Unmarried with No Children

Conservative Christianity has an idol called marriage and family. When you take a look around the average church, you'll see a lot of programs for children, parents, marriages and teens. You'll have ladies' teas, men's adventures, youth groups and youth retreats.
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For the average single church member, there is little support. If you're single with children, you might be able to find a place, but it might depend on if you were widowed, divorced or single.

To put this into perspective, I'll show you my crazy experience about a year ago at a friend's bridal shower. The woman who gave the devotional (they're Baptists, there's always a devotional) had mentioned a great concept that I believed, but could never put into words. One of her friends had married a little later in life, but had said that she did not want to marry until she reached the point when she could do more for God with her husband than she could alone. Until then, why bother?

The next day between Sunday School and the Sunday Morning Service, I spoke with the woman who was an older friend of mine. I explained how what she had said was precisely what I felt, and how encouraging it was for me.

The next words out of her mouth, however, hurt: "Oh, I didn't even think you still wanted to get married."

I was thirty, but because I wasn't currently dating or going out on dates, and because I was content with my current situation, she assumed that I didn't want to get married. Her words stung not so much because she said them, but because I suspected that others believed as she did. "Oh, Bridgette's not married and not interested in any man, therefore she doesn't want to marry."

I have other reasons for my willingness to wait until the opportune time. Though my parents have remained married for almost thirty-five years, in my immediate extended family (those from grandparents down), I have had one set of grandparents, all my aunts and uncles, and two cousins divorce. I didn't want to go through the same thing. Besides, remember, I'm highly intelligent with a love for debate and artsy things; I live in a farming community where these things aren't normal. Finding a man who would consider me his equal not his subordinate was hard enough to begin with. Finding one who was also a fellow Christian, taller than I am, and into debate, art, culture and visiting museums was nigh on impossible.

Waiting was my only option.

Yet because I didn't hang on the arm of a man; I didn't talk about dates, and I talked about my books, arts, social justice and current events, they lumped me into the old maid category at thirty!

Thirty?!

My grandmother hadn't even married my grandfather at the age of thirty! My dad hadn't married my mom at the age of thirty! Thirty was still relatively young in my family.

Single White Female

Marriage and babies were never high on my list of life experiences. In fact, I can remember the shock I felt one day when I realized I was looking at houses and dreaming about a family of my own.

I was twenty.

Until that day on my way home from work, I never really wanted to marry or have children; I always figured I would, but wanted to delay it. Marriage was something I would do later in life, say around thirty or so.

The past few years have been rollercoasters: wanting to marry, but not wanting to marry just any man who smiled at me. I know my personality, and I know the type of man I would do well with, and the ones that would be ... problematic.

I've met men who had a deal breaker on a woman not taking his last name; I've known men who treated women as though they were less than. I've heard men who thought they were the answer to the world's problems, and any woman who would dare say otherwise were emotional stupid things. I've listened to men who were male chauvinists, proud of it, and could support it Biblically.

Unfortunately, in many conservative Christian churches, the men listed above have been the norm. I'm fortunate that I have an entire family full of them not to mention several great friends, and there are probably more great men in comparison to the rotten ones, but the rotten ones smell worse and are often louder.

To be female was bad enough; to be single was worse. To be single meant that I wasn't worth someone's time and attention. To be single meant that I wasn't good enough to be married. To be single meant that I wasn't mature, or had it all together. To be single meant, in many cases, that I was little better than a child.

Single Christians

Christianity is full of men and women who never married. Jesus, the founder of Christianity, is one such man. Others who were single at sometime in their adulthood include Saint Paul, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Joan of Arc, Mother Theresa, Saint Patrick and Saint Brigid. In modern times, author C.S. Lewis was a confirmed bachelor until he was "Surprised by Joy." Many of these individuals were single adults - in other words, they remained single for either their entire lives, or they were single well after their twenties.

We have a history of great scholars, theologians, healers and who knows what else who were single. Not all of them were in full time Christian service; not all of them lived very long. Some were married beforehand, some married later. All of them for some time after they became adults were single. Not just dating, but single - without anyone save friends and family.

To be a dating Christian is somehow slightly better than to be a Christian who doesn't currently or hasn't ever dated. The reason is that many dating couples eventually marry. If you aren't out in the sea, so to speak, you'll never get caught.

