The Single Walk is not always an easy one. It is frequently more difficult for people who have been in long-standing relationships who now find themselves walking alone. Singles struggle to find a new way to fit into community, especially religious community, following the end of a life with a partner.
Some of us are single because the person we planned to spend all our years with has died or left us. The singleness that comes from the death of our partner can leave us in un-imagined pain and grief. A divorce, or end of a committed partnership, can do the same for many; even when we might agree with the decision to terminate the relationship. We go from two to one. We are no longer part of the “couples community” and we aren’t quite ready to function as a single person. This is especially true for the widow/widower who may remain married in their heart.
I have spoken with new singles who tell me that the challenge for them is the shift from having someone with whom to share the day-to-day business of living to talking to themselves–or the cat and dog. Its the simple things like missing a partner for a dinner out or a spontaneous trip to the movies. Old routines fade and we may be left not knowing how to ignite a new life of one.
Weekends may be the worst of these times as we fill our hours with the mundane chores of living.We work on the yard, catch up on laundry, watch old movies, and end the night alone. For some Christians, it is just waiting for Sunday to be among people again. It is waiting to be part of a community and to be among friends who knew you when you were two. It is the hope that we will belong because that is what we have been taught should happen at church: everyone is loved and welcome.
And that’s where some of the problems of no longer being part of a twosome become glaring. Churches, for the most part, revolve around couples and families. And yet, many singles feel even more alone inside the walls of a church than they do anywhere else. We come to church expecting the brethren to embrace us, to invite us to sit with them, to talk to us at coffee hour, and to ask us to join them for lunch. I have sat in the back of many churches now and have seen singles sitting alone. I have watched them at the end of the service look for someone to speak with. I have seen them stand around and hope that someone will ask them out for lunch or even to meet later in the week. And I have seen the look in their eyes when they walk away alone.
Now I know that there are people who are well-cared for by their church community. I know that there are special people who always reach out to the widow (not necessarily the widower) and care for them after the funeral. But even that care fades after a while. Churches are great at caring during times of crisis but once the crisis passes so too does the care. We leave people to be cared for by their families (if they have ones nearby) or to find their way themselves.
” Take care of any widow who has no one else to care for her. But if she has children or grandchildren, their first responsibility is to show godliness at home and repay their parents by taking care of them. This is something that pleases God.” 1 Timothy 5
The alone time may be even harder for a divorced person. A divorce isn’t seen as a crisis in they same way that we view the death of a spouse. In some cases, it is actually much more of a crisis than the finality of death. Men seem to be able to continue on with more ease while a divorced woman may find it harder to fit in. For some, they carry the shame of a failed relationship with heaps of guilt for not living according to God’s law. This situation can be even more painful when the church preaches on the sanctity of marriage and the sin of divorce with little regard to the hurting man or woman sitting in the audience. Again, I have looked around the church and I realize that a large part of most congregations are comprised on divorced persons–some who have remarried but still bear the mark of a ‘sinful’ divorce. It takes longer for the divorced person to reintegrate into community. They may even feel as if they are unworthy to participate in ministry, and in some churches they may be unable to be church leaders. Divorce becomes the “unforgiving sin.”
And yes, it is the responsibility of each person to be present in their community and to seek out relationships. It is the single person’s responsibility to sign up for ministry opportunities, to join small groups, and to attend church-hosted events. But many of us feel as if we are in a battle to belong. I have looked at many church’s and their announcements. When the constant emphasis is on “families,” a single person may not feel they actually belong or are invited to the event. They may come anyway and try to participate but unless another single is there or there is a warm family willing to include them in the pact, they leave feeling alienated and not really part of the community.
Churches need to find a way to embrace all of the people who enter their doors. They need to be deliberate in preaching to ALL the people not just the married persons or persons with children. Invitations to events need to be worded in a way that makes it clear that EVERYONE sitting there Sunday morning is welcome. Members need to make a concerted effort to reach out to singles –not as pity projects — but with curiosity and a desire to build authentic relationships.
It is a two-way street as singles need to force themselves to go where it isn’t clear they are invited. Singles need to volunteer for activities and become contributing members. And they need to seek out other singles and support them. Maybe that means creating a small group where they can talk and share their struggles and triumphs. When churches ignore them, they need to stand and be accounted for as active members–or move on.
The bottom line is singles have much to give and contribute. Religious communities need to become willing to embrace those contributions and when they see people struggle, come alongside them. It is time for the religious community to understand that society is more single today then ever before and to ensure that each person finds a place to worship and grow in their faith. The church family needs to be sure that it is including the singles, young and old or they may miss out on some valuable contributions.