Things Single Christians Wish You Knew: The Mourning Process
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Welcome to the first in a new series of semi-regular articles looking at the things Single Christians wish you knew.
A lot of single Christians are in mourning.
It's commonly said that most women start planning their wedding when they are kids. I didn't, I was too busy planning my first rap album (Straight outta Malton if you absolutely have to know the title), but as I've gotten older, I have started to think, what would I want a wedding/marriage to look like? Honestly, I know if it ever does happen, there'll be alpacas. And a sword. Possibly Darth Vader.
I dunno, message me your suggestions. There’ll be a prize for the one I use.
But as I've gotten older as well, it's started to dawn on me that, actually, this life that I've been absolutely told that I need by every film, song, book and social media influence in my life, this life that every element of Christian culture points to and elevates as the norm, might not happen for me. Every facet of our culture is dedicated to pushing this idea that, somehow, being married with 2.4 children in a nice 2 car, 3 bedroom house is the norm.
And when you’ve been bombarded with that message for so long, it’s hard to get it out.
If I am going to be brutally honest with you about where I am at, the only thing I’ve wanted to be in life is a dad. And after that, a husband. I couldn’t really give a toss about a good job or a fancy house or a decent pension. I just wanted to meet someone nice and have kids. When I became a Christian, the situation got a bit more complicated, because nothing is ever straight forward with Christ. It went from being about “how can I have my needs met” to “how can I find someone I can serve with everything in me and lay everything down for.”
Christ changes everything.
I have said openly that I feel God has called me to, what I call, the 4 Ms.
- (Space) Marines.
Essentially, I’m trying to be obedient to those things. I treat these foundational callings as pieces of rock you might find on Scarborough beach, cracking each one open to make sure it says “Jesus” through the middle.
And they do.
But people don’t like it when you say that.
Truthfully, at the age of 38 and some change, I genuinely think I have missed my window for kids and marriage. This thing I’ve prayed into for over a decade just hasn’t happened. And there’s no sign it ever will.
I'm looking round going "God, where's my life?"
I think a lot of single Christians, particularly older ones, are in the same boat as me. We are kind of looking around thinking "where's my husband and/or wife?" Or "Hey, where are the kids I always wanted?"
I frequently spend my time looking around at my life wondering what went wrong.
I see this a lot in missionaries, particularly those who have made a lifetime commitment to overseas or serving their communities. There is that "oh balls" point where every single one of us has looked around at the life we find ourselves in and broken down in tears about it, processing a potent cocktail of regret, loss and loneliness..
If any older single Christian tells you that hasn't happened, they're lying to you.
Processing diminishing returns
Being a single Christian, over time, essentially boils down to processing continually diminishing returns.
Being single Isn’t anyone's fault in particular, sometimes life just doesn't work out the way we plan, but it still hurts, and it's daft to pretend it doesn't. The dreams and aspirations of a lifetime just seem to crumble to dust. And in that, there's a lot of regret, there's a lot of disappointment, there's a deep wound that is inflicted on the heart of every single Christian, myself included.
Being blunt, a lot of us are mourning the lives we never got to have.
Where this can get particularly tricky is when it comes to celebrating for others. Christian Culture seems to thrive on a summer season of weddings and a spring/winter of engagement announcements. If you’re a student, you’ll be familiar with the summer scramble to find a boyfriend or girlfriend before the summer term ends. Our culture has normalized this and that is to be absolutely celebrated.
But where do single people fit in this equation?
To be honest with you, every wedding I go to these days is a mix of happiness and sadness. I genuinely want the best for my friends and I'm delighted when I see engagements and pregnancy announcements (but not gender reveals, grow up), but in many single Christians, there is the twinge. The little voice that says "OK, cool, what about me?"
No one wants to be the last person on the shelf, because, the longer you do this Jesus thing, the more of these celebrations you go to, the more significant life events you see, the harder it is not to feel resentful and a bit angry about how life turned out.
So what do you do with that?
