Originally posted on john pavlovitz:
This is a message to all those who are single or who have spent any years in the Church as a single person.
As a pastor who has served in local church ministry for the past 17 years, I wanted to apologize to you on behalf of so many of us who minister and who too often have failed you.
I am deeply sorry.
I’m sorry for the ways we unintentionally distanced you from community; the times that we overlooked your deep needs and your unique challenges as we planned and prepared.
I’m sorry for the times we relegated you to the segregated ghettos of Singles Ministry, making you feel that was enough to hold you over until you eventually graduated from your relational purgatory.
I’m sorry for the times you felt like an afterthought in our worship services.
I’m sorry for the times you felt unwelcome or extraneous in our small groups.
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A recently divorced man stated, ” I am having a difficult time living in a single world. Everywhere I go I see couples.” Granted in this time and age, many “couples” are not legally married but the people involved still have someone to love and share their lives with. Not a spouse but a significant other, a partner, a companion. And regardless of faith or emotion, a person will still feel lonely. And, even now in 2015, most church activities are geared towards married couples. Holidays come and family is emphasized. TV laughs at marriage. The alternative lifestyles, living together without planning for marriage and one time hookups are what the world is living. It seems even harder for the committed Christian single to remain content and alone, especially after a divorce of death of a spouse. Honestly, when I first entered into singles ministry (unpaid volunteer of course) I was shocked that most of the singles in our churches had a sex life! Really! Some seemed surprised that I was actually celibate. One man was living with a woman and their child and looking for a Christian woman on the sly. I kid you not. And, from experience, I can attest to the challenges of being single and alone. One Christian sister told me that her preacher insinuated how peaceful she seemed when they bumped into each other at a restaurant. He was with his wife and kids and said that he “envied” her quiet time with a book and dinner. She “envied” that he had a family and she was sick and tired of time with a book.
So, what is the answer? Marriage isn’t the complete answer. Many married individuals are frustrated and unhappy. Marriage brings a different set of challenges. Add children and a lot of stress is present. Celibacy is a challenge. In Judges, we find a whole group of people that God had requested to keep a celibate life. The purpose of this celibacy was that they might devote their lives solely to the service of God and his people. Some today may practice a similar lifestyle for similar reasons. The married person always has the added responsibility of family.
God wants you to do his will. In Genesis 24, we find Rebekah awaiting the arrival of Isaac. She was willing to meet him and thankfully he was worth having! We see David awaiting the will of the Father but also impatient and choosing for himself. Mikal and Bathsheeba brought much grief but a good woman, Abigail brought peace. Remember, God knows all about you and cares about what you do. He understands your feelings. Hebrews 4:15, 16 says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way….” We have a god who cares about us in every detail and who wants to be involved in your every moment. He cares when you sit alone with a book waiting for your dinner or when you are stressed by the family. He cares when you lie awake at night alone. He knows how it feels to be rejected. He cares so much that the scriptures tell of his relentless desire to reconcile with us. He cares so much that he allowed Jesus to go to the cross for our sins.
Yes, there is a life apart from marriage.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life” is a popular and significant slogan. Today, when I awoke, it was if I were born again, with new life and new opportunities. Then I showered and went to work……
You might ask yourself if this is the life you want to continue. Are you the person you intend to be? Is there a significant role for you as a single person in society? You have been created in the image of God, now what are you going to do with all this value he has placed on your being? You may be asking yourself these very questions. You might be at a crossroad where you are seeking directions, answers or a higher purpose. Or, you might be at a standstill. Other questions could be related to being too old, too young, too settled, too attached or too single.
What are you going to do with your life? Some of you will always be single. Some of you have the gift of contentment in being single and others are just single. It can be frustrating. Most of you will marry. The challenges will not stop with marriage and new concerns will creep in. There will always be something to overcome and also an opportunity to make a difference. Don’t you want to make a difference? An impact? You can! Jesus told us (in Matthew 17: 20) :if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for you.”
