Being single is a whole dang thing. Being single in the church where people are more into marriage than the broader culture? Well, that feels a bit elevated. I want to be clear: I don’t think that marriage is a bad thing. In fact, I love celebrating my friends when they say “I do” to their spouses. I love getting to dance and cheer and applaud when they have that first kiss.
But at the end of all of the wedding festivities, I go home alone.
Last night, there was a noise in my kitchen that woke me up and I had to lie there, debating if I should go check it out, because there was no one to turn to and say, “Did you hear that?”
Aside from the occasional bump in the night or helpless carrying in of bags after a road trip, the rhythms of my life are not that unlike those of a married friend. I’m still a busy human being (despite the fact that many believe single people have loads of free time). I still have full-time work and commitments and social engagements. I still have to pay bills and get the car inspected and grab groceries. I am a full-grown, adult woman who happens to be single, but I often feel like there is an otherness about me in the eyes of my married friends. And yes our lives look different. But also? They’re not that different.
We’re headed to the same places a lot. We are committed to our local churches and ministries, we are all trying to save up for a house one day, we are all figuring out next steps for the future. But the language we use to describe our marital status? It makes single people feel like we’re not autonomous adults with responsibilities, dreams, and desires. And beyond that? We’re all headed to the same eternity. The same fully-realized Kingdom of God with the new heavens and the new earth (where, as a reminder, the only Marriage we’ll know is for all of us in our union with Christ at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb).
So if we’re headed in the same direction, why do we use language that removes commonality?
Here’s what I mean: You’re at a church event or having coffee with a friend and they say, “You’re in a season of singleness” or “That stage of singleness is lonely at times . . . .” And while I understand that this is a common term that’s better than some alternatives like, “You’re stuck in singleness” or “You haven’t fully arrived at adulthood,” (yes, I’ve heard these), I think that for the sake of our friendships between married and single friends, we need to talk about these phrases.
You see, when we categorize people using the language of “season” or “stage,” we insinuate that life has this upward trajectory. That there’s a point A and B, all the way to Z. A formula for what comes next. And it begs the question: What if I’m always single? Do I not experience the seasons of life fully? Do I not move to the next stage of life? Or am I perpetually lacking or left behind?
These categories of Stage and Season create an untrue idea that singleness is a temporal thing or a problem to be fixed. But you know what’s actually true? For some, singleness is not going anywhere anytime soon. I may live and die without a band on my ring finger that has a match with a man to whom I’m committed in holy matrimony. I may never have a spouse who tells me they love me. I may have to watch some friends buy homes nearly a decade before me because I’m living on a single income.
But can I be honest honest for a moment?
Singleness is a thousand joys and a thousand small griefs and to say that I’m a season (behind?) or a stage (before?) is minimizing at best and insulting at worst.
So I am here to humbly request that we start using a new turn of phrase: What if we spoke of our friends as if they’re on different routes? We may meet up or share a vantage point here and there, but we will also likely see things the others won’t. Our elevation gain or loss may shift with different intensities. Some parts of the trail will be overgrown while others are easier to navigate than those on other paths.
See how this sort of imagery levels the playing field a bit? Maybe even offers some . . . dignity? Now, we get to focus on what matters most: traveling along toward the great Destination of Heaven, fellow pilgrims who walk together at times and blaze different trails at times. We’re all just taking different routes to get there.
So much of Scripture celebrates the differences of experience within the church and calls us to honor one another. Listen to this from 1 Corinthians 12:26-27: And if one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if a part is honored, all the parts rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.”
We belong to one body, sisters. So let’s not put married above single or single above married.
Let’s struggle together and thrive together, rejoicing as we travel Home along whatever route God has for us.