Friday, August 12, 2016

That one time when I spoke at NYG about being single…

“Single and Almost 30. This could be you.”

Kids in the crowd go “awwww.”

“What?! Guys! It’s not THAT bad!”

We all giggled and had some fun as I shared several of the runner up titles for the session I led at the LCMS National Youth Gathering that was deemed, “In the Meantime: Singleness isn’t just Cat Ladies and Basement Dudes.”

It’s good to laugh. Especially about such a potentially sensitive topic, knowing that for high schoolers (and some adult leaders trying to keep a low profile), even choosing this session was risking awkwardness.

Several months ago, I thought “will anyone even come to a session on being single?”

A shocking response of “yes” from those attending, as well as so many people who have sent me emails, texts, and messages, saying they’re so glad the Church is talking about those among us who are not married. 

This may come as a surprise to you, but just-about-30 year old women don’t dream of speaking at a national conference about being single. It took me some time, good community, and God convincing me with the following reasons:
  1. I am so passionate about living a good, full story. Everyone is always waiting for something. I am committed to not wasting the gift of the meantime. Jesus’ promise to us for a life abundant, doesn’t come only in a velvet box attached to a ring. It’s for you and for me today. Right now.
  2. There is a lot of shame and awkwardness surrounding unmarried people in the church. The church doesn’t know what to do with us. Proof is in my hesitancy to want to have my face connected to this topic at NYG. But if putting myself out there and saying, “hey, life is good and I’m not even married!” Then maybe others will feel a bit more freedom, too. Jesus was single. We’re gonna be okay, people.
  3.  Unmarried people in the church, especially youth, cannot have “How I Met Your Mother” and “New Girl” as their only references for single life. Everyone will be unmarried for at least part of their life. We, as the church, must equip them to do that well.
We talked about a whole heap of things in those hour long sessions, but I’ve received some requests from folks asking for the jist. I’ll hit some highlights, with possible room for future unpacking. (If something resonates you want to hear more about, let me know.)

  1. Genesis 2:18 says, “it is not good for man to be alone.”
    1 Corinthians 7:1 says, “it is good for man not to marry.”

    Both are written, both are true.

    In a world designed for couples and families, from rides to phone plans, being uncoupled can feel like you’re wrong; not how and who you should be. Paul is responding to the inquiries of the unmarried and married people in Corinth who were trying to figure out how to navigate this very dynamic. Corinth being a success-driven society, where marriage and family was a pre-requisite for status, left the unmarried believers there lacking position or respect. On the other side of the spectrum, it was not uncommon for those married and unmarried alike to have unbridled sexual practices with numerous partners. The Christians in Corinth were seeking wisdom on how to approach such dynamics. Some tempted to abstain from physical intimacy, even in marriage, to not be tarnished by what was sometimes seen as a less than spiritual, carnal act. Paul brings clarity and lifts a burden of expectation for these people. You are okay. It’s good not to marry. It’s good to marry. It might even be better to not marry.

  2. Seek first his kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33) 
    This has been a pivotal passage in my life. I believe that God has made you and me on purpose, for a purpose. That purpose may be supported by, but isn’t defined by, whether or not you are married. Whether single for a season or your whole story, are you willing to seek God’s kingdom first, before even a spouse, and trust him to fill in the rest of the picture?

    This verse captures so well the heart of Paul’s message to the Corinthians and to all of us.

    And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:17, the Message)

    Singleness is a vocation or a calling, so is marriage. Paul’s encouragement is to be at peace wherever you find yourself, seek and serve the Lord in that place, and know that it is God who defines you, not your relationship status.

  3. There should be no singles in the Church. 
    The term “single” is the most commonly used to describe those who are unmarried. But there should never be anyone, married or not, living singly in the Church. (Dr. Paul Eddy has written and spoken so well on this.) We are all called to be part of this family, walking together in community. Faith is a team sport. Jesus wasn’t married, but never did he live singly. As it should be for each of us in the Body of Christ.

     We have to be better about loving our unmarried friends. Please don’t try to pity us as if we are broken or assume we want to be fixed with your set ups. Don’t let “are you married” be the first question to ask new people. I truly believe that a big portion of the Church’s millennial problem is actual a single problem. We don’t know what to do with these generations that are not running to marriage as quickly as we expect. Women’s ministries that are completely geared toward being a mom and wife are of no appeal to me. I know it will come up because those are big pieces of many peoples’ lives that are important, but I think we also do these women a disservice solely talking in terms of these roles because their first identity is Jesus, too. We all need to be reminded of that,
    especially when the wife and mama or dad/husband days are in shambles.

