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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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singlehood

The Most Common Christian Infertility Cause

I suffered from infertility for a long time.  It was an infertility that the church most easily ignores; an infertility that comes with very little sympathy from others and yet is one of the most common forms of infertility suffered by women in body of Christ in the West.   My infertility had nothing to do with anything wrong with my womb or my body or anything medical; it was the infertility of being a woman who was being a “good girl” and obeying the Christian edict to wait to get married to have sexual intercourse, and yet, who was unable to find a suitable Christian husband.

For years and years, I would be in churches or get togethers and see couples share that they were struggling to conceive a child; and they would be invited to come forward and have hands laid on them and get prayer while the church shared in their grief and struggle; while I and many other women who were single past their prime were invited to do nothing but go home and cry on our pillows at night, alone.    Married infertility is seen and recognized, but singles facing impending lifelong infertility are considered unworthy of corporate support.

I and my fellow single sisters have had difficult decisions to make.   A friend of mine recently asked her parents to help her financially with the very expensive process of freezing eggs; her Christian parents told her they wouldn’t help her because, “If God wanted you to have children, He would have brought you a spouse already.”   Not only did this comment make my friend angry at God as to why He supposedly had assigned her this unique grief, misplacing the problem off of a messed up dating culture and the unwillingness of the body of Christ to help singles find matches in the same way other groups (such as Orthodox Jews) take very seriously the need to preserve their legacy by helping singles find spouses, but by blaming people’s deepest griefs on Divine Providence, we alienate people from God.

During my singlehood journey, I struggled with the idea of getting sperm donation and having artificial insemination.  Single parenthood seemed too scary to me, I didn’t have a support network where I could even count on having a babysitter, I wanted to be able to breast-feed a child and wouldn’t be able to take off work to do so in a country that offers little to no maternal leave, and I couldn’t shake the stigma that I knew evangelicals would have towards me for bringing a “fatherless child” into the world.   Yet I thought often about how the God of the Old Testament seemed to want to make sure that a woman who was left single and childless because her husband had died still had a chance at becoming a mother through the whole kinsmen-redeemer thing.  It seemed that God had more concern over people being left without children than my evangelical subculture would allow for.

If I shared all this with others, I had to suffer through person after person telling me that “You don’t have to get married and have children to be a complete woman.”   They seemed to believe that I had bought into some cultural lie that feminism would deliver me from.  The problem was, I was already a feminist — I knew that I didn’t have to have children to fulfill some “womanhood” edict.   But that wasn’t why I wanted children — it had nothing whatsoever to do with being a “woman” as much as the existential human desire to pass on what and who one is to survive into future generations through reproduction.    I wanted a child maybe on some level because God spoke into all humanity the words, “Be fruitful and multiply,” because it just was something intrinsic to the deepest parts of my soul with a strength of divine edict,  and while I have no problem with people who feel this isn’t for them, to the depths of my heart I knew this was something I couldn’t live without doing.   Rachel’s cry, “Give me children lest I die”, was my unbidden heart cry, and no platitudes about being complete whether or not I have children could satisfy that yearning.

The painful thing too that most singles in my shoes have dealt with is that most of the people who give us platitudes and share comments with us that ultimately are basically micro-aggressions towards our grief about singlehood and its associated infertility, are usually people who themselves are married and who have their own flesh and blood children as well.  These are also the people holding up adoption as the highest ideal, most often people who have never adopted children press on singles and even childless couples that they ought to adopt, even criticizing us for trying to have children by other means because, “there are so many children out there that nobody wants.”  I don’t know why people with natural children think there is a moral obligation for those struggling with infertility to find and adopt the world’s unwanted children, while those who have children easily and without trouble often seem to feel excused from having any need to do so, but this is probably the greatest microagression that singles and infertile couples face from other believers on a regular basis.

Adoption is a beautiful choice, but it is only one of many choices that people ought to respect and admire.  Those holding up adoption often don’t understand how difficult it is to adopt (one middle class couple in my church has been trying to adopt for years and years, and are consistently overlooked by birth parents choosing wealthier or younger parents, or have children placed with them for adoption only to have birth parents change their mind before the adoption is finalized.  The experience has been nothing short of traumatic.).

