One family here have taken me in and consider me to be one of theirs. I’m expected to celebrate Eids with them, to come over for iftar (the daily breaking of fast meal during Ramadan, the month of fasting), to visit on at least a weekly basis (ideally from dawn to dusk). It’s a joy to be welcomed into family in this way, but also presents challenges sometimes when I’m not allowed to leave! In contrast to my married friends or those with kids, they have an acceptable reason to leave “My husband is home, I must go see him.” “The children need to go to bed.” As a single person, I’ve had to learn to navigate this lack of reason, having arranged to talk to my mum on the phone, or having a flatmate who is alone in the house are the most appropriate I’ve found.
We often talk about how both singleness and marriage are a gift. Having experienced both in my life, I am in the unique position of knowing what it is to be single, what it is to be married, and what it is to be single once again. I’m aware of some of the joys and challenges of both.
Over the years I have read many articles and attended events with titles such as “the gift of singleness”, “how to love singles”, “investing in your marriage”, “marriage preparation”, “raising children”. Often tailored to particular groups, these are wonderful tools and resources, and of course it is important for us to take time to grow and invest in these areas. But what if the Father is calling us to something more beautiful? More diverse? Instead of the categorisation into “parents, married, engaged, dating, singles”
Can I invite you, take a minute to read this section of Romans 12:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others… Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
(Romans 12:3-5, 9-11)
This passage is talking about gifting in the body, but includes a line that I now read with different eyes having lived in the Middle East. We’re unique but belong to one another. We should be devoted to one another in love.
When we think of someone belonging to another, we can often think of husband and wife belonging to one another, children belonging to their parents and vice versa, a brother belonging to their sister and vice versa. We see the uniqueness of two individuals belonging to one another and forming one marriage partnership. Two children, individuals with the collective title of siblings, belonging to one another.
What if we began to view ourselves as part of a collective instead of individuals. Instead of “this is my friend who has recently separated from her husband” (an individual), “this is my friends child”, “this is my friend who is single”, “this is my friend who is married”, what if we viewed one another through the lense of collective and belonging to one another first? For example, “this person is part of my community, they’re also raising a child without a husband”, “this person is like my brother and his kids are like my nieces and nephews”, “this person is part of my extended family, they’re not married and don’t want to be”, “this is my friend who is part of my community, she’s married and I’m friends with her husband too, they’re like my brother and sister.”
How would our lives look different, if we considered all those in our community in this way. If the child of my married friend also belongs to me, how would I interact with them, pray for them, give them time. If my friend and their spouse belong to me as a brother and sister, would I invite them over for dinner, go on trips out with them, suggest a fun child-friendly outing, babysit for their kids so they can have a date night together? If a friend who is single is your sibling, and they are taking a step of faith in living overseas, or starting a new job, how often would you message them with encouragement? Would you tell them you’re available if they want to talk and share their joys and fears?
If we belong to one another and want to be devoted to one another in love, the extract from Romans above gives us some great ideas of where to start. Hospitality, devotion, honour.
Hayat (not her real name) lives in the Arabic speaking world and loves spending time drinking good coffee with friends, chatting about life and sharing stories together to grow in following God.