I never set out to be a single person. Nor have I ever felt a specific call to singlehood. I am not sure I could enumerate all the reasons why I’ve remained a single person all my life. In short, it’s simply how my story has unfolded. Regardless, I have tried to live life to the fullest in the midst of that reality, and (maybe surprisingly to some) I have found much joy in the journey.
Now, an immediate disclaimer: Have I struggled with loneliness over the years? Yes, I have. Have I endured periods of deep isolation? Yes, at times. Have I ever found myself grieving over what I’ve lost along the way—a life companion, children? Absolutely. Singleness has not always been an easy path. It has its own unique set of challenges. Sadness, loneliness, and grief have all been a part of the tapestry of my story. Yet again I have to say that great joy has marked my journey, too.
Answering the Awkward Questions
When I meet people for the first time, one question I often get is, “Do you have children?” I have learned to answer (with a smile) that I have many spiritual children. One Mother’s Day weekend in the first congregation I served, a dear lady thanked me for being the “mother of our church.”
That encounter and that phrase have stuck with me. Looking back on my life in ministry, mother has indeed become an expansive and generative metaphor for this holy calling. Over the years, pastoral ministry has afforded me the privilege of mothering in signi cant ways. For example, welcoming newborns at a hospital bed and then welcoming them into the larger family of the church when baptizing or dedicating them are cherished roles. Sharing a cup of coffee with a college student needing a surrogate parent and direction about their future or counseling a young couple about their marriage goals are also important components of pastoral ministry. Other pastoral roles are similar to parenting roles for men and women in ministry, whether married or single, including sitting with a parish family at mealtime, enjoying robust conversation and laughter with their young children, and holding the hand of a dear brother or sister in Christ as we prepare to bury his or her loved one. These pastoral acts have enabled me to be mother, daughter, sister, auntie, and even grandma! The work of pastoral ministry has enabled me to be an integral part of a family. So again, this journey of singlehood has had its share of grief and loneliness, but also much joy.
The Bible Values Singleness
The Apostle Paul tried to give the Corinthian Church a window into the joys and bene ts of the single life in 1 Corinthians 7. He urged those who could not control their desires to marry, but for the person with the capacity to remain single, Paul commended this lifestyle wholeheartedly. Specifically, he recommended this path because of its potential kingdom impact. Paul wrote: “In everything you do, I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please Him. But a married man cannot do that so well. He has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be more devoted to the Lord in body and in spirit, while the married woman must be concerned about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible” (7:32–35, NLT).
As a single pastor, I have experienced the reality of Paul’s words. Since I do not have to attend to the needs of a spouse or children, there are ways of using my time that are unavailable to a married person. I am less harried. I have less angst about a meeting going longer than expected or about getting interrupted at home at night by a parishioner who just needs to talk. I can easily immerse myself in the spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence, which can enable me to be more present, connected, and intimate with people when I am with them.
Making decisions about the next ministry assignment has proven relatively uncomplicated over the years. I could easily move to an assignment for a lower salary, because my needs were few. I did not have to worry about my spouse nding a new job or nding a good school for my kids. In my most recent move, I was able to live with good friends in their upstairs guest room for over a year. In this situation, I was able to enjoy companionship and family life while concentrating on the work in front of me. As a single person, I have been grateful for this ability to be agile and mobile.
Intentionality and the Single Life
Of course, being a healthy (and joyful!) single person in ministry requires intentionality. For example, though I tend to have more discretionary time than my colleagues who are married, it is imperative that I set boundaries. Unfortunately, parishioners and other ministry colleagues can sometimes make assumptions about the single pastor’s ability to attend to ministry programs or needs simply because he or she is single. However, the single pastor’s status should never give others license to take advantage. Nor should the single pastors misuse the gift of time given to them. It is incumbent upon me to manage my time well, in God-honoring ways, so that my life can make the greatest impact possible for the kingdom of God and not devolve into selfish or trivial pursuits.
Being a healthy single person in ministry requires intentionality when it comes to relationships, too. Good friends and healthy relationships with parishioners and ministry colleagues are a must. Finding and investing in a supportive local ministerial cohort and maintaining connections with ministry friends consistently should be top priority for the single pastor (and all pastors for that matter). When possible, I have always made it a point to build intentional relationships with the spouses of those with whom I serve too. These relationships have proved to be life giving and have often enhanced my relationships with my colleagues in ministry. I have tried to invest in entire families as well, inviting them to my home for dinner or inviting myself to their homes from time to time!
As I said, I never set out to be a single person. My journey has not always been easy. It has sometimes been marked by loneliness and grief, but I have tried to live life to the fullest in the midst of this reality. I can say unequivocally that joy has been woven all the way through. I am so grateful for this gift and the many other gifts I have received all along the way. If you find yourself a fellow traveler on this road, I pray that, even amid the challenges, your path would be marked by much joy, too.