My feed was full today: full of exhortations to cling tight to family. To gather with your loved ones and worship together. To spend time with the people that life and work might have distracted you from. That this might be a glorious opportunity to remember the things that matter most as you hug your kids and spouse a little closer.
Social distancing has its limits after all. Everyone knows that. No one will let it shove its way between you and your kids, you and your spouse. Instead, it seems – many are reflecting on the way social isolation is pushing people closer to the people they prioritize. The people they view as most essential.
But it does seem like the presumption is – that everyone is trapped in a house with people who are family to them. And in the wake of the separation, what will this season end up communicating to those who have no families? Who live alone or with relative strangers?
What will it communicate to them as they realize they are the non-essentials for those around them?
“Blood is thicker than water.”
Did you know that phrase means the exact opposite of how we use it?
We use it to mean that family comes first, but the full phrase is ‘the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.’
Some people think it has its origin in David and Jonathan – one of the clearest examples of the human covenant in the Bible – made not between a husband and a wife, but between two friends. Jonathan would prioritize that friendship even over his relationship with his dad. Or, the saying has its origins in the blood of the New Covenant – made by Jesus. The blood of the New Covenant – that supersedes all other Covenants. That binds me as close to you as your spouse, and – (let the offensiveness of this one sink in) – it binds me as close to your spouse as they are to you.
Church – we have asked single people to call a thing good that God never did. God never called it good to be neglected, feel less wanted, to sense you are prioritized lowest on the list of relationships that matter. When He says singleness is good – that isn’t what He means.
We have (unintentionally) made singleness synonymous with such things. We’ve done it with our hashtags of #foreverdate – as if you will be married in heaven, and as if single people will be the third wheel to your marriage even in eternity. We’ve done it with our calls for people to hunker down with ‘the people who really matter’ when what we mean is – their families. We accidentally create cultural scripts where singles have to battle against a new kind of sting – a sting that says they are less important. And then we ask them to not just accept this stage of life, but we tell them if they trust God, they will call it good.
The metaphor of Christ and the Church that is reflected in marriage is beautiful – a picture of an invisible reality made flesh and blood. But if we prioritize the metaphor at the expense of the reality of the actual body of Christ – born of His blood and present here and now – what does that mean? Is it possible this hierarchy of prioritization is cultural and not biblical?
I’m not great at the practicals, but I guess I can just ask some questions in this time of Coronavirus:
- Is there work to be done – to set your mind on things above – where you will neither marry, nor be given in marriage? And how does that mindset change the way you consider the single people around in these coming days?
- What would it look like to communicate to loved ones who don’t live in your house that those relationships are a priority to you?
I don’t have answers. But I think the questions are worth considering. And I can tell you, that for me, the people who have cushioned this for me, have a couple of things in common:
- They value friendship. They don’t reach out from a sense of privilege: “we have so much, shouldn’t we give to the poor single girl all alone.” But instead, the people who make me feel cared for in this area, have learned the limited scope of marriage and family. They believe relationships have a distinct thing to offer, and a plutonic friend can give you something that a spouse and a child cannot. Their life feels like it’s missing something as much as mine does in this season of separation.
- They miss me. They reach out not to help me feel prioritized, but because I am a priority. They reach out because they miss me, not to minister to me. They don’t reach out to me because they don’t want me to feel alone, but because I’m not alone. Our separation is costing both of us something.
And family-folks – let me tell you – if you don’t have a person to meet that criteria, it might be because you have prioritized the temporal metaphor above the family of God. We can’t care for singles by valuing them feeling valued. We can only care for them by actually valuing them.
At the end of the day – let me say this loud and clear – in this season many of us, both single and married, will be separated from the people we feel closest to. Having a spouse or being with family isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be trapped in a house with people who feel like strangers. And it might be painful and confusing and strange.
May we come to treasure one another more deeply in these strange days – not just the ones we still see, but the ones we are separated from. May this time of isolation make us come to treasure the unique gift that friendships can give us.