A Single Perspective

By Caenisha Warren

There was a time when I was reading in Paul’s letter to the people at Philippi and dared to ponder what his words could mean for me.  Paul writes “for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil 4:11-14, NIV).  Paul went on to explain this concept as having learned the secret of being content in any situation, whether fed or hungry, in plenty or want.  Paul’s words challenged me to explore contentment as a discipline in my own life.

Recently, as I have re-considered the place of singleness in my life, I am finding a growing discomfort and discontent.  I wasn’t the kid playing wedding in the backyard.  In fact my friend was the one who was going to get married, have four or more kids; and I was the one who was going to have a small house in her backyard.  Then I was a tween and not expected to be married any time soon.  I went through a contentment phase in my twenties and this included singleness.  But as a 20 something, it was still acceptable to be single.

I have had a share of relationships but always found a way back to being a contented single.  However now I am finding unexpected bits of friction in my 30’s.  As I have gotten older, yet still single, I have noticed differences about being single that seem harder to accept because of the social climate and structures I engage and encounter.  The older that you are as a single person, the more complicated the social context is, as the orientation for my age group is towards couples or marriage.

Though I may be content as single, my social context around me does not relate to me as single anymore.  My friends from school days are mostly married now and having babies within what is identified as advanced maternity age, which apparently includes myself.  I work in Christian higher education where the culture of ring-by-spring finds its waves each year.  I am the only single person on my staff, and that is between a collective of two departments.  I have taken surveys or questionnaires whose category boxes are married or unmarried (uh…why does that have to be my only options?).

One aspect of my growing discomfort, is being resistant to advice about being single, or at least less open to advice, from those who are married– especially if they married at a younger age than I am.  I remember last year’s blog post by Dr. Christena Cleveland on embracing single adults into the church, in which she references some of the complexities of being single.   Don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to marriage and I am not unhappy single.  I have good friends and confidants who support me in life.  But my daily encounters increasingly do not reflect this part of who I am, and therefore I feel like I do not belong anymore.  There are not many places where I have been taught that singleness is an expected or natural part of being older. Of course there are single older adults in this world, but I don’t see us recognized and given a prominent platform, especially in areas of community, work or even the church.

I value multiple perspectives.  I couldn’t do reconciliation work without it.  I do think that being single and being married and even being divorced as a single person, offers changes in our perspective that do not remain the same, even when we reflect back.  And maybe in this wrestling place, I am actually growing to be discontent with being single.  However, I would like to give thought to questions about singleness (especially above the age of 35) for the life of the community and the life of the church.  How do we hear from all people and different perspectives?  How do we minister towards all these perspectives?  How are we contributing to a place where singleness can belong?

 

 

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  11 comments for “A Single Perspective

  1. October 7, 2015 at 1:57 am

    “How are we contributing to a place where singleness can belong?” As a single woman, 39-years young I appreciate this question. It seems that everyone in the church is either married or on a quest to be married / re-married. I understand that for many women this desire is tied to becoming a mother. I became a mother when I was 20 years old and so the biological urge to procreate isn’t a motivation. I’m a contented single, and while my heart is open, securing a husband is simply not on my “to do” list. This sort of makes me a double-enigma in the church – the unmarried, single mother (specifically within non-urban areas). And I feel that acutely through almost every social interaction with my church family. It feels like I’m doing this Christian woman thing wrong. I remembering covering the book of Ruth in my C-group and being struck with such a deep sorrow that as a Christian woman securing a husband should be a priority, that I am somehow lacking because I am unmarried, that my worth (even a small amount) is tied to being a wife. And it’s in these moments of sorrow and self-doubt that I want to be married, I want to be validated. I do not believe this is an appropriate motivation for marriage. And I’m longing for spaces to explore these feelings. There appears to be so much energy, scholarship, ministry around marriage. Where is the single ministry for the 30+ crowd? And can it please move beyond abstinence!

    • caenisha
      November 12, 2015 at 10:56 pm

      (Im sorry it has taken awhile to reply in this post.) Thank you so much for your voice, sharing your story and your space. We need to have these dialogues more prominent or at least more regularly, especially in the church.

