Singleness During COVID

We are obviously in an unprecedented time right now.  We have a pandemic striking the world, and in response we have asked most people to stay at home.

To be sure this is a strain on everyone in every marital context.  This is not to mention that there are some people in horrible situations.  I think of kids who live in abusive homes or those that don’t have enough to eat.  People who had enough to eat three weeks ago and now don’t. There are those who struggle with addiction, those who were struggling with mental illness before this all started.

But I want to acknowledge a particular group here today.  Not because they are the only ones suffering, but because their suffering is surely different and I’ve not seen it talked about much anywhere.  That is those that are single and live alone.

Now there are all kinds of unmarried people.  Many live with friends.  Some are in cohabitation arrangements.  Some who maybe live with their parents.  But I want to specifically address those who live by themselves.

I was single until I was nearly 41 years old.  Mostly I lived with friends or for a short time had renters in the house I owned.  I’m an extravert and I learned from six months of living by myself that it was an unhealthy setting for me.

25%-28% of Americans live alone.  If nearly 50% of Americans are unmarried that means that about half of unmarried people live alone.  This includes all versions of unmarried that we’ve talked about here over the years.  Not yet married.  Divorced.  Widowed.  Those who are called to Celibacy for the Kingdom.  Those celibate because of the fall of man. Those born in a way that keeps them from getting married.

Let’s remember that no one, even those called to Celibacy for the Kingdom, are called to live their life alone.  And yet there are millions of them doing that exact thing right now.

I’ve debated whether or not to write this post.  Not because I don’t think it’s important, but because what unmarried folks are facing right now I never had to face in my 23 years of adult singleness.  Almost everything on this blog about singleness I’ve written either from personal experience or from the study of the scriptures, church history and other studies. This is different.  So I can’t write with the same authority that I normally do.

However, it needs to be talked about.

First we should acknowledge that it’s hard.  And that would be my first piece of advice to everyone unmarried and married.  To recognize the unique challenges that this context confronts unmarried folks with.

I want to be clear that I’m not suggesting that married folks should feel especially sorry for single people.  But I think it might be good to be aware that they aren’t experiencing this the same way you are.

Church leaders often seem to forget the unmarried.  We’ve discussed this ad nasuem on this blog.  There are churches doing great things right now. Helping with the poor.  Helping provide food for kids.  Doing online things not just on Sunday but every day.  I applaud so much of the effort.  I’m asking you, regardless of how your church views singleness: Please remember your single members right now.  They could probably use a phone call, text, email or whatever.  Simply acknowledging and checking in would be appreciated by many I would think.  There are some who are fine.  But there are some who could use a live voice.

If I go on facebook right now I see all the families on bike rides, in the yard together, taking porchtraits.  Nothing wrong with that.  But if I were single and wishing I was married, this would make even more aware than usual that I’m alone.  I couldn’t go out with friends.  I couldn’t see my co workers.  I couldn’t even sit next to some people at church.

Here are a few thoughts if you are home alone as an unmarried person right now. Remember I’m not speaking with the authority of having lived it here, just offering some things that might help based on 23 years of unmarried life.

  • Give yourself the freedom to feel what you feel.  You’re not bad because the porchtraits make you feel more alone.  You aren’t a bad Christian because Jesus doesn’t seem like enough right now.  Acknowledge your feelings and emotions. Don’t just tough it out.  And for sure don’t condemn yourself for thinking it.  Give yourself grace.
  • Fight to engage others.  If someone does reach out to you, take advantage of it. Use all the technology you have.  Reach out to others.
  • If helping others and ministering to others typically energizes you, do it now. Leadership is lonely but it’s less lonely than sitting there missing leadership.
  • Engage your mind.  Study something.  Read something.  Learn something.  Fight the urge to dwell on darkness.
  • Know your weaknesses.  There is a reason porn sites are offering specials right now. Liquor stores are essential apparently.  Do you already struggle with depression or other mental illnesses.  Don’t pretend right now.  Don’t just sit there and get crushed.  Acknowledge these things
  • Get help with the above if you need it.  Call someone.  Anyone.  Tell someone.  Don’t suffer in silence.
  • To that end, hold onto the truth.  The people that love you and usually hang out with you still love you.  Maybe they haven’t called.  I wish they would have.  But everyone is in free fall in some way right now.  Just because they haven’t called you, doesn’t mean they don’t care.
  • Hold on to the truths of our faith.  You are not alone.  You really can take it to Jesus. He suffered alone.  In front of people, but alone.  In a way only He could.  He sees you!  Please read that again.  Jesus sees you!

