Over the years I have been the recipient of the most well-meaning and well-intentioned people as they say and do things to try and encourage me as a single woman. Some of these things were wonderful and I felt incredibly loved and encouraged but other times I have walked away in tears. Sometimes when someone is hurting or longing for something it can be incredibly difficult to know how to encourage them. Sometimes we fear doing or saying the wrong thing so sometimes we avoid the subject (which never works!) or other times we "overcompensate" and things end in disaster. One of my sweet married friends was recently sharing with me their grand attempt to encourage their older sibling (who is single) and what a disaster it was over the holidays. After we both had laughed and cried through the escapade that she described she concluded by saying, "Rebecca, how do I encourage my single friends?" This is a question that I have received a lot so today I wanted to share just a few ideas for this area:
1. Pray for them and their future spouse.
There is no better encouragement and support then praying for your friend and their future spouse. What a blessing!
2. Know the heart of your friend.
It is important to know and understand the heart of your friend that you are communicating with. Some singles are happily content in their singleness while others are really struggling. For some of your friends they might like to joke around and tease about the subject, while for some of your friends they might not want to talk about the subject because it is so intensely painful at this point in time. Understanding the heart of your friend and giving them the opportunity to express their feelings is a wonderful gift of encouragement.
3. Don't say, "You must have so much time on your hands".
While it is true that singles do not have the time demands of a husband and/or a family there are still plenty of other time demands that singles have placed on them. Singles are solely responsible for everything. This means they are responsible for jobs (and the circumstances if they lose a job- no back up income of a partner), keeping house (by themselves), family responsibilities, community responsibilities, church responsibilities, etc. Everyone has demanding schedules and it is simply a shift of time and energy when you are single.
4. Be sensitive to times and seasons.
One of the best ways that you can encourage the heart of your single friend is to be sensitive to the times and seasons that are most difficult for them. Some singles have a very difficult time around Valentine's Day while others struggle over the Christmas Holiday. (Hallmark has hit the nail on the head with this as they produce tons of new Christmas movies every year with the theme that people find their "true love" over the Christmas holiday.) For me personally I actually struggle the most during the summer months as I long for a husband and family to share these precious months with. I have a sweet friend who remembers not only the holidays like Valentine's Day and Christmas Holidays but always sends me a letter at the beginning of the summer with her thoughts and prayers. Her kindness always touches my heart.
5. Don't tell your friend that they are "too picky".
I can't even begin to count the number of times that I have been told that I am "too picky". Honestly, it is incredibly frustrating and I often want to turn to them and say, "and you weren't picky with the most important decision in your life?". While you might encourage a single friend who refuses to date anyone but someone with red hair and green eyes to "branch out" and explore things that are truly important- like the heart of a person, you will want to be sensitive to those who really are open to who the Lord has for them. My best advice is to not tell someone they are "too picky" until you understand what their "requirements" are. *smiles*
6. Set your friend up... with their permission.
If you are going to set your friend up, make sure you have their permission. I have been the recipient of wonderful and not so wonderful set ups. One of the most hilarious experiences happened three weeks after my ex-fiance' and I ended our relationship. I was deeply grieving and one of my students parents invited me over for dinner. I thought it was kind of them and walked into the dinner not knowing that it was a "set up". Imagine my dismay when I arrived, still in shock from my personal experience, to find a young man (who hated Whole Foods and flowers - which he announced in the first two minutes) who was aware of the set up. The night got stranger and funnier as his "best qualities" were continuously portrayed over and over again in a handful of embarrassing and awkward situations. Thankfully a couple of my former students (who are now my friends) who were supposed to not be apart of the dinner stayed and helped keep me laughing instead of crying and to this day we still laugh about the whole thing. I am all for a great set up but I highly encourage you to make sure the timing is right!
7. Cry with them.
Longing for marriage, similar to anything one is longing for in life can be difficult and lonely. Don't be afraid to step in to the pain, cry with them, and be there for them.