There was a man in the “Old Testament” who parallels our need for God’s guidance. Remember Moses? Moses was living in the wilderness in a foreign country when he saw a burning bush. He identified that God had come calling and in Exodus 3:4 he stated “Here I am”. We can start with that statement. Turn our life over to God and see what he wants to do with us. Moses was used to challenge Pharoah and free millions of Israelites, then lead them across a wilderness to the promised land.
It all starts with a little faith. Evaluate your life. If you are content then thank God and serve him as a single. You may be content not married but want a different job or a better economic state. Explore your options. Do you need to go back to school? Do you need a budget? You could always start small and take a class to see if you are on the right track. Are you living where you need to be? How are your social skills? Are you emotionally and physically ready to meet someone new and consider dating that could lead to marriage? Use your single time to prepare to share more of your life, whether single or married.
Remember the woman with the bleeding disorder? She had hemorrhaged for 12 years and she had enough of that. She got dressed and went to find Jesus. Even though in a state of uncleanness, she reached out and touched the hem of his garment. Life changed immediately! It all started with a change of attitude and routine!
You are a person of value! You as a single person have been freed of some obligations for a purpose. Don’t bury your talents in the past or sit on them waiting for the future. Live for today and with the help of God make plans for your life.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life”
“It’s not worth it. I can’t go on!”
“It’s all my fault and I can’t help it”
“He/She is better off without me!”
“My ex thinks I am worthless”
“I lost the only person who I can really love”
In many years of singles ministry and counseling, I have heard all of these statements. Men and women are living in an environment that screams to them that they don’t amount to much. A divorce tells you that you failed. A death of a loved one destroys your heart. Not finding your “soul mate” makes you wonder if you are worth having.
A self image of worth is a vital prelude to life. Some persons live the single life by choice but most live alone because of circumstance. Our feelings of self worth are formed early in life. Mom and Dad can build us up or tear us down. Our friends, classmates and associates either build us up or tear us down. Later life experiences are measures against what we learn when we are young. If we live in an environment of praise and have some measure of success, then our self esteem is enhanced. If we live with constant criticism, disappointment and failure, our ego is defeated.
” it is better to dwell on the corner of a housetop then to live with a contentious women…..” (same for men) Proverbs 21:9, 19
Our philosophy of life and religion effects our self worth. Some ideals of life and theology lend an atmosphere of growth, flexibility and esteem, while others tie down and frustrate by imposing rigid rules of behavior which impossible to live by. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for doing this. They had a rule for everything, even the amount of herbs to tithe but did not honor important matters: justice, mercy and faithfulness. It is unfortunate that the church often drags down the spirit of the seeker rather than boosting their morale.
In John 17:23, we are told by Jesus “you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”. Romans 5:7 tells us that even though we are sinners, Jesus died for us. Do we have value? Yes, we do. Jesus said so….
When I was a mama of three very tiny, very messy, very beautiful rug rats, we had DAYS THAT WENT ON FOR LIFETIMES.
Craig left at 6:00 am every morning and as I watched his showered, ironed self leave the house I felt incredibly blessed and thrilled to have so much time alone with my babies and incredibly terrified and bitter to have so much time alone with my babies.
If you don’t believe that all of those feelings can exist at once—well, you’ve never been a parent to many tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats.
When Craig returned each day at 6:00 pm (he actually returned at 5:50 but took a STUNNINGLY LONG TIME TO GET THE MAIL) he’d walk through the door, smile, and say—
“So! How was your day?”
This question was like a spotlight pointed directly at the chasm between his experience of a “DAY” and my experience of a “DAY.” How was my day?
The question would linger in the air for a moment while I stared at Craig and the baby shoved her hand in my mouth like they do—while the oldest screamed MOMMY I NEED HELP POOING from the bathroom and the middle one cried in the corner because I NEVER EVER EVER let her drink the dishwasher detergent. NOT EVER EVEN ONCE, MOMMY!!!
And I’d look down at my spaghetti stained pajama top, unwashed hair, and gorgeous baby on my hip—and my eyes would wander around the room, pausing to notice the toys peppering the floor and the kids’ stunning new art on the fridge . . .
And I’d want to say: How was my day?
Today has been a lifetime.
