Dear Church: How to Truly Encourage Singles

NOTE: This is an adaptation of an earlier post that was from my wordier days 🙂 Still just as relevant, but more bite-sized.

It’s Sunday morning. The trendy pallet wall backdrop is all set on a stage that is littered by strategically placed instruments and a podium as church-goers chatter and move about. Observe the scene long enough, and a particular subset might begin to capture your attention. It’s a group that doesn’t seem to fit any other category.  They aren’t found among the “keenagers” who gracefully make their way to the back rows of the church. They aren’t among the youngsters being ushered to Sunday school or youth group. They aren’t found among the parents of said youngsters or the starry-eyed young marrieds without kids. They are the 20 plus somethings that meander through the rest, interacting, serving, and existing.

Not sure where you fit in that list, but you can count me as a seasoned member of the ragtags. In my experience, I have been fortunate to find friendship and belonging within the church among all the other groups, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. In this piece, I hope to answer the following question: How can churches allow singles to flourish as God has called them? It is a question that is not easily answered, as singles range on the marriage scale from “Woe is me!” all the way to “Dodging that bullet!” Additionally, most singles will probably at one point get married, so how do we balance our discussions with that possibility? I will offer 3 do’s and don’ts of interacting with single believers, emphasizing how to best encourage them in their walk with Christ without assuming God’s plan regarding matrimony.

Being Burdened for Their Singleness

In the classic movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the main character’s father mourns her singleness in her early 30’s. In a memorable line, he says pathetically, “Get married, make babies, you’re starting to look so OLD!” Traces of this woeful mindset might be found in certain attitudes or even prayer requests among church-goers in regards to their single friends.

Let me say something that needs to be said. Single people do not need other people to be burdened by their singleness! While it’s true that Galatians 6:2 speaks of “bearing one another’s burdens”, the bearing typically occurring in this kind of scenario hurts rather than actually helps the situation. They are in essence, reaching for the wrong luggage at the baggage claim. While the intention may be out of a desire to help, this will only make matters worse. I will offer a better way to bear this particular burden.

The issue in this scenario is a misunderstanding of singleness itself. Singleness is not the enemy. If we treat singleness like the villain in someone’s story, then we paint the inaccurate picture that marriage is the answer to all his or her problems. Unfortunately, whether your single friend ends up married or remains single for a while longer, you have done nothing to help fix their problem and quite possibly have been part of what is holding them back from living as God intends them to.

A better method to counsel is by offering the Gospel itself. Us singles need to be reminded of who we are and what we have in Christ. We need to be served a gracious dose of truth in love, that even if marriage came our way, it would not satisfy our deepest longings. If any burdens are carried on behalf of a single believer, it should be these deeper encumbrances and the need to learn to value Christ above anything this world has to offer. Do not make the mistake of picking up the wrong luggage!

The Sunday Fish Market

It is said that to tell a quality sushi restaurant from a subpar one, you need to find out if they are open on Sundays. Apparently, fish markets are typically closed on that particular day of the week, so in order for a sushi restaurant to serve their delicacies on Sundays, they must have a willingness to serve day-old products, thereby revealing a lack of culinary integrity. I am not sure how much truth is in this bit of hearsay and it has not really changed my sushi-eating habits, but I think the concept offers a valuable tip to church members.

A quality church that allows singles to flourish should not sell fish on Sunday. I think this goes without saying, but the focus during church gatherings should not be pairing off, no matter how many fish are on hand. Ideally, the church atmosphere is the place one hopes to find a future spouse if there is one to be found, but when that becomes the goal of singles or those they interact with, there is potential for unintended implications. First of all, when singles are seen as projects to “fix”, the subtle message underlying the matchmaking attempts is that they are somehow incomplete or missing out.

Christian matchmaking is not wrong in and of itself, and can be a welcome gesture for many singles, but there is a need to tread these waters more lightly. It is important to invest time into getting to know singles on a deeper level. Invite them into your life. Then, humbly breach the topic and find out if that is even something they desire. Additionally, if you plan on mentioning any kind of potential set up, make sure you intend on carrying it out. Statements about perfect matches with your husband’s friend’s cousin’s coach are not helpful to share if you do not really intend on seeing it through.

