A Nod to the Church Cat Lady

A feast of articles and blog entries await any reader who wants to consider singleness in a corrected way or a more compassionate way or just a more complaisant way. He can read about the value of the single community; how ideal singleness is according to Paul; and the really steely ones can read about pouring their lives into the lives of the married and married with children.

I maintain that singleness is just another piece of the pie that is life in the church, and every piece has its sweets and its bitters. Because singleness happens to be my own piece of the pie, I am aware that I am more sensitive to slights and dismissals that befall singles. There isn’t a piece of the pie that hasn’t been mishandled, thanks to our fallen nature, but if you want another peek at the sweets and bitters of a single woman in the church, step this way.

One evening, several years ago now at one of my old churches, I was helping out with babysitting at church for the “date night” we provided for parents in the church. The pastor would sort of wander from post to post, making himself available without tying himself down too tightly to any single duty. As I played with some children in the hallway, he began to say something about how he had a hard time knowing how to pastor singles. “I just don’t know what you folks need,” he sighed. As he walked away, I thought, “Good doctrinal preaching?” but didn’t completely understand what a real problem we were to our pastor until after I had left the children and found some time to ponder what he had actually implied. We were, to him, not just Christians, but single Christians. Before our identity in Christ could be addressed, he wanted to address our identity within the Social Security Administration.

My older sister is a counselor in several ways to all the rest of us sisters as well as to various other young women. She has invested many years in her church and its middle school-aged children. She has known the people in her church for nearly her whole life and is one of the most grounded and circumspect believers I have ever known. However, when in conversation with someone in the church leadership, if she mentions a deeper spiritual theme, she is accustomed to finding herself brushed off and dismissed, as if the discussion is above her pay grade and she really need not trouble herself with such things.

When I moved to North Carolina, it was the first time I had ever lived in a state without another family member anywhere near. My classroom was in a dark corner of the gym, and my home was on a farm in a rural corner of Wake Forest. The people were all kind, but fully occupied with their own families. I had looked forward to getting to know some other singles, but I couldn’t find any—none in my age range, anyway. The ladies were moms and focused on their kids; the men were (rightly) protective of their testimonies and avoided serious conversation with me, concerned about what people might say. I starved for fellowship and suffered acutely for the first year.

These things, my friends, are the bitters we have known. We have been chuckled at, patronized, and forgotten. Without asking, they have prayed for husbands for us and yet have laid heavy expectations on our availability. They have considered our homes to be where our moms are, not where we have intentionally planted roots. They have been skeptical of our decisions to purchase houses, wondering at our not “waiting” for . . . something. They have been sorry, very sorry, that we are, in their estimation, unfulfilled in life.

Let us turn to the sweets. We must keep in mind that, just as anyone in any status can feel unfulfilled, one person’s sweet may be different from another’s. Be understanding. Be compassionate.

Home. After solitarily navigating the job, the traffic, the vehicle problems, the home repair issues, the church involvement, the domestic responsibilities, and the bank accounts, home is our hospital and our sanctum. It is a little shield from the meanness of the world. No partner deflects its harshness for us; we must absorb it all ourselves. No one asks if we are ok; we must just be ok. We need our home time to preserve peace, heal hurts, and arm ourselves to go out there again tomorrow. If we are grieved at losing time at home, perhaps with some compassion it can be understood just why.

Pets. To someone who does life alone, being the apple of someone’s eye–being needed and waited for each day is a true comfort. Until you are as overjoyed to see us each day as our dogs are at six or seven in the evening, don’t roll your eyes at our affection for our pets. They are providing a very simple daily dose of companionship and affection whose need you may never even have considered. We know they are not our kids. But your kids aren’t our kids either. If we lavish love on our pets, just agree that it’s natural and right. Maybe it’s time to reconsider how we talk about the weird cat lady?

Routine. Just as a print looks better in a frame, certain times of day are given purpose and repay with comfort when they are set upon a familiar structure. Mornings and evenings are the general favorites. My routine is met with indifference, at best, to most people, but its disruption can set the whole day askew. In fairness, one’s routine has generally no priority over relationships, but a healthy relationship will certainly include respect for a routine.

Thoughtful questions and interest. “Have you been hiking recently?” “How is your car running?” Do you have any nonfiction book recommendations? “Is there anything you could share that God has been teaching you recently?” “Do you have a philosophy of missions?” “Could we come play with your dog sometime?” “Is there anything you need help with at your house?” It’s not difficult, but it does require just a bit of knowledge and a sense of what is important to a person. These questions and others that affirm are not forgotten, but long remembered and loved. Someone knows me and cares about what goes on under my roof. It really is quite uplifting.

There are other sweets, but these are fairly common ones, I believe. I pray that your compassion is met with the same from unselfish, joyful singles in the church.

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