Really I hope that if this post does one thing it is that it communicates that.  Jesus sees you.  I see you.  I’m writing this mainly so you know you’re seen.

If any of you who are reading this have thoughts about how you are managing that might be helpful to others, leave a comment.  You’re the expert here.  What has been helpful for you?  What would be helpful to you?

The Sermon On Singleness You Won’t Hear

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about why married people need a singleness sermon series.  The reason I wrote that post was two fold.  First, we need married people and single people to be taught from Christian leadership the truth about the whole thing.  Single people need to learn from a marriage and married people need to learn from singleness.  It represents the whole of the story.  One without the other comes up short.

Secondly, I think that one of the reasons that more pastors and leaders are scared to preach and teach on this (besides never having thought about it) is that they don’t know how to include the married people in it.  I outlined that in that post and I’d encourage you to go back and read it if you haven’t.

Today I want to share with you the opening remarks of that sermon series.  It’s the sermon you probably won’t ever hear, but the only one with a real chance to matter.

So without further adieu – pretend I’m in your pulpit.

“Today we begin our sermon series on singleness and the gospel.  As I mentioned last week, we all need this sermon series – no matter what our marital context.  It’s important because it affects not just the unmarried in our congregation but the marrieds and our youth.  It all works together.  This is one of the most important things we’ve done here in a long time.

I want to start today by saying this.  Most of what you have heard about singleness is wrong.  On behalf of the church – our church here and the church universally – I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for all the times that we skimmed over it or mentioned it in passing including the obvious scriptures.  I’m sorry for all the times we focussed on the nuclear family instead of the family of God.  For all the platitudes and easy quick answers, I’m sorry.  For all the times that we said things without actually studying and thinking about how all this plays out in the gospel and in the lives of our people, I’m sorry.

In the fight to rescue our culture, we’ve often failed to engage all of our people.  In an effort to fight for the marriages in our church, we’ve often left out or glossed over the unmarried. To those who are unmarried and struggling, I’m sorry for where we have not taken your context seriously.  For all who are married, I’m sorry for how what we taught you about singleness (or didn’t teach you as the case may be) may have hurt your marriage.

For all the times, and there have been many, that we made it seem like the only important thing for the unmarried was not having sex – I’m sorry.  There have been times where we have treated you as less complete, less spiritual and less capable of leadership because you weren’t married.  That was wrong.

For those of you who are called to celibacy there are no words.  We have just flat screwed that up.  We haven’t talked about it or offered you any guidance, support or teaching.  Nor have we honored your calling and choice.  I ask your forgiveness.

For lumping all unmarrieds into one group, I’m truly sorry.  The truth is there are those who are single by calling, those who are single by choice, those who are single because of sin in their life or the sin of others.  There are those who don’t know how to get married but want to.  There are also those who are divorced – some biblically and others not so much and others who were divorced before they even knew Jesus.  Finally there are those who are widowed – who never expected to be unmarried again.  These are all completely different situations, and yet we’ve often treated them the same.  That was wrong.

We’ve taught you what not to do, but not what to do.  At times – too many times – we’ve made marriage and family an idol.  We repent of that here and now, in public. Jesus invites us all to be in the family of God – and so do we – no matter what.

One sermon series over the course of a few weeks cannot repair all of that.  It can’t possibly heal all the wounds or fix all the problems – for you as an individual and certainly not as a whole church.  But maybe it can be a starting point towards a different discussion – and a discussion that actually includes everyone.  The conversation won’t be easy or short, and we won’t all agree on everything.  But we have to have it – both for those inside our church and for the lost outside the church.

