Hey, Lindsey here. One of the things I wanted to do after writing and reading all the comments on Church & The Single Girl, Part 1 and Part 2 was tell stories. Tell stories of other single people who are in the trenches of life, trying to discern their next steps, and embrace their singleness with the potential opportunity and loss it brings. Joy Beth Smith is hopefully the first of many “single sessions.” She is the assistant editor for Today’s Christian Woman. After graduating with her an MA in English Literature from Liberty University, Joy Beth moved to Nashville where she quickly discovered that teaching middle school was an acquired taste. Now she spends her days writing, editing, and managing TCW’s social media. Joy Beth has an ever-growing passion for seeing how the gospel engages with culture, gender, and sexuality. When she’s not thinking about super important things, she escapes into young adult novels, boxing classes, and Pinterest.
Name: Joy Beth Smith
Hometown: Wheaton, IL
Relationship Status: Super Single
Profession: Assistant Editor
LN: What do feel like God is calling you to in this season?
JBS: Is it strange to say that I feel called to be a mom, despite the fact that marriage hasn’t come to fruition? I always felt like I was supposed to be a wife and a mother, and those things just haven’t happened. But more and more in the past year I’ve been burdened for older kids in foster care. It feels crazy to say, but I know that the Lord is prompting my heart in this direction. The idea of doing this alone is terrifying, but God is good, and he’ll provide. In an ideal world, I’d be married, and both my husband and I would grow excited at the thought of beginning this process, but this isn’t an ideal world. It’s a broken one, and there are broken people who the Lord is calling me to love, and I will not let my singleness limit my service here.
I also feel called to write about singleness, to talk about how hard it is, to dispel the myth that to struggle with singleness is to be desperate for a husband. After talking to many women and working through the pains of singleness myself, I can say without a doubt that what I’m grappling with in my singleness is so much more than wanting someone to watch Netflix with on a Friday night. Singleness has snuck in and become part of my identity, and I want to talk about how that affects me. I want to cultivate open communication around self-image, sexuality, and satisfaction—noting that none of those things is compromised, oppressed, or reduced in singleness. In general, I just want to be faithful to where God is leading me and what he’s laying on my heart.
LN: What are some things (experiences, relationships, pursuits, etc.) in your life that singleness has made possible?
JBS: Travel is definitely at the top of this list. Because I can give my undivided attention to things, I can train for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I’ll be doing with a non-profit group (One Million Thumbprints) in March as we take a trip to the Congo and Tanzania to advocate for women who’ve experienced sexual violence. I’ve been able to travel to India and spend almost three weeks working in rural villages helping present the gospel. I’ve been able to travel all over the great United States visiting married friends who’ve started families and single friends who’ve started over in a new city.
I also have been able to fully invest in my relationship with my friends and specifically my roommates. I think living with others keeps me sane (and humble)—it allows you to live in community with people, to download your day with someone who cares about the ins-and-outs of your job, to allow (and forgive) a few crumbs on the counter or an empty toilet paper roll. My roommates, all 27 of them, have always been the greatest source of teaching and friendship in my life, and I’m so, so thankful that God has allowed me to build strong relationships this way.
And, you know, I do what I want. I can spend my money how I’d like. I can spend my Saturday morning how I’d like. I can watch whatever movie I’d like. I can treat myself to that new leather purse I’ve been lusting after. There’s something liberating (and slightly exhausting) about being the sole decision maker in your life.
LN: What are some of the challenges of being single?
JBS: Phew. Man. Singleness is a status that could potentially change at any given moment, and I think this throws a wrench in all my plans and dreams. When I think up my five-year plan, it’s just kind of hazy. Every item is couched in this “…if I don’t get married” sentiment—because marriage changes things. I don’t want to build a life that doesn’t allow for marriage, but I don’t want to build a life around the hope of a marriage that may or may not come. It’s a difficult place to be, waiting and hoping for something to change but knowing that you can’t bank on that.
