On Singleness, sexuality and the power of Christian Community
If I was to identify one of the biggest challenges of singleness for me, it would be a struggle with aloneness. I'm a very relationally driven person, and I really get life from having others around me to draw upon, and to contribute to. Sometimes, I feel very isolated as a single person. I crave a romantic relationship because it often seems to be the only context in which I could build intimacy with a truly kindred spirit. However, it took the recent dissolution of a romantic relationship to reveal to me a very important truth. When I think back on all of my romantic relationships to date, I realize that the things I miss most aren't exclusive to romantic relationships at all. For some of you, this is nothing new, but to me it means the difference between despair and contentment as a single person.
Specifically, the things I miss most from my past relationships are :the expectation of loyalty, a sense of intimacy, friendship, safety and a sense of belonging.
Interestingly enough, when I look at these things in isolation, I can easily see that I don't need to have a romantic relationship to have access to any of them. In fact, the main distinctions of a romantic relationship from other types of relationships is the additional sphere of sexual intimacy, and (of course) such intimacy has a very specific context for expression, and a distinct air of exclusivity.
Now, the power within this revelation wasn't immediately apparent to me. After my break up I spent many days feeling somewhat emotionally bipolar. I consider myself to be an optimist, and generally happy and pragmatic person, but I'm also deeply introspective, and emotionally intense. Emotional honesty is my trademark, but also my curse. I would find myself vacillating between extreme hopefulness - knowing that God had me just where He wanted me, and was going to continue developing me at a rapid rate, and utter despair - knowing that I had come so close to love, but had yet been so far. I felt a huge relational HOLE in my soul. It was like a crater of swirling nothingness, left vacant by a person who had been everything to me for so long. And herein was the exact source of my problem. You see, I had allowed myself to expect from one person what I should have been experiencing within the safety of a group of people- my community. Let me explain.
Now before I continue, I must digress for a moment. I've heard some people say things to the tune of " Just be whole in Christ, and satisfied in Christ and you won't experience any of these feelings". To such people, I flatly scoff. In Genesis, before sin entered the world God Himself looked at Adam and said " It is not good for man to be alone".This was at a time when there was perfect communion between God and man. What this shows me is that God designed us to relate to other people, even when we have perfect relationship with Him. As such, I reject that spiritual maturity, or perfect communion with God cures us from needing people in our lives or from feeling that deficiency if indeed exists. This may seem like a tangent, but its not. Somebody needed to hear that.
And now I must return to my explanation. I was craving loyalty, intimacy, friendship, safety and belonging from one human being. I know that within Christ I can be guaranteed all of these things in perfect measure, but a human? Unlikely. This is why God gave us Christian community. A group of believers with different callings and strengths, to collectively address the different relational needs of one another. Within a relationship parties can become so focused on each other to fulfill each other's needs that they end up smothering each other with unrealistic, weighty expectations.They do not integrate into Christian community enough, and the constant inward relationship focus borders on being idolatrous, eventually causing the relationship to implode.
Christian community offers a much more healthy way to sustain both singleness, and romantic relationships. Within community I can get a sense of belonging in a general sense. I can identify myself as part of the universal body of Christ first, and then more specifically as a member of a local gathering. The bond of this spiritual family is love. As a single person I can experience the love of a group of people that consider me to be a part of them.
Intimacy can be obtained at varying levels by acquainting oneself with the right people within the larger community of Christians. Intimacy is built upon trust, transparency and openness. There was once a time when I felt that I couldn't experience intimacy with others outside of romance. I felt that my relationships with my boyfriends were more honest and enriching than those with girlfriends so I felt an intimacy deficiency as a single. God soon showed me that my real problem was that I was pursuing the wrong people. I was pursuing people who had no appreciation of my value or any desire to build trust and transparency. I needed to develop better discernment in this area. It is still an area of my life under construction, but I've recently begun having some very enriching relationships with men and women within my church and other ministry groups, and I've been finding friends in unexpected places. Oddly, many of the people who are turning out to be the best friends are people that I would not have naturally thought to pursue. As such I've added a new type of prayer to my list. I've been asking God to lead me to the right people, for the right reasons, so that the right type of relationships can be formed.
A fresh acquaintance hit me with this some weeks ago; "Let's appreciate what we have; and what we have is friendship".
I didn't know at the time how to receive it, given that we had barely said hello a few hours earlier and added to the fact that it was a man that was saying this to me and that my body language to this point had betrayed attraction to the said man. Embarrassed at having been so open to someone who had done nothing to earn my respect or affection, I brooded on that statement for some time thereafter and had to make a confession to myself. I really had not taken the time in many situations in the past to truly APPRECIATE friendship.Friendship is a thing that develops in time and it requires that a person regulate their emotions long enough to allow it to develop in a safe environment. This regulation of emotions is an ongoing battle for me, but I am determined to cultivate the right relationship habits.
Beyond this, however, as a single person I have the privilege of appreciating friendship. I can reach out to people at the Christian camps at which I minister and just enjoy their company, exchange ideas, and grow alongside them with no sexual expectations. Its quite a relief to be so free. I can APPRECIATE friendship. Again, appreciation takes time and a sense of ease.
Friendship also challenges your character, because its easy to extend oneself when there is an expectation of some selfish gratification in return (whether it be immediate or delayed)and when exclusivity demands it; however, true friendship is a wonderful backdrop against which selfless loyalty can be cultivated.
As far as sexuality is concerned, it has become of particular interest to me that I have found even some of my sexual needs met within the context of Christian community. This is linked to the fact that many of my sexual urges are actually the outworkings of a deeper desire for respect, love and intimacy. Something as simple as platonic touch- a person leaning on my shoulder, a friend latching on to my arm, a warm hug, fills my relational cup and dulls that desire for sex. Also, just being around men in a neutral setting is very healing for me. Sometimes all I need is the testosterone in the air to feel a sense of security and comfort. Being around ladies only simply doesn't cut it. I need that balance between the sexes within my friendship circles. Feeling cared for and precious in the sight of the men around me is a sexually comforting thing. A simple gesture like an opened door, or a pulled chair, or an escort home at night makes me feel nurtured and safe; things that I once thought I could only feel in the presence of a lover.
I could go on and on with this, but I will end here. I believe the Lord knows our challenges as singles, but He always provides resources for us to not only survive the various stages of our lives, but to thrive through them. I am learning how to thrive again as a single person, and I feel comforted that God has brought the importance of Christian community back to my mind once more.
If you're single and learning contentment, I hope this helps you.