Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Singleness and the Kingdom

This Sunday at the Northlake Church I facilitated a "group sermon" with six other adults about the wide variety of types of singleness being experienced by our members.  This was a part of a broader series about the so-called domestic texts in Scripture.  It is entitled: "Families: The Context for Growing Up to Be Like Jesus."
As part of the prep for a sermon about being single, I received pages and pages of emails and enjoyed many conversations about how navigating singleness as a citizen of the Kingdom works (and doesn't!).  The sermon took a look at 1 Corinthians 7:25-35 where Paul reflects on the vocation of singleness.  We, like Paul, took aim at subverting the myths - even though the American ones are different than those in Corinth - that seek to weaken healthy sexuality and relationships.  There is more to being Christian and single than simply finding another Christian to date and staying sexually pure!
Part of the trouble with the sermon was including the breadth and depth of what was shared with me in all those emails and conversations.  So, I am going to post on this week some of the messages I received.  The first one can be read below.  If you would like to listen to the sermon and panel discussion, it will be posted here soon.
This is message from a young woman at Northlake who has come to see the illusions of dating/romance for what they are as she is embracing singlessness as a vocation (not as a problem to fix!).  She fittingly challenges that the ideal Christian life requires being a wife and mother.  No offense to "Christian Mingle," but this young woman is choosing a better story for who she is! I trust her words will challenge you as much as they did me.
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Living life fully present and faithfully in the situation that’s been handed to you is the context in which we engage in conversation about singleness.  Every day is different, bringing different feelings of happiness, contentment, loneliness, acedia, etc. 
Wise and challenging conversations about singleness would have been so helpful and formative growing up.  I was never aware that people in the world chose a life of singleness as a vocation based no faith in God and personal decision.  It just wasn’t on my radar.  There were a few single older people at my church back in Texas, but I understood from my parents that they were single because they never found anyone to be married to.  I felt sad for these people and always assumed they must be so lonely.  Nuns and monks and their choice to be ‘married to Jesus’ and live in community with others who made the same choice was never talked about in an honorable or thought-provoking way.
I have lived all of my life as a single person (except for a brief period of having a boyfriend in high school), and my experience have varied throughout the different phases of my life.  At my Christian university, because of the intense ‘date to get married pressure cooker’ environment, I constantly felt like I should have a boyfriend and that I should definitely not graduate without a husband or at least the promise of one.  When I moved to a new city, due to my immediate community of close friends, I did not feel strange about being single.  Life and social activities did not revolve around who’s dating who, and I never heard things like - ‘Dang! He’s hot!’ (Which, by the way, I loathe hearing those words.)  The lifestyle of singleness was even openly talked about and discussed as a valued thing to commit to.  My time in this community was when I first realized the goodness and the gift of what it means to be single.  The stark constrast in these two environments say something to how we should speak openly and value our single brothers and sisters and provide a way and a space for them to contribute their gifts, for surely being single comes with things to offer that differ from those of married people.
A big question to wrestle with - What are the illusions and cultural lies that we are buying into, even the people who are trying to live in a way pleasing to the God if the universe (as oppsed to the God of America)?  These illusions, these lies constantly afect the way we view our brothers and sisters of the opposite sex.  It affects how we communicate with them.  It affects the foundaitons of our friendships, so that we see them through a lens of deceit and ulterior motives.  This way of viewing the world doesn’t even allow for the true community we see in the New Testament, the way of Jesus.
It seems to me, that Americans have put the ‘nuclear family’ so much higher than anything else, that we can’t see all the joy and goodness to be had universally and individually.  Why haven’t we been comparing the commitment we are called to take in marriage to a commitment to a community of people (blood related or not)?  I think the early Christians knew how to do this well. 
We need to hear honestly from married people about what it is to live every day married to someone.  How does it effect your relationship with God?  How does it effect your friendships and community life?  Loneliness, happiness, contentment... are playing the same role in your life as before marriage?  If different, how so?  What is hard or good about marriage that you did not anticipate or were not warned about?  Have you consistently held that the hardship and burdens are worth being married to the person?
I understand these are hard things to be honest about, especially to someone younger than yourself.  It’s something people are begging for though.  I’ve watched and played an active role in many close friends preparing and deciding for marriage, and they have been so good about asking hard questions before doing so.  So often they have felt cheated or deceived by the answers of those older than them.

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