      I feel that I do have some sort of longing or idea for marriage as it relates to companionship (its truths, struggles and joys) but it is not just a simple tie to the idea. I am not searching just for anyone to fulfill this need. I move in life content as a single woman and I am not going around searching for a husband. I am open to marriage though. I feel like if it happens, it happens. I don’t date. I have had long term relationships, and not all of them did I want for marriage. There were only 2 that I could see this possibility with. It is even more interesting and complex if I attach motherhood to this. I don’t have a desire to birth a child but I love children. I have had the privilege of helping to raise my brother as he was a teenager and in some ways find myself mothering to my students. So motherhood may not be as tied to marriage as much as I think.

      In my church, if I think about it, it is hard or perhaps not numerous to pinpoint the leaders, who are prominent up front and who are single. The pastoral staff is all married. I would like to hear more voices and perspectives shared that include singleness as a part of the body.

  2. October 7, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    Thank you Caenisha for your candor and your wisdom. I have one question and one request.
    Question: Would you (and maybe some others in reply) note some of the things that we do that lead to feelings of exclusion for single people? I think many of us have completely forgotten what it feels like to be in that space and we probably do things that make single people think– “there they go again.” Help some of us do better by pointing out things that we might not even be aware of.
    Request: On the positive side, what are some ways that we can do better to include and care (without being weird about it).

    • October 16, 2015 at 12:36 pm

      Delete these from your dictionary –

      Family life center.
      Family ties.
      All in the family.
      In a family way.
      Black sheep of the family.
      Family that prays together stays together.
      How’s the family?
      Runs in the family.
      Family dinner.
      Family car.
      Family dog.
      A family man.
      Nuclear family.
      Extended family.
      One parent family.
      Single parent family.
      Family bond.
      Family court.
      Family vacation.
      Family Bible.
      Family inheritance.
      Family history.
      Loving family.
      Family plot.
      Family fun.
      Family holidays.
      Family entertainment.
      Family room.
      Traditional family.
      Marriage and family.
      Family counseling.
      Family tree.
      Family values.
      Family ministry.
      Family life.
      Family practice.
      Family seating.
      Family discount.
      Family and Medical Leave Act.
      Family Dollar.
      The American family.
      Family Coalition.
      Family medicine.
      Working families.
      Family First.
      Adoptive families.
      Family court.
      Family reunion.
      Family time.
      Interfaith family.
      Department of Children and Families.
      Family violence.
      Family jewels.
      Family and Social Services Administration.
      Department of Family and Protective Services.
      Family planning.
      Best cities for raising a family.
      Family budget.
      Family movies.
      Family theme park.
      Family feud.
      Royal family.
      Family sitcom.
      Family business.
      Family leave.
      Family seating.
      Modern family.
      Family Research Council.
      Family friendly.
      Friends and family.
      In a family way.
      Family secrets.
      Family allowance.
      Family inheritance.
      Family circle.
      Family credit.
      Family Income Supplement.
      Family name.
      Family therapy.
      Holy family.
      Family restaurant.
      Military family.
      Church family.
      Like one of the family.
      Family-size packet of Cornflakes.
      Focus On The Family.
      Family church.

      Idolatry of family will only lead to one place. And it will probably be a little to hot for comfort

      • caenisha
        November 12, 2015 at 11:18 pm

        (Im sorry it has taken awhile to reply in this post.) I think the general idea of thinking/rethinking more on our use of these is important. I don’t know if I would out right say delete them. I do think a more varied and inclusive definition of family is important. To make sure even on a cultural diversity level, that family intended in each of these goes beyond the nuclear definition of family. Someones sense of family (even nuclear family) my include extended family, friends (if family is not near them), etc. This is good though for really evaluating what we focus on.

    • caenisha
      November 12, 2015 at 11:13 pm

      (Im sorry it has taken awhile to reply in this post.) I think a lot of what Karen suggests below is a good start. To be honest I haven’t put much thought into how things could improve for better. I guess I have not been given that platform to think and create for such things at that level. I have only noticed the lack, which isn’t very helpful at all.

