10 Ways to Encourage Your Single Friends

ImageThere are a billion lists out there entitled “What NOT to say to your single friends.”  Many entries on these lists are obvious.  (For example: “There are plenty of fish in the sea.”  Really?!  If that’s the case, why haven’t I had a date in 6 months?)  But many of the things people say to their single friends are actually true, or at least partially true.  For example:  “In order to find the right one, you have to be the right one.”  Of course, if I want to marry a guy who is wholeheartedly pursuing the Lord, a man of upright character, I can’t expect him to be attracted to me if I am not a godly woman.  However, the reason I pursue holiness should be a desire to please God, not a potential future mate.  Neither should I allow what someone else is looking for shape my character or personality.

Singles:  You are responsible for your heart.  Even if your friend is insensitive and/or ignorant of how to relate to you or encourage you, assume the best about them.  They want to help!  They truly mean well.  Don’t allow bitterness to take root in your heart just because others may not relate to you perfectly.

Married people:  It’s more about your heart than about what you say, which of course is determined by what is in your heart.

Here goes.

1.  Don’t assume anything.  Just because you are married and happy doesn’t mean that I am miserable because I’m single.  Being single doesn’t mean I’m lonely and desperately looking for a mate.  And just because I was completely content last time I talked to you doesn’t mean I am today.  My moods change with my hormones, how many wedding invitations I’ve received, and the health of my relationship with the Lord. 

2.  Do listen to what I am saying and believe me.  Recently I had a conversation with a friend at church.  She asked me how I was doing, and I told her I was fantastic.  My business is thriving, I’ve got great friends, I love my life.  I even told her that I love being single and have found great purpose in it.  Her response was, “Don’t worry.  You still have plenty of time.  God has someone out there for you.”  I walked away feeling belittled, as if my contentment was not valid.  I felt that because she was happily married, she couldn’t believe that I could be single and equally happy and fulfilled.  And I felt old; if someone feels the need to say that you still have time, you clearly are running out of it fast. 

I wanted her to validate and affirm that the Lord was using me.  I wanted her to be excited that I was learning so much, and living with purpose.  Instead I felt as if she thought my life hadn’t actually begun yet.

Now let me give a caveat here.  I understand that sometimes we singles put a brave face on, and say that we are alright when really we are not.  Which brings me to my next “do”:

3.  Do be discerning and do listen to the Holy Spirit.  If you think that I might be lying to you about how I am doing, ask more questions.  Be specific.  Don’t say anything just because you think you need to say something.  If you are unsure, be quiet.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to ask, what to say, and how to minister to my needs, spoken or unspoken. 

4.  Do ask questions gently and in the appropriate context.  But please only ask if you really care.  One of the most compassionate moments I’ve experienced was with a Bible study leader.  Three of us were talking, and my marital status came up.  She turned to me and asked, with genuine interest in her voice, “Is this a source of heartbreak for you?”  And I was able to respond and share with her honestly that sometimes, it is a source of great joy.  But sometimes it is a source of equally as great despondency.  Do ask questions like this that will help you understand what is going on with your friend.

5.  Do treat us like adults, not children.   I recently was speaking with a business contact, and in an attempt at small talk, she asked if I was married.  When I responded, “No,” she said, “Oh.  (Pregnant pause.)  You’re a young lady.”  I longed to say, “Actually, I’m a grown-up.  I own a successful business, live alone and fully support myself, and direct a thriving ministry.”  But I smiled politely and changed the subject.  While it is true that many of us don’t have the responsibilities that a family brings, most of us are still adults contributing to society and the church.  Keep in mind that while you may be responsible for more people in your household, you also have a mate to help you.  Whether it’s decision-making, financial resources, household chores, or experiencing the joys and sorrows of life, you are doing it together.  I’m doing it alone.   

6.  Do assume that whatever you may say to us, we are mentally responding: “That’s nice, but you get to have sex.”  Let’s just be honest for a minute: Christian singles are obsessed with sex.  Most of us have healthy sex drives, and we live in a culture that worships sexual fulfillment.  And we aren’t getting any.  Please don’t tell us, “It’s not like it is in the movies.”  Or, “It’s really not all that great.”  Doing that is like eating a huge piece of luscious chocolate cake slathered in ice cream in front of a diabetic and telling him that it doesn’t really taste very good and he’s not missing much. 

