December 9, 2013

Thought post: A humble reflection on the occasionally intriguing world of coupledom and - not…

Normally extremely reluctant to post on this area, a topic that requires more bravery and sheer undeterred 'chutzpah' than I'm typically willing to offer up, and one dangerously open to misunderstanding, but a recent incident gave me unexpected cause to reflect again on the occasionally intriguing world of coupledom and singleness, particularly in the Christian realm. 

I have to say it’s not an issue I ponder regularly, or as a matter of course, but unplanned life events have their way of sneaking up and pressing into stark reality things you've forgotten, seen as less important, or often simply chosen to just let go. Having shared this with a couple of married friends, they believed it to be an important area of relationship we all need to hear, consider & reflect on. 

What am I talking about?

Well, no major event, no ‘biggy’…a simple conversation: two people, both separately married, both my friends (though not friends of each other) chatting. As conversation drew naturally to a close, farewells underway, one of my friends extended a special invitation to their new acquaintance to come (with their partner) on a weekend away to meet his wife, and enjoy a moment of leisure together with a third couple. As my friend turned to leave they hastily added - of course, I’d be welcome to come visit any time. 

And suddenly, there it was...

Now, in many ways the incident itself was not really new, this hadn’t been an entirely uncommon experience over my life as a single woman, but as I’ve gotten older, friendships held longer, Christian fellowship grown deeper, and unimportant barriers done away with, it intrigued me that still, in this area at least, nothing seemed to have really changed. The defining status was still there. The social parameters still sharply marked out by this illusive matter of circumstance. The difference of ‘married’ and ‘single’ still somehow mattered and, in this particular instance at least, mattered more than relationship history or proximity.

Please don’t misunderstand me; I did not take this as a personal slight, they were after all -a friend. Nor did I perceive it as a deliberate or conscious ‘act of exclusion’ on their part; it was a delight to be so warmly reminded that I’d always be a welcome face in their home. But the message it unwittingly sent at that moment was maybe, in this instance, I wouldn’t quite ‘fit’, perhaps another context might be best.

I desperately hoped my cheerful response graciously concealed my unexpected surprise…my sudden sense of awkwardness…the imposed self-consciousness the moment had evoked.

So, I found myself reflecting once again on the possibility that, perhaps not everyone viewed their social-relational world through the same ‘open inclusive’ lens. For them, my marital status did (consciously or not) separate me in some important way, even at this stage of my life.

Now, I may just be an oddity here, but (apart from these instances) I’ve never been a person who’s ever been ‘self-consciously’ single. Of course I’m aware that I am, for the moment at least – single, but for some reason I’ve never grown up thinking my marital status ‘defined’ me in any way (or defined others); it’s never been the core of my identity, self worth or the defining signature of my existence.

Nor have I perceived it as a necessary detriment to my social relationships, especially in the Church, the community of faith, within the shared fellowship of believers. For within the common bond of union with Christ, within the security of our eternal familial bonds, I’d come to understand that here, all relationships had the potential to be at their most profound, most transformed, and old world-centred and self-conscious categories of ‘arbitrary social separateness’ done away with.

Neither did I believe that being single in any way hindered me (or should hinder me) in my capacity to develop, embrace and enjoy deep, satisfying and rich relationships with others, whether single, married, divorced, widowed or separated. I understood the scriptures called me, (regardless of my marital state) to embrace a life of social inclusion, not love others, (regardless of personal preference) deeply and from the heart, and to show generosity and hospitality to all, especially the household of God (1Pet 1:22, 4:8-9; Rom 16: 9-12; Gal 6:10, Heb 13:1).

Over the years, those beliefs, those convictions, those teachings, have profoundly challenged my perception of all relationships. They’ve shaped and disciplined the way I’ve attempted to conduct my Christian life and, though not always easy, dictated the contours of approach to the varying social contexts I’ve found myself in throughout my singleness. Because I’d come to realise, that in God’s eyes at least, my singleness was of little relevance to that call, to those commands, to the uniqueness of, engagement with, and responsibility to, those God ordained relationships.

Why such surprise?

Perhaps being caught off-guard was partly because we tend to expect the exclusivity of the ‘coupledom’ phase to be more a signature marker of those first wild flushes of married life, where the movement from singleness to marriage heralds a momentous life shift. With that change often follows all the natural eager excitement and enthusiasm of couples to take every opportunity to share in, and somehow ‘solidify’, that new reality with those who might likewise be - ‘the same’.

But still 10-20 (or more) years on?...even amongst those established, settled and secure?...even with long time friends?…close friends?…important friends?...Still coupledom somehow separating us from one another? Still that stronger desire to share in the common bond of coupled-ness than to now share in that together with friends who may be - not so?

Perhaps I believed, as you got older, and relationships matured and secured, status dynamics would lessen, become less pressing, less pertinent to the flow and bonds of connection. The things that really mattered between us - friendship, love, fellowship, shared life concerns and intertwined histories would become greater, deeper, and more significant. These would be the things that mattered, that bound us, that really made us in - ‘likeness’ to each other.

And so my intrigue, intrigue that there continues to somehow be difference...separation...still at times, social separation by marital circumstance.

So, yes, I must admit, it brought surprise.

As I conclude this little thought post, this passing moment of pondering; and that is really all it is - a point of personal Christian reflection, certainly not in any way a rebuke to married friends. But one can’t help realising that this unexpected reality should in some way continue to raise important questions for us all to consider as we seek to explore together the richness of relationship that we can, (and should) share in Christ. As ‘together’ we seek to live out, in this fallen earthly realm, the greater realities of our eternal inseparable bond, a bond that transcends even marriage itself (Matt 22:30), and as we seek to enjoy all that we really share in Christ, both in and out of marriage.


On a less personal note, I had two passing thoughts to consider for others who may read this little thought post…

For those in the broader church community -I guess the challenge for us all here, whether married or single, is how, in the ‘here and now’ can our relationships in the church community better reflect the heavenly realities we all share?

And if they don't, what might the social/emotional/relational (& spiritual) implications be for individuals and the Church? For one group, the relational-social realm will only continue to expand, grow, and bring ever increasing richness and opportunity. For the other, ever increasing relational contraction and potential social isolation.

At a closer level, for those of us within circles of personal friends, married and single, this is very important. How might we have our social world better reflect the reality of the personal relationships we share, than whether we happen to be married or single?

“Sing to God,
sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds-
his name is the Lord - and rejoice before him.
A father to the fatherless,
defender of the widows,
 is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
He leads forth the prisoners with singing…”
-Ps 66: 4-6 –

“A new command I give you:
Love one another.
As I have loved you,
so you must love one another”
- Jn 13:34 -

1 comment:

Bren + Lucy said...

Beautiful Post, so much letting go of negativity and pleasure reading this

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