It was the best of times and the worst of times. There were moments when my heart was so full I thought I might explode, and there were other moments when my senses were under such intense assault that I was CERTAIN I’d explode.
I was both lonely and absolutely desperate to be alone.
I was saturated—just BOMBARDED with touch and then the second I put down this baby I yearned to smell her sweet skin again.
I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed with so much to do.
Today was too much and not enough. It was loud and silent. It was brutal and beautiful. I was at my very best today and then, just a moment later, at my very worst.
At 3:30 today I decided that we should adopt four more children, and then at 3:35 I decided that we should give up the kids we already have for adoption.
Husband—when your day is completely and totally dependent upon the moods and needs and schedules of tiny, messy, beautiful rug rats your day is ALL OF THE THINGS and NONE OF THE THINGS, sometimes within the same three minute period.
But I’m not complaining.
This is not a complaint, so don’t try to FIX IT.
I wouldn’t have my day Any.Other.Way. I’m just saying—it’s a hell of a hard thing to explain—an entire day with lots of babies.
But I’d be too tired to say all of that. So I’d just cry, or yell, or smile and say “fine,” and then hand the baby over and run to Target to wander aisles aimlessly, because that’s all I ever really wanted.
But I’d be a little sad because love is about really being seen and known and I wasn’t being seen or known then. Everything was really hard to explain. It made me lonely.
So we went to therapy, like we do.
Through therapy, we learned to ask each other better questions. We learned that if we really want to know our people, if we really care to know them—we need to ask them better questions and then really listen to their answers.
We need to ask questions that carry along with them this message: “I’m not just checking the box here. I really care what you have to say and how you feel. I really want to know you.”
If we don’t want throw away answers, we can’t ask throw away questions. A caring question is a key that will unlock a room inside the person you love.
So Craig and I don’t ask “how was your day?” anymore.
After a few years of practicing increasingly intimate question asking, now we find ourselves asking each other questions like these:
- When did you feel loved today?
- When did you feel lonely?
- What did I do today that made you feel appreciated?
- What did I say that made you feel unnoticed?
- What can I do to help you right now?
I know. WEEEEEIRRD at first. But not after a while. Not any weirder than asking the same damn empty questions you’ve always asked that elicit the same damn empty answers you’ve always gotten.
And so now when our kids get home from school, we don’t say: “How was your day?” Because they don’t know. Their day was lots of things.
Instead we ask our kids:
- How did you feel during your spelling test?
- What did you say to the new girl when you all went out to recess?
- Did you feel lonely at all today?
- Were there any times you felt proud of yourself today?
And I never ask my friends: How are you?
Because they don’t know either.
Instead I ask:
- How is your mom’s chemo going?
- How’d that conference with Ben’s teacher turn out?
- What’s going really well with work right now?
Questions are like gifts.
It’s the thought behind them that the receiver really FEELS. We have to know the receiver to give the right gift and to ask the right question.
Generic gifts and questions are all right, but personal gifts and questions feel better. Love is specific, I think. It’s an art. The more attention and time you give to your questions, the more beautiful the answers become.
Life is a conversation. Make it a good one.
1. Please don’t tell them that your husband traveling is the same as being a single mom and therefore you understand. I know I probably did this and said this before I understood. In fact, I’m sure I did and wish with everything I could take those words back. A traveling husband is nowhere near close being a single mom and when I hear those words I just want to say you have no clue. But normally, I simply smile (but cringe within). It’s not the same, truly. Here’s why: there’s a reprieve coming, you know it won’t last, the kids aren’t out of sorts and well, you know you’re ultimately not alone. So when you’re trying to think of a way to relate this is probably not it. Just be there. Love them.
2. They probably appear self centered – especially in the beginning. That’s because they’re trying to find a new normal. They’re not trying to ignore you or not be your friend – truly it’s about re-establishing a routine and trying to find normal and trying to make it through the days. It’s a great deal of work being a single mom – everything on one person’s shoulders and they really truly aren’t ignoring you. In fact, if they’re like me they probably go to bed most nights thinking that they’ve dropped the ball again.
