Since it was my children’s weekend with their dad, I was prepared to sit alone at mass last weekend until another single friend asked if she could join me. We chatted before the liturgy began about how many faces we didn’t recognize in the crowd anymore, and she commented that she’d drifted away from the parish because there were so few other single people and, as she put it, “too many children.”
Being on one side of that fence as a mother, I do understand where she is coming from. In a big parish like St. Mike’s, families – mine included – seem to dominate the congregation. Our needs and concerns are a lot different than those of the empty nesters and the childless. There’s sports practices, homework, playdates, college funds, peer pressure worries, tween/teen drama, discipline, and how to make them “let go of those electronic devices for ten minutes already.” Not to mention stretching the budget, planning the trip to Disney, inlaws, the honey-do list, carving out time for date night, and wondering how to relate to this person who shares the house – these are the issues that dominate our waking thoughts and distract us from sleep and spirituality. We pat ourselves on the back just for making it to mass by the time the choir is finished singing the Gloria.
But I straddle that fence and find myself in the “single” category as well, and I think I’m in good company at St. Michael. We may not have a formal “singles ministry” but our faces dot the congregation of every mass, and I’ve connected or reconnected with a lot of you since I joined your ranks a year ago. I know several men and women who’ve never been married, and a handful of folks whose spouses have passed away. I’ve also made new connections with single parents I never knew before or with whom I was just acquainted. You don’t notice how many kids come to church with just their mom or their dad until you are that single mom or dad yourself. Our stories and paths are varied, but we appear to share a common thread – we have found a special kind of support from each other as a church family, and many of us seem especially committed to contributing to the life of the parish, even if our “real lives” are busy and stressful.
In today’s epistle to the Corinthians, St. Paul extols the virtues of being single as opposed to being married. Certainly we have a faith that promotes the virtue of Christian family life and the procreative nature of marriage, so much so that the Church elevates the institution of marriage to the status of Sacrament. As a single person, one can feel very left out, especially in such a family-oriented parish. Today’s reading is a reminder to me and anyone else, married or single, that it’s okay to be exactly where I am.
Being single allows me to develop a deeper intimacy with God. I am sometimes lonely, but I was lonely when I was married, too. It’s tempting to dwell on that loneliness, but Paul says, “I should like you to be free of anxieties . . . I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restrain upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.”
I may not be without the distractions of parenthood, but aside from keeping relations civil with my children’s father, I am now able to channel the energy I used to spend working on my romantic relationship into working on my relationship with God. What a rare gift this is for a mom in this stage of life! Singlehood is far from being a shame or a state of “less than” for me – I cherish it. I might never have gotten to know God so well otherwise.
Not only can I nurture my faith, I am given the opportunity to be supported and loved by my fellow parishioners – those married and unmarried alike – in a deeper way. I can let myself cry at mass and lean on your shoulder. I can receive the gifts you’ve given to my children, filling those bare spots under our Christmas tree. I can accept advice and self-help books from those of you who’ve been where I am and got through in one piece. I can share my worst fears and shames with you and be held and supported. I might never have been able to receive this love if it were not for letting go of the distractions that used to keep me occupied.
Accepting ourselves and loving each other is “singles ministry” for all of us, single and coupled alike.