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.

You Are Not Your Marital Status

When I was a young kid what I wanted more than anything was to be good at sports.  I practiced a ton.  I played imaginary games in my driveway and back yard.  I dreamed of playing for my favorite pro and college teams.

When I got to my freshmen year of high school I was still dreaming.  I wanted to be a star.  I wanted people to notice me and I wanted to win.  I remember seeing the seniors in their letter jackets with patches for championships and individual awards.  Oh yeah I wanted that.  And I got one.

I lettered in basketball my sophomore year and got my jacket.  My junior and senior year I racked up awards to sew on and newspaper articles to put in the scrap book.  And I had a couple of championship patches as well.  I wore that jacket with pride.  People knew who I was, not just in my town but the ones around it.  I had “arrived”.

Here’s what funny.  I graduated in May, went to play football in college.  Do you know how many times after May 31 1991 that I wore that jacket?  Exactly zero.  Because now I had new things to drive me.

Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be good, working hard and accomplishing something.  And really so what if I then made new goals.  But here was the bad part.  The whole way, I thought if I could just get good enough, my life would be full.  I thought it would mean a lot more than it did.

The truth is that my identity was wrapped up in it.  It wasn’t just what I was doing, or the context I was in.  It was who I was. And that is why the empty feeling when it’s over.  It’s a feeling most of us know.  The big project is over, you hit your bonus and get to buy that item you wanted, you meet a ministry goal, or heck for that matter, your favorite teams wins a championship.  You enjoy it and then it’s gone.  If your identity is in it, there’s emptiness.

This is a huge trap when it comes to singleness and marriage.

First of all, if you have marriage as an idol you’re in trouble.  In other words if you think that if I can just get married then life will be ok, that’s going to make both singleness and marriage (if you get married) rougher than it has to be.  Marriage is not the answer to “what is missing”.  That’s setting yourself up to fall.  I’ve known people who have gotten married (accomplished their dream) and then thought, “now what?”.  That is a rough place to be. Marriage is a beginning, not an arrival and that’s understating it.

But as a single, there is another trap.  That is that your identity get’s wrapped up in the whole thing.  It is so easy to make one of two big mistakes.  The first is to be dominated by the desire to be married.  The second is to shun the whole process.  Both of these are desperate and often angry, places to be.

Usually what I would do was swing wildly back and forth between the two.  In my early 20’s I was constantly desiring a spouse.  I wanted to find the “one“.  Or I thought I had met her and of course then had to chase her down.  But then in my late 20’s after crashing and burning over and over, I just decided to shun the whole thing.  F it.  I would bury myself into work.  Of course I still wanted marriage, but I wasn’t going to actively pursue it.  God would just “bring me someone” anyway right?!

I spent a lot of time mad.  Mad at God.  Mad at other guys who didn’t deserve what I should have because I was a “good” guy.  Mad at women who weren’t attracted to me (because they should all be attracted to me right?).

But in the middle of all of it, it became my identity.  It was constantly a part of my prayers, conversations with friends, heck conversations with anyone.  What can we pray for?  A wife.

Whether I was constantly pursing or saying F it, it was still what I was about.  And that is the trap we have to avoid.

The reality is that we need our identity in Christ.  We need to know that married or single that comes first.  As I’ve pointed out before, you can get married next week, and two weeks later your spouse could die in a car wreck.  Are you a single person?  A married person?  Know what I’m saying? Not to mention as long as you need someone, you can’t love them well.  They have too much power.

We are not what we do.  We are not our marital status.  Our identity should not be defined by what we do, or the context (marital or otherwise) we live in.  Our identity should play out in what we do, and in the context we are in.

What is your identity in?  Are you dominated by the search?  Are you hiding by doing nothing?