Singled Out in Prayer

Over the month of July I was out of town almost every weekend, traveling for birthdays, weddings and concerts. While it was fun for the summer, it also removed me from my home church most Sundays. If I am honest, it was also a bit of a breather as I have been in some major wrestling on the state of the Baptist church as a whole and specifically the Southern Baptist church which I have been a part of for most of my adult years (and all of my childhood). That’s at least a chapter in my second book for sure-how to wrestle in the Southern Baptist ring.

Last Sunday found my first weekend home in what felt like ages, so part of me was looking forward to being back at church and the other part was really just hoping to sleep in. The wrestling of my inner dialogue that many have on a Sunday morning hit full force but I made myself get my butt to a seat in our church plant service. I glance at the bulletin to see what Scripture we’ll be reading and see it’s the Armor of God in Ephesians…

WOOHOO! I missed the entire chapter plus on marriage!” was my initial thought. But then our pastor does the ole switcharoo. Preaching off script on marriage instead. The weekend prior I was at a wedding. The weekend before I was celebrating another birthday being single. Needless to say, my head and heart wanted to get up and walk out. My emotions were closing off and crossing my arms, thinking “well this won’t apply to me, should’ve stayed in my pajamas with coffee.”

This also fell after a conversation earlier in the week where it felt as though I was being single-shamed because I didn’t have a husband and kids to keep me busy and therefore could take on something. (For transparency’s sake, this wasn’t at my job) It may not have been the intention of the individuals but we all need some self-awareness of our words, even especially me.

So as I sat in the building God built, alongside brothers and sisters, I started having this conversation internally that I have to admit was Spirit influenced. God was being very direct that you know what, His Church isn’t me-centered, it’s Him-Centered. As it should be. And what if me praying for the marriages in that room was what He needed from me today. It wasn’t what I could get from Him but what He was asking of me, obedience in what can seem such a meaningless thing in the work of God but what He wants of me. Not to be me-focused, seeking Jesus-and out of life, but what I can do to serve Him. Giving up more of me so I can be fully who He knows I can be.

What would it look like to pray for every marriage I am around, that I know of? To pray over friends’ and families’ marriages that they would be God-centered, building a covenant relationship around love and respect, Biblical submission and leadership, authority and mutuality. That they would be the relationships I see as God-honoring and desire after the good things in those, rather than the Hallmark-saturated romance we are often using for relationships. How would the church look then? How would our communities and workplaces look?

Having that change of ‘tude made me grateful I had gone to church last week, that I’d been in a sermon on marriage and that even at the end our pastor made it a point to say he knew there were single individuals present and for us to be in fervent prayer for future spouses as well, just as he’d directed the spouses present to pray for one another. It was a reminder that I may not have a future spouse but I can sure pray for each and every one of them I know, and for my single friends as well to have spouses of the same prayerful focus.

Singleness and Community

Visiting new churches is difficult, no matter if you are a married or a single. I have mentioned this a time or two, and I know from friends that have kiddos that it’s especially hard to pull them up from the friend group to search out a new church home.

Recently I felt a bit uncomfortable with the comfortable nature I was feeling at my church of three years. The only tension I was finding was in seeing how comfortable the walls and rows had become with being right where they were. It bothered me so deeply that I decided to take a pause from my church and explore other options. Friends who are at other churches that I’d heard about or listened to their podcasts in the area suggested I check out their churches.

But I have to be honest here, I lost every bit of accountability the moment I walked out of my home church. If I didn’t show up that Sunday? Well that’s okay, no one would know but me…and God of course. And so for the past two months I have sort of coasted through this tension of my spiritual walk in finding a church based solely upon my expectations and not what the church is there to do-disciple and minister to the lost.

As I shared with a friend last night when he asked what he could pray for me on, I think I already knew where God was leading on this. Because as a single, we desperately need community rooted in the walls of the church. We need that accountability and that connectedness more than we need the church to live up to some expectation we have set for her.

For me what I didn’t recognize was a season of tension in my selfish expectations and the needs of the church right where I was at. I made it about me rather than about those around me. I directed it all inward rather than outward and upward. I pulled away from friendships and relationships out of a selfish need I discovered was rooted in lies, rooted in doubt and worry, judgement. Instead of taking it to others, I simply pulled up stakes and walked out.

When you are single, whether you are a leader in a ministry or even a pastor, you need that circle of relationships, you need the church and it’s community. You need the care and relationships that can sometimes be difficult and not what you expected, but it’s what God has placed there for you at that exact time. And it can be tense, it can make you want to turn and walk away. But more than anything, that’s when we need to cling even more to Him and His people. To the community. Even when we don’t feel like showing our weaker side, our doubt, our worry, our fears and our hurts. We like the comfortable when it comes to how we do church and community. We like the sheen of fine a bit more than we realize or admit. We worry about what will be said about us, instead of what we are living out of His Word.

It’s a difficult thing to admit you lived into your fears, doubts and anxiety. To admit you were selfish in your expectations. But it’s even more difficult to live it without community. Without the church.