Adoption is expensive, difficult, and in my husband’s case (that’s right, I’m married now, and I’ll discuss that and the next step of our journey with singlehood infertility in my next posting) he has already adopted a child only to have experienced corruption in the adoption industry that resulted in him raising a severely special-needs child that he loves dearly and would never trade for any other child, but is emblematic of the type of issues that even adoptive parents face.

And, to be honest, for single people even adoption is stigmatized still in the church.   My friend Julia Duin has a blog site dedicated to promoting adoption among singles, because even that can be frowned upon by Christians.

At any rate, for years and years I asked my friends and church to help me find a husband.  I was on every dating site I could afford.   I went places, met people, and shared my story.   Christians seem to despise people who seem “desperate” to meet a spouse.   I was told over and over, well into my thirties, that “Sarah had a baby in her 90s so don’t worry,” as if Sarah’s story trumps all birth statistics and that I could count on God to make my fertile years an exception to the norm.   One pastor, I was close to, in a weird twist on the whole “Jesus is your boyfriend” stuff, told me to “embrace Jesus as your son.”  I was kicked out of a Facebook group for house churches for starting a thread in the group asking who in the group was single and looking for spouses — and told that in no way, shape or form was this group about something as lowly as “finding a mate.”   I’ve seen leaders that I respect, chewing apart “Christian Mingle” advertisements as if the desire of single people to get married and have the family and kids that they happily enjoyed themselves was something to be despised when pitched to singles.

In short, single hood is something the church doesn’t want to deal with, considers unseemly to address, and despises those who complain about it.   There is no compassion, no answers, and if you say too much about your desires or grief on the subject you will even be rudely shown the door — by those who are on their third child and talk about how family means the world to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Lived With My Boyfriend – and it didn’t mean what you think it meant.

A few years back I lost my job, in a traumatic burn-out on the level that caused me to retire permanently from teaching and shake with anxiety and fear every time I even tried to explain the struggles of my career to anyone.   (Actually, I had to quit my job, but the reasons were so compelling that unemployment found in my favor and started paying me for job loss.)   Even though I was on unemployment, I could no longer afford my apartment and in a perfect storm of weird dynamics within a church I had been in that was crumbling, and abusive family dynamics, I found myself faced with two choices: live in a homeless shelter or live with my boyfriend.   My boyfriend and I chose the latter.

Evangelical and others’ viewpoints on the matter:

Among charismatic evangelical Christians (which is my spiritual background) this was absolutely a no-no.   In the Pentecostal world there is a name for this: it’s called, “shacking up.”   Shacking up is denounced loudly in sermons without so much as a Bible verse mentioned as to why it is deemed absolutely hideously unacceptable, but the assumption is that you’re having sex.   And even if you’re not, by living together you’re violating another one of the great, immoral, evangelical rules: “Having the appearance of evil.”  Merely “appearing” evil is as great of an evil to Christians as doing the evil itself.

 

Except to those outside the evangelical community, it doesn’t come across as evil.   Non-Christians, at least the average Western nonbelievers, absolutely don’t care or find anything at all questionable, immoral, or indecent about two unmarried people living with one another, nor even with them having sex.   To them it is not only normal, but wholesome.  So it is not nonbelievers that find the appearance of two people living together to be potentially evil.   It is exclusively Christians for whom the appearances thing is an issue.

The fact is, the Bible verse that Christians often use to say that Christians need to be careful to not “look” like they are doing anything immoral really shouldn’t begin to be understood that way.   That Bible verse isn’t saying, “avoid looking sinful.”  It’s saying, “wherever evil appears, avoid it.”  Click here for a better explanation.

But beyond considerations of what the verse says or doesn’t say, the concern ultimately is a concern about sexual purity between unmarried persons.  Religious cultures however have a long-standing fear of men and women being alone in a home or room together.   Orthodox Judaism has a rule called Yichud which means that any time a man and a woman are alone in a space together, it can be assumed that sex has occurred.   Billy Graham (and now, by extension, Vice President Mike Pence) had a rule that he would never be alone with a woman in any setting, not in his office or out at lunch.    The irony is that religious culture, in its quest to prevent sex, often ends up looking like it is obsessed with sex, albeit preventing it.   And often law triumphs over mercy.

So…I moved in with my boyfriend.   Was it a great idea?  No.

