The lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 were tough. But amidst the difficulties, many of us found that there were some unexpected blessings that emerged out of those trying times. For me, one of those blessings, perhaps counterintuitively, was the development of some new friendships.
As the first lockdown began to ease, I connected with a family who had joined my church shortly before Covid hit. We quickly became good friends. As tiers and restrictions and lockdowns remerged, we sustained our friendship through Zoom dinners, walks, and winter evenings sitting around a fire pit, wrapped in blankets, watching Downton Abbey on an old laptop. It was an unconventional season of friendship deepening, but it was a real lifeline to me as a single guy in lockdown.
As restrictions slowly began to lift and some level of normality seemed to be appearing on the horizon, we found ourselves reflecting on what lockdown had given us. I was really struck by a comment both of my new friends made, independently of each other, around this time:
‘We’re really glad that we’ve connected over lockdown, because we don’t think you would have been around enough for it to have happened like this if life had carried on as normal.’
Those words were said with genuine gratitude. They really were glad and grateful for the opportunity that lockdown had given us to connect regularly and to become part of each other’s lives. But God also used those words to challenge me. Was it true that had it not been for lockdown I wouldn’t have had time to develop such an important new friendship? Was there something wrong in that? As I reflected, I realised it probably was true that I wouldn’t have had time for this new friendship, and I think there is something wrong in that.
I have the privilege of travelling a lot to teach at various churches and events. I also enjoy going to visit various friends I have dotted around the country. It’s true that when not in lockdown, I’m often not at home a lot. One of the blessings of singleness for me has been a freedom to travel to serve others and to see friends.
Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I don’t have relational responsibilities.
But there’s a risk in that blessing, the risk that my local friends feel they are just there to fill in the gaps or that they just get the dregs of my time. As I reflected on that, I realised that’s not how I want things to be. And I realised something important: just because I’m single doesn’t mean I don’t have relational responsibilities.
Singleness does give a whole load of freedom and flexibility that isn’t available to those who are married. In fact, these freedoms are one of the reasons that Apostle Paul thinks singleness is preferable to marriage (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Married people are rightly anxious about how to love and care for their spouse; single people have freedom to be anxious ‘about the things of the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 7:32). There should be a difference between those of us who are married and those of us who are single because a marriage relationship adds a particular set of demands on each partner.
But I’m not sure that means those of us who are single don’t have relational responsibilities. We too are called to love our brothers and sisters as Jesus has loved us (John 13:34; 15:12). That’s a love of self-sacrifice – laying down some of our freedoms and preferences for the sake of others. We too are called to bear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:2) and to be present together to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). Singles have relational responsibilities too. They may not be the same as for those who are married, but they are a reality nevertheless.
I don’t want to squeeze my friends into the leftovers of my time or for them to feel they just get the dregs of my time.
I don’t want to squeeze my friends into the leftovers of my time or for them to feel they just get the dregs of my time. I want them to feel loved, supported, and encouraged by me. I want to continue to make good use of the freedoms with which God has blessed me in the gift of singleness, but I want to use more of that freedom to be a good friend.
What does that mean for me in 2022? I’ll still be away quite a bit, but maybe not quite as much. And I’ll have a new consideration in mind when I’m deciding how to use my time. A question at the forefront of my mind in 2022 will be ‘How can I recognise my relational responsibilities?’