A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook the other day entitled, “Singled Out: How Churches Can Embrace Unmarried Adults.” As a rebbitzen, I’m always trying to think outside my situation and looking to the needs within the congregational structure. Our synagogues are home to people of all walks and stages of life and we need to be open and available to everyone.
One point that the author made was that the vast majority of leaders – like 98% – are married and were usually married in their early 20s. My husband and I fall into that category. He was 22 and I was 18 (and 2/3) when we got married. Yes, we were young! I basically have no idea what it is like to be a single adult, which puts me at a disadvantage ministering to single friends and congregants in this day and age of delayed marriages and intentional single-hood.
I have had many conversations with friends bemoaning the situation within congregations where single people are (unintentionally) shoved to the side, only prayed over to find a spouse, constantly set up with the latest single person to walk in the door, not given leadership roles beyond youth leader, etc. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be in that “on hold” category, where people within your spiritual community don’t value your voice but essentially let it be known that your opinion will count once you are part of a couple. If you are a woman – forget it! – it’s as though you are a non-person until you marry and then you magically matter. This, sadly, also extends to the older singles as well.
I am not sure why “we” have a tendency to do this. Why do we marginalize single people – and then wonder why they don’t stick around to contribute to congregational life? I personally have not felt this way. We currently have many single people in our congregation that fulfill many roles in various tiers of leadership. There is a wonderful woman on our board who is a widow and we’ve offered paid positions in leadership to a few single people – not in spite of their marital status, but simply on the basis that they were highly qualified and marital status played no part in whether they should have the job.
I know this isn’t the case in many congregations. The perception is that you have to be married to fill various “higher level” roles. However, I think it’s time that we challenge the status quo when it comes to how we view and treat the single people in our spiritual communities. We have direction – thousands of years old – from a reputable follower of Yeshua, that shines a much different light on singleness than how we portray it – as the unfortunate spiritual waiting room.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the L-rd, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the L-rd.
But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the L-rd. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of G-d.
1 Corinthians 7:8, 26-40
Some may read this chapter that and think that Paul was against marriage and saw it as an institution for the weak who didn’t have enough self-control to remain single (based on other verses in 1 Cor 7). However, Paul extolled the unique opportunity found in singleness. Paul, who was single, spoke of what every married person already knows. When you are married, your life is not your own. You are a unit and must function in consideration of your spouse and kids, if you have them.
Though there are benefits to marriage, among them a built in support system, marriage divides your attention. You don’t have the opportunity to be solely focused on what the L-rd wants you to do or accomplish as Paul mentions in verses 32-34. This is one of the epic struggles of motherhood as well – you live in a state of suspended animation. Your life goal is to make sure that the human(s) you are raising make it to adulthood (and beyond) in the best shape possible. Everything else comes second to that.
That is my life right now. My oldest just graduated from high school; my second and third are diving headfirst into mid-teen life (which I chauffeur them to); my preteen is starting the slide to middle school extracurricular life; and my two elementary school kids have their own set of activities. As a mom of six, I have learned to be organized and make the most of the time available, however, this year/semester has seen extra issues that my kids have encountered. As their mom, it has been my first priority to take care of them, so the ministry that I know that G-d has called me to – Neshama – has had to be on the back burner. There have been weeks that there were no blog posts. There hasn’t been a Neshama devotional in months, despite that I have everything ready to go except the actual content of the devotional. My sole focus has been to support my kids.
It is times like this when I long for the single life that I never knew. LOL! I envy my friends who have time to pray uninterrupted. (As the background music to me writing this blog right now is my youngest banging on the piano and my two oldest daughters bickering.) I can’t imagine what it’s like to be able to decide that you’re going to pack up and move to a job or ministry opportunity that G-d has made available across the country or the world. My life exists within the radius of my family. Not that I don’t have tremendous opportunities to minister within that sphere, but it lacks the freedom and focus that is found in singleness.
Single people have the blessing of more varied options, more time, and less impediments to ministry. While I am rarely seen out past 8pm, so that I make sure young ones are in bed and not cranky the next day, a single person has the option to teach a late night class or run an evening event. While my brain is cluttered with who has to have their field trip money or what time dance class is this week, there is space in a single person’s brain for vision, possibilities, and thinking outside the routine. Single people have the unique opportunity to be singularly focused on tuning in to the Ruach and being guided to the ends of the earth in pursuit of His calling on their life.
Ask my single friends – I have always said to them, “Don’t be so quick to get married.” You will never get this time back. You will never again answer to no one but G-d. Appreciate the fact that your time, vision, and reach is limitless.
To my fellow leaders, stop looking over or through the single people that G-d has gifted to your congregation. You will find that they have a depth of spiritual maturity honed by having relied solely on G-d. They have a sense of purpose and energy that can bring new life to our spiritual families and communities. They are wonderful leaders, workers, mentors, and visionaries. They are a gift to our synagogues – and they don’t need to be married before we recognize their ability to contribute.