Free to serve in singleness

Recently, I read an article titled, “Why Do Churches Treat Singleness Like A Problem” in which the author shared how her church treats singles almost as though they are outcasts.  Churches that separate their congregation based on age/stage-of-life don’t know what to do with single adults; we don’t fit with the college crowd, but the next step up is young married couples.  Where do singles fit in?  How can singles serve the body in their singleness?

Growing up in the church, I’ve heard both extremes from “you won’t believe how God will use you once you are married” to “the apostle Paul says being single is best”.  During college, and for a few years following, I was in that time when it seemed like everyone I knew was getting married.  And those that were already married started having kids.  For a time, I longed to get married; sometimes I wanted it so badly, I would physically ache.  Well-intentioned friends would tell me that “it will happen in God’s time” or “I met my spouse as soon as I stopped looking.”  I got asked what I was doing to prepare for marriage, and reminded that God had to get me and my future husband to the point we were both ready for marriage.  While (some of) these things might be true, they honestly weren’t helpful.  What I was missing was someone telling me how to be content, how to thrive, as a single woman.  I didn’t have anyone helping learn how to live in the “waiting room” (yes, one friend called singleness the “waiting room”).

Why is singleness treated as second-best?  The “waiting room”?  Seriously?  Do we, as a church body, think that God can’t use single adults, or that He doesn’t give gifts until we are married?  I attended one church (for a short time) in which single adults only served in the nursery.  Teaching Sunday School classes, children’s church, or Bible studies (no matter the age group), was only asked of married couples.  Since joining Redeemer Presbyterian Church, I have been given numerous opportunities to serve the body using my singleness.  As a result, I have discovered that being a single adult gives me a freedom to serve in ways that married adults would find more difficult.

My freedom has allowed me to serve in everyday, simple ways.  Being free to house/pet sit for a week, and driving families to/from the airport so they don’t have to leave their car are just two of a number of ways that I have been able to serve families in my church.  As a single adult, I don’t have to worry about loading up the kids to drive someone to the airport; I don’t have to compare schedules with a spouse when someone needs a house sitter.  One family called and asked me to babysit with one day’s notice because their scheduled sitter canceled.  Serving in these ways would be more difficult (if not impossible) if I had a spouse and kids.

The freedom of singleness has also allowed me to serve the body by taking an active role in children’s ministry.  As shocking as this might sound, singles do know a thing or two about working with and ministering to children.  Because my pastors and elders didn’t dismiss me as a single adult, nor tell me that God would use me when I got married, I have experienced the amazing freedom of God’s grace in serving some of our youngest members.  I have been allowed to discover the gifts that God has given me and use those gifts within the church.  These opportunities have helped me thrive as a single adult.

Singleness is not a “waiting room” where we sit and do nothing, waiting for something better to come along.  Nor is it something to just get through.  We should not simply accept singleness with the attitude of “well, this is where God has me now so I’d better be content.”  Rather, we should be thriving in singleness, serving the body in ways that only single adults can, and looking for everyday, simple ways that our singleness makes us free to serve.  Pastors, elders, and leaders can help by providing numerous and various opportunities for singles to serve within the church, allowing single adults to serve in whatever area they are gifted.

It’s okay to say “no”

Telling people no, that I can’t help them or can’t do something, is the hardest thing in the world for me to do.  I don’t like it at all.  When friends, family, or coworkers ask for help, I want to immediately jump in and do whatever is needed.  But, I’ve learned this year that always saying “yes” isn’t a good thing.

The desire to want to help is good.  Loving people means we do what we can to help.  But, I have to stop and ask myself why I am really helping.  What are my motives?  Do I worry about what people think of me, and therefore, am looking for some kind of recognition or praise?  Do I struggle with control issues, thinking that it won’t get done unless I accomplish it?  Do I genuinely want to help my friend?

The answer to all of these is “yes.”  Yes, I agree to do things because I genuinely want to help.  But, I also say yes when asked because I want people to view me a certain way, or because I think it won’t get done without my help.  Do wrong motives mean I should say “no”?  Not necessarily.  It does mean that I need to do a heart check and ask myself why I’m agreeing.

