Oh the journey of being a single woman in the church community, where does one begin? Let’s just say I’m an old hand at this game, and the journey of a single woman of ‘marriageable age’ – what that even means is a story for another day – in the church community is a challenging experience. It’s a world that has to be navigated with thick skin and a strong sense of humour.
Firstly, let me say that this is not a church-bashing exercise. It’s more of an opportunity to think of ways we can improve our church environments for all those who come for spiritual fellowship. Having said that, there a few assumptions the church makes about single people that make it hard to treat the church community as a safe space for fellowship.
Here are just a few:
- It is assumed that there is something lacking in your life. That you are incomplete without a partner. You may at one point have heard this: “Your standards are too high, you need to put yourself out there”; “You’re too outspoken, maybe you should be more lady-like”; and my favourite one, “You don’t act like you need someone in your life”. Statements like these can really leave you frustrated and hurt, leave you wondering if you aren’t more than your marital status. When an elder in the church is asking you how you are, do they ask about your spiritual life, whether you are content? What your dreams are for ministry? One doesn’t get a sense that there is concern for your spiritual life, rather than the ticking of boxes as one goes through certain stages in their life. This is of concern as the focus on the external leaves a false sense of security that if this certain aspect of your life is ‘sorted’, you’re okay and yet that is generally not the case. Nothing is ever really as it seems which brings me to the next assumption.
- That contentment will be found once you’ve reached this point in your life. There’s such an urgent push for you to change your marital status and noting the growing divorce rate within the church, this perhaps may not be a healthy approach. I believe the church does not emphasize enough the importance of being whole within yourself outside of a relationship. Who is this young person in Christ? Has God completed the work in this young person before they get married? Have they learnt the lessons they should have? Does this sanctifying process necessarily have a clock? Does it naturally strike at 25 or 30 for all young women?
- So apart from being discontent, it is also paradoxically assumed that you’re this happy go-lucky person whose life is easy with very few responsibilities or challenges. This is probably one of the most hurtful assumptions. So many young people especially in their late 20s and early 30s are either financially or emotionally responsible for their siblings and parents. The majority of their expenses are spent on others. A young person may also be ‘parenting’ their younger siblings and yet when the church is having family life programs, no thought is given to young people that may need some parenting advice too. For example, how one deals with a younger sibling who has turned away from God; is failing at school or; with a parent who may have a chronic illness so they need to find resources for their healthcare and maintain a job to cover all these expenses. Most young people are dealing with the combination of such challenges. This leads me to my final point.
- The assumption that guidance or counselling is not wanted is a fallacy. So many young people are dealing with questions about how to handle life on a day-to-day basis. As an elder, can you show me how to budget for ‘black tax’ and yet maintain my month-to-month expenses? How can I maintain my spiritual life the day I feel so burdened by life’s pressures? How does one deal with life’s frustrations, when you feel stuck, like life is not moving forward? How do I take care of those around me who need help and also continue contributing to ministry?
I could go on and on, the list is endless. My point is, marriage is a beautiful gift that God granted the world with, and in time those who are meant to have that gift will receive it. In the mean time, let’s treat young single people as individuals outside of this status. Can they be seen as adults who also have responsibilities and would probably benefit more from your advice in other aspects of their lives. It’s interesting, the church community exists within society and with that comes common expectations of young people of a certain age. However, the world doesn’t care about my soul and my salvation, shouldn’t the church? Just a thought…
Larissa is a beautiful Rwandan girl by way of DRC, Swaziland and now South Africa with an ever curious mind about God and the world around her. A driven, loyal person who knows who she is, a bit stubborn but always up for a robust debate. Larissa is sweet and courageous all at the same time, and a pleasure to be around.