Thank you to my television Friends Monica, Chandler, Joey, Rachel, Phoebe and Ross! After years of "traditional" families on television such as the Keatons, Huxtables and Seavers, I was relieved to have stories of single people featured on the airwaves beginning in the mid-1990s.
How I understood myself as a single 20-something and 30-something woman rose from television shows like "Friends," "Sex and the City" and "How I Met Your Mother." My friends became a welcomed extended family. Like the characters on "Friends," I spent holidays away from my hometown with people who were not my biological relatives. I relied on my friends when the going got tough, when my career wasn't working out as planned or my relationships were failing.
Why did I lean so much on television and movie icons of singlehood when there was another fine example of the single young adult? Christianity often forgets that our main man, Jesus, was a single, 30-something-year-old man. While his family was still a part of his life, his central support system was his friends and followers.
I wonder how often our Protestant churches recall that Jesus was single. A few questions come to mind:
- If our savior was a 30-something single adult, why is there such a large disconnect between single young adults and Mainline Protestantism?
- What would change in our congregations if we frequently remembered that Jesus was also a single young adult?
- Would focus our outreach on all young adults regardless of marital status and family structure instead of primarily concentrating our attention on "young families"?
Dividing single and married people wasn't the way Jesus operated. In fact, Jesus surrounded himself with a variety of people regardless of their "relationship status." One of his closest friends, Peter was married. He proved to us that men and women can be friends by his camaraderie with Mary Magdalene as well as Lazarus' sisters Mary and Martha. Traditional family was turned upon its head by Jesus who questioned those around him "Who are my mother and my brothers?" (Mark 3:33).
Scripture never indicates that Jesus was looking for the right significant other. The Gospels or letter of Paul never referred to Jesus' dating problems. Did he want to have a family? Was he too busy to have a family? Did he ever yearn for the life that his siblings or friends had?
As Jesus was very in tuned to where God was calling him, there is a good possibility that Jesus recognized he was called to be single. Maybe, if he would have lived longer, he would have been called to get married and have a family. But Jesus dedicated his young adult life to his ministry of healing and advocacy. He was surrounded by great friends and support system during most of his life on earth. While we don't know if Jesus wanted to get married and start a family, we know that he was living a full life regardless of having a significant other or children.
Likewise, today, people aren't necessarily called to be married or in a traditional family of a husband, wife and children. Many of us are called to be single into our mid-adult years. Some are called to be single parents. Still others are called to be in same sex relationships. Like Jesus, we are blessed to have friends of all marital statuses and family shapes.
The fabric of the unconventional family was celebrated by Jesus, and many of our young adults continue to celebrate unconventional families in our society. Not everyone is called to be married at 22 and have children at 25. As a younger adult, I thought marriage and children was where my life was heading. But God called me in a different direction. In my mid-30s, I headed to seminary, and was ordained in my late 30s. Now that I'm about to face 40 in a few months, I wonder why my experience so far didn't fit the mold of traditional family life. I often lament where life hasn't taken me. At the same time, I am thrilled at the path that I have travelled.
I wonder if my very human, very single Savior experienced a similar range of emotions when reflecting on his marital status and family life. He had his Monicas, Chandlers, Joeys, Rachels, Phoebes and Rosses surrounding him throughout his young adulthood and ministry. Sure, their names may have been Mary, Peter, John, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. But they were Jesus' friends, leaning on him when times got rough and lamenting with him when loss happened.
I'm not sure if I'm called to get married or stay single. But with the example of Jesus the Christ, I am able to see that I can live my life to the fullest with or without a significant other. I have a wonderful biological family, spiritual family and group of friends who acts as my family. As a church leader, I can create an environment where marital status and family shape does not matter as we are all sisters and brothers in Christ.