I've heard many sermons on marriage. I'm sure you've heard them too. And there is nothing wrong with that. We need good sermons on marriage. But what do most pastors say when they are giving these sermons? Even if you are single, you can apply these concepts to all relationships in your life, not just marriage. (Which is pretty much what happened on this particular Sunday).
Hm, well okay. I guess that's sort of true. I'm not saying that I should just skip church on these Sundays. But a marriage relationship is different than other relationships and I don't think we should pretend otherwise just to make singles feel like they are being included (hint - it doesn't really work). Like I said, I don't have a problem listening to sermons on marriage.
The thing is, when was the last time you heard a sermon on being single?
One might say that all sermons not about marriage are about how to be single. I would disagree. Being single is very different from being married - so why don't we ever have sermons about how to be better at being single?
Is it possible that it's because our way of being a better single is to get married?
I've heard sermons on "biblical dating" and how to wait for your spouse, but never a sermon on how to be single without an emphasis or at least a reference to dating and/or marriage.
Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist, author, speaker, and professor wrote an AMAZING blog post called Singled Out: How Churches Can Embrace Unmarried Adults. If you only have enough time to read her post or the rest of mine, go read hers. Right now. I mean it.
She starts out with this story:
A couple of summers ago I visited a Dallas-area church. It was a hot day and the temperature in the church building was almost unbearable. But I wasn’t distracted by the heat because the pastor (who is quite the scholar) gave a profound, rousing sermon on the beauty and holiness of marriage. Even as a single person, I was inspired by his sophisticated, lovely depiction of a Christ-centered marriage. It was that good!
At the end of the 40 minute sermon, the pastor looked up from his notes and began to ad lib: “I know that over 40% of you are single, so I should probably say something about singleness as well.”
My ears perked up. Since this pastor was such a scholarly guy and since he had just given an exceptionally thoughtful sermon on marriage, I just knew that his brief thoughts on singleness would be equally profound. I leaned forward.
“Here’s what I want to say to all you single people: Don’t have sex before you get married. Then when you get married, make up for lost time. [wink, wink]”
Once the laughter died down, the pastor gave a benediction and returned to the pew where his wife awaited him.
Christena goes on to talk about how singles can so easily be marginalized in the church (outside the church too, but that's not what we're discussing here). She reminds us that Jesus himself was single!
What I love most about her post is that she goes on to give 6 tips on how Christians can embrace singles. I'm not going to list them all here because you should go read it for yourself. But here are few things that really stood out to me.
Her first tip was to realize that if you aren't single, you don't understand what being single is like. Look at it this way - I know things about marriage even though I'm not married. My married siblings/friends/relatives have told me a lot about marriage, both good and bad. I've seen them struggling and seen them happy. But I won't ever really know what marriage is like unless I get married. The same is true for singleness. Christena put it this way:
I talk regularly with a white pastor who got married when he was 21. Most of the time, we talk about our racial differences and how we can build bridges across them. But recently we struck up a conversation about how my experience as a single person in the church differs from his experience as a married person. As I was sharing my experiences, it occurred to him that my singleness is just as foreign to him as my blackness is. He said, “Wow! Our conversation about singleness and marriage is just as cross-cultural as our conversations about being black and white."
Treat singleness like you would treat any other cross-cultural exploration.
And no, being single until you got married at age 23 does not count.
Another point that Christena makes is that being married does not make you more spiritual or more mature. "Marriage is not a fruit of the Spirit," she says. (I LOVE this!)
The last point I want to highlight is Christena's suggestion that we celebrate single people. Some people go their whole lives never getting married or having a child (. But that doesn't mean they don't have milestones that can be celebrated.
I've probably quoted too much from Christena's blog post, but I really resonated with everything she said. Please go read what she wrote - especially if you are a pastor. If you aren't, pass this along to yours. It's one of the few times that I've seen someone give good, real, practical advice for how to change how we interact with singles.