To be a single Christian is to devote your life to service be it family, work or church. Singleness is seen as a stage to pass through - the sooner the better. It's part of the reason why many churches push for young people to marry quickly. If a woman hits her mid-twenties without marrying, it's because you "just haven't found the right man yet; maybe you should lower your standards a little." If that woman still isn't married by the time she's thirty, it's "well, you obviously have the gift of singleness. Maybe you should be a missionary?"

To have people suggest I need to 'lower my standards' implied that I needed to get over myself and marry the next available bachelor who smiled at me. Just because he didn't listen to me, thought I was too arrogant, or ignored my dreams didn't mean anything - at least I'd be married. Truth be told, it was my greatest fear: to marry a man who didn't respect me.

Standards

Marriage, for me, has always been the uniting of man and woman into a couple who can do great things for God that they could not do alone. Marriage has always meant equal partnership where the two individuals can utilize the other one's skills for whatever task is needed. I've always imagined my husband would work in a field conducive to my own. Maybe not necessarily working together or both being writers, but something that works. A scientist, investigator, businessman ... those general ideas. He would be someone who could hold his own in an argument, but could also see other sides. A man who expected the same of me.

Single women in the church are often put into these boxes where we're more limited than our married counterparts. In the larger culture, we have a great deal of freedom; in the conservative Christian culture, we don't. Part of the reason is that conservative Christianity is obsessed with the 1950s. They love the time when women stayed home with the children, and men went to work. When family values were king, and degenerates slinked around the cities.

Standards were higher in those days. Sin was sin, and everyone understood that. The world was never black and white; gray areas existed, but those areas were often shoved to the side. Things like domestic abuse, rape, slavery and racism existed, but most ignored it. Then came the Sixties and Seventies when Hell itself seemed to spill over. Conservative Christianity struggled to find its footing again.

It did, with marriage and family. On this footing, conservative Christians have built a foundation focused on maintaining traditional marriages and raising healthy children. Long gone are the days in which a community existed focused on the many layers of life: the single, the aged, the married, the youth, the parents and the childless couples. Now, it's marriage and family ... and singles if your pastor remembers it.

Standards are good, but if something doesn't fit the standard, it's chucked as useless. Humans aren't knick-knacks and whatnots, but for many singles in the church, we feel as though we are. Substandard whatnots thrown away, because we don't fit the mold.

Turn Away

What can people do to change this? I don't know. Some singles are content in the roles the church has given them; others want more. Singles are humans - we're not some sort of subspecies to be tested and observed; we're not less than because we haven't married. We are unique individuals within the church who have skills to use.

Maybe instead of focusing our attention onto Valentine's Day, Mother's Day and Father's Day, the church can focus those days onto communities, women and men. I'm not saying to shove down marriage and family because, like singleness, it is a part of the community's fabric.

What I am saying is for pastors, leaders and church members to take a look at what they do, how they say things, or even the illustrations they use. We are all called to be holy and pure; we are all called to pursue God and demonstrate His love to the world. Remind the community what binds us together and not what drives us apart.

The best thing I can suggest is to destroy the altar of marriage and family, and take a look at what Christ established: a community of like-minded individuals focused on Himself. Allow people to live their own lives: loving, living and  raising the next generation without over-involved busybodies. Correct the evil in the church: protect the victims not the perpetrators. Above all, to pursue Christ. We're not a bunch of checklists ... and we need to stop acting like people are.

Comments

  1. “…they're Baptists, there's always a devotional.” Funny! And so true.

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  2. There are a lot of assumptions being made by churches today. Your friend assumed you didn't want to get married because you were not dating. They assume everybody's goal in life is to get married and have children. They assume it's impossible to remain pure until marriage and that single adults are uncontrollable sex machines. They assume that men's identities and self worth depend on women (and vice versa). They assume it's impossible to reclaim the Christian standards this country was built on. These assumptions just show how much the world has crept into churches and how much eternal biblical standards have been replaced by ever changing cultural expectations and stereotypes.

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    Replies
    1. Totally agree, and the word assumption exemplifies the issue. We can assume a lot of things, but when it comes down to it, the Bible never said that marriage is better than singleness. It never said we would all marry at the age of twenty-one.

      It is funny how the church reacts to the world, but rarely takes a big-picture view. We tend to focus on one issue and make it into a mountain of doctrine. We need to look at the Bible and see the larger fabric God created community to be.

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