A Life Alone

by Editor on September 23, 2014

After writing the post on single missionaries about a month ago a number of people who are working overseas and are single contacted A Life Overseas. And it was so good. Because we realized we had been neglecting this critical part of our community. Today our guest poster Geren St. Claire talks about what he has heard from some single missionaries through his work at CalledTogether. You can read more about Geren at the end of the post. 

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A Life Alone

Everyone who has ever experienced the joyful shock of uprooting their entire life and re-implanting it in a new culture knows how surprisingly lonely such a move can be. But what many of us do not fully understand is the double burden carried by those who move overseas without the comfort and support of a spouse. Singleness intensifies isolation. Consider the following illustration:

A life alone

 

 

The intensity of isolation grows when a person does not have the support of a family. One single worker put it this way:

“Cross cultural loneliness is its own kind of loneliness. No matter what you do or how hard you try, you will never be able to integrate 100% into your adopted culture. Yet once you integrate even a little, that culture has become a part of you. You will never see or fit into your home culture the same way again. This whole process can be surprisingly wonderful, but at the same time terrifyingly isolating. It is no wonder that many of us do not want to walk this path alone. We want someone there with us who can honestly tell us, “I know exactly how you feel.”

Singles on the field often tell me about their difficulty coming to a sense of true belonging, even among their team. Perhaps that is why singles are about 40%-50% less likely to go overseas long-term. Add those numbers up: With a global total of around 500,000 cross-cultural workers, the international Church may be losing as many as 80,000 potential harvesters due to the isolation of singleness.

As we pray for the Lord to send more workers into the harvest field, we ought to consider new ways to recruit, sustain, encourage, and empower singles for the work ahead. I oversee a network of globally-called singles, and I invited some of them to share their hearts with you—both the good and bad. Here’s a summary of what they said:

4 ways to Empower Singles (As Told by Singles)

  1. Honor them. “Give… honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). Singleness on the field is difficult and scary, and those who follow Christ in the face of these difficulties are worthy of honor. 71% of the singles who responded to our internal poll said that isolation is a major issue for singles who serve Christ overseas. How can you recognize and honor that sacrifice?
  1. Invite them to belong. We are designed for more than just marriage. We’ve been grafted and intimately woven together in Christ. We are one Body. One Bride. Brothers and Sisters. Adopted Children. When I read the book of Acts, I am always overwhelmed by the familial intimacy shared by the early Christians—to such a degree that the Romans mistook them as incestuous. The early Christians adopted one another into their families, and shared life with one another. We ought to do the same today. But this doesn’t just happen by itself. Melanie recounts her experience on the field,

“it seems like 99 meals out of 100, I eat alone. For about a year, I had a standing weekly ‘date’ to eat dinner with a worker family on my team. Words can’t say what this simple thing meant to me. It’s generally not enough for a worker family to say, ‘Oh, you’re welcome here any time.’ But specifically inviting me to share meals and life and events with them was a great blessing.”

Are there singles in your city? What would it look like for you to adopt them into your family? Did a single recommend this article to you? Maybe take that as a friendly hint.

  1. Don’t Look Down on Singles

There are a whole slew of emotions that can stem from being single on a team of married couples, and singles are not often in a position to express their frustrations. Staci offered some helpful examples of team dynamics that had hurt her:

 [last year,] our team leader didn’t think it was worth it to keep doing our monthly team meetings because the other married couple was out of town. Now, from my perspective, it felt as if somehow we (the singles) weren’t important enough to keep our team-meetings going…

 …Another thing I often experience is being treated like I’m a teenager. Our team leader is only a few years older than I am, but often calls my team-mate and I “the girls” and talks about how young we are and how we need looking after… it often feels belittling whether they mean it or not.

Lest we drift into pride, lets reflect on a few simple truths and ask God to expose any error in our thinking. Here are some truths about singleness and marriage that may serve as correctives:

– Singleness is not something to be pitied. Certainly, there are side effects of singleness that may warrant compassion—loneliness, insecurity, dreams lost or delayed, etc. But singleness itself is not a bad thing, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 7. Making this distinction can help you immensely as you try to empathize with singles.

– Marital status isn’t something earned or deserved. There shouldn’t be pride or shame in either case, because marriage is always a gift from God.

– Marriage is a blessing. God loves good marriages, so seeking a good marriage is one way to honor God. There is no shame in desiring or pursuing marriage, because God calls it good.

