So, how was your day at school today?” I asked the girl from the house next door.
“It was okay, I guess,” she said as she kicked her sneaker against the bricks in the porch stoop beneath me. “I broke up with my boyfriend.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. That must be hard for you.” I was trying to be understanding and sympathetic—but was she really even old enough to know what a boyfriend was?
“Yeah,” she answered. “It’s no big deal. Means I’m single again, though.” She gave the bricks another kick.
While trying to be sensitive to the 9-year-old’s hurt over the loss of the relationship, I found deep down that I was struggling hard not to giggle. Single again? Does she even know what single means?
When I was young, being single meant you were an adult who was not married. Being single, engaged, or married had something to do with whether or not you, as an adult, had made a commitment to an adult of the opposite gender, bought a ring, exchanged vows in a church or courthouse and signed a marriage license. The line was pretty clear as to whether you were single or not. Nowadays it’s not so simple. Our culture is redefining the meaning of “single.”
Many singles have good reasons for not getting married, and they hope others will honor their decision and not exert pressure to get involved with someone when they don’t want to do so. This is important to remember.
Being single has its advantages. For one thing, you can be pretty sure every senior woman in your church or neighborhood is praying for you to meet and marry that special someone. You learn small room design when you go to the downtown street dance and end up hiding in the bathroom from that would-be partner who gives you the creeps. You also know you never have to worry about cooking something for the community potluck, since everyone figures singles are poor starving folk who can’t cook. And you never, never have to worry about running out of things to do—you know you will be volunteered for every worthwhile project that comes along because you have so much free time.
Of course, this is all tongue-in-cheek with a touch of sarcasm on the side. It’s just meant to show how singles often are made to feel this intense pressure to get married or to find someone to be connected to. It is as though a single person has no identity or value unless married or with someone. The media is full of the message that unless singles are involved in romantic relationships, life is empty and devoid of meaning. It doesn’t require much time listening to a music station or watching music videos before you conclude that life revolves around falling in or out of love and having a life full of passion. It’s as though romance, sexual passion and emotional attachment to another human being are as necessary to life as breathing.
True, we are designed for relationship. At the core of our being, we desire to belong, to be loved and cherished. God meant us to live in relationship just as he lives in relationship as Father, Son and Spirit. But he never meant for another human being to be able to completely fill that need. Nobody can be all things to us in the same way God is. It took me many years to understand that until we allow the God who made us to fill that void in our hearts with a personal relationship with him, we will always feel unfulfilled and empty, with a longing no human relationship can resolve. Making such demands for meaning, identity and value on another human being puts incredible stress on the relationship. Turning to God instead to meet those needs provides a freedom that can breathe fresh life into a person’s soul.
I understand now that being single opens the door for many opportunities in a person’s life. A single person can serve his or her community, family and church in ways married people cannot. As singles, we are responsible to find and develop our gifts and put them to use by participating in God’s work in the world. When we begin to develop our gifts, grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ and serve others, we begin to move toward wholeness. As we look for our identity in Jesus Christ and find meaning for our life in following him, our perceived need to “find someone” can be replaced by more meaningful pursuits.
Over time I’ve come to see that it is important to be sensitive to the needs and feelings of single people. Many of us are busy people with a lot of responsibilities—with family, community, church or work commitments. A single mother or father has to do the jobs of two people —raising children, paying bills and doing home care. Many times single people are struggling to make ends meet or are in despair because of trying to work through personal difficulties alone. Singles can use encouragement, prayers and assistance from others who can help.
As our culture continues to redefine the meaning of the word “single,” we can examine our own hearts and lives to see how we live in relationship with those who live alone or who raise children by themselves. As the Triune God draws us into his loving embrace and includes us as his children in his divine life, we can reflect this in how we include and care for those who do not have the gift of marriage and family. In doing so, we will find our own horizons broadened and hearts opened to new vistas of love and laughter. We may even find a way to explain singleness to the child next door and invite her to participate in God’s love and life in a new way. Or we may just giggle inside and offer her a hug.
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