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.

A Single Thanksgiving

Over the last few years I have celebrated Thanksgiving without the family. There’s been one or two thrown in over the last decade where I spent it with my sister and her family, but for the most part it’s been solo…and that’s been okay for me. For several years I used that as an opportunity to serve in the local rescue mission-preparing the dining room and then serving the meals to the homeless. It is something I really enjoy doing, and hope many of you choose to spend your day doing as well (but go serve there in January, April and July too).

This year is different. The parental units have foregone their annual beach sojourn to be at home…and the kids are coming home. Yep, no solo Thanksgiving prep this year. I’ll get to assist the master chef herself (my mother) in prepping everything with her fancy new stove Santa just dropped off.

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So I thought about those years I spent solo at Thanksgiving and thought I’d share some tips for my fellow singletons (and their family and friends too) for this upcoming holiday.

  1. It’s okay if you want to do Thanksgiving solo. It’s okay if you have no plans and no family or friends around that you want to spend the day with. If you’d rather have T-Day your way…let me be the first one to tell you, that it’s okay.
  2. It’s okay to NOT want to spend Thanksgiving solo. If you are yearning for company, swing open those doors my friends and invite people to your place. Or share with others that you are spending it alone, and you might get an invite. For several years I got invited to friends and friends’ families’ homes for Thanksgiving. I had let them know I was going it solo and I do believe there was pity on their part. But that’s okay. You are fine if you want to go over (take a side or dessert, do NOT go empty-handed) and spend time engulfed in someone else’s world.
  3. Families and friends: please do not ask about the dating world to the singleton. This is the last thing we want brought up because breaking news, WE KNOW WE ARE SINGLE. The dinner table, or the couch in front of the tv with football on, is not the place we want to discuss why we are single at holiday time.
  4. Have an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving, even in your singleton state. I have friends who are trying to balance multiple stops with kiddos and tense family situations on short notice…that’s their reality. Yours (and mine) is a single life that permits us to choose to check-in and check-out of the holiday spirit if we so choose…but we must be thankful for the current situation whether we are choosing it for ourselves or not.
  5. Families and friends: if you know of a singleton this holiday who might be spending it solo, offer up a seat at your table (or couch). They may not be able to get home on this short holiday weekend, or they may be without family, and really don’t want to impose by inviting themselves. Extend the gratitude, and fill them in on the fun you put in the dysfunction that is every single family in the world.
  6. Lastly, use this as an opportunity to revel in the delight that is this season of gratitude and thankfulness. No matter what your choice is or where you find yourself celebrating. You get to choose as a singleton and the choice is always thanksgiving.

 

What if Ruth was your call to ministry? To minister to other women, to hearts that were seeing Christ in you? 

I’m reading through the familiar story of her life with a new perspective, new experiences and a God who whispers His truth revealing into my heart at just the right moment…

For me it’s not about Boaz, the widowing or the marriage bond of in-laws. It’s about the women, Naomi especially. God chose to work in her, setting her in a foreign land and then losing the things that would have defined her in context of her land and time. The same we do here, now. Husbands. Children. She was those things. And then she wasn’t.

She was the living God lived out to Orpah and Ruth. She was the God of Israel to women of Moab. One responded and one didn’t. One looked to her life, her God and wanted it so much so that she abandoned all she knew to cling to Naomi, to be in the presence of the God she saw in her. The other went back to what she knew, and we aren’t really sure of her story after that.

But we see the impact of Naomi, of her story. Even in her bitterness she didn’t stray from God. She oversaw her daughter in law, now calling her daughter. She cared for her and her future, a future that didn’t look so great but only asked for faith. Faith in the God Who took her to Moab complete and brought her back empty. Naomi’s faith shone through, even as Ruth sought to glean from a harvest. A harvest God had provided, and knew long before we be pivotal in the story of the lineage of Christ.

Ruth was exercising faith in the simple things because she had seen it lived out by Naomi throughout the good and the very bad. She simply asked to collect God’s provision, and Naomi encouraged her to go and do.

I cannot help but be joyful at this new perspective, of Naomi’s ministry to Ruth, to living out the God of Israel before women who were foreigners, who ended up being family. She loved and lived, even in bad circumstances. She mentored and fostered love in the household in order to bring about God’s provision that He set about far before Naomi could fathom.

I don’t know about you, but it makes me realize the relationships we have with other women is pivotal to our own with Christ. God will use even the bad for His glory and our good. He’s in the small, He provides, if we but be obedient in the simple, the daily steps of faith. It’s a call to minister even when we don’t feel like we can, when we don’t see how any good will come of it, and to allow those women into our lives who desperately want the Jesus they see in us.

 

My Extreme and His Opportunity

Earlier this week I shared a bit on the reality of a single. Most of what I shared was from a vulnerable place, but a real place nonetheless. It is one that I find I am not alone in feeling, as conversations have sparked with numerous friends after that post (and even before).