– Marriage cannot be used to enhance or prove someone’s value or worth—to attempt to do so is idolatry.

– Likewise, marriage cannot complete a person.

– Marriage doesn’t make a person more holy. God sanctifies through marriage, but He also sanctifies through singleness. Given that Jesus and Paul were both single, it is dangerous to say that marriage opens a person up to ‘higher levels’ of sanctification. That may be the experience of some, but marriage has stifled the sanctification of others. What sanctifies is living in the light of community, and this can come through, or apart from, marriage.

– Singleness has some advantages that should be recognized. For example, as Melanie writes, “Many singles integrate into a host culture in a way that married folks and families don’t. When they return to their apartment each night, they don’t have a home-culture family to retreat to. Value this skill.” Likewise, the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 7 about how singles are able to focus more intently on the work of the Lord, because their time and attention is not divided.

How have you hurt the singles around you by harboring false attitudes towards singleness? Where might repentance be necessary? What about confession?

  1. Hook a brotha up!

Once our attitudes are correctly calibrated (and usually not until then), we can begin to help our single friends search for a godly spouse. Most (but not all) singles have a strong desire to be married, and you might be surprised just how willing they would be to receive your help. But you need to offer help with the right kind of attitude, or it can come across as condescending.

You can network with other team leaders within your organization, or with friends back in your sending churches. Singles on the field have very few opportunities to connect with potential marriage material, and they may gain a lot of hope just knowing that the doors are still open, whether or not you actually find the right person for them.

Finally, you might consider telling your single teammates about www.CalledTogether.us, which is an inter-agency network of globally-called singles. The website has grown quickly since its May ‘14 launch to include more than 1000 singles, further highlighting their felt need for community.

Are the singles on your team open to your help in their search a spouse? Is your attitude toward singleness getting in the way? How can you help them in their search?

Conclusion

There are great gains to be made, both for the Church and for our teams, if only we can learn to love singles more effectively. And truthfully, love should not need a justification. It is its own reason. So I challenge you to connect with, belong to, and love the single God has placed around you, for the sake of Jesus’ name.

— Author Bio —

Gerin St. Claire (@gerinteed) is the cofounder and director of operations for CalledTogether. He recently completed seminary and now lives with his wife in Dallas, TX.

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  • Lynn

    Thanks for addressing this issue! I whole heartedly agree with your point to invite us to belong. As a long time single on the field, I treasure my teammates and families that have included me. Do invite us to your homes for meals and to just be with you in groups and one on one. It will help us all get to know each other and support one another. I love being called “Aunt” Lynn by the kids of my teammates even after those kids have grown up and are living life on their own. I am honored that they love me in that way and that I am included in their family. That would not happen, if I had not spent time in their homes with them and their parents. It wouldn’t have happened if I had not acted as an aunt in loving the children and in participating in life events like birthdays and graduations. Don’t forget us on the holidays. We also have family and traditions that we miss and are trying to figure out how to celebrate the holiday in our new homes. We don’t want to feel like the extra add in, so if you do invite us, let us participate in all aspects of the holiday with your family. That even includes waking us up before dawn to open presents on Christmas day because the little ones can’t wait. Singles, don’t wait for the invitation. You also can host a dinner and invite families and teammates to sit around your table or share a holiday with you.

    I’m not sure at this point in my life that I would encourage people to hook me up, but I know that many singles do feel that need. Ask us how we feel about this and then please respect our answer. Along the same lines, married ladies, please don’t see your single teammates as automatic threats to your relationship with your husband. Single ladies, be aware and do all you can to “avoid the appearance of evil.” Satan is working hard to tear down our relationships to keep us from the kingdom work in which we are engaged. Spend time with one another getting to know each other and strengthening the same relationships all around so that this does not become an issue.

    I would also encourage married folks and singles to think ahead about issues that new singles on the field might face. A single person is expected or at least might feel they are expected to fill all the roles. For example, if the ladies are released from the ministry meeting to prepare a meal, but the guys are expected to remain in the meeting, which role is the single lady to fill? Does she stay in the meeting and feel as if she is letting her lady teammates down in helping to prepare the meal or does she leave the meeting and let the male teammates down by not being there to share about the work she is engaged in? A little thinking ahead could alleviate the dilemma for the single person and help them feel valued and loved.

