I was asked to compile some thoughts on my time as a missionary as a single woman. I thought I would share and would love to hear others thoughts as well! 😉
Reflection on Being a Single Woman on the Mission Field
Every person in ministry or missions has a different experience and perspective. Female, male, married, single, or divorced all bring a unique lens and set of expectations to put on their world. Having served in multiple different ministry roles and several years overseas; the following are some old-fashioned pros and cons about my experience as a single woman.
Pro: A lot of freedom to be involved
- Being single allows more freedom and flexibility to be involved in the ministry. It is true that being married or having kids divides your attention. Plus, with me to determine your time commitments, I am in charge of how I spend your time. Which means that I can be more flexible and often more available to the people that I are ministering too and with.
Con: You don’t have the excuse or automatic boundaries of “family time” or my spouse said, “no”.
- This can often be a source of great frustration. It seems completely normal and wise for families to set aside time away from “ministry” to be together as a family. For a single it seems selfish to want time away from “ministry” to just be by yourself. It feels weird, it is kind of weird, and it is not perceived well! However, it is so critically important that you have to push pass the awkward.
Pro: You can develop a whole new set of skills, since you are the only one who is going to get things done in the administration of life.
- I hate dealing with budgets or money. I am pretty terrible at fixing any sort of leak or broken thing. And, you don’t even want to see me try and hang a frame straight, let alone into a concrete wall! I know my limitations, but on the field I can’t ask my husband to do those things for me, so I have to learn. I have to figure out, because there is no splitting of duties (having a roommate helps exponentially with this, but it is still not the same). I still may not be able to hang a straight frame, but if my washing machine starts leaking again, I will know what to do and I will show that machine what is up?!
Con: Navigating a new country, culture, and language by yourself seems like more work.
- Like I said above, as a single on the field you do it all. You can’t depend on your spouse or much smarter children to have better language skills or remember your address. You have to be an active member of the ministry, do your visa paperwork, stay in contact with your supporters, keep your budget, change your budget when the money isn’t quite there yet, clean your apartment, take out your trash, do your laundry, cook, AND throw awesome dinner parties. It is easy to look at married couples that have a division of labor, and often a way of getting every day tasks done together, and believe that your life is harder. However, doing life with some phenomenal, hard working married couples, this feeling is categorically untrue. It is easy to forget that I just have me to deal with me, not one or more other people to care for. So, while it may seem like more work, it really isn’t; and as the famous culture shock saying goes, “It is not wrong; it is just different!”.
Pro: You get to have multiple “families”
- One of my favorite questions that I have received as single woman who is (ahem) almost 30 is, “Do you have a family?”. Now, I don’t think I look like an orphan, and the last time I checked most people do have a family, so this is kind like asking, “Do you an elbow?”. Now, I know the intention of the questions is not malicious and is in fact very sweet, but come on! Being single does not mean that you don’ t have a family of your own. I have the benefit of have several families, of being a professional auntie, and loving well and being loved well in return by lots of “families”. I loved that for holidays on the field, I would be invited to several different homes, and get to party hop. Now, I am so thankful that since I am back in America I get to be with family family, but I am just with them, and I still feel like I should be moving on to my next party!
Con: Without shared history the feelings of foreignness and aloneness are more apparent.
- While, it is great to jump into something new and I kind of thrive off of the new adventure, there is something very relaxing and comforting to the soul about shared history. Having that friend that has known you forever, or being with your siblings who know way too many embarrassing stories, brings balance and foundation to your life. Married couples have that. They knew each other’s stories, families and people before coming on the field. They know if their spouse is acting funny or not like themselves. As a single, the reality is that often no one can say that you are not acting like yourself, because the only “self” they know of you is what they have seen on the field. I remember on my first mission trip and our leader wisely said to not make any judgments about our teammates until after the first week. This was great advice, because at first everyone is CRAZY! In that transition, it seems easier to have someone to walk through that with you, who can help control your crazy.
Pro: Deeper friendships can develop since you don’t have a built-in “debriefer”.
- Spouses should be and naturally are each other’s sounding boards. With the crazy of cross-cultural living and the stress and doubts that can easily take over, having a “debriefer “is critical. For singles we have the challenge of quickly trusting one ore two other ladies to be that for us. With this forced trust and fast bond, a friendship that is forged by fire develops. I would say that it is similar to your first few months of college but on steroids. Where you can’t believe you have only known your new bestie for only a month, and can’t imagine life without your new people. It is awesome, and makes me so thankful that God created us for relationship. He gives us the people we need if we are willing to be vulnerable and love through the ugly of culture shock!
Con: Relationships with the “wives” can be challenging
- A division can quickly develop between the singles and the marrieds. We all tend to gravitate towards people with similar situations as ours; this is natural, but dangerous. With this division, it can be hard to develop relationships with married women. Their worlds are different, and since as a single you have to operate in a dual role, it can be threatening. I have experienced the hurt of being cut out of a married friends life, because being single, “I just didn’t get it”. Conversely, I have experienced sweet relationship, connection, and accountability with married women that were richer because of our different life stages, struggles and perspectives. Women: we need each other…we need to get over ourselves, and love fiercely!
Pro: It may be easier to be single while on the filed than it is in America
- This one caught me off guard when I moved back to the States. Everyone is talking about dating, marriage, pregnancy, children, mortgages, and my lack of any of those things! While on the field, finding a boyfriend wasn’t expected. It is even frowned upon, because you are a missionary, you have work to do and it does not involve flirting. (Even a good flirt to convert!) There is less pressure on the field, and being single is SO very normal and celebrated. Not to say that walking through romantic European cities isn’t a bit a let down without a handsome man holding your hand, but it is understood that you are doing a greater work, and being single is not a hindrance to that call.
Con: You have to fight against many voices at “home” that think your life is on pause.
- Going to the field as a young single is often seen, by some, as an adventure before you settle down and start living life. Yuck. Barf. Not true! Our lives are never on pause, because our God is never on pause. Everything can be purposeful, meaningful and important, if we clue into what God is doing. I have heard lots of comment about my time in Vienna, as my “big adventure”, or “that is great that you did that before getting married.” Yes, maybe, but it is also a huge part of my life and has shaped who I am. Never believe the lie that life begins at “I do”. Your life is in full swing and there is an awesome God who wants to do incredible things with you and through you whether you are single, married, male, female or lack a sense of humor.
I LOVED being single on the field, I love being single in America. I am also confident that I will love being married on the field and in America. That is just how cool, God is and life is.