Singleness and the Role of Community

June 2, 2015
Darrell L. Bock, Abraham Kuruvilla, and Kari Stainback

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Topic Time Codes

00:15
Singleness and small group ministries
03:27
Experiencing community as a single person
09:55
Advice to singles for gaining greater community
12:44
Ministering to those who have reentered singleness through death or divorce
19:27
Singleness and dealing with loneliness

Transcript

Darrell Bock
I actually don't know the answer to this question before I ask it and that is, I take it both of your churches have small groups, is that right? Are you all associated with the small groups in your church? Do they pull you in or not? What's the situation there?
Abraham Kuruvilla
We do have a singles group. And I usually go there to speak not so much to participate. Here's the reason. All of them are not by choice, for life, unto Christ and community. And so I'm looking for a very narrow niche. Most singles are either single before marriage, single between marriages or single after marriage, widowed or widowers. I am hard pressed to find a community that of like-minded people who have given that up. And so some of those discussions and those things that they talk about just is foreign to me. Even though we are in the same category of singleness ?
Darrell Bock
It's different.
Abraham Kuruvilla
It's very different.
Darrell Bock
Now here's a question that I actually did want to raise at some point during the hour so this a good point for it and that is, are you purposely, I don't know how else to express this question. Are you purposely segregated into a singles group because you're single or would you have the option to be part of a group that involved married couples as well?
Abraham Kuruvilla
I would have the option for that. And I would have prefer to and I have attended small groups that are more family oriented. That would be my preference too.
Darrell Bock
Really. And so I'm wondering because I think some churches might actually unconsciously place you automatically in the singles group because your single, is that sort of what happened or?
Abraham Kuruvilla
Is that really true? I can't think of churches that would deliberately segregate people ?
Darrell Bock
I don’t think they would say it but I think by default, by the very creation of a singles group you might be creating a ?
Abraham Kuruvilla
Expectation?
Darrell Bock
? an expectation in that direction.
Abraham Kuruvilla
I think at least at Northwest where I go to it's an option. If you would prefer to that's fine but there is no compulsion.
Darrell Bock
How does PCPC handle that?
Kari Stainback
Yeah. It's an option as well but I will tell you this. What I've observed over the years with young singles when they first move to Dallas they want friends more than anything else. So for instance our young women's Bible study is like we want you to have girl friends that you can go out and do stuff with. And you can meet guy friends in Sunday school but make some good solid women friends. And then later they might want to be in more of a family structured small group. But first out of the chute, first in Dallas they want girl friends and I would assume it's much like that with young men.
Darrell Bock
So what I may be hearing between the lines it sometimes it can almost happen by default. That end up in ? you end up there because you're relocating to begin with and that's a natural place to start and then that just carry's on.
Kari Stainback
Um-hmm.
Darrell Bock
Well that's interesting. Well let's turn our attention to the last topic that I want to zero in on in some detail and that is the development in community, in developing community and participating in community as a single person with everything that we've been talking about. In the back of my voice I'm hearing you, "Don't treat us as a special needs." Everything about this podcast has the feel of a special need. But I actually think that's actually part of the problem. That's actually part of what we're trying to think about and challenge people on, is to get them to think about the fact ? don't treat this as a special category with a special box over here but see everyone in the church and everyone, period, in the church as a vibrant member of the community who has something to offer to it that God has them in the community for a reason. So let's turn to the idea of community and help us if you will think about community as you see it from the side of being a single person. What can help ? how can the church help itself in this area in terms of building community with single people?
Abraham Kuruvilla
For me one of my needs is accountability because it's very easy to go adrift as boat into the night. You're living single no one is keeping tabs of what is going on. So I have consciously, deliberately with the permission of certain people invited them into a position of responsibility for me. It may not necessarily be one person for every part of my life but financially they might be somebody, in other aspects there is another person. Just reflecting on what Kari was just saying a few minutes ago. Yesterday I was stuck in an emergency situation where I had to ferry the college going daughter of one of my good friends from DFW airport to her school, a two-hour journey. There was no way I could say no. I immediately texted one of my colleagues here at seminary who's my neighbor who's ? I am accountable to him that, "Hey I'm doing this. I just wanted you to know." He said, "Okay got it have a safe trip." So there's a sense in which I want my life to be an open book. If there are things happening that others need to know, they need to know even if there is nothing going on. I want to maintain that sense of accountability. I think that's where for me at least, at least in this phase of life, community becomes very important. That they can say to my life, what I'm doing wrong. Keep an eye open for things for blind spots in my life. Whether it's financial, whether it's relationships with the opposite gender, whether it's ministry engagement and times managements. There are people in these different areas who can speak to those aspects of my life.
