As a first-call pastor in Ohio, I was thankful for colleagues who helped me remember these short phrases when a “woe-is-me” or “wow-is-me” would sneak into any of my monologues. Hopefully, I provided the same helpful reminder to them.
I think it can be all too tempting to isolate or elevate ourselves by one piece of our identity: single, partnered or married, young, old, male, female, pastor, lay person. At the same time, joining together in common purpose or similar situation can indeed build us up, encourage us, and help us to know that other people understand, that they “get it.”
I do not have two heads, fins for feet, or a secret superhero identity (although I do have superhero postcards I like to send to my youth at church). When asked to check a box for marital status, I check single. “Are you in a relationship?” some forms or people will ask. And I fight the urge to respond with a brief essay or rant on all the wonderfully nurturing relationships in which I see myself. And all defensiveness aside, I am thankful for who I am as a child of God and in community with my church, my neighbors, my family and friends.
In a recent Confirmation class about the sending of the seventy (or seventy-two) in Luke, the teacher asked why Jesus would send out the disciples in pairs. “So they wouldn’t be afraid,” one student answered, “Because sometimes doing something new by yourself can be scary.” There is much wisdom in Jesus’ method and in the student’s response. At the same time, I have friends who thrive on independent adventures. I prefer to go to the movies with friends, others totally dig going solo to the big screen. Not better, not worse, different.
In Scripture, Moses went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Jesus went into the garden to pray, stepping away from his disciples. Single or otherwise, sometimes our souls need some holy solitude for meditation or reflection. Some souls need more of this kind of time to tend to their faith.
Polling some of the social network friends as to how they nurture their single-girl spirits, I was reminded of things that I know deep down but don’t always remember for myself. None of us exists in isolation, regardless of what box we check, and some helpful reminders are good on this journey we share as God’s daughters and sons.
We are in relationship with others. For some people, family consists of a spouse/partner and children. For others, family looks a little different. Not better or worse, not harder or easier. As the average age for marriage/partnership gets older every year, this one should be easy for everyone to remember. Sometimes it feels that those who have gone the way of Noah’s Ark pairing-off forget they were once a single too.
Whether family is through blood or the chosen variety, we surround ourselves with people we love and who love us. I’ve realized that I need to schedule time with the people I love. Everyone is busy, but it doesn’t mean people don’t care. Carving out time to be with the people we want and need to be with is important. Scheduling those vacations with or without travel companions takes effort. I find its well worth the time it takes to plan. We have freedom in our choices.
What’s for dinner?
Recognizing our investment in community, we single folk also have some freedom when it comes to daily decisions and the bigger ones. One friend reminded me that there is blessedness in this freedom. When planning for vacation or considering a career or housing change, I may consult friends and family, but as far as the deliberations are concerned, I don’t have to be worried about the impact of my decisions on others in my household. On one hand, no one is helping with the dishes, but there is also no one asking me, “What’s for dinner?”
God’s good creation
We are complete. When we recognize that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace, we are complete. Considering the lilies of the field or birds of the air, we might remember the Jesus reminds us that we are loved and valued by God (Matthew 6, Luke 12). Waiting to hear someone proclaim that I “complete him or her” might be a craving we have—and it might not be. I am no less of a person, or somehow incomplete, if I live by myself and file a single-income tax return.
We are part of the body of Christ, fed at the Lord’s table, and invited to hear the word of God proclaimed. As a preacher, I am constantly searching for images and illustrations that speak to the whole of the assembly. I have sat through far too many a sermon or service where I’m told how to be a good father or husband, wife or a good mother (if the preacher has expanded his or her vision beyond gender lines). I am not a wife, nor a mother. Someday I may be, but I still am part of a worshipping assembly now.
I’m not sure what God’s plan is for the world beyond redemption through Jesus (the specifics get a little difficult to iron out for us human types) but I trust that I’m a part of God’s beloved creation. In baptism, we are named children of God. We live out our baptismal call in a variety of ways. So in our work and play, in our relationships and solitude, God has called us and named us, we belong to God (Isaiah 43:1 paraphrased).
The Rev. Kelly K. Faulstich is the associate pastor at Grace Lutheran Church and School in River Forest, Ill.