I have written about loneliness on this site before – for example here. It is well known that loneliness is one of the biggest issues facing society today – in today’s hyper-connected world, people are actually forming fewer deep friendships and relationships.
This week I read an interesting interview with Rosaria Butterfield about whether the church is actually breeding loneliness, rather than helping. Here’s how it begins:
Is the church breeding loneliness? Rosaria Butterfield answers yes.
She believes we have declared independence from each other in our culture and, sadly, in our churches. Once upon a time, the church was “of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). Shared time, shared food, shared possessions. Shared identity. They were the early church — a family bound together by the blood of Jesus.
Many of our churches today have left behind that picture of the family of God, though. The contemporary Western church’s “absolutely low or nonexistent culture of family of God” has fostered an unparalleled depth of loneliness, with single women in particular buried at the bottom.
Rosaria’s solution is for families to open their doors to single people, especially single women.
I thought it was a very helpful article and much of it resonated with what I’ve been writing about here. I’d just like to pick up on one thing she said. She suggests opening up families to single people is a good idea because “it places healthy pressure on a marriage to be a godly marriage and not resort to ‘living together like roommates'”. I thought this was a fascinating and insightful remark: often there is a view in churches that being faithful to your spouse is simply a matter of not sleeping with anyone else. So long as you’ve been sexually faithful, you’ve discharged your duty as a husband / wife. But I wonder if this is having too low a view of marriage and our responsibilities in it: Christians are called to more than simply avoiding doing what is wrong and should be investing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to have the best marriage and be the best husband / wife you can be.
The problem is, if you think that the nuclear family is an island – that the biological family is the centre of the universe, and the church is just an extra activity that you do – then you can actually get away with quite a lot. I think a lot of people, rather than seeking to invest in marriage, simply ‘get by’ – as long as there isn’t too much temptation from outside, they coast along. Sadly a good number of Christians have fallen prey to this way of thinking.
So how would opening up a family to others help? I was just imagining what it might be like to have a single woman living in our house – especially, say, a young and attractive woman. Certainly I think there would be more than a few raised eyebrows in response. I can hear people now: “Isn’t that a bit… unwise?”
But it strikes me that this is exactly the kind of situation which the gospel speaks into. God forgives us in Christ Jesus, and gives us a new power by the Holy Spirit to do things which we would not otherwise have the power to do. We too often have the mindset: “Marriage is hard – so let’s not put any pressure on it”. In doing so we overlook a great opportunity. Instead we should have the attitude, “Marriage is hard – so it needs healthy pressure on it to help it grow.” God, after all, thinks that we need healthy pressure on our lives to grow as Christians.
One of the biggest realisations I have come to over the last few years when it comes to sanctification is that God doesn’t call us to things we think we can do – he calls us to things we think we can’t do, so we may learn the truth of what Jesus said: “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When we go through hard times, when pressure is put on us, it is an opportunity for us to grow in our dependence on the Lord.
I’m not suggesting that we should therefore seek to put as much pressure on ourselves as possible! But rather – maybe we should in humility have a more open attitude, and listen to where the Spirit may be leading us in these things. And trust that He is faithful and will help us to do what we do not have the power to do ourselves. Perhaps opening up marriage and family life to include single people would actually be the best thing that could happen to a marriage.