Darrell Bock
And I take it these couples in particular that you mentioned earlier that have managed to get ? become a very vibrant part of your life are they occupying some of these roles that you're talking about?
Abraham Kuruvilla
Yes. They do.
Darrell Bock
And it would be interesting for people to hear how did that emerge? Did that just happen in the flow of community life that you ended up being close to these couples?
Abraham Kuruvilla
Some of it was fortuitous. God brought it about but to a great extent there's a sense in which if I see that this is a couple that can be trusted because I'm not going to this with just anybody. I've opened myself up. Initially they're very surprised because for the most part they may not have had that close of a relationship with anybody because that's not the norm.
Darrell Bock
That's right.
Abraham Kuruvilla
But my life is an open book and I invite them in. Tacitly, not explicitly and that just develops and it's just worked out very well.
Darrell Bock
Was there anything conscious that you did to develop this? Did you guys have dinner together at one another homes or something like that?
Abraham Kuruvilla
That's usually how it starts over food, invariably. They're usually members of the church that I am ? or members where I have interim pastored. And looking back at the few people they're like that, they are either members of where I am now or members of where I have been in the past. Started off with just a casual invitation, come over for a meal. And I invited them for a meal, I know I don't cook, I take them out to eat.
Darrell Bock
You're my kind of single guy. Yeah.
Kari Stainback
I mean I so agree. I mean even the best of a small group and best discussion around God's word with all ages and stages as delightful as that is to be a part of, the deepest community is when you do life together. And about three years ago I got mono. I mean who gets it at 52-years-old. And that's when I really saw that God gave me friends not just because I worked for the church but because this was my community because I couldn't even take the trash out. And they for six weeks I was in bed and people brought me meals at just the right time in just the right way and changed my sheets and cleaned my ? I mean it was amazing how this group of people. And their husbands pitched in too. It was just really feeling taken care of and I feel so fortunate that God gave me that but there is a certain aspect of it outside of a crisis that you have to initiate yourself. That's what I mean by that scheduled intimacy. You have to figure it out and make it work whereas you've got a family all around you ?
Darrell Bock
It kind of just happens.
Kari Stainback
It just happens.
Darrell Bock
It kind of just happens. Yeah that's actually what I was pushing for in thinking about this. Is that what might tend to evolve rather naturally, I mean you're put in a small group. I mean the small group that I function is a handful of couples, we run a gamete of ages, but everybody has a family and kids and it's just kind of a natural ?
Abraham Kuruvilla
Affiliations.
Darrell Bock
? affiliations, yeah. But in the case again of being a single person where first of all you're not naturally often times included in those.
Kari Stainback
They just don't think about you.
Darrell Bock
Exactly right.
Abraham Kuruvilla
Dinner for Eight.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Exactly right. In that process you get lost in the shuffle for lack of a better description. So, taking the initiative, which actually raises and interesting question. I had you speak to the pastor's maybe another element that we need to raise is what would you say to other single people who are in churches. What advice would you give them as they think about being a part of community and encouraging their involvement in community? So that there's a natural tendency perhaps to marginalize the single person to a certain degree. How do you overcome that? That's actually a pretty important question if you're thinking about community. So taking this initiative is important. Giving people permission. And I take it you must have couples in your church situation who operate much like Abe has described for him.
Kari Stainback
Yeah. If I were giving advice to singles, I would say if there's a married couple that you want to spend more time with call them. Say, "Do you want to come over for dinner." I think they almost always say yes. You have to prayerfully make that and take that initiative and they will more than likely reciprocate. And so it's just its normal fellowship but there is the initiative. I think when you're single you tend to think, "Oh I don't want to bother them. I'll be an imposition." But the reality is I think most the time that couple enjoys it. They've got some different folks in their life.
Darrell Bock
And there really is an opportunity to introduce something into their own dynamics that actually is pretty important for community to function so that we overcome some of the things we've been working the entire hour to overcome. So what advice would you give Abe to single people?
Abraham Kuruvilla
I think that's exactly right. I think many married couples like the pastors we talked about just don't know what to do with this strange species of single people. I think just opening yourself up and making friends in that sense. God brings people and there's a sense of chemistry in the way you make friends and friendships and some of them click and they will go far if you take the initiative. I like that phrase of scheduled intimacy. That's very accurate.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. And I think the idea of taking the initiative and really everyone sometimes senses a bit of potential awkwardness and that helps to overcome it for the initiative to be taken and the doors to be open.
