OK. There’s a popular theme going on here. Since 26, Unmarried, and Childless it has been clear to everyone young singles are getting sick of being treated like there’s something wrong with them. They want to do away with the notion that life starts when they meet a pretty face and “settle down.”
I think I’m finally beginning to understand the root of all this. Single people feel left out in the Church because there isn’t a place for them in the Church (well, aside from the singles group where they’re supposed to meet someone, graduating from the group within a reasonable timeframe).
In the early days of Christianity, the celibate monks of the desert were considered the champions of the faith, the “perfect form” of the Christian life. The married folks living in the villages were considered humble secondary saints. Then came the reformation, which led to a “focus on the family.” So while the celibate single saints used to make the other Christians feel small and insignificant, today this is reversed.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the family mediates the grace of God wonderfully. But when Paul says it’s good to be single, I think he really meant it’s good to be single. (Please stop irresponsibly explaining this passage away, modern evangelicals!) The single celibate lifestyle has become a very Catholic concept, meant only for priests or monks.
Smart people always tried to get Jesus to choose one of two bad options, but He was always smarter, creating a third way and blowing everyone’s minds. I’d like to think there’s a third way here. Rather than making single people feel insignificant and out of place, and rather than diminishing the importance of the family, how about we start treating people as people, loving them for who they are?
In order to do this pastors and church leaders (not to mention Christian publishers) need to settle down on preaching courtship, responsible dating, and this one-sided, pressure building, unrealistic and fanciful crap. And at the same time they need to start asserting a celibate, single lifestyle as a viable, holy, and healthy option.
Now, I know it’s not good for people to be alone. But just because they’re single, doesn’t mean they’re alone.
If the Church is going to assert this as an option, it’s going to have to take a lesson from the desert monks and start being grossly transparent. It needs to foster a safe place for hard questions, and create an intentional space for confession and spiritual friendship, mentorship, and accountability. The monks used to have “Old Men” who they sought out in the midst of trouble and temptation — elders who encouraged them in their spiritual journey and fought for their holiness — so that nothing would hinder them from communing with God and imparting wisdom to those who came seeking.
I have this terrible tendency of being a contrarian. I like to go against clichés and disagree with everyone about everything. I wish I could join in on this single angst train, but I went and got hitched way too young because I’m a hopeless romantic and I’ve always wanted to be a husband.
I love marriage. I love my wife. I also love academics, washing dishes, and broccoli. We are all wonderfully made. Instead of wanting the best for people (and our notion of what that “best” looks like), how about we start loving them, radically, whimsically, encouraging them to love people too. Maybe then we can stop making people feel small and insignificant. And maybe our relationships, romantic and friendly, will look a little more like the Kingdom has come, on earth as it is in heaven.
Flickr photo (cc) by joshbernhard