7.  Do ask if I want to be invited to events where the population will be predominantly married people.  I don’t know if this is true for guys, but when married women get together, they have absolutely no filter.  I was once at a girls’ night where there was only one other single gal.  I do not exaggerate when I say that 75% of the conversation revolved around how they got pregnant, how they found out they were pregnant, and sharing incredibly graphic childbirth stories.  The other 25% of the conversation involved trying to figure out why the two of us were still single. 

Now I fully understand that sometimes moms don’t always have the opportunity to talk with other women.  I understand that sharing these stories is a rite of passage.  But it is incredibly uncomfortable for single women to hear how you timed sex so that you could get pregnant.  Please be sensitive to us when you are in mixed company!

Recently my friend approached me with great sensitivity.  She was putting together a weekend getaway, but she knew I would be the only single woman there.  She asked if I wanted to go, and expressed her desire that I be there.  But she only wanted me to come if I felt comfortable.  I was so thankful for her sensitivity but I declined her invitation because I knew that I couldn’t handle it.  I was able to do so without bitterness or regret because she had been so gracious to me. 

8.  Do think about clichés before you utter them.  As I mentioned before I started my list, there are many things you may want to say to us that are true, or have some measure of truth.  But we may not be able to hear it coming from you.  No single person ever wants to hear, “Singleness is a gift!” or “It must be nice to have so much free time.”  Please consider the implication in the phrase, “It’s when you are content being single that God will bring someone into your life.” 

9.  Don’t treat us as a problem to be fixed.  I once had a lengthy conversation with a pastor’s wife about the great need for effective ministry to singles.  I expressed my contentment with singlehood and how passionately I desire to see other singles live with purpose, passion, and joy.  She asked no less than 5 times throughout the conversation, “Have you met so-and-so?” 

Please listen and take the time to try and understand our needs, especially if we express them.   Ultimately, our greatest need is to be pointed, in the most compassionate way possible, back to Jesus.

10.  Do/Don’t set us up.  This is a tricky one.  I am a firm believer in the efficacy of being set up by a mutual friend who knows both of you well.  I have in fact asked my married friends whose judgment I trust to set me up with a complementary person.  I know multiple happily married couples who were connected by friends who thought, “Whenever I see you, I think of this guy I know…”  However, I have also had friends say, and I quote, “You’re tall, and he’s tall.  I think you should go out.” 

Refer to #9.  If you want to set us up just because I’m nice and he’s nice and we are both the only singles you know, or because you are happily married and you want everyone else to be, pause a moment and pray and reflect before you say or do anything.  Ask your friend if they are open to being set up.

Please take into account mutual interests and the spiritual maturity level of the people you want to set up.  Just because you like both of us doesn’t mean that we are a good match.  But if both people involved are going in similar directions in life and are open to the idea of being set up, then by all means, set the wheels in motion.

I know it might seem difficult to believe that some of these conversations have actually happened.  But they are all true.  I’ve heard all of these things and more, many from godly people whom I greatly admire.  I know that those who figure in my stories are genuinely well-meaning and concerned for me.  I cannot ask you with greater fervency to consider carefully what you say and how you say it. Measure everything against Scripture, and speak the truth in love.

You have the opportunity to become a source of encouragement and strength to your single friends, or a source of awkwardness, belittling, and despondency.  Please treat us with sensitivity and respect.

Consume Me

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It’s easy to tell what most occupies my thoughts and feelings because that is my most frequent and passionate topic of conversation.  I love my job, and I spend a lot of time there, so sometimes when I’m talking with my friends, I have to hold myself back because I realize that they probably aren’t all that interested in the finer points of classical ballet technique.  More often than not, though, my conversation starts with, “So, have you had any dates lately?” and ends with whining about still being single.  I’ve found that at my lowest points, I have become completely eaten up by the difficulties of singleness that I have no room left for communion with Christ.  My desire for marriage has become a gilded statue that I’ve set up in my heart, and when I retreat into my thoughts, the first thing I do is kneel at that shrine of desire.  I’ve got to take down that idol and put the Lord back on the throne, and that involves going to the cross and dying to desire.