Kari Stainback
And I don't want to leave out this very important point, is I mean, God knows how to match these things up. I mean pray, pray that he will send that to you; send you to them. How are these relationships supposed to be formed but by the Lord leads but to pray and watch him provide I think is really important.
Darrell Bock
Okay. Well we've got one class of single people who we've kind of talked around and about but and really are different from the situations you two find yourselves in in some ways and yet face the same kinds of issues in another way and those are the people who I think the way you put it Abe, was are either between families or have come out of families and find themselves single. And I've got two sets of questions here. One is, how easy or difficult is it for a person who's single and never been married, how easy or difficult is it to relate to the people who have been married? That's one part of the question and the second question is, how much have we talked about in singleness in general applies to that group as well? In other words should we think in very different kinds of ways or do these people all of a sudden find themselves in a spot that is as awkward sometimes as having been single all along?
Abraham Kuruvilla
Yeah. I'm not sure we can lump everything together, simply for the reason that the goals are probably different, as I define in ecclesiology single is one of them is for Christ. So that I can be fully thrown into, immersed in ministry. If that is not the case with somebody else it may be a little bit harder to form a community in that sense. So yes I think there are differences between these categories. I don't know if we can ? just because they don't have a spouse doesn't mean they can all be put into one basket.
Darrell Bock
But can the single person who's experienced singleness for life be of a help or minister the person who finds themselves single and now perhaps locates themselves in a place that either they hadn't anticipated or weren't prepared for in some ways.
Abraham Kuruvilla
Yes absolutely. And I think the way is simply the goals. The state that marriage is not the greatest good, neither is sex biological, imperative without which we cannot live. I'm alive. [Laughs]. So I think in those aspects and modeling, focused upon Christ, I think it very helpful for those that are before or in between or after marriages or families.
Darrell Bock
And then do you think you're also in a position to help them kind of get located in terms of, "Okay I'm now single in a church. I'm used to functioning in the context of being in a family." Are you able to come alongside them and say, "This is what life as a single person in the church can be like and this is how you negotiate this space to some degree."
Abraham Kuruvilla
Yes. I think a single person's life is a demonstration of the gospel in at least three different ways. One is that it's a self-sacrifice. See the sacrifice with a number of things we talked about. Secondly, it is demonstration of God dependence. Not that married people are not depending on God, but in a different way the single person is.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. My spouse is helping me depend upon God all the time. [Laughs]
Abraham Kuruvilla
Whether you like it or not. And then thirdly, the eternity focus. I think all those reflect the gospel. It's a self-sacrifice, God dependence and eternity focus and if I can model that in my life I would die happy. Model that both to married people and in particular single people to say, "This is what life is about, this is what it means to follow Christ. Self-sacrifice, God dependence, eternity focus." And I think those three things ought to mark the way in which we single people and everybody else should live.
Darrell Bock
Now Kari what do you think as you think about this group of single people who find themselves single after not having been single. For you do you think about it as a different category or are there enough similarities that there's ministry that can happen?
Kari Stainback
Well I think that there's definitely enough similarities so that ministry can happen. Number one is that you're alone, but the second thing is most importantly then you aloneness is - Elizabeth Elliot used to say, "Wherever you are God has called you there." So if you're a new widow he's called you to be widowed.
Darrell Bock
Of course Elizabeth Elliot for people who don't know is someone who was married who -
Kari Stainback
Yes. Who is widowed three times I think.
Darrell Bock
Yeah.
Kari Stainback
Maybe widowed twice, married three times but anyway her perspective on calling was so helpful to me years ago and that when you're single if God has not brought you your husband this is calling, you're single for his glory, his purposes. And the same thing with widowhood or should you end up in a divorce. So those three things again I think that yes those are things that happened to us that are life changing and probably not what you thought for the majority of us are like that. However to live it to God's glory. To be surrendered to his purposes and if he wants you to remarry then that is within his design for you, his assignment for you and that that would further God's purposes in and through you. And I think the more we can be friends together and pray for each other as a community then we can help know the hand of God in those things. But on just a practical level, if you have children in your newly widowed, newly divorced, then you have some major time constraints that have changed and that's the kid factor. So it's really hard for you to have time for your friends at that point and then when you do have time everybody's busy with their couple world. They're not able to find the time to schedule the intimacy. So it does make things harder and more complicated.
