This year when I set out to discover the deeper meaning of the word “relationship,” I had no idea where it would take me. I had no idea of the lessons awaiting me that would begin to break down my selfishness, my pride, and my desire for attention. I had no idea that I would learn to open my heart wider, that I would begin to understand the importance of listening and asking good questions, and that I would be deeply filled in return by the people I hold dear in life.
But one new thing that has struck me this summer is the importance of community – and how I need to be seeking it even more intentionally as a single person. My church community is vital for my spiritual health, and I feel blessed to have been given such a vibrant one. But beyond that, I need a smaller community of people who know me well, and who are committed to that precious one-on-one time that helps my soul to grow. I need to have those people who are like Barnabas to me, and to whom I can be a Barnabas back to them (Barnabas meaning “son of encouragement”).
I recently read an excellent article by Christena Cleveland called “Social Justice for Single People,” wherein she said, “Married people have a Barnabas in their spouse, but there are no ready-made Barnabases for unmarried people.”
Specifically, she was talking about the daily processing piece that one can have with a spouse, particularly if you work at a difficult or emotionally draining job – someone with whom you can pray, be encouraged by, and talk through the parts of your day – good or bad.
I feel the absence of that daily Barnabas in my life as well.
As a teacher, I come home exhausted at the end of the day – sometimes wanting only silence and a respite from talking – but sometimes, just needing to tell someone what happened that day. One day in particular last year, we had had some after-school training on trauma for three hours, and I drove away with the heaviest weight on my heart. It wasn’t long before I was literally sobbing as I was driving (not always the safest way to drive), and knowing that I simply had to share the burden that I carried of the children in my classroom with someone.
Thankfully, I have very welcoming parents who don’t mind if I show up at their house in the evening to spill my heart and eat a little dinner with them – and they took me in that night, listening to my stories with a sympathetic ear and allowing me to share the pain that builds up from my job.
However, that’s not necessarily a daily occurrence, and so I look around me to see what other solutions might be out there for a single person seeking that Barnabas-like community.
Christena Cleveland had some great insights in her blog post, one of which was, “fighting bitterness and self-imposed isolation.” This is so incredibly key for me, as I can tend to draw into myself and just assume that no one wants me to bother them with my problems. That is absolutely not true, and I need to be intentional about reaching out to others and sharing life with them – and not feeling badly if I feel like I’m always the one initiating. It’s important for my soul to have that community, and if one friend can’t be there one night, then I can turn to another one.
My summer has been filled with the fruit of that kind of intentionality, and every week so far, I’ve been able to share a few days with different friends, whether that’s in paddle-boarding, seeing a movie together, or just getting coffee. My soul has felt refreshed, and so much of the loneliness of previous summers has been staved off.
Another thought brought up in Christena Cleveland’s blog post was that of communal living – of married and single people living together. I know three different married couple friends of mine who have or have had single roommates, and the community they build together is rather beautiful. I love these couples’ willingness to open their homes and their hearts to people who need it – and their willingness to build a community with others that isn’t based just on the traditional nuclear family.
Obviously that option doesn’t work for everyone – nor am I suggesting that it should. But I think the idea of starting to think outside the box when it comes to hospitality and community is vital, especially for single people who often feel marginalized in a marriage-dominated culture within the church. Even the idea of a married couple extending invitations to their single friends to drop by for dinner a few times during the week would open the doors to a deeper, more supportive community, where the single person can feel that there is a place to go when the day has been long & tiring.
Married friends, I know your relationship with your spouse is important. But I encourage you not to forget about your friendships with other people – especially with single people, who need that Barnabas encouragement on a regular basis. I think about the people in my life who have invited me to share in their family dynamics, and I am so thankful for that. Even last night, getting to babysit my college pastor’s kids while they went on a date, and then just sitting and chatting for a while with him and his wife afterward filled my heart with the joy of community. These are my people who take the time to know me and invest in me – and it is so life-giving.
This is what we need more of. We need more imaginative solutions to community – more people willing to be active Barnabases in each other’s lives. We need to be willing to open up our schedules, our homes, our meal times a little bit more to be inclusive and relationship-building. We need to look for those who might feel on the fringes of community and pull them in with joy.
And as we start to break the traditional bonds of “married groups” and “single groups,” perhaps our community will start to look more like the early church in Acts 2:44 – which is described as “All the believers were together and had everything in common.”
This would be a dazzling display of Christ’s love in action.