Dear Single Friend,
You’ve asked me how you can become friends with families. You’ve shared with me how hard it is, especially at church, to interact with people who are married. Often, just by virtue of scheduling, Bible studies for women are divided into those who work outside the home and those who work in the home. Sunday school classes often focus on a stage of life. On top of that, families run hard after their children’s success in school, theatre, activities, sports, youth group, small group… and it’s hard to know where you could fit in even if you thought they wanted you to.
There are also theological perceptions that complicate engagement with families. In an effort to promote and celebrate marriage, the church often has ignored the very positive teachings from the New Testament regarding singleness. Marriage and the family have become an acceptable idol. Marriage is viewed by those in the church as a demonstration of maturity, as evidence of God’s blessing. Conversely, singles are viewed as immature, imminent disasters under God’s judgement. Am I right?
Whatever the complications, dear Single friend, here is the truth of the matter: you need families more than families need you. Right? Even as I write that, it feels a little lonely and sad to acknowledge. Always the babysitter, never the date. . .I need community. My house and thoughts are too quiet. My selfishness flourishes in solitude. (For more discussion on all of this, check out Sam Alberry’s book and this post.)
From the outside looking in, a family is a unit, a team, and they work together; they provide companionship for each other. When they move to a new location or church, they move together. They always have someone to sit with a church, or at a party. But I need them.
The biggest blessing of being single for me has been engaging with the families in my world. Whether its the family I rent my apartment from, my boss’s family, or the people who sit in front of me at church that I always run into on the beach. The family that asked me to go on vacation with them or the family where I did laundry for 15 years. Wow! Have I learned a lot about life and godliness from them! But this culture of ours makes it really hard for singles to get to know families.
The reality is, we as believers are called to be pursue people the way our God pursued us—selflessly, consistently, and for His glory. So what does it look like for you, for us, to purse families especially Christian families, to eat dinner with them, to participate in discipling their children, to learn about marriage and parenting, to laugh and cry and grow together?
Here are a few imperfectly learned suggestions the Single to keep in mind as you consider how to engage with families in a crazy busy world.
- Show up. Birthdays, graduations, soccer matches, baptisms, theater performances, soccer matches. Be there even when you may not want to be. Did I mention soccer? Your celebration with them can increase their joy (and it sure will do wonders for yours!).
- Bring food. Pick up a pizza–or a bunch of them. $5 footlongs. Sunday morning donuts. Ice cream. I have a deal with one family that I bring the protein (usually to be grilled), and I eat dinner with them. That’s easy for me to provide after a full day of work, takes one piece off the meal prep for them, and doesn’t require an extra event. For me and “my” families, Loaded Nachos is a comfort meal. We celebrate good news with nachos, and on more than one occasion, have mourned together over midnight cheesy goodness. Just a quick text confirms “I have beans and meat.” Do you have green onions? “I’ll bring the. . .” We make it together and enjoy it together.
- Assist. Is the mom overwhelmed? Is there a way that you can help? Pick kids up? Take someone to the park so she can take a nap? Is the dad struggling to get a birthday present sorted? Can you wrap presents for them? Some families are not great about asking for help, so be specific in your offerings. Water the plants during vacation? Check on the cats?
- Ask. Be willing to learn from their experiences. Ask for feedback. Listen well.
- Give feedback. Sometimes–OK, not very often– families may ask for feedback on how their kids are doing or what you observe about their parenting. This first time this happened to me, I wept–both because I was so proud of my friends for their willingness to be vulnerable and for the love and trust I felt in that moment. Be honest, be thoughtful, and bathe your words in love.
- Read the room. This is not a skill anyone is born with, so you have to work at listening and observing. Is there a lot of yawning going on? Is there unresolved tension in the air? Have they mentioned how much work they have to do? Are they falling asleep talking to you? Check the clock, and leave before you want to–definitely before they want you to.
- Carpool. Do you go to the same church? Headed to the same event? Hop in the car together. Bring snacks. Be ready to listen to endless recitations of Star Wars plots.
- Dovetail. Few families have room in their worlds to sit face-to-face for long with anyone. Recognize that your time with families will probably be dovetailed activities like folding laundry or grocery shopping together. That’s life, and life together.
- Diversify. Find several families to engage with. Spread the love! No one can ever build too many friendships.
- Befriend. Above all, be a good friend. That takes time, right? Invest, pursue, pray for them, brag on their kids, have dinner with their aging parents, text, call, show up.
A friend from work, the husband of a family I had spent time with, joined me for some rather intense classes at the gym. He might have gotten sick a couple of times in the beginning, but he kept coming. One day he wasn’t there, and the coach asked, “Lisa, where is your brother?”
That, right there, is the primary reason singles need to engage with families, especially Christian families. The way that singles make friends of families speaks to the world of the Gospel of Jesus. We show what true family actually looks like bonded by Jesus–reconciled, loving, and eternal.
Go get ’em!
Oh, and don’t worry, I have some thoughts for families about singles you can find here, too.