Trying to express this can be extremely difficult. People often look at you aghast. How can you not be happy for someone else? It’s almost like you went into their house and took a dump in their fridge. And on one hand, they are absolutely right to be aghast at this. You need to be happy for them. Not celebrating someone elses success because of your own misery is beyond idiotic.
But on the other hand, it works both ways.
Whilst we are, as Christ’s pilgrim people, brilliant at celebrating with people. We are crap at mourning with them. Me too. I'm terrible at it. I wish I was better, but I suck at it just as much as anyone else.
We need to make space for people to grieve this stuff in christian culture, and particularly around the summer. We don’t but we need to, because if we aren’t prepared to make space for this, then we will end up doing nothing more than scarring hearts with self inflicted wounds.
The twilight of friendship
The thing about this singleness thing is that, it is so often like watching a collapsing sun turn into a black hole. You bare witness to a process where something that gave life mutates and changes into something that, ultimately, isn’t recognisable any more. Often it becomes the polar opposite of what it once was.
For a lot of single people, life is often an exercise in watching friends drift away into married life and not have time for them any more. I’ve seen this in my own life, in fact, every bloke does it. They meet the girl, then that becomes where they spend their time. Then comes the engagement, and more time swallowed with wedding planning, dream casting for the future. Then comes the wedding, and that bizarre couple bubble all newlyweds disappear into where they only hang out with other couples. Then of course, come kids, and you know how that goes.
Those people you saw every few days, now you’re lucky if you see them once a year without 6 months planning and a ton of canceled arrangements.
This has certainly been my experience. There have been friends that I was close to at one point who I just dont see any more. Their life has changed, they have different priorities. So it's a conflicting feeling because on one hand, great, you want them to keep winning, that's amazing. But on the other hand, you know what comes always next, less time hanging out, less contact.
Those friendships you've relied on to cope for years eventually disappear or mutate to the occasional visit which needs months of planning to orchestrate. Eventually you become a "Hey, remember them?" Or "Whatever happened to?"
Navel gazing? Probably. Accurate? Definitely.
Truthfully, one of the biggest i struggle with is isolation and feeling like I've been abandoned. And I wonder if this is the same for other single Christians?
There is no support for mourning
This experiential process is important because we need to realize something.
There is no support for single Christians.
We can pretend that there is, but there just isn’t.
Outside of what someone can cobble together for themselves out of loving but unqualified amateurs, there is absolutely nothing.
There is no support for single Christians.
For those people who are getting married, they can do marriage prep and there are a ton of easily accessible courses available for this.
If someone is pregnant there are a ton of antenatal classes they can attend, resources for being a mum, food rotas. You name it.
If I have marriage issues, I can go to couples counseling with a chance to reconcile issues and have life spoken over by older, wiser Christians.
For those who have older kids, there are parenting courses and a ton of in-built resources in Christian culture and embedded in churches.
Whatever stage you are at in life, there is support.
So here is the awkward question: where is the support for single people?
What do we do with all these feelings of disappointment and abandonment? Most older single Christians are utterly disappointed and they don't know how to process it.
So truth be told, I’m paying for private therapy because the NHS is on its backside. I absolutely cannot afford it and I am skipping meals to pay for it, but that's the way it is. I just don’t have a support network anymore, having watched all my friends disappear into the marriage bubble.
One dangerous trap that a lot of single Christians can fall into is to join the “bitter brigade” or the “sister/brotherhood” of failure. Where single Christians band together with other single Christians and moan about how life isn’t fair and how they want change and breakthrough but just end up winding each other up.
That's no way to process grief.
That's no way to mourn.
I think the first thing that married Christians need to know is that there is no support. There's no manual for this stuff. We're making it up as we go along!
So how can you fix that? Honestly, if you have long term single Christian friends, you need to make the effort to make contact again. You need to make the effort to reach out, to say hello. I don’t care how long it’s been, how awkward it is, how strained or false it may feel, we need to get off our backsides and do something.
You need to know that most single Christians are, at times, overwhelmed by grief for the life's they never got to have. They are mourning their hopes and dreams. They feel alone, abandoned and forgotten.
You need to make the effort to reach out.