The Singles Challenge by Margaret Feinberg
(originally from The Singles Challenge
By Margaret Feinberg
Copyright Christianity Today International):
Theresa became a Christian when she was 18. She says she assumed that God would present her with a fine Christian man, complete with a shiny red bow, and that meeting him would be just around the corner.
“I’m 33 years old now, and no such man has shown up on my doorstep,” says the San Francisco Bay Area resident.
Most of the men that ask Theresa out are not Christians, which makes it easy for her to say no. When she finds herself attracted to a non-Christian, they have to pass a test she calls “dropping the Jesus-bomb.”
She used to let non-Christian guys take her to dinner and then halfway through the meal tell them that she was a Christian. “They’d still seem hopeful until I bluntly told them what that means in their language: ‘I am not going to sleep with you,'” she says. “Most non-Christian men respond to this by saying ‘check please!’ I got tired of the dinner ritual and have sped up the process. Now I simply drop the Jesus-bomb right away.”
She says dates were easier to come by in her early twenties, when most people that age are still single. “But my twenties came and went and now most of my peers are married and having babies,” she explains. “I rarely see a man my age who is single. And the few I have seen, I have no interest in, not that they are asking me out in the first place.”
Theresa is far from alone in her situation. Being single today -especially a single Christian- isn’t easy. A variety of issues assault today’s Christian singles, including pressure to marry from family, friends, and well-intentioned church members; a lack of dating options; and, of course, sexual temptation. In addition, women face the constant ticking of their biological clocks.
And it’s not just twenty- and thirtysomething men and women who are facing these challenges. Today there’s a growing demographic of older singles, 40 and up.
“In singles’ groups with people age 30 and above, a significant portion of the singles are single again,” says Chip Ingram, president of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries and author of Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships. “Thus, the pain of the failed relationship and often being a single parent multiplies the stress in an older single’s world as well as making it difficult for the never-have-been-married singles to discern what their role is in developing relationships where they would be inheriting a family or dealing with baggage from their partner’s past.”
A lot of older single Christians, who didn’t expect to be single at this point, admit to feeling lost. “They thought they would be married by now, or if they’re divorced, they never expected that to happen to them,” says 33-year-old Lori Smith, author of The Single Truth: Challenging the Misconceptions of Singleness with God’s Consuming Truth.
“They often feel less Christian because the church emphasizes family so much that singles are left with the impression that good Christians get married and have kids. They wonder if God has forgotten them. Many are depressed about being single and don’t know how to change the way they feel.”
‘Like a person without a country’
At 32, Camerin Courtney, the managing editor of Today’s Christian Woman (a sister publication of this magazine), says she never expected to be dating at her age, let alone writing a singles column for ChristianityToday.com.
Though she’s had a few long-term dating relationships, she says she still hasn’t found the right guy. And reading e-mails from hundreds of singles, she’s convinced that she’s not the only one who isn’t dating much. She speculates that there’s not a whole lot of dating going on inside the church today, particularly among older singles.
“There’s such high expectations when you’re past a certain age,” says Courtney, who is also the author of Table for One: The Savvy Girl’s Guide to Singleness. “You’ve probably seen it. If you go out for coffee, then you’re considered a couple. It goes from casual to serious fast in people’s perceptions.”
Brian, a 39-year-old single Christian living in Tennessee, agrees. He says that the dating among his Christian friends is extremely intentional. “In other words, it is only with someone they are sincerely interested in getting to know better – they’re not going out just to have something to do,” he says. “Mostly my friends seem to meet other singles at church or through other friends, but every now and then they meet someone at a place like the gym or a coffee shop.”
In the search to find their soul mate, many Christian singles find themselves struggling with being content. Michelle McKinney Hammond, 46, is co-host of the syndicated TV talk show Aspiring Women and author of Sassy, Single, and Satisfied and several other Christian books on singleness.
She believes contentment is difficult because singles have been programmed to believe that you are not normal if you’re not attached to someone else. She notes that media and pop culture push the concept of couples, with many reality TV shows geared toward the hunt for love.
“We’ve reached desperate levels of searching with shows like The Bachelor,” Hammond says. “Even if you were a content single, you would think something is wrong with you because you’re happy!”
For Christians this can be particularly challenging, because the model of happiness and wholeness portrayed in media often isn’t godly. “You have the Bridget Jones- Sex and the City message that says singleness is cool and hip and they’re assuming you’re bar hopping and living with your boyfriend,” Courtney says. “Then you look to the church, and it’s so family-centric you feel disconnected. It’s either Sex and the City or soccer moms, and many of us can’t relate to either one. You feel like a person without a country.”
And whether you’re single in the city, country, or suburbs, the matter of sex looms large. “We’re surrounded by it, everybody’s doing it, but we’re not supposed to, and the church doesn’t talk about it too much,” says Lori Smith.
“I think a lot of singles are throwing in the towel on that one and deciding that it’s not really important [to save yourself for marriage]. But if you’re going to live as Christ is calling you in that area, you have to be willing to be completely counter-cultural and continually sacrifice your own desires.”
