I am a heterosexual, 33 year-old, single woman.
I happen to also be in the process of becoming a fully ordained pastor.
I am starting the process of ordination with the PCUSA. I went to seminary in Seattle. I’ve been in ministry in one way, shape or another for as long as I can remember. I have a strong sense of who I am and what I am doing with my life.
Yet, it seems that it was easier to navigate dating and finding “the one” when I had no idea who I was and didn’t know what I was doing with my life.
Guys seemed to be everywhere, especially during undergrad. I lived in dorms with 125 other girls, all in the same place, all trying to figure out who we were. The boys were readily accessible in the next dorm over.
The Invisible Timeline
What I didn’t know at the time was the existence of the invisible timeline of how the “Christian woman” was supposed to become a complete person:
- Go to Christian college
- Find boyfriend
- Lock it down
- Get married
- Have babies
Then, when said list was finished, I would be an accomplished female of this world and would feel complete.
Yet, when I graduated unmarried and without children, apparently I was wandering off the beaten path.
Looked Down on Is Not The Same as Seen
Many people in the Christian Community are confused by my life stage and not sure what to do with me. I often get the head tilt, which, in my interpretation, is the equivalent of the southern phrase, “Bless her heart!” As though the life I am living is lacking, a misstep, and to be pitied.
I feel the tension even as I type. It’s not that I don’t want to be in a relationship, or have babies, or get married. It’s just that I don’t want my life to be pitied. I want the place that my life is in to be seen as good, honored, shown dignity and supported.
It is hard to meet people in this day and age, let alone with the added provisions of Christian culture. These provisions are ones that remind single people their existence is less than those that are married and procreating. Or they tell us that the single life is just something to get through until you get married. Oh! And don’t forget about all the rules of how to date and how not to date.
I’ve heard people say phrases like…
Meeting people is just not the same as it use to be. The meet cute has been hijacked by online sites and apps that turn finding a life partner into a game.
If you notice, I haven’t even gotten to the Pastor part of this… Let’s add it shall we?
So, What Do You Do for a Living?
As a woman heading into ordained ministry, my vocation creates another obstacle to finding a partner. There are a myriad of assumptions about pastors to start with, then add the whole woman thing and the script is set.
There are two types of responses I have received from two types of Christian men:
The Conservative Christian Man: You know that you are going to hell, right?
The Liberal Christian Man: I think what you are doing is so good. Do you think this is what you always want to do?
…until he realizes that I’m not going to shift my view at any point in time and he wonders what the role of a “Pastor’s Husband” would be.
Both responses, I have decided, come from a place of assuming I am “too much.” Apparently, meeting a woman in a position of authority is intimidating or is not a norm that Christian men are looking for. YES! I am strong and I know it. If you can’t handle that, then I don’t want to be in relationship with you anyways.
The pastoral vocation is a man’s world, and I am a woman living in it. I know how to navigate the testosterone-y waters, and I’m good at it. I am also good at bringing the much-needed feminine voice to this vocation. Yes, I am strong, I don’t know any other way to be, and I’m not going to apologize for it.
Then we have…
The Non-Christian Man: Ahhhh… Cool… So does that mean you don’t have sex before marriage?
How am I supposed to respond to that over a texting app?
It opens up the super-vulnerable topic of a person’s sexuality way too soon and, for me, the topic of how I feel the church has failed on providing me with language for understanding my own sexuality. (I think that may need to be a different post…)
I have tried different tactics to avoid letting men know what I do with my life before they actually meet me, wanting them to give me a chance before writing me off as a prude or a power-hungry she-pastor. But then I just feel like a liar.
People have asked, “But what about Christian dating sites? That has to be different!” Nope. It is not any different. At least not for me.
It actually feels like more pressure, because most Christians have this idea that all pastors must be the “perfect” Christian. The assumption is too much to live up to! I either don’t live up to their standards of being a pastor or I crush their illusion of what it means to be a pastor. Either way, not a great way to start a healthy relationship.
This is the point in which I just get defeated. I have yet to find the creative fourth response of, “Oh wow! That’s amazing! It’s really impressive that you have claimed your call with such passion.” WHERE IS THAT GUY?
Enter the overly sympathetic responses from all your married friends…
Eyes that See
What about instead show you care more about my life as a single person than fixating on how to “get me out” of singleness? How about asking questions about how my life is going and not assume that I am incomplete without a spouse? How about asking about the passions I have in my life that make my world amazing?
The harsh truth is that the Christian Church has not done a good job giving people categories to talk about what it means to be single. And the lack of conversation has spoken volumes.
Waiting in the Tensions
Here is where I am so thankful for the groundbreaking work of Christena Cleveland. On a blog titled “A Liberation Theology for Single People,” Cleveland tackles the unbalanced world of the Single Christian:
The marginalization of single people in the church is not just a sociological problem; it is also a theological problem. The dominant, marriage-centric theology — in which Christian colleges create centers for marriage (but not singleness) and pastors wax poetic about marriage (but not singleness) for 8-week sermon series — points to a God who loves single people a bit less than married people. Not only does this corrode the identities of single people who are rightful and invaluable members of the family of God, it tarnishes our perception of God.
Cleveland uncovers the hidden theological-identity issue that the Christian world struggles to admit is real.
Culturally speaking, I already have the cards stacked against me as a pastor solely because I am a woman. I am already viewed by many people as “less than” or “not as good as.” And now, because I a do not have a specific ring on a specific finger, the weight feels even heavier.
Again, it is not that I don’t want to get married and find a life partner. It is that I want the life I have at this very moment to be shown dignity and worth. Nowhere does the biblical text say that salvation is based on our marital status; it is based on Christ. Thankfully, I’m covered.
Until the day comes when relationship status is not an indicator of worth, I am left to sit in the uncomfortable tensions: the tension of wanting a relationship but not willing to get married for the sake of marriage; the tension of making people uncomfortable and wanting my life stage to be honored; the tension of tradition and my present life stage.
Ask your church:
How do we engage single people in your church? How has our church shown the single life honor and respect? How can we help change the stigma around being single and help everyone know they “invaluable members of the family of God?”