December 14, 2009

Self-Centered or Self-Sufficient?

About 10 years ago, the women's ministry at my church decided to start a mentoring program. They kicked it off with a weekend event and brought in a speaker who was over the women's ministry in her church in Texas.

There was a decent turnout of single women, which was kind of unusual for women's ministry events. My table was full of single women, all either approaching or past 40 at the time. I’m not sure our women’s ministry has seen such a good turnout of singles since. Small wonder, although any negative response was entirely due to the speaker.

During the Friday night talk, she told a story about a woman she had counseled before marriage. The bride-to-be was in her late 30s, and what the speaker had told her was something like, "If you haven't gotten married by now, you shouldn't get married at all because by this age you're too self-centered for marriage."

There was nervous laughter around the room, which the speaker didn’t seem to pick up on. She also failed to notice the expressions on the faces of the women at my table, which were evidently priceless because all around the room, women were craning their necks to get a look at us. Some were leaning so far back in their chairs to see our reactions that I was concerned for their safety. The reaction of these women was not offensive – it was more of a validation that they were sensitive to the insensitivity of the speaker’s comment.

Throughout the talk, the woman had also made some off-hand comments about the divorced that were not especially flattering. As the evening concluded, the woman from our church who had organized the event (who was divorced herself) came to our table to apologize. Evidently she also expressed a concern about the comments to the speaker because the Saturday morning session began with an apology. I’m sure the speaker felt awful that she said things that made people uncomfortable, but I didn’t get the feeling that she thought her opinion was mistaken.

What brought this uncomfortable weekend to mind? A never-married friend from high school sent me a link to a study on the emotional well-being of singles over 40. It wasn’t news to either of us, but it might have been to that speaker who seemed to think single women have an expiration date.

Authored by Jamila Bookwala, an associate professor of psychology at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa, the report was published in the Nov. 30 issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

Among other things, the report discusses why some singles never marry, and you know what? It doesn’t mention self-centeredness at all. It does suggest that many singles develop a self-sufficiency that may make marriage less likely.

As for emotional health, the report indicates the never-married single might be doing better than our married counterparts.

Not surprisingly, an important factor in scoring well on emotional health is the presence of social resources…relationships with family and friends. If you’re not connected to family, or to a group of people who fill the role of family, you need to be. It can make all of the difference in the world.

As for self-sufficiency, I would suggest that for followers of Christ, it’s not so much self-sufficiency that we learn from our singleness as it is a reliance on God to provide all that we need, from figuring out how to fix the toilet to developing meaningful relationships in our lives. And no matter how many relationships we have, the one that makes the biggest difference in our lives is the one we have with Jesus Christ.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13


  1. yikes...we have a long way to go as the body of Christ. please accept my apologies for the ignorance and insensitivity of others.

    "amen" to your last sentence! the great equalizer is Jesus.

  2. I guess I missed out on that meeting at church - I would have been a new member at the time. Maybe that is why when I go to women's things at church there are only a few single women. Unfortuntately over the years similiar things have been said in various Christian forums. We all need to stop making assumptions about others regardless of marital status. Why we are single could be for lots of reasons.

  3. It didn't do anything to encourage single women to get involved, that's for sure. I have tried going to a few things since, but too often the focus is on "wife and mother" instead of on helping ALL of us learn how to be better followers of Christ, which would help us in every area of our lives, whether married or single.

  4. I might add that I don't want to go to events that just focus on singleness either, which I know is more than a shade ironic considering the focus of this blog! =)

  5. The problem with most singles events is that they are planned by non-singles who are projecting their needs or prejudices and have little or nothing to offer singles. Of course this is just my opinion after a short 54 years of singleness.