Thursday, November 12, 2015

Letters to a New Missionary: Not a Nun (singleness part 2)

“Wait, so you’re not married?”

I shook my head as the man, two seats over from me in Port Moresby international airport terminal, leaned forward incredulously. “So, does that mean you’re one of those....oh, you know...women who wear long black and white dresses and, you know, what’s the word...”


“Yeah! Yeah, that’s it. A nun! Are you a nun?”

I bit my lip, trying to choke back the laughter. “Uhh, no. Actually, I’m not a nun!”

Welcome to Part 2 of our discussion on singleness! Today we’ll look at a few tips from your fellow single workers on what helps those of us who are not married (nuns or otherwise...) thrive on the mission field.

Accept your status and the accompanying challenges. Singleness on the mission field is not like singleness in my home country; it impacts life much more significantly here on the field. Part of thriving means accepting that I live in a culture that has different rules and values (whether they are right or wrong) and learning how to operate with new parameters instead of clinging to my home country’s expectations.

Accept that you probably don’t fit cultural norms.  In Papua New Guinea, women are supposed to marry, have children, and work in the garden; many never go to school. For me, a single, childless, educated woman working in job alongside men...well, that’s not really normal, and I never will be.

Start with today. God has asked you to be a contented single right now—and you really have no clue what He’s going to ask you to do tomorrow.

Cyclical grieving is normal. God intended for humans to marry (after all, He invented hormones...). Fellow workers of all ages agree—decades of unquestionably content celibacy is a myth.  So instead of judging yourself as pathetic, immature, a bad Christian, or desperately lacking in willpower if the thoughts of marriage or raising a family dare to cross your mind (or even if they don’t and you think they should!), allow yourself to be human and grieve the loss.

Strive for selflessness and self-care. We singles often seem to fall into one of two traps—either we become really selfish (since we aren’t forced into the self-sacrifice required by marriage or parenthood) or we completely reject self-care and burn out spectacularly. Avoid both.

Give others grace. Kind people with good intentions are going to say stupid things to you. You’ll be told that you “just need enough faith” (and a purity ring) to “marriage doesn’t guarantee happiness” or even that you’re “lucky” since singles can do so much more for the Lord (followed by marriage horror stories). You’ll be asked when you’re returning to your home country to find a spouse, and you’ll be told that you can’t understand love/holiness/God until you are married or have a child. You might even get a package filled with Crosswalk articles on singleness (followed by a note about missionary so-and-so who finally married in the nursing home). You’ll be lauded for your supernatural celibacy, and at the first sign of weakness, you’ll be bombarded with examples of awesome singles like Paul, Ruth, and (don’t forget) Jesus!

Remember, though their words may slice deep, and you might feel like forging that ridiculous purity ring into the One Ring of Power, it’s not really about them and their misplaced guidance. You’re in a battle, my friend, and this may just be the latest attack. Stand firm, for it has been already won!


“I’m not a nun,” I tried not to laugh.

The airport man leaned back and fiddled with his ticket. “Not a nun? Well then....uh, what are you?”

In many cultures around the world, unmarried is akin to worthless, and for the solo global worker, it is easy to be dragged down into those same lies. How do you thrive in such a world? The number one tip among all my friends is merely this: know without a doubt who you are—a precious child of God, the one for whom Christ died.