Not Just for Singles

The Other 6
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Not Just for Singles

For this recently inaugurated column on relationships, it’s refreshing to see The Banner, unlike so many publications (not to mention churches), signal its interest in the range of human interaction by asking for something from the “single’s perspective.”

That’s where I come in—I’m single. But I fear my contribution may disappoint. Though I’m certainly not lacking in “perspective” (code, I think, for lots of opinions), I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the whole idea of a “single’s perspective.”

Indeed, I’m more and more convinced that such a thing doesn’t exist—any more than a “married perspective” does. After all, “single” encompasses so many possible states—never married, divorced, widowed. And it’s a demographic that by most reports represents more than 40 percent of the adult population. That’s far too big a group to make generalizations about with any integrity.

That’s not to deny that singles, whoever they are, may deal with specific issues differently than married people do. Undoubtedly that’s true. But perhaps my spinsterhood is now so well advanced that I find those distinctions less and less compelling. After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years of teaching literature, it’s that human beings do not respond very often on the basis of marital status as much as they do on the basis of common humanity. That is, loneliness and love, disappointment and delight, joy and grief come to us all. That’s not news to anyone.

I’m more interested, then, in those relationships that transcend the married/single divide. And, while the Bible is full of rich metaphors of connection, I’ve been struck by how much it has to say about friendship. While popular culture over the past decade has certainly seemed to celebrate a friend-centered ethos on TV shows such as “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” and “Sex in the City,” our churches continue to behave as if the family unit is the site of people’s only significant interaction. When was the last time you heard a sermon exhorting you to be a better friend? Or even telling you what that might look like?

It’s telling, I think, that Christ does not use a familial metaphor when he describes the “greatest love” in John 15:13--“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NRSV). Think about it. Jesus could, for example, have easily used the word brother or sister in place of friends. Such a choice would have been perfectly in keeping with our adoption as children of God.

But instead Jesus says the “greatest love” lies in sacrificing ourselves for our friends. In so doing, however, Christ, as usual, asks that we radically revise our notion of what friendship means: how can we, in our friendships, emulate Christ who calls us his friends? Do our friendships evince the kind of love that would lead to sacrifice?

Friendship with Christ sounds appealing. Yet, we object, we want to remain reverent and resist the image of “God as pal.” That’s certainly an important corrective to remember. Nevertheless, Scripture doesn’t seem so wary: Moses and Abraham, after all, are both called “friends of God.” That’s quite the term, if you think about it.

As usual, Frederick Buechner finds a way to illuminate the subject. In Whistling in the Dark, he writes:

[Friendship] is not something that God does. It is something Abraham and God, or Moses and God, do together. Not even God can be a friend all by himself, apparently. So is it a privilege only for patriarchs? Not as far as Jesus is concerned at least. To be his friends we have to be each other’s friends, conceivably even lay down our lives for each other. It is a high price to pay, and Jesus does not pretend otherwise, but the implication is that it’s worth every cent.

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer L. Holberg teaches English literature at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.
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