But, there truly is a time when it’s okay to say “no”.  Even if I have the right motives in helping, it still may not be the right thing to do.  I’ve learned this year that constantly saying “yes” to everything I’m asked to do leads to exhaustion, burn out, and causes me to neglect the work I am responsible for and called to do.

We encourage our children to be helpful; we teach them that Jesus wants us to help people the same way He did.  But, when I read the gospels, I see that there are times Jesus didn’t help people.  Luke 5:15-16 says, “But now even more the report about him [Jesus] went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities.  But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”  People were coming to hear Jesus preach and to be healed, and Jesus left.  Why?  He healed many other people, why not all of them?  Jesus knew that in order to fulfill his calling, to accomplish what he needed, he had to have time alone.  He needed to get away and just be in the presence of the Father.  He needed to focus on his relationship with the Father and what he was called to do. 

We need to do the same thing.  Sometimes, I need to say “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you right now.  I really need to focus on my responsibilities.”  Yes, sometimes helping someone means sacrifice — a sacrifice of time or money or anything else.  But there is a time when I should say “no”, and realize that it’s okay.  I need to stop feeling guilty because I choose to honor the previous commitment I have made, or because I need to focus on something that takes priority over my friend’s request.  The world won’t stop spinning because I can’t help someone right that second.  We won’t stop being friends because they had to go ask someone else.  I need to follow the example of my Elder Brother and withdraw occasionally; spend some time with my Father and focus on what matters.

Single, and not waiting

Why do people assume that all single adults are lonely and just sitting around waiting to get married?  Last month, a friend sent me the “Single’s Guide To Surviving The Holidays.”  I didn’t even bother reading it.  Why would I need help “surviving” the holidays? Perhaps a better question would be, “why can’t I thrive during the holidays” or simply enjoy the time spent among family and friends?

As a single woman in my early thirties, I’ve heard most of the clichés and hollow reassurances that people offer.  In high school,  I was applauded for being picky and having high standards for what I wanted in a relationship.  After graduation,  I heard numerous friends and family say, “I met my spouse in college.”  When I finished college, the phrase was, “God will bring him when you least expect it” or “as soon as I stopped looking for a spouse,  I met my husband/wife.”  The assumption has always been that marriage was in the plan.  Friends have suggested that I ask someone to set me up,  or even try online dating.  And yes, there was a time when I thought I wanted to be married, but looking back it was for all the wrong reasons.

What I find interesting through all of this is the underlying assumption that single = waiting to get married.  Not once has anyone assumed I *want* to be single, or that singleness could be God’s best for me.  Singleness is portrayed as something to get through, as though it is an illness from which a person will eventually get cured.   Yet, at this time, I would say that being single is God’s best for me.  If this is where He has me,  it must be for His glory and my good.  He has given me multiple opportunities to serve and use my gifts to bless others. I have a passion to work with children.  The Lord provided a full-time teaching job and I help coordinate children’s ministry at my church.  He is showing me how to thrive as a single woman,  how to use my gifts (which include singleness) to build up the body.

Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  This doesn’t mean we follow God to get things from him,  or that he owes us anything.  Instead, as we delight ourselves in him, or desires begin to align with his and he is pleased to grant them.  As I follow God daily, and draw closer to him, I start wanting what he wants.  If I desire something for the wrong reason (seeking what I want above the Lord), then granting that desire would not be a good, loving thing for him to do. So he works in my heart to change that desire.  For me, that’s what he did with marriage.  I’m not single and waiting to be married. I’m not single and longing or looking for marriage.  I’m not single and preparing for marriage.  I’m not single and anything.  I’m just single.  This is where he has called me, and where he is using me to build his kingdom……as a single woman.

How Many Kids Do You Have?

As a teacher and a children’s ministry volunteer, I get asked frequently, “so how many kids do you have?” People assume that because I work with children I must have my own. I used to get offended by this; now I just laugh. If I feel like starting the discussion, I tell them “I have close to 80 children.” Once the person catches on, he/she usually follows with, “I mean how many of them are yours.”

