A friend sent me a magazine focused on a health problem she and I once had. I was surprised that an entire publication was devoted to the topic, for it's not life threatening. But I was even more struck by a thread that ran through every article: The writers seemed to define themselves by this problem. And I couldn't stop thinking, "It just doesn't have to be that way."
This is true for every circumstance in life. We don't have to allow any situation to define us. Better to let our relationship with God define us. Yet we singles sometimes do what the writers of that magazine did: We allow our circumstances to determine - and often hinder - our effectiveness.
There's no escaping it: Your response to your singleness matters in ministry. That response will influence your effectiveness in the Kingdom, for we "train" people how to treat us by the way we treat our circumstances.
If I view my singleness as God's punishment, an ailment that needs to be "healed," or a season in which I am just killing time, or as a barrier to ministry, people will view it - and eventually me - in that way.
If I permit my singleness to define me, my friends will never look beyond the label either. If I'm not confident of who I am in Christ and what He can do through me as His daughter - married or not - others will not see it. And my ministry will be limited by the limits I have set for myself.
Granted, there are definite disadvantages to being single in women's ministry and limits beyond your control. For one, if you have never been married, you can't teach from experience on marriage and family issues - which means you must measure your words on those topics so your credibility isn't questioned. And yes, certain people may be so biased against singles that they try to detour your ministry. But I've found that, most of the time, if I don't treat my marital status as a hindrance, others don't either.
You can minimize any disadvantages by seeking to compensate for the differences in life experience. That happens by:
• Devoting yourself to your heavenly Husband and Provider
• Spending time in the Word (so that whatever you say about relationships echoes what God says about relationships)
• Studying up on the topic through books and videos and conversations with married people so that you have others' experiences to draw on
• Processing your own relationships and recognizing the truths that are inherent in all relationships
• Not limiting yourself to friendships with singles, but rather, getting to know women in different stages of life per Titus 2
Beyond all that, you can choose to view your singleness the way God does: as your greatest gift to others, and thus, to Him (see 1 Corinthians 7). I've learned to walk in that truth, because when I pled with God at age 32 to give me a purpose in my singleness, His answer was "ministry:" pouring myself out for others.
Ministry is our primary calling no matter our circumstances. We single women need to view this time of life as our best opportunity for wide impact. Not because we necessarily have more free time, as people often mistakenly think, but because we have more freedom, a freedom that should be stewarded wisely.
Our independence as singles permits us a unique opportunity to influence every realm right now. Now is the time to:
• Help raise up the younger generation as adopted aunts.
• Serve as mother's helpers to the women around us.
• Mentor those with whom we work and live.
• Reach out to the unsaved.
• Be a bridge between the married and single women in our churches.
If you think about it, who better than the single to quietly show marrieds that our common ground is in God rather than in gift registries and strollers? Who better than singles to exemplify to singles how meaningful a life of ministry can be?
On a personal level - and this is perhaps what's most amazing - the differences between me and the married women in my church dissolve whenever I combine a ministry attitude toward my singleness with a servant's heart and hands. The women stop viewing me as "single," and start treating me as a peer - a woman just like them.
Consequently, when I do venture into marriage territory as a teacher or counselor, God's truth shines through. Not because I have lived the life myself, but because He is speaking through me as I minister in His church to His daughters. And that is never a hindrance.
Kris Bearss is an author, veteran speaker, mentor and Bible teacher who directs the discipleship and women's ministry areas at her church, Trinity: A Bible Fellowship, in Thompson's Station, Tennessee. She is also the editorial director at Integrity Publishers in Nashville.
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