Category Archives: singleness

Parenting isn’t just for parents

Sitting in church a few weeks ago listening to a sermon on praying parents from the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 I started to do what I often do with sermons on parenting -switch off and think about something else. But then I stopped and realised that this affected me too not just for when I might have a few little sams but much more generally.  Parenting is also for those of us who don’t have physical offspring.

In the Old Testament children were seen as a sign of blessing, and were important for more than just the obvious reasons. God had chosen Israel to be his people and to demonstrate to the nations what life with Yahweh at the centre was like.  They had been instructed to multiply, and because theirs was a physical people with a geographic land the primary way the people of God grew was by having children. Things changed when Jesus (who never did get married) arrived.  After the death, burial, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, all of a sudden membership of God’s covenant community was open to anyone, from any nation or ethnic group. From the time of Jesus on God’s people grew primarily not through childbirth but by new birth – by making disciples. This is what lies behind Paul talking about it being ‘better not to marry’ in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul also talks about Timothy being his son in the faith.

So it seems to me if we add all this up together then we need to hear more sermons in church about parenting, and those of us who don’t have kids, or who are single are also involved. Each one of us can ‘parent’ or disciple those who are younger than us in age and in the faith (or who have no faith). In an era when so many family units are broken, the younger generation need older role models, older people who will believe in them, encourage them, help them grow up, pass on their life experience, wisdom and story of following Jesus. That doesn’t just mean grandparents but all of us who are capable of investing in others. Imagine the sort of community where ‘parenting’ is a responsibility assumed by everyone and where each of us is surrounded by mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children we can call our own…

So any women on the go?

I had to restrain a strong desire to punch an elderly relative for this comment at my gran’s funeral several years ago. Whether I had or not was irrelevant. In my moment of grief all she was interested in was my relationship status, not the fact I may have been upset. This is one of the things that really bugs me about the Christian community in the North at least. It’s obsessed with relationships – which are a good thing but not everything, and in fact they have a very poor theology of relationships. There seems a massive pressure for people to get married. And so many christians get married so young, and some of those marriages run into problems. Northern Irish Christians all need to read some Hybels wisdom in Making Life Work (which is a fantastic book) or Fit to be Tied. It could only have good results.

Its one of the things that frustrates me about church. Sometimes I feel it would be easier to fit in if I was in a couple. Maybe I’m just more sensitive to it, having grown up with parents who split up when I was young, and mum sharing some really hurtful comments made by other Christian couples like – “if you were still together we could go out like we used to”. Can couples not spend time with single people? Are they so insecure about the stability of their relationship that they can’t be reminded of some of the harsh realities of life?

I was really pleased to hear a friend’s minister say from the front – “we will not be a church that only invites you for dinner if you’re a couple”, recognising that disturbing reality that exists in some churches. In churches that clearly are missing something major about all that stuff Jesus kept talking about when he called his followers to love one another, to show hospitality. I don’t remember there being any qualifiers, in fact that was the whole point of the good samaritan parable. Yet for single people churches can be lonely places.

It’s another reason why I have serious issues with John Eldridge. I read Wild at Heart a couple of years ago. While lots of people seem to think he says some good things, I had to restrain myself from throwing the book across the room on several occasions. His theology is woefully inadequate, especially when it comes to singleness. As in he doesn’t have a theology of singleness. I wondered why he didn’t really use Jesus as a role model for men – it would seem an obvious choice, but then Jesus was single and that kind of blows his theory out of the water. Passages like Matthew 19.12 and 1 Corinthians 7 are conveniently ignored by Eldridge where Jesus and Paul commend singleness.

Now I’m not just taking a pop at Eldridge but something that is endemic in the Christian community and has and is damaging lots of people. Churches sometimes assume marriage is the norm and everyone else needs married to sort them out.

In Genesis when God says its not good for man to be alone, I wonder if we read too much into that in taking it to be purely about marriage. If God lives in the community of the trinity surely what He was doing there was creating community for humanity – which is something larger than marriage, which is one expression of that. Maybe what our churches need more of is loving inclusive community with the recognition that marriage is not the be all and end all and recognition that singleness is exalted in the bible. Maybe then we might really see God’s kingdom touching earth and many of us who are broken and hurting actually finding a home…

Check out Tim Chester’s blog where he has been posting some great stuff on marriage and singleness – especially this morning’s post which precipitated this soapbox rant and has some fantastic stuff in it.

Soapbox – aware of the ironic timing of this post….