      How we refer to family is important, especially being able to include the possibility of things outside the nuclear (husband, wife and child). This is good also just on cultural diversity level, because family may be extended family, friends as family (if family is not in the area), etc.

      I know there are many who invite single persons into their family activities and gatherings. I think that there are times that the church as a whole can be invitational for singles into programs and activities that are planned with families/married couples in mind. – But then don’t go making it a “set up” thing for fixing up singles with other singles. 😉
      I went to a marriage seminar, even as a single person. It was good, interesting and helpful to hear the dialogue.

      I really like the idea of including singles in times like Advent and other things that are expected for families.

      Is there a spot for singles that is inbetween the College and Careers group and the families group? Is the assumption that those single are merely focused on their careers? This is just a generalizations of how I have seen groupings in the church.

      Anyways, I would have to think some small practical things. I appreciate you posturing the question. That is a necessary first step and may create it’s own sense of awareness.

    • caenisha
      November 12, 2015 at 11:19 pm

      And then I post it to the wrong reply strand. Sorry Jim!
      (Im sorry it has taken awhile to reply in this post.) I think a lot of what Karen suggests below is a good start. To be honest I haven’t put much thought into how things could improve for better. I guess I have not been given that platform to think and create for such things at that level. I have only noticed the lack, which isn’t very helpful at all.

      How we refer to family is important, especially being able to include the possibility of things outside the nuclear (husband, wife and child). This is good also just on cultural diversity level, because family may be extended family, friends as family (if family is not in the area), etc.

      I know there are many who invite single persons into their family activities and gatherings. I think that there are times that the church as a whole can be invitational for singles into programs and activities that are planned with families/married couples in mind. – But then don’t go making it a “set up” thing for fixing up singles with other singles. 😉
      I went to a marriage seminar, even as a single person. It was good, interesting and helpful to hear the dialogue.

      I really like the idea of including singles in times like Advent and other things that are expected for families.

      Is there a spot for singles that is inbetween the College and Careers group and the families group? Is the assumption that those single are merely focused on their careers? This is just a generalizations of how I have seen groupings in the church.

      Anyways, I would have to think some small practical things. I appreciate you posturing the question. That is a necessary first step and may create it’s own sense of awareness.

  3. October 8, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you Caenisha for your thoughtful piece, especially for the perspective about your experience of singleness changing over time. I am currently working pastorally in a retirement community setting, with residents who often face become single again after a long time married — another season that can be extraordinarily “discontented.”

    To reply to Jim, here are three things the church can do:
    1. Don’t make every volunteer opportunity something designed for couples or families to do. Examples? Hosting fellowship time, ushering, lighting the Advent candles, etc. Make room for singles to volunteer without being required to find their own “partner.”
    2. Preachers, watch your sermon illustrations. (In 5 years of weekly preaching, I don’t think I ever used an illustration from my marriage.) Sunday worship is NEVER the time for “10 tips to a better marriage.” Remember that in total, there are more single people than married people in most sanctuaries on any given Sunday, when you take into account kids, teens, adults of all ages, the majority of older adults.
    3. Don’t give up on men’s events and women’s events. Not only do they level the playing field for singles, they can allow married parents to attend things singly, and for everyone there to relate one-on-one as friends.

    Really, Church, we CAN do better! We must, in fact.

    • caenisha
      November 12, 2015 at 11:23 pm

      (I’m sorry its taken awhile for me to reply in this post)
      I haven’t put a lot thought of what this looks like in practice. I guess I have not been given that platform to think and create for such things at that level. I have only noticed the lack, which isn’t very helpful at all.

      So thank you for your suggestions. They are great! I really like the idea of including singles in times like Advent and other things that are expected for families. Sermon examples are an important one too, and the possibility of having single pastors or leaders that are more prominent to include those who are single.

    • November 12, 2015 at 11:47 pm

      Lighting the advent candles? I’ve actually been in church services where families were called to the front to light them, while unmarrieds remained in the pews. Me? Never married senior citizen.

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