So, hot on the heels of last Thursday's blog about Chapter 1, I bring you... Chapter 2! When I was first asked to speak on the subject of singleness, I said no - I'd never heard a good or helpful talk on singleness (well, I'd hardly heard any, really!), and I wasn't too sure what there was to say about it! I was asked again, and I still wasn't convinced - and then one morning I work up with two titles in my head - "Living a God-obsessed life in a marriage-obsessed church" and "Living a God-obsessed life in a sex-obsessed world." I thought they were really rather good! Since they clearly hadn't come from my brain, I felt that they must be from God, and so I replied to my friend saying that I would do the singleness talk - and not just one, but two!
The response is interesting when I mention these titles to people. Single people often nod enthusiastically as they agree that yes, the church can often feel like a place which is obsessed by, and revolves around, marriage. Married people either look outraged as if to say "how very dare you?" or they raise their eyebrows and smile nervously as if to indicate that they're sorry, and they didn't mean it to be this way, but actually, probably, that is a fair point.
Don't get me wrong. I think marriage is fabulous. It's vitally important and I'm all in favour of it. I've blogged before about weddings. My point is not that marriage is bad, but that we must be careful that we don't venerate it to the point where we make single people feel like second class citizens. Being married isn't "better" than being single (even though I have had people tell me that it is!). It is simply different.
In this chapter of the book I give an outline of what the church says about marriage - its history, and why it sees it as important. Then I go on to talk about some real experiences which real single people have had in real churches. And some of them are really not good!
I talk about the issue of single people being seen as having more time than married people, and so being asked to do all sorts of jobs, as if they have nothing to do outside of church. Now in some ways of course perhaps single people (those without children at least) do have more flexibility with their time. However, there are plenty of other things that they have to do with that time - not least the shopping, cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc...!
Next there's the issue of loneliness - a massive area, and one which lots of single people (at least those who live alone) identify as being a real problem for them. It's worthy of a post all of its own, so at some point in the future maybe I'll write some more about it. But for now I'll say that there's so much churches can do in order to 'be family' for single people, and to help out those who are feeling lonely. And as single people (without children), we have a massive opportunity to turn our loneliness into solitude and to seek times of peace and quiet with the Lord (something which our friends with small children can only dream of!).
I then discuss the issue of whether married people really understand singleness and what it feels like. Again, this is a big area and it's discussed in more detail in Chapter 6. Maybe sometimes the issue is that married people don't understand the issues faced by single people, and sometimes the issue is that single people *think* that married people don't understand the issues faced by single people! It is possible for us as single people to get a chip on our shoulders about this...! Having said that, though, there are times when married people say some genuinely, astonishingly crass and insensitive things to single people! In the book I have given a few examples. If any of my married friends or colleagues read the book and recognise themselves and their comments, I apologise! I love you, and I don't mean to offend you or make you feel bad. But really, some of these comments need naming and shaming!
The next issue I cover is the issue for single people of where they 'fit in' to the church - sometimes they feel they're not quite treated as grown ups, and if they don't have children they may feel excluded from family events - or even if they do, sometimes as single parents they feel left out.
My argument through the whole of this chapter is that the church should be better at this stuff than it is! I don't say that to put the blame 'out there' - any of us who would consider ourselves part of the church have to accept some of the responsibility for this! But surely, as church, we should the place people - ALL people - feel most loved, most welcomed, most accepted, most included, most valued, most at home. I really think that's what Jesus meant the church to be like!