I sometimes feel like I don’t know how to be a woman. My friend Jenean said this and I totally agree: I don’t really understand what womanhood—especially biblical womanhood—looks like apart from marriage and motherhood. It’s sort of what I was groomed for, what I always assumed would naturally happen. But it hasn’t. And now I’m struggling to understand what defines me as a woman if it’s not the role of wife and mother.
I also think the hardest part is just sitting in that place of wanting. I want to be married, but I don’t feel like I can say that out loud or I’ll be labeled as desperate. But I do—I want to be married. And sometimes it’s hard to see why God, who created the institution of marriage and meant it as a parallel between Jesus and his Bride, would keep such a good thing from someone who ardently desires it. My belief in His sovereignty keeps me grounded, and at times that’s comfort enough, but other days I allow myself to cry in my car and just want. Want for the family I can cart around in a minivan and want for a husband I can share my life with and serve, want for the future I always imagined I’d have.
LN: What has been your experience of singleness in the Church?
JBS: I never felt the effects of being single in the church until after I graduated from college. Until that point, my roommates and I would pile into the same car, go to the same church, serve in the same ministries, and there was never a sense of feeling unwanted or out of place. However, after I moved to a new city and was forced to try out churches on my own, I quickly realized exactly how isolating the task is.
It’s hard to get up and drive to church by yourself, sit through a service by yourself, and then drive home by yourself. I know that this time can be sprinkled with conversations and awkward handshakes, but it doesn’t feel like I’m making any real progress in building relationships with those around me. At best, I feel like I’m sitting at a table where people have hurriedly made room for me at the end and pulled up one of those metal folding chairs. At worst I feel kind of like a splinter in a finger—a little unwelcome and only noticed when I cause irritation or trouble.
My church doesn’t even offer a small group I can attend—all the evening groups are meant for married couples or parents. So this past fall I tried to start one of my own. With very little support from the church and even less support from the four other single individual in my age-range, the group quickly fizzled out.
As a whole, I feel like the church doesn’t really know what to do with singles. All of the events seem to be focused on the nuclear family unit (“Daddies, daughters, and donuts”/ “Family Picnic” / “Trunk or Treat for You and Your Kids”), and I have yet to attend a church that specifically, intentionally catered to the interests and needs of singles. As a result, statistically many single people are actually leaving the church. While singles are a growing number in society, with the average marrying age now in the late twenties, we’re a shrinking population within the walls of the church. As our culture continues to shift towards later marriages and higher divorce rates, singles need special consideration. And singles need the church, desperately, because we need community and a place to come for confession and growth and acceptance. But instead I’m finding community in my roommates and coworkers and gleaning little from my body of believers, and this feels like a grave loss. It’s hard for the Body to function as she should if we’re continuing to tell the right hand that she should act like the left—I want to be treasured and valued for who I am, even for my singleness.
LN: How can your friends and/or your church do a better job of loving you in the season you are in?
JBS: I think that we need make a space for women, especially single women, to talk about hard things. We can’t be scared of talking about our sexuality apart from physical intimacy. The discussion of sexuality for women in the church seems to begin and end with modesty. I’ve been in that place, so intimidated by the idea of actually being made as a sexual creature, that “abstinence” slipped easily into “avoidance,” and I was left with nothing but questions I couldn’t voice. The church can be spearheading this discussion, contributing greatly to the dialogue that’s already going on in mainstream culture.
I would love to feel support from people other than my single girlfriends. I think one of my greatest fears is doing something scary, like foster care, and when I need help, no one will be there. I feel like couples may have more support here—more people willing to step in and lend a hand. But it terrifies me to try to do anything more than what I know I’m capable of because I’m not sure there’s a safety net to catch me if I fall.
And I’d like to change the way we’re talking about singleness. I often hear it referred to as a training ground for marriage, a time where the Lord may be holding a husband so that he can first work out a spiritual deficit of some kind in your life. Both of these things lack any firm biblical backing, and they’re hurtful to hear. Instead, I’d love to be encouraged in this season because singleness is significant, and the time spent in this season should not be undermined by believing that we’re only meant for preparing for the next.
What are some things that stood out to you about Joy and her thoughts on life and singleness?