Over lunch yesterday I was talking with someone that I didn’t know a year ago. I had never met her, nor heard her story, and there we sat in the cafe at work discussing her family and mine. Our work life and our home life. I couldn’t help but put our lives down on paper in my mind at how different they are, with our commonality of pursuing God’s purpose for us and our lives.

The reality of both of our lives and the stories we are living out is that God meets us in them, in the hard and painful and in the joyful and contented. While my pain of singleness can often be hard to bear out, so can marriage and raising children. I can honor that and know that perfection and 100% satisfaction will not be seen this side of heaven. But it also shot through to me that in my extremes of life-job loss, singleness, illness, anxiety-God’s very present.

“My extremity may be God’s opportunity.”

-A.B. Simpson, Seeing the Invisible

When I am in extreme times of life, what if I considered those opportunities for God? In my agitation of extremity am I harming myself? others? my relationship with God? It’s difficult to see the opportunity when you have just lost your job, when that relationship has just ended. You can’t quite slap on the “glass half full” mentality.

But I want to see it as His opportunity in my life. I want to believe and hold fast that His miracle is at hand in my life. I desire that He shows up big and loud, and that it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I want that.

But I don’t ask for it. I don’t seek it out. I don’t allow Him the space in me, in my extremity to work. I get my hands and I mash up the clay He’s been forming, trying to make it into a jar to contain my life when He’s crafting a bowl to receive His goodness in. I don’t stop to see the opportunity for His work, but my chance at control.

I don’t live in the silence of opportunity, of His work, of the wait.

But I will. I must. I have to choose the cost of His opportunity in my life over the return of self, investing in His economy and not my own. Seeing the maturation of promises He gives rather than the immediacy of my will.

So I stand in an extreme, not wanting to be in the throws of my own will but in looking on it as God’s opportunity. Believing He is rather than what I think I am. Choosing His opportunity over my extreme self.

Will’s Birthday Letter

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Watch out fools.

To My Nephew On His Birthday,

You turn 13 today buddy. Thirteen years ago you came into our family, making my sister a mother and my brother in law a father (and me an aunt). You are such a joy and delight to each one of us. I know it’s not cool to say that as you enter your teen years but you teach us alot about compassion and spirit, kindheartedness and love.

The next few years are going to be a bit crazy for you. Middle school is awkward, and high school is stressful for so many reasons.You’ll survive it, even when you don’t think you will. Those days when you fail at something you try hard for will come, as they do us all. But I know your heart of resilience, you will meet it and let it be a catalyst to learn from. Everyone is just trying to fit in during their teen years, they are looking for their people and a refuge to walk these bumbling years with. I pray you find your people and you all grow together for good things, achieving knowledge and pursuing your passions.

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Don’t let your people change you though into someone you know you aren’t. Stand firm when the time comes, and it will. Encourage your people in what they do, be a good friend and support them just as they support you. Be a light when there seems to be so much darkness pervading the world you are growing up in.

Don’t be ashamed of who you are. You are one cool kid who has the awesome ability to show love, knowledge and passion in a blink of an eye. A girl will break your heart, eventhough you don’t want to talk about those gross things right now. Don’t let her break your spirit, and know that your heart will be mended, even when it feels like it’ll remain in pieces. And if she’s mean to you, let her know you have an aunt who needs to speak with her.

Life will try to tell you to grow up more, to be someone you’re not and push you into defining yourself by other people’s words. Do take the world’s words with a grain of salt. You do you so very well, so just be the absolute best you that has ever been. People’s words will hurt. I wish, as your aunt, I could protect you and your brother from that but I can’t. It seems these teen years are hard, and they are as you become more of who you were made by God to be. But they are fun. Don’t let the world steal your fun from you.

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Be kind to your little brother. I know he’s difficult to be around some times because he’s so much younger, but he looks up to you. You see, I was the little sister to your mom and I annoyed her just like John Carter does. It’s because I wanted her to be in my sphere and let me be in hers. She was cool and fun, and her friends were so mature. That’s why we didn’t get along for a while when we were you and your brother’s ages. It’s part of growing up too. But before you know it you’ll be in college and he will miss you terribly. Brothers have a special bond and you’ll need each other. You get to experience things first and that lets you turn and help him when he goes through it. That is a pretty cool thing to be as the big brother. So on those days when you have to drive him around or he asks to tag along, just remember you got to do it first.

IMG_0063You’ll always be the Toothless Wonder and Will the Thrill…but you’re also a teenager today. I cannot wait to see how you grow and mature into the young man God created you to be. I hope that you don’t lose the sweetness you have always had, the way you’ll talk to me when you get frustrated about something, and that belly laugh. You have the best sense of humor, and the wit to go with it. I pray you seek God as you head into these years, and draw closer to Him in every moment. I know it won’t be the easy thing, or the cool thing, but it’s the true thing. More than ever I pray you keep that heart open that you love big with because it’s who you are at the very root. I love that about you buddy. That and your awesome dance skills.