Darrell Bock
So what you're saying is that scheduled intimacy that you're talking about that's so crucial for the single person who's not been married that becomes an even greater challenge for a person who has a family?
Kari Stainback
Yeah. When you still have kids in your home.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Fair enough. You've mentioned a word several times that I'd like to talk about because I think this is an important part of the conversation too, being single and the idea of loneliness or being alone. Which I think can be rendered in a variety of ways. So let me walk through this and get your reaction. When I think about loneliness there's a sense in which I'm not attached and I’m almost uncomfortable not being attached. That's what I hear when I hear the word lonely. When I heard the word alone I hear, "There's no one around me I'm on my own." That could be positive or negative depending on what you make of it. And then the third thought that's in the back of my head is and Abe I'm hearing your voice in my ear while I'm saying this is, that if I am walking and attached and connected to Christ then I'm actually never completely alone. And so I think ? I've kind of painted a spectrum here and I think it's an important spectrum and I suspect that single people may move along that spectrum at different points in their lives. There are times when they may feel very lonely. There are times when they feel alone. And then there are times when their walk with Christ is very much sustained and of course the goal is that that walk with Christ would do it through the whole thing. Let's talk about that area of being single because I think it's an important one that we tend not to talk about. Kari you want to start us off on thinking about that.
Kari Stainback
Yeah. You know the first thing that comes to mind is one of my good friends is in the hospital down the street at Baylor right now and she's single and she's feeling pretty lonely. And even though her friends are there and visiting she's like, "Wait Lord, it's just you and me. I don’t know what this mass might be but I have to go deep and trust you that you're with me and your presence carries me and I will stand on the things that you have taught me all these years."
Darrell Bock
Interesting, so you've got a medical condition that's put persons ? I'm assuming here cancer ? potential cancer situation. And so how do I negotiate this without any family around.
Kari Stainback
Right. And she has no family but she has a dear group of friends but still I think it's not like if you had a husband right beside you and kids that were checking on you all the time. It's not quite the same.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Interesting.
Kari Stainback
So that's a different element and then I think like you said, there's seasons of ups and downs and the loneliness around the holidays or when I was younger and going to everybody's wedding but my own. Always a bridesmaid never a bride. Everybody is doing something but you. Then I hit my 50's and I realized, "Wait everybody has something in their life that God assigned that they probably wouldn't have ever have chosen." And I was like, "Oh." I mean to be honest I think I had lived a lot of my days kind of short changing God's purposes. It was like, "Oh I got kind of the consolation prize. Everybody else got some fun stuff they're doing. I've missed out." And then I realized there have been some real struggles that I didn't know about. And not that I'm glad that they were there but it's part if living in a fallen world. And that we learn to live and he is the one that loves us more then we can ever imagine or know. He is the one who loves us like Aba Father and our husband. And then to live in light of that anticipating more is the journey of being single. And then being hopeful that maybe some husband will come along the way. [Laughs]
Darrell Bock
Okay. Let's talk about this spectrum as you see it Abe?
Abraham Kuruvilla
I have one sibling, an older brother. We take care of our father. He's 87-years-old, widowed about 30 years ago.
Darrell Bock
So you're all in the same city?
Abraham Kuruvilla
He's in Houston.
Darrell Bock
He's in Houston.
Abraham Kuruvilla
I'm in Dallas. My dad goes back and forth. So he's with me right now, my father
Darrell Bock
So you trade him back and forth basically?
Abraham Kuruvilla
Uh-huh.
Darrell Bock
Oh interesting.
Abraham Kuruvilla
So this 87-year-old single man lives with me for six months in the year. And he's had some medical issues, he's relatively stable. And I have to wonder occasionally, if I live to be 87 - I have no desire to live to be 87 but if the Lord so decides, who will take care of me. So I remember some 34:10 you know, "The young lions do lack and suffer hunger but it's they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing." And so you hang on to that. As someone once said, "In the backyard of solitude there's always the crabgrass of loneliness." I think that's very well put. Not always but occasionally there is, "Uh here's something nice that I'm doing or experiencing. It would be nice to share it with somebody." But I submit to you that that may not be as unusual or that is no more unusual then you in marriage occasionally thinking, "It would be nice to be alone." So I think those flashes of wanting to be alone on a married persons part and those flashes of wanting companionship on my part or probably mutually cancelling and won't make you give up your marriage and neither will that ?
