navigating lonely days

It was a simple question. “How are you doing?” I asked. She paused, looked down and then back up, mustered a pensive smile, and said, “I’m okay.” Her response would have satisfied most people. Not me. I sensed the underlying hurt. Indeed, I identified with it in my own right. So I listened as she briefly shared just a snippet of her heart, her loneliness.

I’ve been there. In my own way I resonate with her heart’s cry.  It is a cry usually held in private audience since it seems like the world is passing by with its own unrelenting agenda. In other words, who cares? It happens to all kinds of people. Singles. Marrieds. Old. Young. Wealthy. Poor. Homeowners. Homeless. We arrive at a point where loneliness achieves maximal potency, usually due to a perfect storm of events, situations, feelings, relational challenges, and so on. And it hurts.

But who cares?

The family which opens their home to friends struggling with loneliness. The person who invites another out for a meal and conversation. The friend who seeks out another, looking after them when they  can scarcely look out for themselves in their darkest seasons. Those who are learning to love well. They are the ones who care.

They help us navigate lonely days when it is so easy to get off the Father’s way, so easy to become ensnared in traps of self-deception, sinful habits, and despair. They challenge us to look outside of ourselves and see the needs of others, forgetting our own loneliness so that we may comfort those in need. They invite us into community, teaching us grace and hospitality so that we may engage others in the same way.

By coming alongside us as we attempt to navigate lonely days, they help us to stay on the Father’s way. Together we learn the compassion of Jesus in the community of his followers. We learn to care, putting aside our lonely feelings to nurture God’s healing in others.

friendship: observations and questions

Recently, Lindsey Nobles asked the question on her blog, “Can guys and girls be friends?” Her question has provoked a vigorous discussion. I read a few of the responses early on, but not the majority of them. Instead, I have spent the last few days thinking about friendship, not just between men and women, but in general. So, here are some of my observations along with a few follow-up questions at the end.

First, I will respond to Lindsey’s question (undoubtedly others have the same question): Yes and no, depending on what you mean by friendship. If you mean best friend forever and ever til death parts a man and woman, then get married. That is the only way it is workable. And even then, it is tough. Or so I have heard. If you mean close friends with clear limits and boundaries, it might be possible, but it depends on how you define close. That topic alone is too large for this post, but I will say that men and women will have different ideas about what close means. They also will differ about boundaries and limits. Even people among the same gender will disagree. Put simply, it can be a relational quagmire because of differing expectations, assumptions, desires, and so on.

I enjoy many friendships with men and women. This is healthy. Jesus modelled such behavior during his life. I have tried to follow his example the best I can, no doubt failing along the way countless times. Deeper friendships are a challenge. They require ongoing maintenance, a task too few people are willing to invest in. Time, proximity, emotional energy, conversation, giving, receiving, reconciling, negotiating are all a part of the mix. I value the friendships I have. I miss those people who I no longer have opportunity to connect with due to changing circumstances. I am thankful for their part in my life.

Think about your life. Who are your friends? How do you negotiate the issue of friendship with the opposite gender? Although this issue tends to be at the forefront of what single adults struggle with, I expect that married people wrestle with it in their own right. If you are married, I would particularly appreciate your responses.

Fire away. I am listening.

adult singles in the family ministry jungle

Family ministry is here to stay. Publishers are adapting curriculum to account for the growing demand, while also churning out new books on a regular basis. I am pleased with these developments. I especially am delighted at the growing level of awareness that family ministry and children’s ministry ought to complement each other, rather than compete for attention. Yet, I still think we are missing some important points in the conversation, not least, how do we include adult singles? Continue reading

singleness at Christmas

These moments of Christmas Eve and Christmas can be some of the most lonely that a single adult will annually face.

Even for those of us who reach out intentionally to others. 

I spent part of my evening playing the part of Santa Claus in the home of a friend. A delightful time of fun, song, and humor, plus wide-eyed little ones. I even convinced the patriarch of the family to sit on my lap for a Santa photo. I am beginning to get the hang of how to provide a meaningful, fun experience full of memories, without overstaying my welcome. Soon, however, it was time for me to leave. And leave I did. Back to the quietness, the stillness of a darkened room.

Oh, I turned on my lights. I lit the Christmas tree lights, and set music to playing. I reflected on the goodness of the Lord to allow me into the lives of another family, even for a little while. Yet, the quiet set in. I grew pensive.

My thoughts turned to the plight of that young betrothed couple, Mary and Joseph and their arduous journey to meet the demands of the required census. It was not an expedition filled with festivity and consumeristic travail. They simply wanted to carry out their duty so that they could return home safely. But their alarm grew, and so also did their anxiety. For the time of Mary’s travail was soon at hand, and Joseph knew it. As they approached Bethlehem he must have first felt relief, and then alarm as he realized that the teeming crowds had already procured what rooms remained in the inn. The baby would not wait. Mary’s travail became more pronounced. Joseph and Mary must have felt isolated and comforted all at the same time. Isolated from the comfort and understanding of others; comforted in the arms of each other and in the promises of God to them. Surely there were tears and concern.

