Thursday, April 25, 2024
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What Stage of Life Are You In?

Photo courtesy of Lynne Hand's photostream via Flickr
Photo courtesy of Lynne Hand’s photostream via Flickr

Few churches have true “singles” groups anymore.

Maybe, singles ministries (rightly or wrongly) got a bad rap.

Sometimes, they were Bible studies that doubled as meat markets. Other times they were merely a calendar of events meant to tie the few remaining unmarried congregants together in wedded bliss.

For better or worse, there are now so many single adults in churches across the country that the old model for bringing the unattached together has changed. They’ve morphed into the twenty-first-century catch-all known as “young adult” ministry, and frequently, the entry is a college diploma and the exit is a marriage license. As the time between those two access points increases for many, the definition of “young” morphs until it deserves a new sub-entry in Merriam-Webster, leaving many single adult church-goers stuck in a ministry no man’s land.

For many reasons, young adult ministries are better than their mid-90s counterparts. The entry and exit points are not as clearly defined. Marrieds and singles are encouraged to remain in community with each other and are able to learn from each other’s various experiences. In my church’s case specifically, the young adult service is routinely encouraged to be actively involved in the wider church body. All of this is great. College graduates coming into a new place need a soft place to land and start building relationships with believers. It is a great way to meet people and get involved with people in what is commonly referred to as your “stage in life.” But when your age is about to flip over to the next decade without a spouse or children to mark the time and create built-in small talk, it becomes harder to describe exactly that stage, phase, season, thing.

If describing my lack of a pigeonhole wasn’t so awkward sometimes, it’d be hilarious. I’m pretty sure Brian Regan or Miranda Hart could data mine some of the conversations that float around the halls at church and find an entire stand-up routine. (Only single women in their 30s would laugh. Cry?) The conversation with the parent in the nursery who’s surprised that a girl without a husband or kids can be fairly good at entertaining and corralling two-year-olds. The married women wondering which “phase of life” you’re in, since you’re not in college anymore and aren’t hitched. The existential life crisis phase? Career phase? The phase somewhere between legal drinking age and my (hopefully much later) demise? Adult?

Somewhere during all of those exchanges, I started internally shuttering over the phrases “stage” or “phase of life.” Expressions like that have underlying assumptions about how life works—expectations that life always progresses in measurable, defined chunks of time. I know that for a period of time it seems that way. Crawl. Walk. Speak. School. Driving. Graduation. But people unknowingly assume that pattern of milestones continues. You hit the next stage, phase, step, level when you’re ready, when you’ve passed some invisible exam, when you’ve earned it.

But life doesn’t roll out in stages or phases. I’m not going to be able to predict when I’m going to get married like we can predict a new moon, a high tide, a butterfly hatching, a panda’s gestation or leaves turning red and gold in the fall.

As my thirtieth birthday gets closer, I’m realizing that I have two choices about how I respond to the “stage” question. Choice A: Freak out. Be ashamed that my story doesn’t fit some cookie-cutter template. Hide the naked third finger on my left hand. Choice B: Own my story. Refuse to let shame keep me from letting me tell it. Recognize that God is writing a unique tale with my life that is both for His glory and my good.

About Anna Hayes

Anna is a 30-year-old who recently left the East Coast for a life as a grad student in a small city somewhere in the middle. She spent several years in East Asia teaching English and loves words, language and being a small part of applying the Gospel to current cultural trends: gender-role confusion, marriage/family breakdown, sexual sin and delayed marriage/unintended singleness.
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