Here is where I really want to laugh. First, why does working with children mean I must have kids of my own? Does being single imply I don’t like children? Second, they are all mine. The students I teach and the kids at my church are “my kids.” Why does this seem strange to some people? Did I give birth to them? No. Do I love them, pray for them, disciple them, invest in their lives? Yes. And as a member of a PCA church, I took a vow to assist the parents in the raising of their children. They are my kids. I laugh when I hear them laugh; I miss them when they are gone; I cry when their family moves away; and I have great joy when they smile and hug me. I love them. These are my kids.

It’s not about biology. It’s about having a heart that loves to see the joy in their faces when they discover something new, a passion to see them grow in faith, and a prayer that they never lose the innocence to believe anything is possible.

Celebrate

My head and heart are so full that I don’t think my fingers can type fast enough to keep up with my thoughts.  I want to scream, cry, jump up and down, pump my fist in the air, twirl in circles, shout; in short, I want to celebrate.  Why?  Because tonight I watched God’s faithfulness in action.  I was witness to God answering the long prayers of many people as Redeemer Presbyterian Church was particularized.  God provided men to stand as elders in our church, brothers to help shoulder the burden of our pastors and shepherd the flock.  This has been a long, and sometimes difficult, process.  At times, despair whispered in our ears causing us to wonder if this would ever happen.  Yet, even in the midst of our doubts, God remained faithful.  He continued to work His plan in His way even when we wondered if He was still working.  He never left us, never forsook us, and never stopped loving us.  In fact, all of this was evidence of His love for us.  Lessons learned, truths discovered, battles fought, and relationships built were all part of the process He guided us through.  Our church would not be what it is now if God had taken us down an easier or shorter path.  We still have much to learn and many more areas to experience growth.  Yet, through it all His way is perfect.  His steadfast love never fails.

“When darkness seems to hide His face….”

On my drive home last week, I saw the brightest, most beautiful rainbow in the sky.  It took my breath away.  I noticed, as I continued my drive, that I saw the rainbow most clearly in the places where the clouds were darkest.  In the last couple of years, I’ve revisited some of the darkest times in my life.  I remember going through those times and thinking I couldn’t see anything but the dark clouds–fear, despair, believing I was alone.  Yet, as  I look back now, I see that those times have become dear to me.  Those are the times when I most clearly see the hand of my Father in my life.

The second lesson about faith that I’ve learned from the weather is not to base faith on feelings.  This lesson came one day while walking in the sunshine and realizing how cold it was outside.  Even though the sun was out and bright, all I felt was the cold wind.  Did that mean the sun was no longer warm?  Of course not!  Do we cease believing the sun exists simply because the clouds hide it?  How silly!  So why do I doubt God’s love during times when I don’t “feel” it?  He hasn’t changed.  His steadfast love for me hasn’t changed.

When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In ev’ry high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.

I Know Who I Am

As a child, I remember playing pretend games with friends. We would assign roles, make up the rules as we went along, and create our own stories and worlds. I’ve listened the last few weeks as children at my church have been playing pretend games. Each time they start playing, at least one of the children yells, “I know who I am!”

That statement makes me stop and think.  Could I say with the same confidence, “I know who I am!”  Where is my identity found?  Do I find identity in my job and what I do?  Am I defined by how I look or dress?  In one country song, the artist defines herself by saying,

“I am Rosemary’s granddaughter
The spitting image of my father
And when the day is done my momma’s still my biggest fan
Sometimes I’m clueless and I’m clumsy
But I’ve got friends that love me
And they know just where I stand
It’s all a part of me
And that’s who I am”

Is my family the extent of who I am–the child of divorce, second child of four?  Am I the sum total of a list of traits–medium height, blonde hair, blue eyes, Oklahoma accent?

Where we find our identity determines what is important to us, what we will pursue, and how we will live.  If my identity is something about me, such as a physical trait or my job, then I will do whatever is necessary to protect those things, and I will take personal offense when you criticize them.

Think of Alice’s conversation with the Caterpillar in chapter 5 of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”:

‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

‘What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’

‘I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’

‘I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.

‘I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, ‘for I can’t understand it myself to begin with;

When our identity is found in things that change, we end up like Alice, unsure of who we are.

