Facing Life ... 2gether
By Dennis Franck
Feb. 10, 2013
Perhaps you find yourself at odds with the festivities of the year’s best-known celebration of love. Valentine’s Day banquets and functions are a highlight for many churches as well as for couples. Flowers, candles, music, programs and food — all contribute to a romantic atmosphere.
But not for single adults.
Single adults not in a dating relationship naturally feel uncomfortable where couples are celebrating their love. Some have never married, and wish they were married. Some are divorced or separated, and remember their marriage with mixed feelings. Some have lost their spouses to death and are grieving. Single parents wish someone would help with the many tasks of raising their children, not really having much time or energy for romance.
Relationship is one of the most important needs single adults have. They don’t go home to a spouse to talk about their day, make decisions together, or receive loving hugs of affirmation. They go home to an empty apartment or house, a dog or cat, a child, or a roommate they may not even get along with.
We are created to enjoy relationships with others (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 17:17; 27:6,10; 1 Corinthians 11:11, see The Living Bible). Married adults have the same relational needs as singles, but those needs are at least minimally satisfied in marriage.
The church should provide a healthy place for single adults to establish quality relationships, and find godly mates in some cases. In the majority of U.S. churches, however, this has not been realized. Many unmarried adults look elsewhere to satisfy their relational needs.
Conversely, the world has created hundreds of “meeting places,” including venues clearly unsuitable for Christians. But there are other attractions outside the church where believers can safely identify and interact with other followers of Christ and build meaningful relationships. Think of the many common-interest groups established across your community — gatherings organized around gardening, motorcycling, crafts, music and athletics.
The church would be wise to learn from this and seize a great opportunity to help single adults meet and build quality friendships. Many congregations — particularly larger ones — already build their small-group ministry around this principle. But even the newest and smallest churches can use this ministry tactic with positive results.
In the journey toward a more-focused relationship with one special person, here are suggestions for building an array of healthy interactions.
Learn contentment in singleness. Many married adults wish they were single, yet many single adults wish they were married. The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Singleness has challenges, and so does marriage. Singleness is a time to grow, mature and become ready for the roles and responsibilities of marriage. It’s better to be single and wish you were married than to be married and wish you were single.
Throw away the detailed “shopping list.” Some single adults have such a long list of desired qualities in a potential life partner they lose sight of human fallibility. One may need to put the detailed “marriageability list” aside.
Continue to grow and develop. Develop physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, emotionally and financially. Establish many casual, friendship relationships with the opposite sex. Express courtesy, kindness, understanding and interest in others.
Learn to “take a risk” in friendships. Keep an open mind about a person’s character, competence, attitudes and motives. Befriend people you might not choose to date.
State motives. Much is misunderstood by attempts at communication, but more is misunderstood by silence. Transparent questions reveal honesty and intent. Honesty in the fundamentals of friendship can help you to communicate with a person if a relationship appears to be moving to the next level.
Let God lead. God knows if, with whom, when and why a romantic relationship is needed. He has no problem communicating His relational guidance to you. Continue to trust and commit your desires to Him.
Becoming a couple
At least five stages should guide a couple’s relational progress before marriage.
Intentional preparation should begin whenever one realizes a desire to eventually marry. Strive to grow and mature so when dating begins great personal improvements have been made. This stage could last a few years, or even many years. The Assemblies of God Single Adult Ministry website offers some additional thoughts at singles.ag.org/singleliving/singlenessissues
Infatuation gets a bad rap, but is actually initial physical attraction and is natural. Personal traits such as eyes, hair, smile, appearance, humor and intelligence can fuel the desire for romance. Significant differences are typically not noticed at this stage. If the relationship continues to progress, it is important not to dismiss such differences with a simple “He or she will change.”
Physical and biological attraction typically outweighs “agape” love (decisional and unconditional love) at this stage. It is wise to date in groups during this time to observe reactions, emotions, and responses to people and situations, and minimize tempting situations.
Differences of opinion, character, convictions, lifestyles, values and personal habits — as well as weaknesses — are noticed during this stage. With personal differences come conflicts, no matter how steadily a relationship is developing. With conflict, if it is severe enough, one or both partners may question whether the relationship will last. Understanding, valuing and resolving conflict, even though there may be different conflict-resolution styles, is very important.
Serious evaluation begins to occur, helping to determine if the relationship is worth the differences. One, or both, decide if they can live with manners, habits and attitudes different from their own.
Differences not so obvious in the early stages of the relationship now seem huge, and both individuals involved are faced with adjustments. Typical thoughts include, Can I live with the differences? and, Can I be content, not expecting change? as well as, If I change will I feel I was forced to do so?
By now the relationship has developed from infatuation into a mature, forgiving, serving love. Each partner is intent on what can be given to the other, not what can be received from the other. The decision to love through anger, disappointment and personal differences sustains the relationship. Listening, flexibility, forgiveness and acceptance prevail. This is the ideal time for an engagement to occur.
Where each of the previous stages might last a few months, this stage should continue throughout the couple’s life together.
Intentional involvement in all five stages will help prepare a couple for one of the most consequential decisions in life: marriage. Ironically, this decision includes hardly any training. More training is given to obtain a driver’s license than to marry.
A wedding ceremony does not prepare one for marriage. Skills must be developed during the dating process and be augmented by a rigorous premarital counseling program to give marriage the best chance for health and survival.
The church can help
The church needs to assist adults with this life-impacting commitment. A wise couple will allow a relationship to develop at least 12 months before engagement, and will use those months to be mutually involved at a house of worship. This time — encompassing the four seasons of the year — will allow a couple to know each other in their personal as well as their spiritual lives.
A church with a healthy focus on the relational needs of single adults and their possible journey to marriage will interweave those men and women fully into congregational life. “Family” is a noun, but also a verb. Christians need to “family each other,” especially those who may not have a family due to death of a spouse, death of a marriage, or relatives living away.
Single adults need the church to realize not everyone has family nearby — to understand that single adults need acceptance, maybe even more than married adults, since they have each other. Single adults want to be part of a family. Simply stated, unmarried adults need and want the intentional involvement of the body of Christ in their lives.
There are 97 million unmarried adults age 18 and older in the United States. May more of our churches help “family” these individuals who may not have family nearby.
DENNIS FRANCK is the director of Assemblies of God Single Adult/Single-Parent Family Ministries.
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