January 6, 2010

Ordinary People

I posted a link to Stuff Christians Like a few months ago. Jon Acuff writes on everything you could possibly think to make fun of in the church, and his readers voted the post on Surviving Church as a Single as one of the favorites from 2009 - there are nearly 400 comments on that post. This week he posted a new one on Being Single During Christmas at Church. Many of the 200+ comments (so far) are as funny as his original post.

While there is no end to things the church does that singles can find humor in, there are others that are not as easy to laugh off. Those of us who have never been married and who have been in the church for awhile generally learn to see past many of the things that can be difficult for single adults to deal with during the holidays. I cringe though, when I think of those who aren't as accustomed to dealing with a certain level of cluelessness in the church.

I wrote two different versions of a post addressing what I see as my own church's greatest failing in this area. I deleted the first one and decided the second one could be posted after Christmas. I told myself that if I waited until after Christmas then maybe those involved wouldn't take it so personally. But now it's after Christmas, and I'm not sure I want to post the second version either.

It's not as if it hasn't been brought up in the past. There was even a fair degree of progress. But this year, it seemed that we took a giant step backwards and regressed to our old ways. So each of the four Sundays before Christmas, I took a deep sigh and hoped we didn't have any single visitors. Yep, for the four consecutive Sundays of Advent, I hoped that those looking for hope would go somewhere other than my own church.

It's not the tradition itself that is bad. On the contrary, it is designed to point people to the hope of Jesus Christ. Instead, it comes off like a scene from Ordinary People, as we seem to pretend that we have nothing but perfect, traditional families.

I don't know when the tradition began. I don't remember it from my childhood, so I assume it started during my extended break from organized religion, that period from roughly 14 to 31. I know when I returned to church as an adult struggling with singleness, the tradition was firmly entrenched, and it ripped my heart out every Sunday. Instead of pointing me to Jesus, it reminded me of what I so desperately wanted but didn't have. Each Sunday I returned, thinking I could deal with it, and instead, I found myself wishing I had stayed home. It was only after Christmas, in the cold days of January, that I could make it through a worship service without feeling bad about my own life. While the tradition no longer has the impact on me that it once did, I can't help but wonder about others who come to church each December, hoping to find comfort and hope.

I know how it affected me. I later learned that the tradition had a similar effect on a young child whose parents were divorced. I can only imagine how it affects the family who has lost a father or mother, or the couple struggling with fertility issues, or the older couple estranged from their adult children and the grandchildren they have never seen. I wonder about the impact on the homeless who slip into the worship center for an hour of calm in the midst of the storm of their lives, and it breaks my heart to imagine the impact on those who have watched a child die or suffered through the pain of miscarriage.

Why does the tradition continue? Because those of us who spend our lives inside the church forget what it's like to be on the outside. We forget what loneliness feels like. We forget that just because we've always done it that way doesn't mean that we have to keep doing it that way. Most of all, we forget that keeping Christ in Christmas isn't a bumper sticker - it means reaching out to all of us who don't have perfect lives -- the world  -- because that's exactly who Jesus came for.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16


  1. Am I becoming accustomed to it? No. But I seem to conveniently forget about the Advent thing until it is too late to do anything about it. Every year I think "my class needs to be up there"! I keep telling them we're family...I'm a bad mother :(

  2. I have to admit, the first time I see it on the platform each year - even before the service starts - it's a jolt. It's always one of those "How long, O Lord?" moments.

  3. margaret,

    reread your post to see what i was missing. now, i think it must be
    something your church does that i don't know about. what do they
    do, specifically?

    sorry to be so dense...

    ps. i have been waiting and waiting for these posts!!!!!