This weekend on the Saturday afternoon at 3.30pm I got to spend 24hrs with 3 friends who I have known for a long time. It was a privilege. These girls have been with me and journeyed with me through many up and downs in these last 15yrs. They are so dear to me and so very important. One brought one of my beautiful boys into this world. I am grateful for them.
Sarah Francis (Cavan) is one of those friends who is not only beautiful in looks but has this way about her that is incredibly articulate and clever and can say so much of what is spinning around my head.
There was indeed many chats this weekend, we put the world to right on so many occasions but late on the Saturday night in an old Irish pub Sarah and I had this conversation that made my heart beat a little faster. I have asked her to be a guest here on my blog because she is amazing with her words, her heart is kind and good and everything she has said here I feel we need to hear and indeed be challenged on. Glen and I love our single friends as much as our married ones, we love how they do life with us and our kids. We are only richer because of them.
I know you will enjoy this blog as much as I did
Before I start, I feel that I need to begin with a confession… I am married, and am about to write about being single in the Church. Please hear me, i write this not as one who is a smug married, but some of my richest relationships are with friends who are single, due to never marrying or no longer marrying and I write this in part as a celebration of them in a culture and arena that i fear fails to recognise the contribution, or needs of those who are single.
This little wandering, is less of a rant, more of a pondering, born out of many coffee fuelled late nights conversation. I have baffled a little of late by how it is that many friends find it harder to be single as part of a church than in the wider culture (even with its fixation on sex and romantic relationships)
Firstly, I guess i find it strange that our faith, which is patterned on following the way of Jesus, a single man, places such emphasis on marriage. Paul, celebrates singleness as a gift (I Cor 7), and yet i wonder how often those who are not or no longer married feel that they are celebrated as a gift as part of our faith communities, or a problem to be solved/match made. I How many of us have been subject to or guilty of forceful match making. My inner Cilla Black in a big fan of playing pick a pair with friends and single people I meet, and I fear that implicit in the message that a friend might hear that I view them as a jigsaw piece,incomplete until they meet a mr or mrs right (how many of us sappily swooned at that famous Gerry Maguire, even for those of us for whom Tom Cruise has little appeal, he momentarily caused my teenage heart to exhale.) Maybe because it touches a little of the loneliness that we all experience, and holds out the promise that a person can save us from our loneliness.
Marriage has been a great delight to me, and perhaps I am but It has not healed my insecurities, or ended my loneliness. I feel that it is in community that i have moved towards wholeness, and that I experience family. I go to a small church in South Belfast and we use the hashtag church as family. I guess my wondering and longing is that for us all the church would exist as a place of belonging, as we are, not due to our marital status. I notice that family issues are often address in church programmes: parents and tots/marriage courses/focus on the family, and I understand in a time when it is harder to stay married that in any that have gone before, that the church should offer wisdom and support, but how balanced is that with also helping those who are not yet married with the challenges they face? Or the challenges we all face that are not unique to marriage and parenting?
When my husband & I first got together i noticed a spike in the number of dinner invites we received by people who had previously never invited me round to eat, it was like I’d made it into a club. And whilst I was enjoying my newfound sense of popularity, It was hard to keep up with those invitations which would have been really good news to me when I had been sitting down to a lonely jacket potato. Recently as i embarked on first time motherhood, my child healthcare assistant dismayed of my reluctance to attend many of the new mum groups (the fact that I couldn’t breastfeed without crying didn’t make it particularly appealing) and while i was drowning in the sleep impoverished paranoid minutia of new parenthood by greatest relief came often from my single friends who would fill be in on ‘life on the outside’ – stories of travels, films, books (other than the library of parenting books I had gathered) people. They made my world a bit bigger, richer (and often brought wine!) I don’t doubt the solidarity of meeting with those in a similar season to share ideas/sympathies but for me richness has come from the diversity of community, and my community far less colourful and rich if I only sought community among those who share my common marital status. My hope is that we move towards church becoming family – where there is a space at the table for all of us, and place where our contribution is celebrated and our needs tended to, rather that family focussed, where those who are not or no longer married feel out of focus.