Do you ever feel like you’re overwhelmed with information? It’s actually a great problem to have if you think about it. It means that you can read and process information, have unprecedented technological access, and are curious about life and the world. It also means that there are a lot of resources and teachers out there who have blogs and podcasts and guides and books and digital courses that offer help for all sorts of specific niche audiences (you’re looking at exhibit A). It can be difficult to know what to take and what to leave.
I read a lot of really great marketing advice, and I take much of it. One thing that I notice is how effective it is to write “how to” blogs, or “X ways to do something.” We are searching for answers to the most practical of “how” questions. And as long as you are doing that, I’ll be putting out content and pointing you to resources that will help meet those needs.
But I also want to go one step further. I want to help you recognize and put words to frustrations you might not know how to express. I want to guide your imagination to see what is possible even in the midst of all that is hard and overwhelming. I want to teach you to ask yourself great questions that get to the root of what you’re feeling and experiencing, but to also be able to assess what information is helpful and what isn’t. In your search for “how,” I want to make sure you don’t overlook what might already be around you.
In the Bible, Jesus tells stories called “parables.” To describe the intent of these stories, Eugene Peterson writes, "This brief, commonplace, unpretentious story is thrown into a conversation and lands at our feet, compelling notice… A parable is not ordinarily used to tell us something new, but to get us to notice something that we have overlooked although it has been right there for years. Or it is used to get us to take seriously something we have dismissed as unimportant because we have never seen the point of it."
I like this method for a couple of reasons.
One, Jesus knew how to communicate, so it would be wise to learn from his techniques.
Two, parables invite conversation and exploration. A sermon or article delivers information and application, which is crucial. But parables operate on a different level. They are an oblique method to examine our lives and the world around us. They are also specific and concrete in their sensory details and set in a context that is meaningful to the audience. They draw our attention to realities we may generally overlook because they have become so familiar. I can’t think of a better way to explore the weird and wonderful world of being a single Christian.
Exploring the minutiae of the life of a single Christian invites us into the moments we take for granted, not because they lack significance, but simply because those guiding the overall faith conversation are often not saying them. We begin to understand ourselves and the significance of our lives differently. They help rewrite the stories we tell about ourselves because they draw our attention to and challenge our most deeply ingrained habits and assumptions.
There have been single people as long as there has been a church (and even, dare I say, longer than that). Here’s a fact that can be dramatically understated in the church, except as a means to tell singles to be content without fostering the type of community in which singles can actually thrive: Jesus was not married. Paul was not married. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were not married. Many, if not all, of the apostles were not married. They were integral parts of the Christian movement, and, in Jesus' case, the foundation of it. They worked for the growth and betterment of the church. They were up front, preaching with the full authority of the Holy Spirit. They were not relegated to a Singles Ministry until they found spouses and could enter the full life of a family-centric church. Their entire lives and selves--the pain and sin and gifts--were a testament to the goodness of God.
Somehow, we’ve become an entire group of humans who are separated and defined by what is missing from our lives. When I started thinking more specifically about the nuanced experiences of the single Christian, I noticed that family-centric language and resources saturate our churches. I heard how many everyday stories used as sermon illustrations were about the pastor’s marriage or kids. I saw that every one of my pastors and the vast majority of people making decisions in my church are married. I tasted the frustration of having conversations in which we all seemed more interested in giving generic advice than listening to each other and asking questions.
So, why parables? In a world oversaturated with advice, teaching, and information about how to reach some ideal self, parables invite us to reconnect with the realities of the life we are already living. They describe the unnamed and unexamined rituals that make up that life. They examine moments that you have likely never heard about from the pulpit, but that are nevertheless significant. They tell us who we are and who we are becoming. In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren writes, “God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”
The experience we are all living as Christians who happen to not be romantically tethered in a covenant-like fashion is not odd or unnatural. It is not a problem in and of itself, though it certainly presents us with specific problems. It is not shameful and it does not necessarily indicate that we are relationally incompetent. It is specific and extraordinary in the ways we encounter God through both everyday and dramatic moments. It’s ordinary in how we are designed to experience God in relationships of all types. We are in and outside of the church, living lives of faith, often without the resources and support that family-centric churches offer. Parables connect us with this reality and gently challenge the most basic things we believe about ourselves as singles.
You may have started to feel unnoticed and overlooked, and that your singleness makes you unsuitable for many things. I’m here to show you that you are simply human, being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor 3:18). Maybe that will include marriage. Maybe it won’t. Over the next several weeks, I’ll talk about things like dating and groceries, family and friendship, sex and dishes. They are designed for you to see yourself in them. Most, if not all, will be true stories from my life, but they aren’t really about me. They’re about all of us who are living the nuances, absurdities, joys, and struggles of the single Christian life. And I can’t wait to dig in with y’all.
P.S. if you can’t wait for next week, check out my podcast, “Unsuitable with MaryB. Safrit” for stories from single Christians like you!
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