Listen: Steph Penny chats to Katrina Roe about singleness in Christian community.
There’s an unspoken stereotype about singleness that lurks in Christian circles.
It’s the idea that singleness is a temporary inconvenience to be endured until you reach your destiny as a married person. This was Steph Penny’s experience when she was single in her late 20s. The blogger and author of Surviving Singledom chatted with Hope 103.2’s Morning presenter Katrina Roe about the struggles, highs and lows of her days as a single woman in church.
“In terms of society, people are marrying late and it’s quite acceptable, but I found that my experience in the church became more and more isolated as I grew into my late twenties” Steph said.
It is no surprise that long-term singleness and marrying later in life are on the rise in Australia, but Christians still have a tendency to marry quite young. This can create some challenges for someone who’s single in their late twenties and older.
“Everyone around me was getting married by the age of 21. I thought; is this just me or is it a Christian thing?” Steph said.
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The Growing Feeling of Isolation
Some churches have a tendency to unintentionally make singles feel isolated, by putting too much emphasis on marriage. That’s what Steph experienced, to a degree.
While married friends were inclusive and made time for her, at the end of the day, their family needs always came first before the needs of single friends—as is expected.
When life priorities change, it can be a natural progression for relationships to change also.
“For my friends, it became more about their mums groups, play groups and school PTAs, which are really important and I didn’t want to take that away from them but I guess I found that I was more imposing on them. So then it left me feeling like maybe I should be on my own.” Steph said.
Time to Dig Deeper
There are advantages to having time alone. One is that it can create space to explore some of the deeper questions in life.
For Steph, it was a chance to get to the bottom of some of her self-doubts.
“You really do start to wonder what’s wrong with you or what you’re not doing enough of, and I doubted myself,” Steph said. “Am I not praying enough? I’m trying to serve God but maybe it wasn’t enough. Maybe I don’t have enough faith?”
While exploring questions and doubts can be uncomfortable, it can reveal to us the heart of some of our issues. Perhaps the struggle isn’t just about the desire to get married, but what we think marriage is meant to achieve for us. Is it really the solution for our need to belong and be loved?
Throw Yourself Deeper into Worship
“If you know what your gifts and passions are, [then] throw yourself into serving God, being hungry for Him when you’re hungering for romance”
One way to work through the challenge of relationship fulfilment as a single Christian, is to throw yourself into other kinds of relationships.
For Steph, that meant connecting more with God and the church community.
“When I got frustrated at God I threw myself deeper into worship and deeper into prayer, and serving my local church,” she said. “I found that it was a great way to form closer relationships within the worship ministry.”
“If you know what your gifts and passions are, [then] throw yourself into serving God, being hungry for Him when you’re hungering for romance,” Steph says.
It’s a good reminder to the Christian that there is no reason to sit around and wait for the environment to change, but to use their time and energy well.
You Never Know What the Future Holds
In most areas of life, there are actions we can take to make things happen, such as looking for a job or buying a house. To an extent this can be true for meeting someone—but as most single people know, there are no guarantees.
This can leave singles struggling to plan for the future, and waiting for their life to start.
Steph said it’s better to avoid this rut by taking action, but knowing that change might be around the corner.
“Sometimes you only see what’s in front of you,” says Steph, who is now married. “When I was writing this book I didn’t know what God had in store for me.”
For many Christians, singleness might be all that they know, but the situation someone is in now may not be the same in the future.
What’s the Measure of Your Worth?
In some church circles, marriage can be seen as a mark of achievement, a ‘rite of passage‘ of adulthood, or a measure of relational success.
This can leave the single Christian feeling left behind or without purpose. Steph found this out when she started writing and researching for her book.
“People are now just starting to come and talk to me about their singleness – the good and the bad,” Steph said.
Christian singles who are struggling with the experience of isolation, can take comfort in knowing that they’re not alone.
And that no matter what society (or church groups) say, belonging and identity goes far beyond our marital status.