Here’s the kicker: desiring marriage is natural and completely legitimate, but I need to ask myself these questions.  Is it something that is impinging upon my faith in the Lord?  Is it causing me to doubt His goodness or sovereignty, His grace or mercy?  Is it something that I desire above holiness?  Is it something I desire more than God’s glory in me?  Then I have to die to that desire.  Not in the sense that it may never be fulfilled, though that is a possibility I should consider.  But in the sense that I need to get rid of the things that are holding me back from full fellowship with the Lord, from knowing, loving, and serving Him wholeheartedly.  Singleness becomes a burden when I carry it myself and hold onto it instead of rolling it over to onto the Lord.  I need to allow Him to consume my desire so that I can be consumed by Him.

“How do you do that?” one might well ask.  Certainly I don’t have this one nailed down.  But I guess the best thing I can say is that surrender involves trust.  It is easy to sit in church and sing “I surrender, I am Yours.” But is that only because I think He will give me what I want?  Or maybe because the music is inspiring?  Real surrender means I am His regardless of where He takes me and what He gives or doesn’t give me.  It means my marital state is His too.  Because if I say “I surrender all” and I mean it, then I am His to do with as He wills.  He is in charge of my life.

So fancy words and high-minded ideas of surrender aside, what it boils down to is a moment by moment battle with my mind and heart.  Every time I find myself thinking about/obsessing over/fantasizing about a future mate, I’ve got to take that thought and desire and tell the Lord it’s His.  Verbally, if need be.  I’ve got to tell Him every day that I trust His plan and accept what He has in store for me that day. I must elevate my desire for God above my desire for marriage.  I do that by spending time in His word, in worship, in prayer.  It’s not easy.  My flesh fights it.  I would so much rather make myself miserable pining over dreams of a romantic future than tell the Lord I love Him and want Him to use me for His glory.  He didn’t promise it would be easy.  He did say it would be good.  Lord, consume my desires so that I can be consumed by You.

Blindness and Blessing

As I was doing my Bible study this morning, I came across this question: “How do you feel God singing a song of love over you?”  Usually when I read things like this, I have a Sunday school response that pops into my head, “Jesus died on the cross for me.”  But today, I’m ashamed to say, my first thought was of my material blessings: my fabulous apartment, a functioning car, family and friends who love me, a job I can’t wait to get to each day.  I was immediately taken aback.  I am such an American!  I think God loves me because I have things that make me happy and comfortable.  Which is why, when I get in a funk about being single, sometimes I wonder if God is taking as good care of me as He should, or if He really loves me if He is withholding the blessing of a mate. 

I started thinking more about blessings, and how the Bible says that we have every spiritual blessing in Christ.  And how I equate comfort with joy, and blessing with having what I want.  I thought about how I don’t really thank God for the spiritual blessings I have in Christ because they are often so intangible.  I mean, I can see my apartment and my car, I can touch my family.  But eternal life?  Righteousness in Christ?  I know I have these things, but I don’t often take time to experience them on more than an intellectual level.   What would that even look like?

What if all these tangible blessings were taken away?  I would be no less blessed in Christ than I am now.  What if I had the additional blessing of a mate?  I would be no more blessed in Christ than I am now.  Not that I shouldn’t be thankful for and enjoy the material things God has given me, but they are not the proof of God’s love for me.  The cross of Jesus is.  What if I experience desiring the blessing of a mate so that my appreciation of the spiritual blessings God has given me is sharpened?  Like a blind person, whose other senses are sharpened because one is missing.  They are keenly aware of the most minute sounds and their fingers become sensitive enough to read what appears to be a complex system of bumps because they are not distracted by sight.  As I am going through life alone, how am I more keenly aware of God’s presence and help? 

Would I be more attuned to my spiritual blessings with a mate, or would he be a hindrance to me experiencing the richness of God’s love for me?  Does my desire for a husband drive me to seek pleasure and fulfillment in God, or am I trying to find satisfaction in earthly things?