Darrell Bock
Nope I'm not giving up my marriage you got that right. [Laughs]
Abraham Kuruvilla
Sally will be happy to hear that. Nether will that cause me to give up calling of celibacy either. So I think it balances out in the end. But it's there. It's the truth.
Darrell Bock
Of course the solace that you have in one sense is that you do have family around you so you have some built in relationships that sustain you at one level. The situation that you've described over here of this gal who doesn't have family and is really in some senses more alone then many. That is a challenge.
Abraham Kuruvilla
That's a difficult situation.
Darrell Bock
And that is a challenge for a community it seems to me because a community really does need to rally around this. I hate to make analogies but we just did an interesting podcast with Tony Evans talking about living as an African American in a predominately white society. It was a response to what's been going on with Ferguson and that kind of thing. And he was talking about the importance of community with so many broken African American families and there are a lot of people who live as single mothers in the community and the church has to really consciously rally around them to provide the support of what in some case would normally come with a full family. That kind of thing. In some ways you're in a similar, it's distinct, but it's a similar kind of situation for single people and helping to give them a wealth of relationships and a pool of relationships that make for community that.
Kari Stainback
Well and you bring up a good point and I think the hardest and my hat is off to that is single woman, with children, working all the time, and when in the world is she going to have time for a small group study. I mean that is so hard to ? we are not going to see them in the middle of the week I don't think. Maybe on Sunday and then even then it's for a short time.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. I have a sister in law who has just gone through a divorce. I mean with in the last several years. And she had four girls and the youngest this year is a senior. So she's had someone in the house the whole time. And we have made a very, very conscious effort to make sure she's included in a lot of the things that we do and inviting her to stuff and that kind of thing to have her ? and she constantly is talking to us about her wrestling with her loneliness and how difficult sometimes the holidays are and that kind of thing. I mean we've kind of walked alongside her in the midst of all this. And you're right Abe to point out that there are different paths that people have walked and found themselves on. I mean you've made a very conscious choice which means that you've accepted some of the things that come with the choice as a part of saying this is what I've committed before God to do; this is where God has me. There are other people who fall into situations that they didn't intend, didn't design and find themselves in and the church has got to be able to be supportive of all that.
Abraham Kuruvilla
And I have to wonder also maybe if there were an army of singles in the church, they would be the ones to support this friend of yours Kari.
Kari Stainback
Well and she has a lot of friends. She has a solid group of friends but I'm just saying ?
Abraham Kuruvilla
No if they're dedicated to this kind of ministry as a group of singles ?
Darrell Bock
Yes.
Abraham Kuruvilla
? who have dedicated their lives to ministering to those in need.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Part of what I’m hearing from you Abe is almost a plea for the church to think through and seek out and encourage a certain kind of singleness with a certain kind of commitment that will produce the kinds of models you lacked when you made your choice. Am I hearing that right?
Abraham Kuruvilla
And it may produce the extra hearts and hands needed to minister to people like the ones Kari was talking about. And that's been the history in the church.
Darrell Bock
Exactly and with a deeper understanding of what that person is actually going through.
Abraham Kuruvilla
That’s right.
Darrell Bock
Yeah. Fair enough.
Abraham Kuruvilla
I mean for me my calling is to be in ministry in the teaching responsibility. For others it may be humanitarian interests. I'm going to remain single in order to meet the physical needs of a single mother with children, who has got breast cancer.
Darrell Bock
Or an orphan.
Abraham Kuruvilla
Or orphans. There were armies of these in the early church and I'm wondering, why not today?
Darrell Bock
Interesting. Well that's a question to ponder and it might be kind of a good landing place for where we've been together. I came into this podcast, I have to be honest, wondering what are we going to talk about for an hour but you've been very, very helpful to help us think through this area of life, which I do think the church really just kind of has trouble figuring out for lack of a better description and hopefully this podcast has helped people think through the area of appreciating the people in some cases who have chosen to be single and in other cases have found themselves to be single with a plea not treat them with special needs on the one hand and not marginalize them on the other although that's sometimes as socially what inevitably the inertia of our social relationships tend to make us do and to realize single people are a wonderful resource God has given to the church and in appreciating that, the church actually has the chance to extenuate what it is as a community in the midst of doing that.
Abraham Kuruvilla
Amen.
Darrell Bock
So I thank you all for being a part of this and we thank you for being a part of the table where we discuss issues of God and culture and we look forward to seeing you again.

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