The Legitimacy of Singlehood

I write and delete quite a bit when I am writing on singleness. Because I fear what I say will be misconstrued or even so boldly taken as offensive. But what I struggle with more is the tension I feel within the church more and more for singles. My heart is for them, because I am one of them. It’s something I have grown into wrestling with over the years and now find as I look around the landscape a desperate need for us within the walls of the church and in the community.

You’ve likely heard the statistics that people now-a-days are waiting to get married later in life (27 ain’t that late y’all) and there are more singles than in years past whether from never marrieds, divorce, widowhood.

So we’re prevalent in numbers and also in need. We are a subset based upon our marital status has left us wanting community, wanting a safe haven, a place to be. To walk out lives of faith with others. Sometimes that means with couples guiding the way, other times that’s in similar communities, and invariably it means living life with groups of the same sex because we are often drawn to what we know and do daily.

But when I look at the landscape of churches these days, I don’t see much modeled in the legitimacy of singleness in leadership. Yes, you’ll have a handful in the pre-school or nursery ministries, maybe even in kid’s ministry that are singles. You’ll have a couple of singles leading life groups that are for singles. But what you don’t see are singles in pastoral positions for the most part. (I put a contingent on there because I know of ONE) I don’t see singles in other leadership roles within a church staff.

To me it seems that we aren’t counted worthy in the church until there’s a band attached to our fingers. That we cannot be taken seriously as leaders, servants in the church, unless we have a spouse. I understand the difficulties of leading in ministry, and when you are single, the inherent loneliness that surrounds you in that. I have seen it first hand and heard from others.

It just makes me wonder what the undercurrent culture we are building in the church is saying to those of us who are single. That we aren’t worthy? That we only matter yea far and no further? That we can be responsible for babies and teaching kids, but don’t get us near a group of grown adults? Or that we’ll read Paul’s words in the Bible, learn from words given him by God and then forget that he too was single. Or that frankly Christ Himself was single throughout His ministry here with us. The Son of God brought forth here in earth was never married. In His 30s.

And yet, we can’t be bothered to consider how singles can impact the world with their faith just by pouring a bit more into them? That we’d rather discount their abilities simply out of the lack of a spouse. We’d discount their calling God has given them, their spiritual giftedness, simply due to their marital status.

Maybe this is my soap box currently. That the church has moved corporately in many ways to the family, without realizing the very definition of family was long ago crushed and restructured by Christ-brothers and sisters defined by faith and not blood. That we are all the Bride of Christ.

Women, Worship and My Comfort

I waited in the parking lot until the last possible minute before being late. I walked in and realized I did not look anything like the other people there.

Here’s the thing, looks are deceiving. They lie to us and give us false perceptions, assumptions based purely on what our eyes are confronted with, and not the truth of a heart and mind.

This past Sunday I had the absolute privilege to sit among a body of fellow believers in a small country church just south of where I live, mere minutes from my front door. I was greeted and welcomed with the most loving smiles and sentiments, handshakes and hugs (and y’all know I’m not a hugger). It was an outpouring of gladness to see someone there to worship the same God they do on that Sunday. The only difference to be seen? The color of skin. (and the fact I had chosen not to put panty hose on…a fact I am sure my grandmother in heaven had a fit about).

But what wasn’t seen was the heart. Can I tell you that my heart needed to be there Sunday? In a house of worship where people weren’t worried what it would look like to praise Him, to shout and lift hands high as the Spirit was felt among us. The word brought from a female on the platform was truly challenging and affirming, reminding me to look and discern with not only a Christ-centered mind but also the female perspective.

Because y’all, the woman at the well? That story we hear so often in the church…the script was flipped and put from her point of view, from the dangers of gossip to the Stranger who became the Changer of her heart and life. I mean, c’mon…that was a good Word given to her to then give to all of us. I appreciated so much the recognition of women in the congregation (me and my friend included) for their Women’s Day. As the service ended, person after person came up to greet us, talk with us, invite us to coffee in the fellowship hall right then.

It struck me as I left that my worries over the stares or whispers, were purely driven by  my own ego, my own self and the comfort I like to live in. What I was met with was the hands and feet of God’s children, my brothers and sisters in Christ happily asking me to join them in giving back praise to our God. When our eyes and hearts are on God, they aren’t on our environment, or our surroundings. They aren’t concerned with how we’ll look to others but how we are bringing the glory to God as is due.

It comes down to focusing on the state of our hearts than the state of how little others are thinking about us. When we right our heart and mind in Christ, we find that the opinions (or lack thereof) of others and ourselves seem to matter a whole lot less. And we find when we take our eyes off of others, we too draw nearer to God in worship, giving Him the attention and praise He deserves and not ourselves.

The Awkward Single.

Last year around this time I was interested in someone…We didn’t know one another very well but had gotten coffee once to chat. Nothing too serious, no proclaiments of love or the brushing of hands over the table. Over the coming months, as I began dating someone else, I would bump into him on occasion…Nashville isn’t all that big y’all. Occasionally I would laugh at the little crush I had developed on him briefly last year, and how even in your 30s you can still get crushes.