Wasted on Singleness

If I had a quarter for every time I have heard the words “You are too good to stay single,” I would be rich. Well okay, I might have enough to buy a vanilla latte at Starbucks. Make it a tall. Anyways, I understand that these comments are well-intentioned, but I bring it up because I think there is a tendency for married folks to jump into flattery mode when a single person opens up about their desire for marriage and the seeming lack of willing candidates. While it is nice to want to dissolve potential insecurities, the underlying assumption of the flattery is false. It basically says that singleness is only for some kind of less optimal person, but marriage is a higher calling that selects from the cream of the crop.

The reality is that marriage and singleness are two paths that God uses for His purposes, and in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul implies that singleness is potentially better for the Kingdom because of its “undivided” nature. The nicest, most sincere complement I have ever received in regards to my singleness came from an older friend. She said that she had been observing me in conversation, and her initial thoughts were of what man I could end up with in our circle of acquaintances. “But then,” she exclaimed, “I decided that I really like you as a single person!” We work in ministry together, and I think she realized all the ministry opportunities I am able to pursue because I do not have the responsibilities associated with being someone’s wife.

So instead of jumping into flattery mode the next time a single brother or sister openly bemoans their empty ring finger, look to what God has for them right where they are to encourage them. Are they in ministry? Point out the freedom they have to spontaneously take a younger Believer to coffee or the blessings they have in being able to wholeheartedly serve the Lord. What does their social life look like? There is adventure to be had outside of dating that is not as much of an option for married folks! What are they gifted in or passionate about? Chances are, God wants them to use those gifts and passions in ways that might be stretching but joyful. Truth might not be what they want to hear, but don’t let that stop you from trading what is nice but fleeting for that which is more meaningful and lasting.

 

In conclusion, singles are in need of all kinds of encouragement from their fellow brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, I am afraid many of them are not provided with the correct kind of encouragement. Pointing them towards a local singles group or telling them that God’s best will come if they are patient does not get to the root of the issue or even represent the truths of Scripture accurately. You want to be an encouragement to the single person in your Church? Begin by rewiring how you view earthly marriage, if need be, aligning your stance with God’s timeless truths. I fear that many of today’s Christian marriages have bought into the lies of our culture, so they are unable to be an encouragement to singles because their actions speak louder than words. If your happiness and fulfillment is rooted in your marriages and families instead of Christ, the singles in your sphere will pick up on that message. Seek God’s help in adjusting your spiritual priorities and then invite single brothers and sisters into your life. Be family to them. Show them how singleness does not have to be equated with loneliness, bitterness, monotony, or a spot on the sidelines of real life.

Love,

Rachelle

The Litmus Test of a Healthy Relationship

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My doors were opened, and dinner was paid for. Anecdote-prompted laughter, a dive into the Colorado River, and an accepted challenge to run the last bit of a hike back to the car are the other details that stand out. That night, I walked through my door on cloud nine, grateful for the full day and God’s gifts. The funny part is, it really sounds like I’m describing a date. Not exactly. The door-opener happens to be my best friend’s boyfriend, and before you think I’m a horrible person, I need to mention that she was there as well.

Me and my bestie have always wondered what it would look like for one of us to start dating someone. In a long season of singleness and God’s gentle and loving “No’s” for a status change, our friendship has been the one area of our lives where God hasn’t withheld ANYTHING. If I had the time, I could tell you about countless adventures where God clearly showed up, just showering us with good gifts. It’s this beautiful mixture of deep, Jesus-loving conversations as we sit on kitchen counters and spontaneous bouts of silliness that leave us with stomach aches from laughing so hard and people around us wondering if any illegal substances are involved. Nope, all natural. My parents adopted her into our family as their third daughter, and we get to work and live together. Free time, adventure, weekends, and humorous meme texts have been spent on each other for almost a decade, and so it seemed like a step towards marriage for either one of us might throw off the sisterhood we’ve been blessed to build.