Our hope is that this series will open the door to a whole different way of seeing singleness, marriage and the Kingdom.  So, here we go. . . . ”

The serious guts it would take to say the above and pursue this series would be incredible and probably won’t happen.  But it would be awesome.  Talk about changing a room.

What would you want to see in a singleness sermon series?

 

The Church Doesn’t Get Singleness

Here’s a fun experiment.  Go to amazon and search for Christian marriage books and then search Christian Single books.  It’s not pretty.  (Then for real fun go through the Christian single list and try to find books written by a guy.)

Here’s the point.  The Church loves to talk about marriage.  They are like the marriage experts.  As I’ve said no matter what your theological beliefs, you can find a marriage book for you.  I mean you name it – you like Keller? Eldredge? Piper? Jakes? Bell?  You can find their take on marriage. Books about how to navigate singleness – not as much, (apparently ladies you are supposed to do a lot of waiting and being satisfied, and us guys are supposed to figure it out without any help whatsoever).

But it’s not just books.  Marriage retreats, forums, conferences, sermon series.  Its even part of churches’ missional approach, “we are going to be doing a series on marriage – invite all your friends.”

Sure somewhere in there they like to throw in the obligatory thought on singleness, which is usually short sided, un-researched, full of platitudes and impractical.  And then the best part is we kind of get a pat on the head as if to say, someday you too can be a grown up married person.

Now someone will say that I’m bitter or just seeing the grass as greener on the other side.  I’m not mad – I’m just right.  In 20 years of walking with Jesus and going to church (including the last eight at a church that has 50% single people) I’ve never had a married friend say, “The church just doesn’t get marriage.”  Single people feel it all the time.  It’s a no brainer and it’s real.

Have you ever thought about why it’s this way?  One main reason that I’ve talked about before if that most pastors don’t get it.  But there are other basic reasons.

First it’s just flat easier to talk about.  There’s more clear scriptures on marriage.  There’s not much on singleness and exactly zero on dating.  Also, it’s more obvious if a marriage is in trouble than if a single is.  So the fact is it’s just easier.

Second, married people fit the church structure better.  They are more comfortable showing up to church to begin with. Much easier to go with someone than alone.  The church knows that if you love kids then you will get parents.  A lot of Christian parents are married – (side note – we are not very good with single parents either.  Holy smokes.  Let’s hold another moms group during the day – that helps – yikes).

The truth is almost everything we do is set up for the family – training the family, protecting the family, growing the family. In fact I would submit that family is an idol in our church today, but that is another post.  Now it is helpful as a single person, especially if we didn’t grow up with it, to see and be engaged with solid families and I’m all about that.  But where does the non married person fit into all of that.  What real practical help are we giving to them for where they are right now?

Third, the church assumes that you should get married.  We talk about being called to singleness but we do absolutely nothing to help anyone determine that.  Our theology of singleness is messed up at best and completely lacking at worst.  

Finally, because they don’t know what to do and what to say, they offer up spiritual platitudes about waiting on God, not settling, perfect definitions of who we should marry, and how to not have sex – which is their biggest concern.

Now some of this is our fault as singles.  Here’s what I mean.  We are way more likely to church hop (in fairness some of that is due to the stuff above).  We can leave any time – we don’t have to convince a spouse or pull kids away from their youth group.  Secondly, married people typically give more money and assume more Sunday leadership roles.  I can’t back that up with statistics but I’d stake any amount you want on that being true. We often have less invested.

But here’s the thing, and you, me, married people, the church and everyone else might want to grab a hold of this.  The day of reckoning is here.  50% of America is unmarried and the trend is upwards.  80% of people age 18-29 have never been married and that trend is upwards.  So unless the church wants to get smaller it might want to think about how to help, reach out to, walk with, encourage, engage, and challenge singles.  They might want to figure out how to empower them in leadership.  Perhaps they could help them figure out and pursue their calling to marriage or to celibate ministry.

The church could be a place where singles are welcome, treated equally and held accountable through real relationships.  Or it can keep ignoring reality and miss out on the opportunity.