The ideal picture of the church family today tends to look a little like this: a dashingly handsome man wearing chinos, a doting and beautiful wife by his side and super cute kids. Okay, maybe the chinos were a slight exaggeration, and maybe we only see those types of images on social media, however, this image of ‘perfection’ is not far from what is being portrayed in churches and Christian “circles today”. ‘The ‘1st family’ and ‘1st lady’s’ are terms we’ve started hearing more of in church today. With all this emphasis on ‘1st’, is it any wonder many single women in the Church are left feeling like they’re in 2nd place.
The problem with adopting images like this within the church is that people begin to use that as a benchmark for their own lives, even if it’s subconsciously. We are constantly comparing and contrasting ourselves to others, even when we know we shouldn’t. ‘Her life looks so perfect now she’s married…if only I could be like her’.
Typically, in most churches, what happens is after you leave the youth ministry, you’ll go to a singles ministry, if your church has one. After that, you’ll be upgraded to the marriage ministry if you’re fortunate enough to have been wooed by your very own Boaz. So, what happens if things don’t go to plan, and you don’t ‘graduate’ to marriage? What then? Well, often…nothing. Most times, the single woman is left in a vaccum-too old for youth ministry, but too single for the marriage ministry.
If marriage is portrayed as the ultimate achievement, then is it any wonder why single women feel they’re missing out when that doesn’t become their reality, or stops being their reality.
What happens to the woman that’s divorced? Separated? Widowed? Is there a place for her too? She’s not the ‘ideal picture’ we want to see, but she exists.
Church and christian circles can be extremely isolating for a single woman today, especially as church is typically a time to come together with your family. Well, what about the single woman that comes to church by herself? Let’s take “Ellie” for example who arrives on her own, sits on her own and leaves on her own. Okay, she might hug sister “Olive” the greeter, and she might have a quick chat with sister “Sheila” at the coffee table, but for the most part, she is alone during the church service. She is surrounded by families, by new mothers nursing their babies, by parents taking their children to Sunday school, and by couples smiling and affirming each other as they enjoy the sermon.
Ellie’s church family are often completely unaware that she often battles with loneliness- a topic very rarely talked about on the pulpit today.
What they also may not know is that there are days women like Ellie feel inadequate because of their singleness. There are days the divorced woman feels like she’s failed at love, and there are days the widowed woman misses hearing her spouse’s voice.
The single woman battles almost daily with the voice that tells her she isn’t married because she hasn’t ‘passed the test’ or that she hasn’t been ‘upgraded’ because she simply isn’t good enough.
It’s not the church’s’ fault there are single, divorced or widowed women in the church- life happens. However, the notion that marriage is the ‘upgrade’ or the ‘ideal’ for singles has to be quashed in order not to neglect these women. If marriage is portrayed as the ultimate goal, and if only those who have ‘scored’ are cebrated and put on display, then is it any wonder why women like “Ellie” begin to feel like they are irrelevant.
I’ve made Ellie up, but the reality is “Ellie” could be anyone. Your friend, your sister, your cousin. It may even be you reading this article. I do believe the church has to assume some responsibility to help reassure “Ellie” she is not forgotten, and to remind her that her role in society, in the body of Christ and in the church is still relevant. She is not less than perfect because she is not married and she is certainly not forgotten. Her achievements are valid and though she may not appear ‘picture perfect’, she is worthy to be put on display.
Words by Ijeoma Egole