There are two things about me that, for almost all of my life, have had a significant effect on the way I am seen and perceived as a member of the church.
The first is that I'm a woman (obviously). That one you can figure out in three seconds or less.
The second is that I am single. This takes a bit more deduction. I admit, I'm one of those confusing women who wears a purity ring on her left ring finger, but if you look at it close enough, it's pretty obvious it's not an engagement ring. But even then, you need to actually talk to me to confirm my singleness (or ask questions about me).
Over the last few months, I've been thinking a lot about what it means for me to be both a woman in the Church and single, and there's one thing in particular that I've been reflecting on.
It's no secret that, in many respects, a good chunk of the Church is hyper-focused on relationships. That's part of the reason it can be rather strange and frustrating to be a single woman in the Church.
I've seen the negative effects that this perspective has had on the dating culture. And I'm also beginning to see how, in addition to the way it has shaped the dating conversation, the Church's hyper-focus on relationships has, in my opinion, become extremely detrimental to women in particular.
These thoughts first came up during a few conversations at Q and then, more recently, at a meeting with some other members of my church's young adult ministry to discuss what women's ministry will look like at our church now that we don't have a woman on staff (for the young adult ministry specifically, not the church as a whole).
Generally speaking*, when men interact, they don't do so based on their relationship status or the stage of life they're in. While, yes, there are conferences and studies regarding being a better husband or father, many men's ministry events are simply focused on being a man — regardless of whether you're married, single, divorced, have kids or don't. For women, it's a completely different story.
A few months ago, my church's women's ministry had their annual retreat. Though I did not attend, a few of the girls in my all-single small group went. Their biggest complaint was that they felt the conference was so geared toward married women that, as single 20-somethings, they simply couldn't relate to the content discussed.
I'm not saying this to specifically call out the women's ministry at my church, but the way the Church as a whole seems to have geared the conversation regarding women.
Women are not worth something because of their relationship status or lack thereof. They are not valuable because of the man they are attached to or the number of children they have or haven't given birth to. Women are valuable because of who they are in Christ, because of who the Gospel makes them, and because they are human beings who bear the image of God.
When we make women's ministry all about becoming a better mother or a better wife rather than becoming a woman of God, we sell women short. We treat them like their biggest life goal is to become a godly wife and a godly mother. And that is dangerous and hurtful.
It perpetuates the lie that if you are 24 and single, you did something wrong.
It perpetuates the lie that a woman's ultimate goal in life is to find a husband, not to become a passionate woman of God who is completely on fire for the Lord.
It perpetuates the lie that God doesn't care how well you live your life as a single person if you never end up getting married.
It perpetuates the lie that you're somehow worth less if you don't have a ring on your finger and a man to call your own.
It perpetuates thelie that your value and your identity is based upon earthly things that will pass away, rather than on the unwavering and unfailing graciousness of your Heavenly Father.
And this, my friends, is a disservice to women. It is a disservice to the Church, it is a disservice to the Gospel, and it is a disservice to our God.
Now, I'd like to point out that I am a complementarian, not an egalitarian. I don't consider myself a feminist. I believe that men and women were created with unique roles that God intended for them to fulfill. I believe that they are equal in worth and value, but distinct in the role they are to play in society, in the Church, and in the family.
But I have not ever, for one second, believed that a woman is worth less than a man.
I write this because I know many beautiful, wonderful, passionate women of God who are suffering from pain and frustration and brokenness because of how the Church has framed the conversation around them and they don't know how to talk about it.
They feel like they messed up, they did something wrong, because they haven't found "the One" yet. They feel like there isn't a place for them in the Church because they aren't attached to a man. They feel like all the conversations regarding their singleness have the ultimate goal of finding them a man. They feel that, while their opinions and thoughts may be valued some now, they will be valued so much more once they have a ring on their finger.
Why have we done this to our women?
I am not exempt from this kind of thinking. I am not exempt from these lies that Satan whispers to my heart. I am not exempt from thinking that my worth will somehow be validated if a man thinks I'm beautiful and worth his time. I am not exempt from thinking that people will pay more attention to what I have to say if I have a ring on my finger or a baby on my hip.
Speaking up about this kind of thing scares me and I know it scares the other women I know who feel the same way.
I'm afraid that people will think I'm just discontent with my situation in life, that I'm frustrated and angry at the women who married young or are my age and already have two children. I'm afraid people will think it's some desperate ploy to get the attention of a man. That is not what this is about.
This is about the fact that every human being, regardless of gender or relationship status, is of equal value in the sight of our Creator.
I am worth just as much now in my single and working season of life as I will be if I ever have a married with children season of life. My relationship status does not change my worth.
In an essay entitled "First and Second Things" from the book God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, C.S. Lewis says what has become on of my favorite quotes in recent years:
"You can't get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first."
And I think that's what we need to focus on here.
I do believe it is important to emphasize the beauty of a godly marriage and to encourage believers to seriously pray and consider the possibility of entering into the covenant of marriage with another believer. But we have falsely come to believe that marriage is a first thing.
Marriage is not a first thing, it is a second thing that comes after the first thing of a life completely enraptured by the Savior.
And so, I propose we reframe the conversation. I propose that we stop focusing so much on marriages and start focusing on the Gospel. I propose that we stop focusing on someone's relationship status with a person and focus on their relationship with our Savior.
Now you may be thinking, "Marriage is on the decline in our country! If we stop focusing on marriages, then no one will get married! No one will know how to have a Biblical dating relationship and if no one knows how to date, no one will get married!"
I understand those concerns, but I must disagree, because as I said, marriage is not a first thing.
I believe that when the lives of men and women are firmly rooted in the Gospel, the second things that we spend so much time worrying about fall into place naturally — and that includes marriage.
So please, stop sending the message (however unintentional it may be) that the women in your life are more valuable when they have a ring on their finger. Stop sending the message that marriage is what gives them value in the sight of our Savior. Stop sending the message that how they relate to the man is the most important thing.
Instead, send the message that the women in your life are valuable because they are a human being created in the image of God, because they hold imago Dei. Send the message that they are valuable and loved by their Savior because He has called them beloved, not because a man has called them beloved. Send the message that how they relate to our God is far more important than how they relate to a man.
Tell your women they are loved. Tell your women they are beautiful. Tell your women they are valued. Tell your women they have worth. Tell your women that you care about what they have to say. Tell your women you want them in your life. Tell your women you want them serving in your church.
Tell your women they are all of these things and more because they are women, not because they are a wife or a girlfriend or a fiancée or a mother.
As a woman, have you ever felt this way? If you're married, did you feel this way before you got married? If you're single, do you still feel this way? For men, how have you perhaps unintentionally sent this message to the women in your lives? And how can we, as a Church, begin to change it and reframe the conversation?
*When I say "generally speaking" I mean in my experience from what I have observed. That statement is not based on statistics or extensive research, but on what I have personally observed when comparing men's and women's ministries at a few different churches I've attended.