Answering your questions
Singleness, Marriage, Writing, Spiritual Abuse, and Acorns
Last week I put a Question sticker up on my Instagram stories because I really value longer-form answers and Instagram stories don’t really allow for that. I could only answer a few, but hopefully yours made it in the lineup!
Why does the church not preach more on singleness?
I don’t know that I can answer this question for your church—especially because I think some pastors (albeit few) do preach on singleness. But I think the answer to the question is because we’re still generally of the mindset that more people are married than are not. If you think about it, many pastors in the pulpits today grew up in an era when more people were married and were getting married, and many of them are married themselves (which gets into another issue that I’ve written about before!). But a pew research study from last year says,
The share of adults ages 25 to 54 who are currently married fell from 67% in 1990 to 53% in 2019, while the share cohabiting more than doubled over that same period (from 4% in 1990 to 9% in 2019). The share who have never been married has also grown – from 17% to 33%.
That last stat in particular is something we should really be paying attention to, and church leaders should especially be paying attention to it.
What I observe is that the Christian culture feels more equipped to talk about marriage than they do about singleness, therefore there’s more material at hand to draw from. Pastors also spend a lot of time thinking about hurting and broken marriages in their churches, and a lot of time lending wisdom to those marriages. Unmarried folks simply aren’t on their minds as much, so they don’t sense a felt need quite as much.
But a wise shepherd will look at those stats above and realize that unless they begin to preach more on singleness than marriage and equip singles before they enter the furnace that marriage can be, they will continue to see marriages on fire in their churches. Everyone pays attention to wildfires, but not many of us want to plant an acorn and wait for it to grow. Investing in singles now is planting an acorn and it’s imperative that the church pays attention to it.
Difference between spiritual direction/therapy/discipleship?
A quick overview:
A licensed mental health counselor/therapist is one who has gone through accredited education in the mental health field and received licensure by their state to give mental health counseling. They are a medical professional who understands some level of neuroscience, some elements of psychiatry (whether someone needs to be referred to a psychiatrist), and psychology. But most importantly, for a Christian integrationist, how the body/mind/spirit/heart/soul need to be healed in a holistic way.
A spiritual director is one who has gone through training to understand how the soul, spirit, and heart work in a human. They are primarily there to listen and help you listen to God. They work in a seemingly similar way to a therapist in that they ask a lot of questions, but they are not licensed by the state, and unless they have gone through trauma-informed training, they aren’t equipped to answer questions about trauma. In fact, a good SD won’t answer a lot of questions. Their work is mainly to help point you to God and to God’s voice and God’s words.
Discipleship/mentorship is done by any ordinary person with any other person. It’s a partnership in which one person helps guide another person in learning more about God, answering questions they may have, helping to show them where in scriptures the answers they seek may be found. Anyone can do this! And, in fact, every Christian is called to do it.
Favorite Eugene Peterson work?
Hands down, The Contemplative Pastor.
How to explore big themes in writing when you only have small amounts of time?
You plant an acorn and watch it grow.
Maybe that seems simplistic, but I think we often times try to tackle big themes in our writing before we both have the time and have the maturity to handle them. This is one reason—though I try to not make this sound prescriptive—that I think most of us shouldn’t publish books until we’re in our forties (And I’m not just saying that because I’m in my forties. I’ve been saying this since I was in my twenties, facing opportunities to publish books then. My money is where my mouth is.).
You know how I love to quote Mary Oliver, “Things take the time they take,” but the rest of that poem is, “How many roads did Saint Augustine take before he became Saint Augustine?” There’s a reason Saint Augustine is primarily known for two of his works (City of God and Confessions) and it’s because he rambled on a lot of different roads before becoming the authority he is.
I am all about the exploration of small themes when we only have small amounts of time because I think small themes matter, and in some ways, matter more than the big themes. Maybe that will get me in trouble to say, but I view it as planting a field of acorns. Soon you will have a forest—and by that time maybe that forest will be the big theme you now have the time to work through.
How do you differentiate between spiritual abuse and merely a strong disagreement?
Was the care of someone’s body/soul/mind neglected in the action of a spiritual leader? Or was someone with power influencing the decision of someone with none or little? (This second question is a hard one because sometimes the person with perceived power is not the one with real power and this takes discernment to see.) This might be spiritual abuse.
