The Isolation of Singles
Ways to Include Singles in Church Life
Singles are diverse in every way – spanning all age groups, races, faiths, and interests. I cannot possibly touch on all the complexities here, but I hope to shed light on a few common experiences.
The majority of churches are focused on “marriage and family.” That’s a good thing, because families today need all the support they can get! But this emphasis may unknowingly leave single members of our congregations feeling marginalized or ignored. When over half of all American adults are single, why is marriage considered the norm?
I asked some single friends about how people can best encourage them and their candid responses reminded me that a little love goes a long way. Here are some of their comments and suggestions about how we can encourage our single brothers and sisters:
- “People treat me like my life hasn’t started yet…using expressions like ‘well, in your situation,’ as if I have a disease, not just that I’m in a different stage of life…They want to ‘fix’ me by suggesting random dates, not prayerful matches.”
- “People in the south don’t accept that it’s okay for young people to be single. They feel sorry for me and assume I must have something wrong with me or that I’m too picky and have unrealistic expectations.”
Singleness can be a significant gift, a time to focus on God and others, a time to experience a radical dependence on God. The goal for each of us is to be content with where God has called us. It doesn’t eliminate the possibility of marriage, but singles don’t live “on hold” until marriage comes. Whether single or married, everyone’s purpose is to serve God.
- “Many articles talk about how to be content as a single Christian….Rather than talking about the joys, benefits and potential of the single life, they have a negative tone, assuming everyone is waiting for life to begin when they marry. I wish the church consoled singles less and focused more on living fully as an obedient child of the King.”
The only thing that will cure a sense of isolation is the knowledge that each one of us is fully known and truly loved by God. Once that foundation is established, we will find meaningful connection with others.
- “I want those in the church to understand my desires and struggles and create a safe place for me to ask hard questions and face my unique struggles.”
If you’re married, admit that you don’t really know much about being single in today’s world. This calls for humility and awareness that singleness is complex, like a marriage. Many people remember their single days as fun and free; they don’t realize that after ten or fifteen years as a single, it’s a very different story. Facing major decisions, health concerns, childlessness, heartbreak, and financial responsibilities alone can be daunting.
- “I often feel less adult because I don’t share the responsibilities that my married friends have.”
- “I wish the church would celebrate gifts that singles can provide and use us in ways that perhaps married people cannot serve due to children or time restraints.”
Advocate for the needs of singles and reframe policies and expectations so that singles are valued. Most pastors are married (98%!) and singles are often overlooked on leadership boards. Often they are stereotyped as spiritually immature. But marriage doesn’t correlate with godliness or maturity.
- “I don’t want to be envious of my friends’ good fortune – or their new Kitchenaid mixers!”
Celebrate with singles. While friends have wedding and baby showers, singles are rarely celebrated. Look for reasons to throw a party and celebrate graduations, work accomplishments, or exceptional service. “Shower” them with an unexpected gift once in awhile!
- “I find myself in discouraging and isolating conversations in which I have nothing to contribute….Sensitivity and consideration would make a big difference… conversations should be thoughtful in ways that include all people.”
- “Most conversations center on what I don’t have, rather than focusing on who I am: ‘How come you’re not married?’ ‘How’s your love life?’”
Everyone wants to feel special and valuable. When singles are excluded, they feel “less than” those who are married. Acknowledging others’ strengths, personalities, and unique abilities is important. Ask what God is doing in their lives. Remember that they are not defined by their marital status, but rather by the One whose relationship is primary for us all.
- “People often tell me I am “married to Jesus” or that if I “just have enough faith, God will provide a spouse.”
Such assurances can burden singles with guilt and shame; it may lead them to question their faith and/or God’s faithfulness. Longing to be married is not a sign that Christ is not “enough,” but rather a sign that we’re created by a relational God. Desiring a relationship isn’t unholy – it’s natural! God places desires in our hearts for intimate companionship.
- “I feel more isolated in the church than anywhere else. Last week in church I became so painfully aware of all the couples around me and my ‘aloneness’ that I almost left.”
Invite singles in to your circle of friends, your home, your activities. Sometimes people fear that singles may feel like a “third wheel” in social situations, but rather than make assumptions, include them. They will decide whether to join. Open homes reflect open hearts, ultimately reflecting the love and hospitality of Christ – to everyone.
- “I’m not looking for separate programs for singles, but rather for a way to become part of a larger community – from singles to grandparents…Singles groups often become less about growing in the Lord together and more about who could be a potential match. My identity is more than my singleness, and I don’t want that to define my community or relationships.”
Rather than isolating our brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s recognize that we’re all on this journey together–to reflect true community in a world where love and affirmation is all too rare.
- “Sometimes I feel so sad and alone, but I’m not sure why or how to talk about it.”
Disenfranchised grief is mourning over something that has never happened. Singles have never lost a child, but they never had a child to lose. Singles never suffered divorce or the death of a spouse, but they never had a spouse to love. Society usually does not recognize this kind of grief as a valid loss. Singles often experience symptoms of grief, yet they don’t feel deserving of sympathy because nothing concrete has occurred. Their grief is not addressed.
Be aware of their disenfranchised loss; of the sermons and prayers and seminars that aren’t offered for them; of the books that aren’t written. (Amazon reveals that for every book written about singleness, there are almost 300 books on marriage.) This gaping chasm can communicate that what singles experience is not important or not difficult.
In summary, rather than contributing to the loneliness, doubt, and guilt singles experience, we in the church need to be offering all our support, encouragement, companionship, and prayer. How can you make a difference this week, reaching out to someone who lives alone?
Share your thoughts and experiences here so that we all might grow and learn. Recognizing that people care and that others share similar journeys is the main purpose of this blog series on people feeling isolated in the Church.
A Word to my Single Friends:
- Live a life of gratitude. One single friend had this to say: “There’s something wonderful about having this time in my life to really focus on my relationship with the Lord, to explore what matters to me, who I am and what I feel God may have for my life. I feel a sense of freedom in being able to make decisions without having to consult another… If/when marriage comes, it will bring its own set of challenges – two broken people committing to life for the long haul – and I don’t want to wish away the gift of singleness.”
- Hoping for marriage and a family is not sinful unless it begins to consume us, shutting out other godly pursuits. There is nothing wrong with hoping for a spouse, in addition to seeking all the purposes, passions, and dreams that God has for you. Fully embrace your unique story and don’t limit God by your narrow view of how life “should” be. “Seek first the kingdom of God…and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33)
- The fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams is God. Even a wonderful marriage will not provide all that we long for. On this earth, unfulfilled longings will always be present – and that’s a good thing. It reinforces each person’s need for God and our hope for heavenly completion.
How do you experience singleness in the church? Please share your stories and insights below!