About 6 months ago, she met someone, and I find myself in the midst of figuring out what it looks like to share her. As it turns out, It’s not as difficult as I thought it would be.  They actually invite me to hang out with them on dates and she’s really gracious to check up on me every once in a while, to ask if anything about their interaction makes me uncomfortable. More than just surviving this new era, I find myself actually enjoying it.  And it’s got me asking a question: What is the difference between the friendships that disappear with a new relationship and those that are actually enhanced?

I think of a friend from college whose spouse was quick to give me the title of friend. Since I mattered to her, I was going to matter to him, too.  Alternatively, I think of other scenarios where hanging out with an old friend and their boyfriend or spouse was just plain uncomfortable.  I’m sure we can all think of a time when an excess of “coupling” left you looking for an exit or conversation suffered a slow death because the counterpart you don’t know as well wasn’t as keen on getting to know you. Or maybe after a new relationship, a friend decides that they don’t have much in common with you anymore, and it’s time for them to start hanging out with other couples at the expense of your friendship. Here’s my next question: As Believer’s, should we allow the natural drift that tends to happen when people pair off? My opinion is no, but since I’m biased, I will explain, in detail, why you should pay attention to the third wheels in your life.  I intend to convince you that they are one of the best indicators of a healthy relationship.

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1. Relationships should help you serve better together than apart

I’m sure we’ve all heard this sentiment, but as a single person, this truth is something that I’ve had to hang onto for dear life at times. If God’s goal in rescuing us into His family is to build His kingdom, then the reason for my season of singleness must be that He knows I can serve Him better this way. Should He choose to throw an eligible bachelor into the equation, it can only mean that our union enhances how we serve others, helping them know and love Jesus more. Alternatively, if a couple behaves in a way that cuts them off from some of the people in their lives, they are potentially less fruitful than when they were single. A Kingdom-call-answering relationship should enhance the gifts of those involved in a way that blesses those around them.

2. Diverse Community Reinforces a Relationship

We typically think about the necessity of community in a new relationship because of the pitfalls that dating life bring about. But every season of life offers its own challenges that require community, and not the kind of community that segregates the church into teens, singles, young marrieds, married with kids, etc. I love the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 that compares the church to a body. Verse 18 says that “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose.” Verse 21 goes on to say “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” The natural separation that happens sometimes between single and married people can often sound like that. But this passage flies in the face of what is natural. Verse 13 says that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” We need each other. We have all been given unique gifts and insight due to our unique callings by the same Spirit, and much like a limb being cut off from blood-flow, when we cut ourselves off from each other, we miss out and fall asleep.

3. The Gospel needs to be on display.

From Ephesians 5 and elsewhere, we understand that the main purpose of marriage, as God designed from the beginning, is to put the Gospel on display. In this image, the husband loves sacrificially like Christ loves the church and the bride responds in respect and service. They prefer and serve each other in a beautiful dance that puts Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to shame. We are all given lights that serve as a testimony of God’s love and work in our lives, but the combining of two lights in marriage should provide a much brighter light to their spheres of influence. An isolated couple might as well cover the light they’ve been entrusted with because no one can see it anyways.  I’m reminded of a song from my childhood. “Hide it under a bushel, no! I’m gonna let it shine.” (And now it’s in your head, isn’t it?) If you are a Christian and you are in a relationship, you have been entrusted with beautiful truths that are meant to shine bright for ALL to see, not just those who have lots in common with you.

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            You may recall from high school chemistry that a litmus test is performed to tell you how acidic or basic a solution is. In a similar way, a couple’s interaction with the plus nones in their lives will indicate the health of their relationship. The kind of dating or marriage relationship that encourages the single people in its sphere speaks to an understanding of its purpose, God-given community, and gospel-reflecting interaction.

For married and dating couples reading this, let me ask one more question. Have you checked in on your single friends lately? They might have some valuable insight to share on how inclusive and caring your relationship is towards outsiders. Ask them if they can see the Gospel up-close in the image you reflect. Don’t have any single friends, anymore? Well maybe you have some work to do. Much like the pins and needles sensation of a limb regaining feeling, it might not be easy. But it will be worth it. I so treasure the friendships of couples who allow me to live life with them and treat me like family.

 

All my heart,

Rachelle