And we’re back with another installment of “the single sessions.” I have loved reading your comments on Ashley, Joy Beth and Evan’s posts. Now I’m excited to introduce you to Amy Ickes. Amy moved four months ago to San Antonio from New Jersey to start a new job at a church. Being on staff at a Church and having experience a lot of transition in her life, I thought Amy had a great perspective to share.
“I have to wonder if it would be easier to make these kinds of transitions if I wasn’t single. Would it be easier to meet people, get plugged into a LifeGroup, and feel like I belong if I wasn’t trying to do it all on my own?”
Name: Amy Ickes
City, St: San Antonio, TX
Age: 40 (This is the first time I’ve had to put that in writing – ouch!)
Relationship Status: Chronically Single
Profession: Church Communications & Discipleship Director
LN: What has been your experience of singleness in the Church?
AI: Like many kids who grew up in church, my experience with singleness was limited. Most of the single adults I knew were fresh out of college or were widowed. Singleness was never addressed in any context other than the typical youth group “save yourself for marriage” talks. It was assumed that everyone would get married someday, so we never talked about that “what if” scenario.
Even now, singleness continues to be a one-line insert hidden somewhere in the annual message series about marriage and family, and it’s usually done as an awkward joke aimed at young adults who are dating and just haven’t gotten married yet. Those of us who now officially fall outside that demographic and are starting to have to face the reality that marriage is not a foregone conclusion are left wondering what to do with our sexuality, our desires, and our dreams. And no one is really talking about that in church – certainly not from the pulpit.
LN: What do you feel like God is calling you to in this season?
AI: A few years ago, I was in a small group with a bunch of young, unmarried women, and the conversations we had there made me realize how much we need to be allowed to talk about sexuality, intimacy, and male-female relationships outside of the confines of marriage. Out of those conversations, God prompted me to start writing a book about singleness and what to do with that “gift” in a world where marriage is not a guarantee, but whole-life purity is still a biblical mandate.
Professionally, He’s called me to full-time church ministry, which means I now have a lot of potential opportunities to help change the part of Church culture that still sees unmarried people as different, other, and in some cases sadly, less than.
Personally, He is calling me to a place of healing. I’m finally at a healthy church where it’s not only safe enough to talk about things like mental illness, it’s actually encouraged, especially at the staff level. For the first time in my life, I feel like I can start working through the trauma of sexual abuse that’s part of my story, the anger and bitterness I’ve felt in my unmarried state, and the lies I’ve chosen to believe about God and myself. I’m just getting started on this part of my journey, but these first steps in the right direction are the key to finding my voice, and eventually helping others find theirs.
LN: How has it been walking through life transitions as a single?
AI: When you’re dissatisfied with where you are in life, it is nearly impossible to enjoy the life you’ve been given. I’ve missed out on a lot of good things because I’ve been looking outside my current circumstances for my happiness.
I’ll readily admit that God and I have had several fights about this and I will readily admit that those fights have come from my own lack of belief that He really loves me as much as He loves everyone else. Life transitions have been hard because I’ve chosen to believe in Satan’s lies, rather than in God’s love.
In the NIV, Lamentations 3:22 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love for us, we are not consumed…” When I don’t believe in that love, I am consumed – by self-pity, fear, loneliness, bitterness, and hopelessness. When I choose to believe what God says about Himself (and about me), I’m able to give of myself sacrificially, I’m at peace, and I have hope that He has good things for me, which makes those life transitions easier, and even fully enjoyable.
LN: What are some things (experiences, relationships, pursuits, etc.) in your life that singleness has made possible?
One of the biggest pros of being unmarried is that I’m only responsible for me. This allows for a degree of spontaneity that my married friends can’t enjoy as often. So if I wake up on Friday morning and decide I want to head down the shore or run up to Austin for the BBQ I’ve been craving all week, I don’t have to check with anyone else. I can just get in the car and go. As a complete and utter introvert, being outside and driving on the open road are by far two of the most refreshing things for my soul, so this arrangement works really well for me! (Also, no one talks to me in the morning before coffee!)
A few years ago, I was attending a church with a very strong high school and college group made up of some of the most amazing, spiritually mature kids I’ve ever had the privilege to know. Because I didn’t have a family to care for, I was able to spend a lot of time with them, pour into their lives, and enjoy some 2 AM fires after wiffleball. When one of those kids was killed in an accident after I’d moved away, I was able to drop everything, travel back, and fully devote myself to that group as we all grieved together.