I ran into him, after really not seeing him for about seven months, at the church I am now attending. One would have thought it would be awkward, seeing someone I had once (just a year before) been interested in. Eventhough I am single, and I believe he is too, there wasn’t awkwardness. There was friendliness that was not forced or disingenuous. It was a friendly catch up with someone I hadn’t seen in months.

It got me to thinking about how awkward it becomes when you develop this expectation with a person you have a romantic interest in that never comes to fruition. I see it play out, and have had it happen to me before, especially within the church, where the awkwardness drives the interactions, conversations, and often the individuals. It consumes their time and thoughts, and often detracts from their worship. It can mar relationships far beyond just the one there was an interest in and even push some to leave the church. Sadly over the years in ministry, and specifically being involved in singles ministries, it becomes cyclical.

Acknowledge the awkward, but don’t let it rule you. After all, you were made to be so much more than a person carrying around unmet expectations. When you love God, it becomes just a smidge easier to love others, even in the awkward, even in the strained. Don’t let an unrequited crush push you out of worshiping the God who loves you more than _________. Lay aside the expectations of finding your mate in ministry. The only expectation we should carry into church is the expectation of the presence of God with us.

The Christian Bachelor/Bachelorette?

Warning: The Soap Box was pulled out for today’s post.

As a single gal, over the years people have lovingly and good naturedly attempted to set me up with friends or relatives. While I appreciate the good intentions from it, I also find that to be a bit intrusive. They mean well, don’t get me wrong, but my personal dating life to some degree is just that, personal.

No where was it more obnoxious than in church.

Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Church
Photo courtesy of Hyde Park Church

I love the older, well-intentioned women at church who pull you aside and suggest better ways to “land you a man, darlin’.” Yes, this was actually done to me several years ago as I was volunteering with a Senior Adult group. I had a friend actually be urged by the Senior Pastor of the church to date a particular woman whom he had seen around the front office. For a single, commenting on our dating life (or lack thereof) is like me commenting on your parenting skills when I don’t have kids. Yes you have been single, but are you single currently? Do you know what other factors are affecting me personally?

I know this sounds harsh and is coming across very aggressive, but it’s a sensitive topic for me. Unless we are friends, and rather close friends at that, you don’t have the freedom to comment on my lack of a mate currently. The reason I am so on this today is that last week The Game Show Network announced that they had created a new show with Natalie Grant (I love her music and she lives right here in Nashville) as host. Here’s a run down of the gist of the show:

“The show will visit a church congregation from across the country every week to surprise one unsuspecting single member with the surprise news that they’re “about to be saved from the dating world.” The Pastor of the church will ask the congregation to help find the best possible matches for the lucky member and then the choice of who is “the” one has to be made. The member who brings the winning suitor will get a donation for the church.”

NO. Just NO. Frankly when did I need saving from the dating world? When did you, if you are single? I didn’t realize that I was so inept at hunting out a mate…I was over here, doing some kingdom work, growing in God. Who knew all the while my biggest concern was needing “saving” from the dating world?! (I am full of snark and irritation on this) I am sure there are those individuals who will participate on this show, but I cannot help but look at the mockery it is making of not only singles in the church, but the church’s function in the life of the Body of Christ.

The church isn’t the place for the Bachelor or Bachelorette to be filmed. It’s a place to find comfort, rest, and growth. It’s a place to find salvation from sin not from singleness. You can count me out of this game show, as well as being a part of a church that finds this okay.

Anger Management

Last week I lost my temper in the worst possible place.

Church

Photo courtesy of Anger Management, the movie.
Photo courtesy of Anger Management, the movie.

Admitting that to you all is hard, because I had to admit it to the person I lost it with first, which was much harder. It wasn’t a pastor or visitor, it was someone who knows me pretty well at this point in life. They were attempting to call me out on the path I was headed down and I didn’t like it. In fact, I was seeing red and wanted to escape.

I tell you all this, to share this small piece of the story. In the moment as my anger began building I heard a small heart whisper. I don’t hear God audibly, but I often hear Him whispering into my heart and this small voice said “Don’t let your flesh, the devil, ruin this right now. Don’t give in to it.” Instead I shoved it aside and fell into anger and let my temper and emotions control the situation I couldn’t otherwise control.

That moment, that choice, had a domino effect for the last week. Not only on my life but another individual’s life. And several others if I am being really truthful. If I had stopped and listened to the sound of reason, of truth, straight from God, life would’ve been much more peaceful this week I believe. I chose a familiar road of anger and resentment, of piercing rage and emotions.

I had a choice, as we all do, in how I respond in situations. That choice has consequences that go far beyond that moment, or myself. Now I have to be the one to reconcile and seek forgiveness, knowing I had to first go before God seeking forgiveness for disobedience, anger, and so much more.

If you are facing anger or a temper, I pray this same verse over you that I am praying over myself. May we begin overlooking the slights and the wrongs, and start living with better sense. Of ourselves, of God, and who He knows we can be.

People with good sense restrain their anger; they earn esteem by overlooking wrongs.

Proverbs 19:11