Happy 13th Will,

love

Aunt Sara

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Emotions and Grief

“I’m just letting you know I’ll cry at your funeral.”

We were driving back to Knoxville earlier this week when we had this conversation. We had just been to the funeral of our uncle, heard the words of friends and family extending their sorrow and grief to our family. I had just had my grandmother, a woman not known for her compassion or emotions, gripping my back from her wheelchair crying into my ear that she loved me, she loved both of her girls.

And here we sat, going down the dark interstate, talking about how we’d cry at each other’s funerals…because this is how our family does emotions. I’ll be honest that I am the crier in the family. I’m the emotional one, my mom can attest to that fact, dating back to my tumultuous teen years.

As I listened to the stories of how my uncle sang in church, how he competed in an ice cream contest and won as a ten year old (and also diabetic), and how he was made new when he awoke in the presence of God Sunday I couldn’t help but be overcome with emotion. This family isn’t a close one…we don’t operate that way outside of my parents house. We fight and we nag each other. We judge and we cast blame. I think many families are that way, for better and for worse. We grow up in it and think it’s normal, we learn to operate within it and accept it. Then we arrive at these hard, grievous moments (two over the last 18 months in our family) and can’t quite figure out how to process life, death. We hear about our relative and didn’t know those things or we find out there’s another side to someone we thought we knew.

I am learning, at the old age of 33, that part of me is grafted and crafted by my family. I thought on this fact as my sister and I conversed in that car ride Wednesday night. She’s the analytical one who will always work in a process, where I am the wildly feeling one who is sometimes ridiculous with emotions and lives into them. But we both agreed that we would cry at one another’s funerals because that’s how family is, that’s how my family is…we process in conversation, in quiet, in our own way.

We choose our ways of feeling, grieving, caring and loving. For me, that means talking about it, processing out loud, crying (a little more than I’d like sometimes) and choosing quiet and alone. For our family, it means maybe not talking about it as much, about the loss or the grief. Instead we talk about memories, we break the awkward silence with moments of joy. It’s knowing that in our grief there is rejoicing. For we find going about our daily business is often easier than giving way to the reality of the absence of our loved one, their presence still felt even though they no longer are.

Faux Fruit & My Mamaw’s House

Growing up, when we would go to my mamaw’s house I would get fascinated with the fruit bowl she had sitting in the formal living room. The formal living room, in and of itself, was a fascinating place to be. The white carpet and couches had protective coverings over them. We were to remove our shoes before even stepping on said plastic coverings. It held every breakable thing known to mankind. For two very mischievous cousins (who incidentally were wreaking havoc on the car port just moments earlier), this was our quiet space. It was the place we had to tiptoe into for fear of her finding us in her most prized possessions. It was also the place where mamaw would hide the Reese’s peanut butter cups from our papaw because he never went in there.

This fruit bowl that sat on the coffee table or side board, depending upon if company was coming over was a source of fascination for me. It held grapes, lemons, and the occasional apple…it seemed to float around in places. The bowl was this beautiful crystal, a part of a set I believe my mamaw had, but it held this fruit which from afar looked real. For this inquisitive child though, I quickly learned appearances were deceiving. All of the fruit was fake, faux, not real. After a while, I would pull off the grapes and strategically rearrange them, leaving some in the bottom of the bowl to continue the facade that my mamaw kept her perishable fruit in this pristine bowl in a room no one was ever really allowed to be in except for Christmas and when the pastor came over.

The fruit came to mind as I have been looking at the fruits of the Spirit. For the better part of my faith journey I have thought the fruits of the Spirit were of my own making. That I could conjure them up within me if I prayed and did just as best I could. It was very formulaic for me. But the deeper I dig into this study on them I am finding they are truly conditions of a lasting relationship with Christ.

None of it I can finagle or check off in order to get joy or goodness. It’s about abiding and allowing Him to work through me to produce that fruit. This fruit, as Sarah Matheny says, “is a manifestation of who He is.” So it’s not within me to produce but He does a work, in making me into His image have the capacity to know joy, to carry joy and to be joy for others.

That fruit is one that is not faux but one that continues to produce as I grow in relationship with Him. It’s not something to be left untouched, or put on display, in a room for others to admire. It’s pruned, fed, and comes in seasons to be relished and feed others just as the Spirit feeds me when I am in Him.

Here’s to no longer crafting plastic fruit, that seems like fruit but is only a best attempt at being something. Here’s to growing deeper in relationship with Him and having the fruits made manifest out of that relationship through me.