And then the small stable was provided for their rest. Smelly. Dirty. No place for a family, much less a birthing mother or her soon-to-appear child. But they gratefully and quietly accepted the accomodations. And the star shone brightly in the clear night sky, signalling to those alert to such matters that something of singular prophetic significance was at hand. Alone they were, at first. Perhaps lonely, too. Yes, they had each other. But it appeared at first they were isolated, cast off into the margins of even their nomadic, agrarian, society which was occupied by hostile Roman forces.

And then the boy was born. Jesus. The Son of God. The Son of Man. Angels heralded the good news to the shepherds who kept watch over their flocks by night, causing them to look for this source of great joy for all the world. Magi sought out the prophesied King of Kings. Angels declared the glory of God. And joy entered the world in the flesh, for the redemption of those once alienated from God.

Yes, it can be lonely as a single adult. But as I meditate on Jesus Christ and the Advent narrative, I recognize what incredible joy has been made available to me. To celebrate Jesus. To reach out to the lost with the hope he brings through his redeeming grace. To help those less fortunate who do not yet recognize the hope of the gospel, or have the means to provide for their basic necessities. To take the attention off of my perceived shortcomings and disappointments and focus on the needs of others so that Jesus’ love shines through me and his redeeming grace is made clearly known.

Am I lonely? Do I hurt? Sometimes, yes. Am I joyful? In Christ, absolutely yes. It is a tension between dealing with some of the harsh mundane realities of life, yet appreciating the transcendent redemptive  ultimate reality of serving the Lord Jesus Christ, my God and my King.

What is Family?

If you have been wrestling with the question of trying to define family ministry, you likely have come to realize that the definitions are varied. I doubt that will ever change. But it raises a critically important question which deserves serious consideration. What is family? Dad, mom and at least one child? Dad, mom, children and grandparents? What about uncles and aunts? Nieces and nephews? How about extended family? In-laws? Single parent homes? Homes with no children? Are they any less of a family? Widows, orphans and foster kids? Caring friends? Or even singles who live in the margins of the culture and who feel that no one cares about them until they get a ring on their fingers? What about them? Why do we think first to create isolated ministries designed primarily to help them be around other singles with the unspoken hope that they will grow up and “settle down?” (Such a dreadful expression to the vast swath of never married adults).

What is family? In my view, all of these and more. Sure, there is a natural nurturing closeness to our birth families, and rightly so. Yet, I have also experienced the privilege of closeness with families in which I was not placed by birth. I sense it is a taste of what Jesus intended when he asked his disciples, “Who are my mother and brothers?” And then pointed to the packed room indicating that all present were included.

What is family? When we discover the answer to that question, we will be better equipped to plan and implement effective expressions of family ministry.

Sharing Moments

One of the profoundly poignant aspects of being single is finding ways to share moments which affect you deeply. It might be something happy or sad. We all have them by virtue of living life and experiencing what it brings our way. While a married person typically (unfortunately, not always) will share those things with a spouse, the single person is not afforded that access. So what are we to do? Brush the moments and their meaning off? For many men, this is exactly what occurs. Less so for women, I suspect. But why shouldn’t we bring others into our realm of experience? Why shouldn’t we give access, within appropriate parameters, to the interior of our hearts? In my case, I am learning to share with friends whom I trust. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is so much more simple just to forget about it, even when the news is positive. Why make a big production out of it, right? Allowing others into your heart is a risky issue. But the payoff can be rewarding with deeper friendships and greater mutual and honorable connectedness. With greater authentic connectedness comes heightened maturity and accountability which flows out of organic relationship, rather than simply a reliance on forced encounters which hold little trust.

So for those of you who are single, next time something minor or significant occurs, try sharing it with a friend. Ask them to rejoice with you. Ask them to grieve with you. Ask them to let you be real and invite them to do the same.

Strange Ironies Afoot

It is a strange irony that the seasons which carry the grand traditions of togetherness and family also are accompanied by estrangement for those not deeply connected in community. Singles often fall into this arena of relational disconnect, especially those whose job it is to care for children in buildings and rooms separate from the majority of the adult church population. So while the church runs through its paces, there lurks a potential for the single children’s pastor to do his or her job faithfully and well, while silently wilting inside.

It is clear that the single person must take the initiative to engage the community and be connected. This is a function of balanced personal responsibility. Yet, as is common with the paths of least resistance, the wear of the daily grind can cause her to neglect those lifelines, especially when the day job exerts extra demands, when home upkeep seems overwhelming, and when various other responsibilities crop up here and there, eating up the scant margin which normally would be given to pursuing community. Holidays make it worse, especially in church settings where programs must be executed, constituents must be satisfied, and a sense of personal responsibility demands excellence, often at the expense of relationships. Real, meaningful relationships. And while the ministry might seem to flower well for a time, the person executing that ministry risks doing so at the expense of her own health, in all respects.

Yes, there are strange ironies afoot. To the measure that the single children’s pastor brings others around her to support and share the burden, she will experience a heightened sense of proportion. But if she isolates and adopts the lone ranger ethic with only minimal volunteer support, then her days in ministry likely will be brief.

The holiday seasons need not be times of isolation. Rather, new paths must be blazed by taking initiative to connect deeply, authentically and redemptively with others. For my part, I opt not to bother those too busy to connect regularly. Instead I will continue to look all the more into the margins for those who will value and benefit from the effort, thereby creating community where there once was isolation.