From surviving to thriving
One of the biggest changes that needs to take place is in the church’s philosophy surrounding singleness, says Smith. She cites the story of a male friend who visited churches on his own and then together with a female friend. The friend said the difference in responses to a single walking into church versus a couple walking in was dramatic.
“I think if you polled most pastors and congregations today, and they were honest, they’d say they believe God’s best plan is marriage, and that singleness may be okay for some but is far from ideal. The Christian culture needs to change the way it views singleness- to see it as a God-given opportunity and a good gift for the time it’s given, whether that’s five years out of college or twenty. We need to view single Christians as complete Christians, as mature Christians, as people God can use in our lives and in our congregations in a powerful way.”
But much of the change will begin on an individual level. A lot of what it takes from going from surviving to thriving as a single can be summed up in attitude and outreach.
It’s important, says Camerin Courtney, to have plans and goals besides just finding a mate. “It’s so easy to allow the whole singleness scene to become all encompassing, so it’s important to have new projects and goals in the works. Start a business. Travel overseas. Do things that cause you to move forward.
“You can’t make a spouse appear,” she says. “There’s only a certain amount of work you can do, and the rest is up to God.”
“You can’t make a spouse appear. There’s only a certain amount of work you can do, and the rest is up to God.” -Camerin Courtney
Courtney notes that it’s sometimes too easy to hibernate and enjoy alone time, but it’s important to get out and live so that you don’t have a void in your life. “We’re made to be in relationships, and we need to build a family of friends,” she says. “You need a group to be supportive. You need friends from a wide range of ages to help fill the gap so you don’t feel like there’s something missing in your life.”
And when single people are feeling down or lonely, they need to step back and recognize the true source of those emotions. “Sometimes my feelings come from the influence of an acquirement-oriented, consumerist society that doesn’t value the idea of being content with what you have,” Courtney observes. “We need to recognize the messages being thrown at us. You have to reprogram your brain and say this is the set of standards I live by.”
Michelle McKinney Hammond’s advice to singles is to learn to enjoy the life you have and live it richly. She notes that it’s the perfect time for investing in quality friendships and relationships with both sexes as well and being there for family members.
“It’s also a great time for experimenting with all that life has to offer, now that all of your resources and time belong to you,” she says. “Get out there and take a bite out of the world. Discover your personal gifts, find out how you can bless others with them and get into purposeful living.”
Getting a (love) life
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy three-step plan to finding a mate. Courtney encourages believers who are seeking a mate to make it a matter of prayer and continue to pursue God’s unique call on their lives.
“We like formulas,” she says. “It’s easier. There’s the courtship model or the online-matchmaking modeling or the A- plus- B- plus- C- equals- marriage model. Part of praying about it is figuring out where God is calling you. I think that’s the harder path.”
It’s also important for Christian singles to remain active in the things that naturally interest them, she adds. Taking classes or getting involved in ministry will open up the opportunity to rub shoulders with others who share similar passions.
What’s more, “others get to see what we’re good at, and that we’re not one- dimensional people who are waiting for God to do something.”
“Trust God and His perfect timing,and then get on with life.” -Michelle McKinney Hammond
Courtney says that whether it’s online dating, speed dating, or just good old-fashioned “I’ll pick you up at 6:00” dating, it’s important to remember that God’s methods are higher than our own.
Though every Christian should have a list of non-negotiables, it’s important for singles to remain open to the various ways God may use to introduce someone into your life.
Gregg and Susan, who live in the Chicago area, were colleagues at work and then good friends for more than a decade. Over the years, they would occasionally try to fix each other up with other people, until God finally awakened within them a love and attraction for one another. “After years of me thinking we weren’t right for each other, God suddenly showed me that we were,” Gregg says. The moral of the story is not necessarily that Mr. or Miss Right may be right in front of your nose, but that believers must be in constant prayer about God’s will for their lives, because sometimes His answers change.
“After prayer, trust God and His perfect timing, and then get on with life,” adds Hammond. “Don’t dwell on looking for a mate. After all, Ruth wasn’t looking for a husband when Boaz found her. Find activities that you enjoy and stay open. When we anticipate blessings, we recognize them when they come.”
For those who have been divorced or experienced the death of a spouse, Hammond says it’s important to take the time to heal and find out what God would like to do with your life right now. “Take the time to revel in the comfort and love of God,” she says. “He is the best spouse ever.”
Theresa agrees. “I am not depressed, and I am not desperate for dates,” she says. “I am very plugged in at my church and involved in a ministry where I can help others. God has sustained me. If God has brought me this far and I seem to be doing okay, then what lies in the future should be survivable as well.”
But that doesn’t mean she’s given up on meeting that special someone. “I can’t see myself ever not wanting to get married,” she confesses. “God would really have to do a work in my heart, and I know He could if He wanted to. But I am still a hopeful romantic.”
Related posts, this blog:
(Link): Why Do Churches Treat Singleness Like a Problem? via Relevant Magazine
Because most sermons about singleness are chock full of cliche’s-
(Link): Topics Preachers Should or Shouldn’t Mention When Discussing Singlehood
I think this contains several cliches singles hear:
(Link): Annoyances of Being a Christian Single
(Link): Stop Believing God Told You to Marry Your Spouse by G. Thomas