This article has been excerpted from our new resource, Navigating Singleness in Ministry.
If you are a single woman in ministry, you have probably asked yourself the question, “Am I enough?” at least once―or a hundred times if you’re anything like me. The short answer is yes―you are enough just the way you are. You are called and equipped by God to lead.
Now I wish we could just stop here, but the reality is every day we walk out into the world. The days bring numerous ministry challenges and subtle messaging that make us question if we really are enough. We run into situations that push us to believe being single is just a placeholder for something better. These messages are lies, but when we encounter them day after day, we can begin to internalize them. Before we know it, we start to believe something might actually be wrong with us.
Being a single woman leading in the church can be isolating. As a single woman in my mid-thirties―who has spent over seven years in ministry―I know the struggle intimately. Some of the most encouraging times to me are the opportunities when I am with other single women, and we begin to talk about our experiences. To me, one of the most beautiful phrases is “me, too!” I hear those words and immediately feel validated and encouraged. We need these spaces to remind ourselves we are not alone and that our presence matters. I hope to create this kind of space by sharing with you some of the situations I have experienced that caused me to question if I really am enough and how I have tried to navigate them. By no means do I have all of the answers, but I do believe the more we speak the truth, the more we can step out of the shadows and let our God-given stories shine.
So…are you married?
Almost every time I meet someone new at a church event, I can predict what one of the first questions will be: “So … are you married?” This is followed by an awkward silence after I say “no,” and then the conversation fizzles. I walk away feeling as if I have done something wrong. I admit, this one is hard for me. I want to say to them, “But wait, there is so much more to me! I have worth! I have great friends and an amazing niece and nephew! I love what I do for a living! Keep talking to me!” Sometimes I wonder if I missed the commandment in the Bible that says, “Thou shalt get married,” or the passage that talks about Jesus being married with 2.5 kids, and how we should all follow in the way of Jesus and be married, too.
The truth is, being married and having kids does not define our worth. We are all loved equally. I have to remind myself of that during these conversations. The reality is the majority of people in church leadership are married. But there are so many single women sitting in the pews who often feel forgotten. We get to represent them―to sit at the tables of leadership and remind people there is wholeness to be found in being single.
So now, instead of just saying “no” when asked if I am married, I say “no, but …” I use it as an opportunity to share what God is doing in my life. Sometimes I walk away making a connection, but at the very least I hope they walk away thinking differently about singleness and its important role within the body of Christ.
God has someone for you!
The most frequent comment I receive from church people is, “God has someone for you!” I am sure they are well intentioned, and I appreciate the fact so many people have been talking to God on my behalf. However, I wish they would check with me to see what other prayer requests I might have instead of assuming that finding a man is my main priority. I say this somewhat jokingly, but this message can be challenging to hear on repeat―challenging because it assumes there is a hole in my life. It's a hole so large, it causes random people―who know very little about me―to point it out and pray for me.
I want to be clear―I do not feel called to singleness, and I hope to get married one day, but I can’t change my current reality. Do I believe God has someone for me? Well, I hope so, but there is no way for me to be 100 percent sure. What I do know is that God is intimately involved in my life, and the Holy Spirit guides me. I believe I am exactly where I am supposed to be for this season even though it looks very different from where I thought I would be. My love for God―and my decision to surrender my life to God―has nothing to do with my marital status. I know God has a good plan for my life―and it might include a man―but either way, I will trust the hand of the Creator who adores me.
This belief has influenced my response to the statement, “God has someone for you!” Instead of wincing and smiling politely, I now respond by saying, “I know God has a lot of things in store for me, and I am excited to see how it all unfolds.” This statement is a reminder of truth for me―and I hope for others―that our lives should not be centered on a spouse, but instead we should center it around our loving Creator and the expansive call on our lives.
Nuclear family is everything.
The focus on family can be challenging for single women in the church, and it can be particularly intense during the holidays. One experience stands out for me, and it occurred during one of our annual staff Christmas parties. During the distribution of the gifts, someone commented before we opened the gifts that these were meant to be enjoyed with our spouse and kids. Now, I appreciated receiving a gift, but it was immediately clear that the leadership assumed most people were married and had a traditional nuclear family. It was true, the majority of the staff were married with kids; but the fact no one thought how this assumption might be uncomfortable―even painful―for a single person made what was supposed to be a fun occasion extremely isolating.
The value of the nuclear family is extremely high within the church. We are encouraged repeatedly to spend time with our spouse and kids. There are thousands of sermons, classes, small groups, and Christian books dedicated to marriage and family. It can be frustrating and hurtful when everything around us suggests marriage is the ultimate goal―especially if we can’t seem to get there. I have sat through countless sermons on healthy marriages, wishing I could have the type of intimacy they were describing.
I’ve finally realized, however, that intimacy and the idea of family is much larger than just the nuclear kind. We see examples of this throughout Scripture. Jesus, I believe, had a chosen family―the 12 disciples and his closest followers. He even gave his mother to John right before he died. Talk about a non-traditional family!
Community and family are very important―we were never meant to walk through life alone. I felt God calling me to create a chosen family, and I have followed that calling. My chosen family creates a space where I am known―where I feel safe and loved for who I am. My chosen family is a diverse mix of people―single, married, divorced, widowed, parents, and people without kids. These are people I can call day or night, and they would drop everything to be at my side. We have walked through difficult times together―arguments, celebrations, sickness, births, and deaths. I have chosen to be vulnerable with them, and they have all, in different ways, been an expression of God's transformative love to me.
I used to think I had to wait for my own nuclear family to experience true intimacy, but the beauty of God’s community is that intimacy takes on so many different forms. Yes, the nuclear family is beautiful, but so is the chosen family. God's love transcends familial bonds―and if we extend ourselves and choose to find people to walk with through life, something really beautiful can happen. We become aware of the struggles others face and realize the grass is not always greener. It is easy to stay in our respective corners, but I have learned so much about being content in my current season from my friends who are in different life stages. Don’t get me wrong, I love my girls’ nights, but I also love my evenings playing with my friends’ kids in their backyards and sitting down for long chats with their parents. The diversity of interactions makes life feel so full and beautiful.
So these days, I celebrate this family just as I would a nuclear family. When people start talking about their kids, I share what’s happening with my niece, nephews, and the other beautiful children in my life. When the conversation turns to spouses, I talk about my amazing relationships―and sometimes even share about my not-so-amazing first dates! The stories of single people matter and we have to believe our community matters just as much as a married person’s community does. We are called to be a part of this beautifully diverse body of Christ, and that means showing up and engaging fully in the season of life in which God has called us.
I do not claim to have all of the answers, but one thing I have learned through my chosen family is that seasons of life are temporary. I believe we have to savor each season―and all that comes with it. Singleness can be a challenging season and for all the scenarios I have navigated, there are still days where I struggle. Nevertheless, when all else fails, we can rest in the truth that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. Regardless of the season we are in, our loving Creator looks down on each of us and says, “You are enough.”
Chi Chi Okwu is a Senior Church Advisor at World Vision and a former associate pastor. This article has been excerpted from our new resource, Navigating Singleness in Ministry.