By Rachel Dawson, Crosswalk.com
Often in the church, marriage is esteemed as the preferred, better, more desirable relationship status. Illustrations about marriage are woven into countless sermons, many pastors reference their wives from the pulpit, and many small groups focus on married couples or families, leaving singles feeling excluded and lonely.
“If you ask anyone in the Church,” Lizzy Harford writes for Relevant Magazine, “for the most part, they despair at their single years. Singleness is hard, often lonely, and unwanted.”
As a single woman, I admit that this is often true -- singleness is overwhelming, frustrating at times, intimidating, tiring, and very often isolating. There are many joys that come from living an independent lifestyle, too, don’t get me wrong, but I often wonder if marriage would be harder than singleness, or if being on my own is actually as difficult as it daily can feel.
While marriage isn’t without its own set of challenges, singleness often comes with a unique set of struggles that make it perfectly difficult, especially for Christians.
Here are a few examples of areas where it can be particularly hard to be single:
- Companionship. “When you’re married, you’re working and living in tandem,” Harford writes. “You and your spouse, though separate individuals, are living together, moving along the same path with the same goals. While God is the true source of our comfort and reliance, there is an added feeling of security in marriage that singleness does not have.” While many single people live with roommates, friends, or family members, those relationships aren’t the same as a committed romantic relationship. It can be challenging to feel alone and lonely without a key person by your side like you would have in a spouse.
- Circumstances. “While a married person ideally has their spouse to fall back onto, singles must rely on autonomous individuals with their own independence and agendas,” Harford writes. “If a single person loses their job, there is no other salary to fall back on, no one else to help make ends meet. When a single person’s roommate moves out for whatever reason, there’s a gap to fill.” Challenging circumstances can unfortunately affect us all, married or single or otherwise, but it does seem to be true that things are more precarious when you are on your own and without the backup that a spouse (with their second source of income, their support, their stability, etc) provides.
- Community. “Where the economy seems to be against single people, the Church feels no better for many,” says Harford. “In congregations where marriage is upheld as the pinnacle of our spirituality and life’s calling, singles are often left out on the sidelines. It’s in this mentality of a members-only club, singles are left fending for themselves, relying on the only thing they can: themselves.” While I have found many vibrant communities to be a part of through various college ministries and church groups, there has always been an underlying sense of feeling “less-than” because I’m single. Even the singles ministry at my church is reserved for those in their 40s and 50s, leaving young singles no place to gather intentionally with peers in their same season of life. As many friends move toward marriage, there is a feeling of being “left behind” that lingers with me, making it daunting to engage with community as one of the more increasingly rare singles my age.
- Contentment. “We often think that the solution to that is marriage or feeding singles the ‘contentment in God speech,’” Harford says. “The reality is the Church is meant to come alongside each and every person, married or single, young or old, and be there for them. And this means not just saying it, but doing it.” I have been so grateful for the people in my community who have come alongside me to support me in my stage of life -- getting to spend time with married couples, young families, and empty-nesters has been a gift that I haven’t ever taken for granted. It took a few years of staying plugged into my church community before those relationships developed to a deep level, but I’m thankful for the intentionality of those people in seeking me out and making sure I’m included.
Like Harford says, “yes, singles have it harder, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Here are a few easy ideas for making the singles in your life and your church family feel a little less alone:
- Invite a single friend to sit with you at church on a Sunday morning, and offer to take them to lunch, coffee, or dinner after the service. While you might have a spouse to talk about the sermon with on the drive home, often single people are left wishing they had people to debrief and celebrate with, so invite them into quality time together!
- Send a message to a single friend during the week, letting them know you’re thinking of them and asking how you can be praying for them. This speaks volumes to singles, letting them know they aren’t alone when their lives can feel lonely.
- Open up your small group to include single people of the same age -- even if it’s just for a potluck gathering or a fun social event, extend invitations to those who might otherwise not have a chance to gather in community like that.
- Include single friends in your family’s activities. Often, married couples or parents can feel like singles don’t want to be around their families since they don’t have one of their own, but it can be such a sweet thing to be invited into the life of a family. Invite them over for dinner, or for family game night, or for a weekend adventure in your town to let them be part of the family fun.