When Hope Seems Lost

Hope. It has become a heartbreaking word to me. Every time I meet someone and start dating and it doesn’t work out, my hopes are dashed. My hopes of one day being married have gradually faded to almost nothing. Once flourishing, they are now neglected and walled up in a corner of my heart that I rarely open, in fear of overwhelming disappointment.
People love to throw around brave phrases like ‘hope does not disappoint.’ It’s hard not to be accusatory toward God when hope goes unfulfilled. So I’ve taught myself to smother my hope for a mate, to say, “God desires something else for me, and because it is His plan, it must be better.” I work to keep my faith in God’s goodness intact and my hope minimally alive. Because I know God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness, with the eternal part of my being than with my physical body.
But still, however difficult it may be, when my hopes are crushed, I have to reevaluate where my hope lies. Because God doesn’t lie. So if He says, “Those who hope in Me will not be put to shame,” and He is not a liar, somewhere my hope got sidetracked.
My heart has grown small in the hope for a husband. Just like when you go on a diet, and your stomach shrinks because you are eating less, so your appetite shrinks. My heart’s appetite has been become too small and self-centered to absorb what God has for it, and I’m wasting away because my hope is feeding on itself. I have to increase my heart’s appetite for hope. But what do I feed it?
This morning I read Romans 5: 1-5. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given to us.” (Romans 5: 1-5, NIV.)
There’s two things I am supposed to rejoice in: sufferings and the hope of the glory of God. Wow. This wrecks me. I don’t rejoice in suffering. I complain about it. But according to this passage, I’m not supposed to rejoice in sufferings only for their own sake, I’m to rejoice in them because of what they produce: perseverance, character, and hope. Hope of the glory of God.
That word for glory means the character, image, or reflection of. So if I hope and exult in God’s character being glorified and known by others, if I hope in God’s character being worked out in me, my hope will not disappoint me. In another passage, Paul talks about his suffering for the sake of the gospel. He goes on to say, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporal, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:15-18, NIV). Paul’s trials were certainly bigger than my momentary longing for a husband. And marriage, as wonderful as it is, is only temporary, for our time on earth; I am an eternal being.
Now if only my heart can grow enough to apprehend this truth, hope will bloom in every corner. If my joy is found in God being glorified, then my hope ought to be found there too. If, by my being single, God is glorified more than my being married, and if anyone is encouraged or strengthened in their faith, then bring it on. Because my joy is only going to increase.
It doesn’t mean that I’m unspiritual if my heart still aches over my unfulfilled desire. It just means that my main spiritual appetite has to be satisfied with the feast that the Lord has for me in Him. And if one day He chooses to bless me with the sweetness of marriage, like dessert after a great meal, then I will praise Him for it. But in the meantime, I am no less satisfied spiritually because I have all the richness of Christ to feast on.
I’m not going to stop hoping that one day I’ll be married. But that hope always has to be swallowed up by the hope and joy I find in God’s glory. If the lesser hope starts to choke out or efface the greater one, then I need to feed and stimulate the greater. Maybe that’s what David had in mind when he said, “I run in the path of Your commands, for You have enlarged my heart (Psalm 119:32).”

True Joy

The other day I was doing a Bible study on the verse “His divine power has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness.” The author asked the question, “How do you feel about this verse?” Which is a funny question, since it doesn’t really matter how I feel about God’s word since it is true no matter what. But I decided to answer the question anyway. And to tell the truth, I struggled with my answer. Because there is a part of me that feels very skeptical about this verse. I mean, there are Christians across the globe who are starving, and need food. Christians in jail who need to be released. My lovely young friend who suffers from a debilitating illness and needs to be healed. And very often, I feel like I need a spouse, for my heart’s sake, for my purity’s sake, and for my sanity’s sake. Clearly this verse is talking about need on a different level than I am.
It helps, in some measure, to put things in perspective. I’m not the only person hurting in the world. There are women whose hearts ache because they are unable to have children. There are those who long to serve the Lord in a career of ministry, but have found the doors closed. And there are those truly suffering for our faith all over the world. My lack seems small compared to that. If the Lord allows me to be in need of something I perceive as vital to my life and godliness, there must be something else I need more. If I think I need a husband so that I can be fulfilled emotionally, satisfied sexually, or helped spiritually, and the Lord has not given me a husband, then I must look to the Lord to fill those needs.
But my even with some perspective, my pain and need are still legitimate. So I have to cry to the Lord, “Why do You say ‘no’ to real needs?” And the answer comes back sweeter than I could imagine. “My precious child, there is nothing you need more than Me. I am enough for every need, every desire of your longing heart. And I am able to satisfy your heart more completely than you yet know. Find true joy in Me.”
I admit I don’t have that nailed down yet. It’s true that when I feel the most pain and I choose to turn my heart to the Lord, there is a joy that I can’t explain, though the pain never fully leaves. But I think joy and heartache are not mutually exclusive terms here on earth. That’s why heaven is so wonderful, because there, joy is perfect. Every tear is wiped away and every heartache is extinguished in the beautiful presence of the Lord, where every need is perfectly met forever.