A few years ago, I was trying to be proactive in developing a friendship with a family in my church. The weekend was coming up, and I didn’t have much in my diary, so I asked my friend whether I could join him and his family on Saturday afternoon. He said ‘No’. That, in and of itself, wasn’t a problem. We all have other things going on in life. But what I found hard to stomach was how he explained why I couldn’t join them: ‘Sorry, that’s family time.’
It was clear that for my friend ‘family time’ meant ‘nuclear family time’: husband, wife and kids with the door closed to anyone else. The fact that he was so eager to protect this time from being invaded by others also told me that he saw it as vitally important. For me, that raised some questions: If family time is just about nuclear family, what about me, a single guy who doesn’t have a nuclear family? Do I never get family time? Do I not need it?
When my friend said, ‘Sorry, that’s family time’, what I really wanted to say was, ‘I know. That’s why I want to be there.’ I may be single, but I need family just as much as everyone else does. I need those times where you can be with other people with no agenda. I need the joy of doing normal Saturday afternoon things like tidying the garden, baking a cake, or going for a walk just as much as everyone else does. I need those times when you can relax, be yourself and rest in the fact that you’re valued and loved. But if family time is restricted to nuclear families, I’ll never get those times.
I need those times where I can be with other people with no agenda. I need the joy of doing normal Saturday afternoon things like tidying the garden.
I think my friend’s response flowed from a common misunderstanding about family. Don’t get me wrong, God loves nuclear families. He’s designed them as the best context in which for children to grow up and as a vital part of a healthy society. But nuclear families aren’t meant to be closed off like a fortress with big protective walls and a moat. Nuclear families are meant to be open, inviting others in. A nuclear family of mum, dad and a few children isn’t the final product; it’s the foundation for something more.
And I think that inviting others into family time is good for everyone. Singles who are invited into families shouldn’t be there just to be blessed, we should be there to be a blessing too. My friend seemed to assume that having me there would detract from family time. I’d hoped it would add to it. Families can take the view that adding someone to family time will damage it and can be nervous about letting singles into their families, and singles can come with an equally unhelpful view that families are there just to look after them. But the truth is that all of us who are followers of Jesus – married or single – are equally called to love and to be family for others in our church. Singles shouldn’t come to family time just as consumers; we should also be contributors. Inviting others into family time should be good for everyone.
Nuclear families are meant to be open, inviting others in.
There’s a balance here. I do understand that it is important for couples and families to have some time on their own. I think in the same way, in an ideal world, it’s important for singles to get some time with their close friends on their own, without spouses or children in tow. But family time doesn’t have to be reserved for nuclear family, and I think everyone benefits when it isn’t.
Singles need family time too. How can you help make that a reality in your church?