What if my identity is not actually about me?  What if I found my identity in something outside myself?  What difference would it make?  If my identity is firmly rooted in God’s acceptance and love for me, then I’m not as affected when things happen at my job or when a person doesn’t like or approve of me or when my family has issues, which they will. Those situations and words will still hurt, but they won’t crush me or cause me to doubt my Heavenly Father’s love for me.  I am free to open myself up to others, to invest my life in theirs, because who I am is found outside of me.

Here I Raise Mine Ebenezer

September and October 2013 felt like the start to a Snoopy story–“It was a dark and stormy night”. It started on 16 September when a friend wrote and asked if I would share a particularly difficult and painful part of my story to help others. I was terrified, but wrote my story, asked a couple of friends to proof it for me, and sent it on to my friend. A week and a half later, on 25 September, I was in my first major car accident. My little ’98 Monte Carlo lost a fight with Suburban that didn’t know she was supposed to yield on a left turn. I got checked out at the ER and released to go home, and spent the next few weeks learning how to deal with insurance companies.

The biggest emotional hit came on 15 October when I finally picked a fight with God and gave Him the full force of my anger. For two hours, I wrote out every emotion, every thought, every accusation. I cried more in those two hours than I ever had before.

In the midst of all this, I still had to continue my teaching/tutoring jobs and was trying to find a car to replace mine, which was totaled in the accident. I could not figure out what the Lord could possibly be doing in all of this. With everything that was going on, how could I believe God was good and loving and faithful? I struggled more with each passing day to trust God, to believe that He loved me. Doesn’t love mean you protect the one you love from harm? Instead, God seemed to be doing the opposite; He was removing my sense of safety.  Why was He refusing to let me feel safe and protected? Was I always going to be left feeling vulnerable and exposed?

Then, on 22 October, I was hospitalized with a staph infection. I was in the hospital for a week, during which time I underwent a minor surgery to remove the infection, followed by a week recovering before I could return to work. That was it. I was beyond the limits of my endurance. Never before had I felt so weak, helpless, and out of control. I knew God was sovereign, yet found no comfort in that because I didn’t trust the God who was in control.

As I recovered from the infection and the surgery necessary to heal it, God brought me to a place where I literally had to rely on Him to help me take a step forward.  I didn’t have the strength or energy to walk from the couch to the dining room table.  Slowly, I began to regain some strength; energy took much longer.  Yet, I have seen how He brought me through that time, how He upheld me and walked with me.  Physically, emotionally, spiritually, it was a difficult time.  But God brought me through with a deeper understanding of who He is.

Redeemed

Ever have one particular line from a song stuck in your head? I recently heard a song by Big Daddy Weave entitled “Redeemed” and I have had one line of the song stuck in my head for days.  The line fits with something my pastor said when he preached through Ephesians 6.  My pastor spoke about standing on ground already won by Christ–standing firm on the gospel.  In the song “Redeemed,” the line stuck in my head says “stop fighting a fight/that’s already been won.”  Indwelling sin still exists; I still struggle with sin everyday.  So, what fight has already been won?  The one that makes me a child of God.  Satan’s most painful arrow causes me to doubt that God loves me.  My salvation has already been purchased.  I am redeemed.  Romans 8:37-39 tells me NOTHING can separate me from the love of God.  NOTHING.  Stand firm on that, friends.  The battle I have to stop fighting is the one that makes me question my standing before my Father.  Focus on the battles that need fighting–the ones with the sin that is still in my heart.  Yet, I must also remember that I’m not fighting those battles on my own.  Ephesians 6 says to stand strong in the Lord and the strength of His might…..not my own.

“Redeemed”
by Big Daddy Weave

Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “Son,
Stop fighting a fight that’s already been won”

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I’m redeemed

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, “Child lift up your head”
I remember, oh God, You’re not done with me yet

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be

Because I don’t have to be the old man inside of me
‘Cause his day is long dead and gone
Because I’ve got a new name, a new life, I’m not the same
And a hope that will carry me home

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, ’cause I’m not who I used to be

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, yeah, I’m not who I used to be
Oh, God, I’m not who I used to be
Jesus, I’m not who I used to be
‘Cause I am redeemed
Thank God, redeemed