We sat in the hotel hallway the last night of the conference. She sat across from me and wiped tears away as she told part of her story. She was in the midst of many changes but her tears boiled down to this: she was single again and feared she had nothing to offer anyone. She had missed her chance, she said, though she'd spent 15 minutes discussing the red flags she'd ignored and how she knew she'd made the right decision in breaking off her engagement. She was almost 25 and told me she didn't know what life should look like if she wasn't married. She never planned on singleness.
The whole weekend she'd looked around at the mostly married and mothering conference attendees and wondered if she fit in. She questioned how she could minister to others and had trouble identifying what she had to offer. All because she wasn't yet married.
I listened to her and heard echoes of my former 25 year old self. The angst and frustration of a life not following the assumed path. I remembered feeling like there was something wrong with me. There had to be some reason I was still single. This was a recurring theme in my early and mid-20s for me and most of my not-yet-married friends. In fact, while we could look at one another and say “there's nothing wrong with you,” we had difficulty applying the same logic to ourselves. We kept working and traveling and enjoying life but there was a sense we were missing out, that somewhere along the way we'd screwed up and now Mr. Right would be forever a mirage.
I looked at the young woman across from me and told her what I wish someone would have told my friends and me those years ago. “Life doesn't start when you marry,” I said.
I told her there was nothing wrong with being single. I affirmed the tough decisions she'd had to make and the adventure underway. I pointed out the ways she ministered to people already. One failed relationship did not mean she would never have a relationship. Most of all, I commiserated with her.
I affirmed who she was, the very woman God created her to be. I told her there likely wasn't a “reason” she was single. No, she wasn't perfect, nor am I. We're all works in progress but this rarely precludes us from relationships. We can all point to people who are married who are absolute disasters. While it's understandable to wonder why them and not us, we would not want to live those people's stories, no matter how God chooses to redeem them or their relationships. Instead, we're living the life God has put before us and it happens to include singleness.
This conversation happened a couple of years ago but it regularly comes to mind. So many churches focus on marriage and parenting from the pulpit and even much of society is geared toward couples. It's no wonder singles struggle to figure out their place in this world and yet no one should doubt their worth or impact because of their marital status. Especially not at a Christian conference, in this case, or at church.
When we treat marriage as a foregone conclusion, we lose sight of the sacrament and the people on the outskirts. What happens when a person doesn't get married? What does it mean for the person whose marriage ends? How does elevating marriage to such pristine heights benefit those who are married?
There is much discussion and many resources on how to do marriage well but very little out there devoted to singleness. This is a shame. Singles are valid and valued members of society. It would behoove the church to equip us to maximize this time in our lives, especially since we do not have a spouse or partner to help balance the load. It's time for a better message about singleness.
As more of us speak up, I sense the tides shifting as pastors listen and programs change and singles are valued and included on all levels of church leadership. But there's still much work to be done. I've sat across from too many singles questioning their lot in life because of their singleness. I wasted too many tears and hours of worry over my own single state in my early and mid-20s. I won't pass that down to the next generation. I refuse.
Singles are valuable, loved, seen. We need them in our lives. They play an integral role in the Body of Christ. There is room at the Table. I will keep proclaiming this until no more ears need to hear because it's no longer a new revelation, it's normal. May that day come soon.