Models for a Connected Life
"John the Baptist was single," my co-leader said, as she read through a list that one author had written about "role models from the Bible who were single."
Ezekiel, Paul, John the Baptist.... "Oh no!" I laughed. I imagined myself as a still-unmarried young woman in that era, perhaps slightly past the ideal age for marriage, with my parents helpfully suggesting that "Elizabeth and Zachariah's son John is single; perhaps we could arrange an introduction." "Mother, Father," I would moan, rolling my eyes, "He lives in the desert and eats locusts."
Some of my ideas for writing about "singleness" come from a class series on the topic that I taught at my church earlier this year. We called the topic "The Connected Life" because "connectedness" is something I like best about a healthy, faith-filled single life. I led the series with another church member. Before we started the series, we enjoyed an afternoon at her home preparing for the series. We looked at some current Christian literature on singleness while sharing our own ideas and experiences. "How about Paul as a role model?" she asked as she continued down the list of "singles."
In one of his letters, the apostle Paul writes about the advantages of being single. He writes that he would like it if all the early church leaders and teachers could be unmarried, like him, so that they could dedicate themselves to the work of the church. Paul was free to travel and take risks that may not have been as easy if he were married with a family. I like his advice, but it's not really my story. Nor is it the story for many of my Christian single friends, even those who have very active careers in church ministry or nonprofit work. While singleness can provide a unique perspective, marriage with a like-minded partner would provide just as good a platform for this type of work.
As we continued reading and brainstorming, I realized that the role models I wanted to highlight were the less-famous people in the letters & stories: At the end of each of the letters, Paul sends greetings to people in the communities he is writing to ... Phoebe, a deacon of the church .... Nympha and the church that meets in her house ... Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them ...Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas.
Through these greetings, we get a glimpse of life in the early church, a connected network of men and women, single and married, from all backgrounds, meeting together in homes and temples. These names are mentioned only briefly, and we don't know who was married, never-married, widowed, separated or divorced. But many of the names are mentioned alone, without the name of a spouse. We see both men and women described as leaders and faithful members of the new growing church, with many hosting house-based churches in their homes and working as active leaders in their communities of faith.
Singleness is a natural part of life: one of the avenues for living a healthy, connected, creative, faith-filled life.