    Help one another. A single worker has to do all the things a married couple does to stay in the ministry. A married couple can divvy up responsibilities according to their gifting and desire to do the required task. A single person has to do it all even if they are not gifted in all the areas. So, build a relationship with your teammates get to know them and love them. In the context of that relationship, if you see a teammate (married or single) struggling with a required task and you have gifting in that area, offer to help them. We are all human and pride does get in our way sometimes, but when I know someone loves and respects me and offers to help me out of that relationship and not because they judge me deficient, then I am much more willing and open to being helped. For example, some long time teammates visited me and the husband said, “I noticed the last time we were here that your light isn’t working. I’d be willing to see if I can fix it if you would like.” This made me feel loved and noticed and I was more than willing to let him fix the wiring for that light that I didn’t know how to fix. Singles, don’t wait for someone to offer to help you or expect them to do it. Look for resources in the community where you live or online to figure out how to help yourself. Then when or if someone offers to help, you will be pleasantly surprised by God’s provision rather than waiting on him to notice your need and fill it.

    I think this comment is long enough. Thanks again for addressing this issue and for this great post!

  • Richelle Wright

    I just like to throw this out there ~ After having spent time on the mission field as a single and having experienced some of that loneliness, I took the lead in making sure our family prioritized trying to “adopt” some of the singles in our community. We were even so privileged as to have a couple live with us and become family for large chunks of time.

    The impact those godly men and women have had on my husband and me, our family and particularly our children just cannot be overstated. Yes, it is a little bit of work and sometimes inconvenient to fix extra food for a meal, to make sure that an extra room is available, to make sure I’ve got my robe handy instead of just running around the house in my jammies at night… and as an introvert, I had to regularly choose to be intentional about it. But in our experience, having so many amazing folks (of all ages) share their lives with us and spend time as a part of our family, in our house is something we would never, ever trade!!

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    One of my very best friends on the field is single and we want her with us more than she comes over … I agree that we all need to reach out to those in our communities and invite them to do things with us.

  • Kimberly

    I was totally on track with you screaming “YESSS!!” until you got to the “hook a brotha up” bit… As a single on the mission field I am so grateful for the couples that I served with who didn’t see me as a project, or as someone lacking something that they could help fix. I got that enough in my home country, I didn’t need it on the field too. I mean, it may be different for men, & I know a few friends of mine who wouldn’t mind being set up, so don’t get me wrong, I understand the kind intentions behind that… but the majority of singles I know all agree that the whole “I know someone perfect for you!” situation usually hurts more than helps & not to mention is incredibly awkward. So, PLEASE, know “your single” as a person, like for real know them, not as a project, know their personality, & know if that is something they really want or if they’re trying to figure out how to handle the situation without being rude to your generous offer, which most likely seems really invasive. Some singles who are on this path are single for a reason, like mentioned above, Paul highly recommended it, singleness can be a huge benefit for spreading the gospel to the nations. Some are single by choice & there are days when that choice is difficult, don’t hinder them in that, encourage & accept. Praise God for every season of life, whether that be in singleness, marriage, those sleepless nights with a new baby, or growing old. The goal of life, despite popular belief in our society, is NOT to find a mate, it’s to glorify God & bring others along with you on that journey. As singles we need reminders sometimes that our identity is not found in whether or not we are married, but our identity is found in Christ, & HE IS ENOUGH. Help us show the world a picture of the gospel through our singleness & I hope we can encourage you to do the same through your marriage. Sometimes it’s helpful to drop that single label & remember that we’re your sisters & brothers, no matter what our relationship status, we’re on the same team & teams benefit from diversity!
    Sorry for the slight rant, but I thought a different perspective to that point could be helpful. Thanks so much for not neglecting addressing real issues that we face as singles! 🙂

    • Marilyn Gardner

      Thank you thank you for this really important reminder. As I said in the “not an afterthought” post – Our goal should never be marriage – it should be holiness regardless of whether married or single. – and we get it so wrong in our world today.

  • jessrings

    Thanks for this! It was great, and much needed. I was wondering for a while if this blog was supposed to be for married people or families only. Just because the examples and articles seemed always to be directed towards those groups, plus the writers always seem to have families. This seems not to be the case because, like you said, two articles recently were written for singles. Wonderful job guys!

    • Marilyn Gardner

      It has really been on my heart – many of my best friends are single and it is critical that all of us have a place, a voice in this community. I’m also looking for singles who will write guest posts so have at it 🙂 Great to see you here!

  • DK

    Haha, “hook a brotha up” alright…

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