Covid has been brutal, and though the initial pandemic seems to have come largely to a close, the ramifications are now bubbling up to the surface. Lowered capacities. Heightened reactivity. Relational strains. Exhaustion.
It starts small but works its way out into massive messes. One solitary unaddressed childhood wound gets somewhat successfully self-medicated for years, until it meets the pressures of ministry responsibility, isolation, and temptation. What happens next resembles the chain reaction in the mine field in Finding Nemo. Just like in that scenario, one unintended slip – not the worst in the grand scheme of things, or in a different context – devastates a whole community. Brings ministries to their knees. And leaves those caught up in it hurt and disoriented, wondering what in the world just happened.
The disorientation and devastation are then compounded by lack of community, especially for the single workers.
For those of us in ministry as a single, it is so easy to feel like an afterthought, an add-on. The churches that sent us out may have long since dropped off the map, and the few individuals who continued to engage have started straggling in their communication. Everyone seems to be so focused on their own survival, overwhelmed by the things going on in their own life, and everyone thinks we’re fine, “living our adventure” on the other side of the globe. It’s as though everyone assumes we’ve got “other people” who “of course” are reaching out and providing community, because we’re “amazing” and “people love you.”
And yes, I am one of those workers, and I am “living my adventure.” Though I wonder sometimes if it’s an adventure I can afford to keep living. Not because of fundraising or challenges with the ministry itself, though those are definitely factors, but because of the lack of connection and cohesion and support.
Everyone has valid and deep needs for community. And everyone has the responsibility to own and name their own needs – people aren’t mind readers. They can’t know what we need if we don’t tell them. But how often do we share those needs, only to see the nod and the look away, to hear the perfunctory prayer that’s not followed by action? How often do we specify that we need community, only to get shut down, dismissed, or simply overlooked in the busyness of each family’s schedule?
We singles are expected to be the “strong” ones. We are the ones who dared go overseas without a spouse, without a designated giver-of-community. We navigated all the hoops on our own; we are the capable ones. Or should be. Those of us still overseas are the ones who have made it through Covid lockdowns and dramatic changes in ministry plans. We are the ones who had the audacity to expect believers to step up, because of all the talk of being “family.” Yet the church seems to have forgotten what it means to be a “family.”
And maybe that’s where the conversation has to start: with what it even means to be “family.” What did Christ understand the word to mean when He said that those who do the will of His Father in Heaven are His mother and brother and sister? Maybe before we do anything else to care for our single friends, we need to consider that church community needs an overhaul – whether we are in our passport country or a host country.
What would it look like if we were to take 1 Corinthians 13 out of the wedding ceremonies and apply it again to those in our local faith communities? It does come right after the chapter on spiritual gifts and all being part of one body, after all. And it comes right before a chapter on how the Body ought to engage in worship.
What would happen if we understood that genuine, deep love is not based solely on intentions? What would happen if we realized that love is not love if it is not understood by the other to be love? What would happen if we tried to understand how those in our spheres of influence receive love and then come alongside them – whether married or single?
What if we were willing to face our own wounds associated with the idea of family and clear them out, so that we could better love those around us? How might that reshape our communities to be places where we invite people to experience the expansive and inspiring love of a God who gave everything up to restore us to relationship with Him?
That kind of a community – that kind of a church – just might be something worth staying for.
Cassie has straddled eastern and western cultures her entire life, having grown up in the Far East yet attending western schools. She now finds herself living in Europe and working among the scattered diaspora. Her life plan of getting married early didn’t pan out, forcing her to reckon with the mixed and distorted messages in the church surrounding singleness and marriage and to reimagine what the church is truly called to be.