“Social distancing” will surely be a contender for the word / phrase of 2020. While for some of us, it might still have novelty value or provide us with a welcome excuse for more family time, for many single people in our church communities it is bad news indeed. There were already plenty of challenges around connecting with couples and families before the pandemic, but now there are legal and health-related reasons for people to be closing doors to each other. The coronavirus lockdown may be a hard time for some single people.
There’s a lot to say about being single at a time like this and as a married guy I won’t add too much.* However, I do want to give encouragement and ideas to married people as to how they might care for single people during a time of physical distancing.
It’s worth saying briefly at the start, though, that this period won’t be an easy one for couples and families either. Marriages that were under strain before will be under even more strain now. Having kids around who need supervision for school is an extra challenge. Financial pressures are magnified when you have dependents with many needs. All of us will be under a lot of stress, so as I write about the issue of caring for single people, I’m aware that this is just one concern among many for our churches.
However, there are particular ways in which single people might struggle during this time, especially those living alone. Like all of us, they will miss the physical gatherings of church and small group, but perhaps even more so. For some there might be a sense of anxiety or panic over the loss of regular church and group. They might be wondering how, in the absence of meeting together, they will stay grounded as Christians with a clear sense of being children of God.
In addition, physical touch and proximity are very significant aspects of being human. For those of us with other people at home, unless we’re in strict self-isolation, a hug or a reassuring hand on the shoulder is easy to come by. Whatever we’re feeling, we can go sit in a room right next to another human without great concern for spreading disease. For people living alone it’s a great loss not to have that contact for a long period of time.
There’s also the fear of being sick (or even dying) alone. The questions are there for our single friends: “Who will notice if I’m sick? Who will look after me? Who will help me make decisions about what to do?” The answers might not be obvious, and this will be a cause for worry.
I’m sure there will be other things on the minds of our single friends, it’s something to talk about and share. Meanwhile, single people will themselves be concerned for their married friends and kids and all the challenges that they are under as well. You may already be benefitting from their prayers and help.
The Bible, of course, has so much to say about love and care in our church communities and among married and single people. Jesus, himself single, is building his church (Mat 16:18) and he welcomes men and women, adults and children, married and single people. Paul describes the church in 1 Timothy 3:15 as the household or family of God. The Christian community is described using family terms: father, mother, brother and sister (1 Tim 5:1-2).
A simple, yet powerful, verse is Hebrews 13:1:
“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.”
The original readers of Hebrews were a community under pressure. Persecution, false teaching and sin had put them under great strain. Yet the author calls them to continue in family-like love for each other, or as the ESV translates it: “Let brotherly love remain”. This needs to be our motto during these hard times of COVID-19.
So how can Christians with spouses and families love the single people in our church communities? Here are a few ideas, perhaps increasing in costliness:
- Call the single people you know regularly. It’s a simple thing to call people just to let them know that you’re thinking of them and praying for them. Ask them how they’re going and what you can pray for. You might wonder, “Which single people?” Maybe you could start with your friends or people in your small group. Then consider those who only just joined your church before the lockdown happened. Or perhaps people in your neighbourhood. You won’t be able to support all the single people in your church yourself, but you can make a big difference for some.
- Be creative in spending time together. Consider having a virtual coffee catch-up, or playing an online game together. Maybe you could set up the screen so they can join your family for family Bible time, online church, or a meal together (although I haven’t yet figured out how to deal with eating sounds in a video conference).
- Be ready with practical or financial help. Things like dropping off extra supplies, helping with urgent yardwork, or dealing with house maintenance problems will be a big help. Even offering to walk their dog could be very welcome.
- Care for them if they get sick. This is a big one, and I’m not sure how we do this appropriately while respecting government advice about containing the spread of COVID-19. However, caring for our sick friends is a very significant expression of love at this time. One of my single friends shared how much she appreciated one of her married friends saying: “If you were sick with coronavirus, I would have you at my house”. And another friend said to her: “I’d take sick leave to look after you.” I was personally challenged by the love and generosity of her friends.
Being single is a good gift from God. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made it particularly difficult to live as a single person. Even though we’re all struggling, this is the time to intentionally reach out to our single friends. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.