If I had any other option that I could have emotionally handled at the time (moving in with strangers or living in a homeless shelter were not things that I could have handled in the midst of the upheaval of job loss and other things going on.   Call me emotionally weak if you want, because I was…) I would have done so.  If there were friends who would have allowed me to move in with them while I had no money left from my measily unemployment check to pay them for rent, I would have.   Do I recommend after reading this blog post that others go home and move in with their fiance’s or boyfriend/girlfriends?  No.

The choice carries with it all sorts of emotional complications, not to mention bearing total shame in front of one’s faith community, that stigmatizes people who “shack up.”  As our relationship hit the rocks that other couples living together (read, newly married people) would hit, we were without the help and resources of counseling that others trying to share a household in the context of an intimate (emotionally intimate) would have had in our context – because we were not yet married.   It strained us to the point of calling off our wedding plans because we both became unsure of our future together.

But aside from our faith communities, there are others that instantly have the wrong idea when you tell them you are living with a domestic partner, in ways that sometimes make me wonder what century I live in.   As we sat in the secular counselor’s office (since we couldn’t go to faith-based counseling, although some well-intentioned friends were helpful) she asked us about our sex life.   We told her that while we had a very sweet time cuddling, that we did not as yet have a “sex” life as we were both committed to waiting until marriage for sex.   But I learned most people think:

Men’s sex drives are an issue, women’s are considered a non-issue.

She then asked my boyfriend, who had previously told her moments earlier that this was his conviction as well, “How are you handling going without sex?”   She never posed the same question to me.    In instance after instance, my boyfriend was asked by various people how he is holding up in a relationship without sex.

I have never been asked the same question – never – neither by men nor by women.  It is assumed somehow that a woman has no desire for sex?  In Judaism, it is interesting that sex is considered a woman’s right, not a man’s.   It is her right to have children, or at least to attempt to have children.

While everyone was busy asking my boyfriend how he was enduring the supposedly awful ordeal – assumably imposed by me – of not having sex, no one was asking me about the tears cried into my pillow regularly about forced infertility being a relationship that was not coming to completion in marriage.   Not to mention the fact that shouldn’t have to be mentioned:  women have a sex drive too.   The assumption that male pleasure and temptation was somehow always an issue and female pleasure and temptation somehow just doesn’t exist was something I found passively insulting, to say the least.

Not that I wanted to break our mutually-enforced rule of chastity either – despite my libido, my convictions about sex before marriage are still stronger than my sex drive.   But, there is something in both secular society and religious culture that acts as though self-control doesn’t exist as a thing.   That the only way to explain abstinence is by absence of desire.  

While no one ever asked me if I minded going without sex, there were several who asked me if I thought my boyfriend might be gay.   Again, not having sex is all about the male party….but this question is one that betrays the assumption that not having sex is only possible if one doesn’t want it.   There does not seem to be a narrative in either the church or the world in which two people can very much want it, but for one reason or another decide not to do it – while being alone in a room together.

Is it possible? Definitely yes.   Is it ideal?  No.   I wholeheartedly affirm that ideally – two people have a marriage covenant together and can let their wildest sexual pleasures and fantasies with each other find a whole range of beautiful expression, while having babies and providing emotional security with one another, in the context of the joyous partnership of sharing a home.

But we live in a world that is not always ideal,

where sometimes the only person who loves and cares enough for you to keep you off the street or help you find your way is someone of the opposite sex whom you are not yet married to.    I’m grateful for the love shown during our confusing relationship of non-marital cohabitation, and for the commitment to abstinence that both of us held on to.   And I sincerely hope that as I go on from here, I can be open about this part of my past – even though it hardly counts as a “past” – without being seen as not-really-a-serious-Christian because of it.  Although doubtlessly, that will be the case for some.

(I should add that we eventually found a faith community to be part of that was non-charismatic but accepted our situation without misjudging our situation, and yet offered us pastoral counseling in the midst of it.)

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ADDENDUM:

This article was published sometime in April of 2017.   In December of 2017, the blog author and the man she talked about living with got legally married in a small private get-together, but waited until they could gather with family and friends to consider themselves fully married.  In July of 2018, they had a wonderful wedding on the beach with their church, their family, and their friends, and as of July 2019 report being still very happily married.   So, the Lord did breathe on this situation and worked it out in a wonderful way, finally. 🙂

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