out?  Maybe I need to work on my appearance or my approach – is that God’s fault?  Maybe I want every girl to like me too much and have a huge approval idol.  Is that God’s fault?

There’s a flip side here and it’s important – it’s not all my fault.  I’m going to get to being mad at ourselves later.  But the first person we are usually mad at is God and we need to get that worked out.

So are you mad at God that He doesn’t have you married yet?  Have you spent time being bitter?  How has that affected you and your relationship with friends, the opposite sex, and most of all God?