    And seriously, the unmarried folks in the house can get down with the occasional sermon on marriage or parenting, but it should be complimented by, at least a portion, that addresses unmarried life. We can all stand to consider how to love people in these situations better, but going unacknowledged for a whole sermon series on marriage can be so invalidating. Paul says both are good. Let's get better at equipping folks to do both well.

    Church, here’s an easy idea to bless unmarried folks (or marrieds, too, for that matter): invite them over. Don’t feel weird that they might think your kids are crazy or that your life is lame. Ask about how life is. You’ll probably find it’s more similar to yours than you think. Help us not live singly, as people, not just as “singles.”

  4. Don’t wish away the vocation of time being unmarried. 
    I obviously understand the struggle, but I think it’s so funny sometimes that we profess, follow, and strive to be more like Jesus, except in his relationship status. I know it’s tough some days, but each day is a gift given to us by God, not to be wasted nor wished away. What unique ministry or blessing might he have prepared for you just where you are, as you are? I cannot believe that the “life abundantly” that Jesus promised in John 10:10 was only set apart for people with rings. Unmarried friends, please. Live good stories. Don’t wish away what you have right now. Serve your friends and family well. Serve your church. Be a loving adult to other peoples’ kids. Do cool stuff that matters. Have adventures. Don’t wish away where you are.

  5. Learn what good single living is from the One who made you. 
    I think about all the loud messages to unmarried folks these days. Either you’re lame and broken, destined for cats and video games, or you are an untamed party animal, free to drink up and hook up as much and as often as you’re able. Family and marriage is portrayed as a ball and chain to be avoided.

    All those things are so lacking in truth.
    We must first strive to seek Jesus and His Word, to understand further our relationship with him, that helps inform relationships with others. Understanding His design of the covenant of marriage and that sex is meant for that relationship. Understanding that He is the only perfect pursuer of our hearts and all others, even a spouse will fail in comparison.

    Unmarried friends, being unmarried isn’t an excuse to be unhealthy, immature, or irresponsible—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. It’s an opportunity to focus more on health and healing in Jesus. We have space for more divine appointments with the Creator and pursuer of our hearts. This is a season to take advantage of that. Even as unmarried people, we are part of families and communities; called to invest well in people and not be lazy or selfish with our time and resources.

    Who do you have in your life that is encouraging you to live an abundant, God-honoring life, whether married or unmarried? How are you encouraging each other to trust what God says is best about living out your specific relationship vocation?

  6. Singleness or marriage is neither your name, nor your solution. JESUS IS.
    Repeat after me: a spouse is not a savior.
    One more time for good measure: a spouse is not a savior.
    There are hard things about being single. There are hard things about being married.Some of my married friends are more lonely now that I am. It is vital that we not idolize a relationship or singleness as our solution, but finding peace and value in Christ alone.
    The solution to our loneliness, our aches, our insecurities, isn't a spouse nor being single. It's Jesus.

  7. God doesn’t owe you anything. He already gave you Jesus.
    These words used to really sting me.

    “Are you sure you don’t owe me a husband, God? Because I kind of thought that was written in the deal somewhere…”

    Well, I’m hopeful that it could be part of my story, but I had to seriously ask myself, “when did Jesus stop being enough for you, Shelly, that you’re so desperately waiting for a husband?”
    And I had to stop and repent. Apologizing to a God who’s given me everything, including His Son and I’m still crabby that I don’t have more.

    It goes back to seeking Him and His Kingdom first, and really trusting that He will not withhold any good thing, but fill in the rest of the picture for me.

I could write a book just on the opportunities and conversations He’s given me to tell people they are loved by their Good Father through this speaking experience. Something that seemed so daunting became such a blessing.

  •  I am not saying marriage is bad or you shouldn’t pray for a spouse or date.
  • I am saying don’t wish away the season. Whether you’re single for a season or your story, life is a gift. God hasn’t forgotten you and his promise for life abundantly is yours in Jesus. You are not less whole or someone needing to be fixed. You are okay. We are okay.
  • I am saying you have a purpose regardless of your relationship status. You are enough and chosen by God long before you took your first breath. You were made on purpose, for a purpose. It is not a purpose that only matters if you have a ring. Don’t let the enemy tell you otherwise.
  •  I am saying don’t idolize relationship status. We do it too much—in the world and in the Church. Jesus doesn’t want to be in second place behind a significant other or your quest for freedom in singleness. He wants you. HE is the solution.

I believe that God writes the best stories. It’s one of the things I love about Him most. He’s writing yours and writing it well. Whether or not marriage is part of the narrative, it’s going to be an adventure and it’s going to be good, because Jesus offers nothing less.