More recently, being single allowed me to move across the country. In January, I moved from New Jersey to Texas to take a job at a church, and I’ve completely fallen in love with both Texas and that church. This is something that may not have ever happened if I was married, which would have been a huge loss for me on a lot of different levels.
LN: What are some of the challenges of being single?
AI: I always joke that my landlord, the utility companies, and the guy fixing the brakes on my car don’t care that I’m single, so financially, being single has been a challenge at times. On the other hand, I only have one mouth to feed in my household, so I suppose it all balances out.
One of the biggest challenges for me is something Joy Beth talked about: going to church alone. Being on staff allows me the excuse of not actually having to sit in the congregation by myself because I can hide behind my work on Sundays. In some ways, this is a plus because it helps me protect my heart on those days when I’m really struggling. On the other hand, I know I’m missing out on actually spending time in worship and really paying attention to what God might have for me in the message, which is hugely bad and has definitely impacted me spiritually.
So many of the challenges I face really do land on me, though. When I allow my introvertedness (let’s just make that a word, ok?) to win out, I just make things worse for myself and it communicates to others that I’m not interested in pursuing relationship with them (which is completely untrue!). I don’t have a spouse to help pull me out of my shell (or the house), or even protect me from feeling lonely and “other”, so I have to do that for myself. That’s definitely a challenge because the easy thing to do is hide. I need to constantly be on guard and force myself to reach out to others, even when I worry I might be intruding on their family time or responsibilities.
LN: How can your friends and/or your church do a better job of loving you in the season you are in?
AI: Again, Joy Beth hit the nail on the head on this one! We need our married friends to invite us into their lives and into their families. Getting to have a relationship with other people’s kids is huge for me because I’ve always wanted my own and that hasn’t happened yet. In the past month, I’ve gotten to hold a friend’s son and comfort him when he was sick, sit in a rocking chair and read him a bedtime story, and help their other son with his homework. These are experiences my mother-instinct craves, and being invited into their family’s life from time to time fulfills some of that longing. It’s a gift, and it’s one I definitely cherish. Another friend invited me to her son’s 5th birthday party, and her husband invited me to have lunch with them on Mother’s Day. I don’t think people realize how big a deal those kinds of things can be!
The other really big thing for me was the way my co-workers celebrated my birthday this year. I wasn’t at all looking forward to it (I honestly never do), but they went out of their way to make me feel so loved all day long. It ended up turning a day I was dreading into one of the best days I’ve had since I moved here. Taking the time to celebrate those of us who don’t get to wake up to breakfast in bed and hand-made cards from our kids speaks so much love over our lives!
As for the Church, it needs to keep moving toward becoming the safest place to talk about all kinds of things. Multi-generational, multi-lifestage groups that look a lot more like the demographic make-up of the Church will go a long way in creating open conversations – and not just about singleness.
Finally, we need more books and Bible studies for women that go way beyond “how to be a good wife and mother”. Women, regardless of their marital status, are so much more, and have the capacity to dig so much deeper into Scripture than they’ve traditionally been empowered to do. Christian literature needs to keep moving in that direction, and authors writing for women need to be careful that they’re not assuming their entire audience is made up of married mothers. I think the more local churches begin to understand what Scripture really teaches about where and how women fit in the Church, the better this will get.
LN: How can unmarried people help their friends and church love them better?
AI: This whole thing is a two-way street. Yes, there are definitely things our friends and the Church can do to help us feel loved and feel that we belong, but we have some responsibility in all of this too. (I’m admittedly not particularly good at any of what I’m about to say, but I’m working on it…)
- Ask for what you need: No one can read your mind, so no one will know what you need until you tell them. This is a scary first step that comes with the risk of rejection, but if you don’t ask, you can’t receive.
- Seek out relationships with the potential to run deep: Ask your pastor or other church staff for help finding a mentor. Invite someone you think you might “click” with to lunch and spend some time listening to his or her story. It may take a few tries to find that person with whom you can develop a deeper relationship, but if you don’t try, it will never happen.
- Keep close to God: Married or unmarried, our most intimate relationship needs to be the one we have with God. He is all-sufficient. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He alone can meet every need we have. Spend time DAILY in Scripture and in good, honest prayer: Remind God of your needs and His promises to meet them. Ask Him to bring a good friend or mentor into your path, and for the bravery to initiate that relationship. Ask Him to align your will and your desires with His (see Psalm 37:4), (and, after you do that, if you still want a spouse, ask for that too).