A couple of days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook, when I happened across a post by an admin in one of my Reformed women groups, where she asked recently married women and new moms to share pictures so that we could rejoice with them. I was especially excited to click the comments and see the adorable newborns, but something soured my mood before I finished reading. At the end of the post, the admin said, with what I don't doubt were the best of intentions: "Let's also take this opportunity to remember our single sisters and our sisters struggling with infertility. Please say a silent prayer for them."
It was a sweet and thoughtful sentiment coming from a married mother of four, to whom the plight of single girls and hopeful mamas might often be invisible, but the implicit messages it drips with actually angered me. Until I had gotten to that part, I had been excited to share with the group about accepting a full-time position with nine months to go until graduation, an accomplishment which I worked hard for and of which I'm proud.
But the subtext is clear: If you are single, we have nothing about which to rejoice with you. If you are single or childless, you should slink away and be sad, and that's not our problem because we gave you our sanctimonious pity. Don't taint the Happy Wives and Moms Club with your depressing life. If you are single or childless, you shouldn't be as happy as a married mother. The only things worth rejoicing about in life are marriages and children. You need anonymous prayer, whether you think so or not.
This is harmful from two angles:
1. It feeds the Christian bubble's dogma that a single woman has no purpose, is not complete, and probably has some giant flaw she has to work out before she is Ready for Marriage™.
If I die single, I hope someone says something to that effect at my bedside so I can use my last breath to say "Fight me". I've already spent too much time telling everyone who will listen that God's purpose for Christian women is sanctification, not necessarily (but often) through marriage.
2. It silences and invalidates new mothers who just aren't feeling all the joy they believe they should be due to hormone changes and postpartum depression; or the new wife who's so homesick she can't think of anything else.
It's really harmful to everyone to teach girls to pin all their future hopes of happiness on marriage and motherhood, though they do bring great joy, I'm told. Without idolizing them or needing them to be happy, I do joyfully anticipate both, don't get me wrong.
I also happen to think that singleness is a lot easier than infertility, so I don't think it's helpful to lump those two things together. Singleness ends not a second later than deemed best by divine love. It's temporary and fun and filled with exciting opportunities and the joy of undivided devotion to our Savior. It is rarely permanent and does not require invasive medical procedures, for Pete's sake. When I get married, I will remember these years fondly, and if I never get married, I will have had the most joyful and God-glorifying life possible.
I don't have much experience with infertility, because I've always been in excellent health (praise Jesus), but I had a chance to see how I might respond to it only a couple days following a long talk with one of my bosses about endometriosis, which she has and which makes her very sick. I went home and read more information, and found that it can be caused by eating unhealthfully and failing to exercise. I do both of those things. Then I had some spotting and abdominal pain not two days later, at which time I thought I was two weeks into my cycle. I had an actual full-blown meltdown about having endometriosis and would have made a doctor appointment that second had it not been 10:30 p.m. on a Friday.
I spent a good couple hours mourning my poor dead future children (I want at least four or five) and cried myself to sleep. In the morning, I realized I'd gotten my period, which was concerning too until I checked my Fitbit app and was informed by it that I was supposed to get it that day and had lost track of time due to 16 hours of classes and 35 hours a week of work. Anyway, I'm dramatic, partially because I had PMS and didn't know it, but in my humble opinion, singleness is not nearly as terrible as infertility. That did give me the kick I needed to get back to the gym and stop eating fast food though.
(While I was in the depths of despair over my imaginary endometriosis, I told Catherine to fix me, since she's going to be a Physician Assistant, and she said "In my diet low battery professional opinion, you're probably totally fine" which was a best friend opinion, not a medical opinion. I blew up my mom's phone and ended with "Ma message me back your grandchildren are dying" and she said "My grandchildren are fine, it's my children that are whacko" so yeah everyone in my life has completely had it with me.)
I think by far the worst side effect of the church's pity for single women is its effect on the single women themselves. Many of them loathe singleness. To many, it is a source of misery and causes them to feel forsaken by God. That is serious and does not need to be affirmed or fed by well-intentioned pity. Although I'm thriving at this time in my life, I have moments sometimes, and when I'm 32 rather than 22, it may be a whole different story. And if that is the case, that will be when I most need encouragement, not pity, from the church. Encouragement cheers, but pity just feeds despair. By encouragement, I mean solicited, intentional, biblical encouragement, not saying "That's okay!" when I say that I'm single. (Incidentally, stop doing that.)
A case study in ideal encouragement of a single girl: My Life Group at church consists of four married couples and their children, an empty nester couple, a single mom and her children, Catherine and Collin (married and childless) and me. Do you know how they treat me? NORMALLY.
If I need prayer about singleness, which is rare but not unheard of, I can tell the group during prayer time and they pray for me and ask me the next week how I'm doing. But otherwise, I have never once felt self-conscious about being the only one who arrives alone.
They in no way see me as defined by my singleness, which is good because I don't see myself that way either. If I were surrounded by people who were surprised that I'm happy without a husband, I wouldn't be happy for long. They just go about the business of life group as usual, not treating me like a child (although for the amount of time I spend playing outside with the kids I probably deserve it) or The Token Single™, or a constant emotional leech, or their pity project, but just as a normal member.
I've had to learn also to ask the church for help with my loneliness when I need it. That is hard to do, so if a single person in your church ever asks you for anything, it is important that you help them to the best of your ability, or else they might think no one cares and not ask anyone for anything ever again. I gathered the courage to ask one of the ladies if I could sit with her during Sunday school, because her husband would be teaching and I didn't want to sit alone, and her response was a joyful, enthusiastic YES followed by, "If you need anything else, you let me know!" in an almost stern, motherly, I-mean-it, if-you-don't-you're-in-trouble tone.
I used to have Thursday night issues since that's when I always spent time with my boyfriend when I had one, but when I told a friend at church about them, she made sure I never spent a single Thursday evening alone until I moved past that. Jesus has been abundantly faithful to me in my singleness through His bride.
One of the reasons I don't really struggle with singleness is the church I go to and the areas it chooses to emphasize. Being around the other college students can be a bit of a downer after too long because they talk about relationships a lot; so too with sermons and books meant for college students, but my church tends to be heavy on exposition and theology, light on application, which blesses everyone.
If I went to a church that focused entirely on "lifestyle Christianity", I imagine I probably would feel left out, since it would cater to the majority, which is married people. But a discipleship class about the Five Solas of the Reformation is the same no matter who's in the audience.
I don't normally spend a lot of time thinking about how alone I am, so I'm glad going to church doesn't disrupt that. I'm aware of how blessed I have to have a church that doesn't rub salt into singleness as it does for many other singles.
Joyful singleness is not easy, but this is where the rubber meets the road in the Christian life. Singleness is hard, and that is because it's sanctifying, and sanctification is not supposed to be easy--God cares more about you becoming Christlike than He does about your happiness. Marriage is hard and sanctifying too, but the good parts of marriage get a lot more airtime than the good parts of singleness, which is the current I'm trying to swim against with all these articles.
The reality is that singleness is far from the worst thing that can happen to a person, and the sooner we all stop acting like it is, the better off we'll be.