I am incredibly slow to call something spiritual abuse because to abuse one must know they are wielding their power sinfully. What that doesn’t mean is that their actions weren’t abusive. In other words, one may be doing what seems best or right to them in the moment but the outcome is that another feels abused. Does that unequivocally make the former person an abuser? No. Does it make their actions potentially abusive? Yes. But a person is not their actions and we must never equate the two.
I’m also slow to call something spiritual abuse because it doesn’t help the posture of the one who hurt another. It doesn’t set them up to feel inclined to see their actions as harmful and to repent. In fact, if they’re not there yet, it could harden their heart because they know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they did not intend to be abusive, so to them it feels like a false accusation, which is a form of abuse!
It gets sticky and we need wise, humble, faithful, believers to help us discern the best way forward.
A disagreement is a space where a reasonable defense can be made for two different points of view but which no one (and this is important) is harmed or neglected in the holding of one of the views.
Advice for newlyweds after being single for a long time?
First! Congratulations! Marriage is a gift and I hope yours is a happy one.
Second, honestly, almost without exception whenever I talk to anyone (including myself ;)) who married later in life, their experience of marriage is completely different than those who married young.
While their peers might be celebrating fifteen or twenty years of growing up together, it also means they have fifteen or twenty years of ruts to adjust and forgiveness to extend, much of which may have happened in their early twenties when their frontal lobes weren’t yet formed. Someone marrying in their late thirties or forties or beyond isn’t going to have that same story. They’re going to bring a level of maturity (hopefully) to their disagreements and conflicts. They’re going to make different ruts and different mistakes in marriage, but they won’t be making them at a time when their brains are still being formed and that makes a big difference.
My advice is forgive quickly. Understand your bodies at 38 are not the same as your bodies at 22. Sex will be more difficult probably. Your body won’t be as lithe and energetic. But it will also give you an opportunity to really cultivate your friendship with one another—which I believe is the most important quality in marriage. Prepare yourself for a future of childlessness. Maybe God will give you children, but the likelihood goes down. Be thinking about that now and not in a controlling the outcome at all costs kind of way, but in a receiving a gift kind of way. But here’s a secret: you’ve not had what you wanted (marriage) for a long time and hopefully you can see now what a gift that was to you. Could the same be true for childlessness?
Find some good two person games to play. We love Pinochle.
How to grieve through miscarriage?
You know what I’m going to say here, right? Diane Langberg’s, “Time, tears, and talking.” Give yourself as much time, as many tears, and as much talking as you need. No one gets to tell you how to grieve or how long to grieve. Take a lot of baths and lay your hands on your body and bless her. She did her best. She did her best.
How to keep hoping amid heartbreak in my singleness?
Thoreau wrote, “The only remedy for love is to love more,” and that’s the best advice I know of when it comes to heartbreak. When you are faced with the brokenness of love and a hurting heart, the worst thing we can do (after grieving (see above)) is to withhold our love from the world. Love more. Find someone or something to love and give it all you’ve got. Could be a roommate, could be a project, could be a town or a church or a friend. But give them your love, slowly and quietly at first, but more and more and more, until you find one day you’ve healed and your hope is full again.
How to end a friendship gracefully, especially when you share the same friends/community?
I wish I knew the answer for this one, friend, because the past few years of my life I’ve had to navigate this and haven’t always done it gracefully. I will tell you what I’m learning, though:
Don’t gossip. As much as you possibly can, keep their name out of your mouth when speaking with others. Even if they’re gossiping about you, don’t gossip about them.
Don’t assume their intentions. Every one of us is bearing a burden and carrying a story within us that is informing how we see the world and react to it. The way you act is laden with intentions they don’t share, and vice versa. As much as it depends on you, assume the best unless you know the worst.
If you do know the worst (they have intentions to harm you, name you as an enemy, warn others away from you, etc.), shake the dust off your feet. That is not a person of peace. Hopefully you have people in your life and community who speak the truth to you, even when it’s hard, and you listen to their correction.
If you share mutual friends, even though this can be difficult, see this as a tie that binds in a good way. I am experiencing this in my life right now and I am praising God (amidst many tears) that one of the people I love most in the world loves someone who has deeply hurt me. It helps me to trust there is still good here and my work is to keep mining for it in hopes that what is fractured can be healed.
. . .
Thanks for asking questions, friends. I hope this model of Q&A is helpful for you. It’s a lot more helpful for me than typing it all up on my phone and sharing it on Instagram! I will do this again soon. Let me know below if there’s any followup questions to these.
This is a free post from Lore Ferguson Wilbert. To receive more new posts and support my work, consider becoming a paid subscriber.