3. They’re tired. Plain and simple – tired. If someone gets sick they’re up. They have to drive everywhere. Manage everything. Work and be full time parent and not get stressed out. So back to point two – if they seem self-centered more than likely they’re simply beyond the point of exhaustion.
4. They deal with crazy emotions – of shame, not being worth it, feeling sad and so on. Expect that. We’re designed to think that the Hallmark ideal of life is the way to go and any time that is fragmented there’s a bit of re-adjusment. Even if it was for the good. Just remember grace for them. Sometimes holidays are hard. Or parent-teacher conferences. Or all of that. So if there’s a tear shed for a seemingly normal thing that just might be why. There’s a great deal of emotions to deal with – worth, value, can you do it – and sometimes it just takes a bit to get that all sorted.
5. They need friends. Chances are many people dropped them as friends. It’s hard to relate to that person now, in a way. I don’t blame the people who left – I understand – as I’m a different person now than I was five years ago. I still need friends. Girlfriends to laugh with and share times with and tell me it’s okay and just to be there for me. So chances are your friend needs that as well. Be the friend. I know it takes extra patience and grace and a whole lot of giving (especially in the beginning) but remember this is a major life shift and anytime that happens it takes a bit to regain one’s footing.
6. They’re still them but also not them. Deep down at the core. Maybe they seem distracted or busy or having to work, but deep deep down they’re still the person that you loved. They still probably love the things they did. Nurture that – remind them of those things. I love to garden but it took me almost two years before I wanted to garden again. Just like everything sometimes it takes time to get back to you. But listen, divorce and separation changes someone and oftentimes in that process it’s a bit of shedding of old self and identities so that the new person can emerge and thrive. The greatest gift you can give your friend is to love her through this process and not remind her of who she was but rather love her for who she is becoming.
7. They have to work incredibly hard. In fact, harder than they thought possible. Oftentimes the burden of paying the bills falls onto the shoulders of one person and that is a huge weight to bear. And they have to work to just maintain life. And to discover that normal that we chatted about. So even if they’re working really hard they’re not trying to ignore you. Many times they’re just working to get ahead again.
8. Please don’t say I don’t know how you do it – you must be so strong! I know. I know – it’s meant to be good, but truthfully we simply don’t have a choice. In fact, I’ve kind of eliminated the phrase how do you do it from my list of things to say to someone. I think instead of encouraging it kind of makes the recipient think how in the world do I do it? And a single mom will tell you she has no choice. There’s no one to help with dinner or the kids or carpool or school or homework or any of it. Many times bedtime isn’t dictated by being tired but by trying to get as much done as possible before collapsing into bed.
9. Please don’t judge. I don’t think anyone wakes up and thinks that their ideal story in life is the one in which they parent alone. And I also don’t think that most people want to divulge all the behind the scenes details of their lives. Single moms don’t need to be judged or pitied – they just need to be your friend still. Even if their lives aren’t ideal – that, in fact, is the time when one needs more of a friend and less judging. It can be lonely in that world of judging. So just love them. They’ll love you for it.
10. Life can be great. That’s what I tell myself. And your single mom friend needs to believe that as well. Life can be good even if it’s not perfect. Be the friend that’s there for them. They’ll get used to their new routine, will find normal and will regain that balance. It just takes time. The biggest gift you can give them is that gift of time, not judging and simply being a friend. They value you greatly. I know I value my friends so much – the ones that have stuck with me and given me grace. Oh my goodness, I know that I haven’t been the best friend during this season, but I do try and love my friends for loving me.
Here’s the bottom line truth: friendships matter. Greatly.
So does having that friend you can call at midnight or the friend who tells you that you are worth a million dollars so does having someone who loves you no matter what.
Be that friend.
And if you are the single mom reading this – you are not alone.
Because for so long I struggled with feeling alone and shame. And I didn’t want the world to think I had a not so perfect life. But truth is that life can be so beautiful and wonderful and valuable even if it doesn’t match the ideal.
ps. And just like you they love their kids and want the best for them. Always.
pps. And their kids – they’re not a product of divorce – they’re just kids. Love them for who they are not for what their life circumstances may be.