8. Watch the timing of sharing your "perfect" love story.
The Book of Ecclesiastes said it well when it states in chapter 3, "There is a time for everything...". This couldn't be better advice in regards to watching the timing of sharing your love story. Every single lady that I know loves a great love story and loves to hear them (myself included). At the same time though timing is everything. I remember one time that this was especially painful for me. I was chaperoning the prom when I was teaching and to be frank it was a difficult personal night for me as it was the one year anniversary of my engagement and I was still healing. In addition to this there had been a young man who had been pursuing me and had suddenly decided that we were better as "just friends". I was hurting and feeling alone and going to a "romantic prom" night as a chaperone was the last thing I felt like doing. Imagine my dismay then when one of the other chaperones thought that it would be "encouraging" for me to hear their entire love story (approximately 2 hours... no joke) in detail. I am sure it was meant to be an encouragement to me, but the timing was anything but. On the flip side though there have been plenty of times where I have asked friends and loved ones to share their stories. It reminds me how God is at work uniquely and intricately in each of us. Timing is truly everything.
9. Include them in your Life.
Many times (due to changing seasons) it can be easy to "lose" your single friends amidst married couple activities, but strive to make this not happen. Continue on hanging out with your friend alone but also include them in group activities. Many times couples think that it will be awkward for a single person to be with couples. This can be true but in the right situations, singles also can feel welcomed, loved, and accepted in groups. (Sometimes the worst thing that can happen is simply not being invited to something.) Worried they might feel uncomfortable? Encourage them to bring a friend or two to the activity.
10. Don't tell them "once (this or that) happens the right guy will come along" or "when the time is right the right person will come along".
Honestly, no one knows when the "right person" will come along. Encourage your friend to continue to follow the plans the Lord has for them and that the Lord will provide at the right timing. Encouraging them to think that once they accomplish something or go somewhere everything "will fall into place" can set your friend up for major disappointment. Instead encourage them to listen to the Lord and His voice as He guides their steps.
11. Drop a Note, Card, or Text as you think and pray for them.
Honestly, the littler things are always the big things. Every time you take a moment to do something you think might be "small" you will encourage the heart of your friend as you remind them that you are praying for this area of their life.
12. Encourage them to find purpose in this season.
In every season there is a purpose and reason that the Lord has for us. Encourage your friend by pointing out their unique gifting, calling, and heart for certain things during this season. This isn't encouraging them to simply "fill their time" but to honestly seek the Lord and find out His purpose in their single season.
13. Don't ask "Have you tried online dating?".
I mean really y'all. Whenever someone asks me this I want to be sarcastic and say, "Is that a thing? I have never heard of it?".
14. Unless there is a God-given reason don't suggest they go back to an ex-boyfriend.
Enough said. *smiles*
15. Don't let a situation or circumstance your friend is in determine your belief in the right timing of a relationship.
I have had so many single friends tell me that their well-meaning friends have shared that "once you are out debt" or "once you lose weight" or "once you __________" it will be the time for the right relationship. While I do agree that there are certain situations and some timing may be best in certain circumstances, this advice does not encourage your single friend or encourage them to trust the Lord. Instead it puts the pressure and the responsibility on your friend. Honestly, it also puts God in a box by implying that life should be "perfect" before a relationship is right. I never had personally experienced this until I got sick. THEN, all of a sudden, I started hearing from so many people that "once you beat Lyme Disease and Cancer" you will find the right guy. Honestly it is so discouraging and brings me to tears a lot. It is probably one of the most hurtful things I have heard in regards to singleness because what if my health never improves? Look, I love my family and friends and I hate seeing their pain in my sickness, so of course I wouldn't want to involve someone else in that pain. BUT that doesn't mean that my fight for my health has wiped out my desire to get married and be a mama. In fact, it is the exact opposite. It makes me long for it more because I know how precious each day is. Encourage your friends to trust the Lord in His perfect timing - even if the timing doesn't seem perfect to you.
16. Don't say "it will happen when you least expect it to".
I can't even begin to count how many times I have heard this. What in the world. I mean... first someone is saying I should try online dating and now I shouldn't expect it... so confusing! *smiles*
17. Notice the small things.
When you are single you don't have someone noticing all of the "small" things that are going on (new haircut, new shirt, etc.) so by taking the time to pay attention to these things you will truly encourage your single friend!
18. Don't say, "How are you still single" to any single person you know.
Whenever I am told this (which has happened a lot ) I feel that I have to start to justify being single when I long to be married. Its really complicated and usually the conversation just turns incredibly awkward after this question is asked.
19. Encourage them to "Dream Big".
As time passes and the biological clock ticking seems to "get louder and louder" it can be easy for singles to start contemplating the idea of settling "for less". I have so many friends who have been such blessings as they remind me not to settle but instead to keep "dreaming big" in this very important area of my life. This has been one of the most amazing gifts my family and friends has given me!
20. Remind them they are amazing.
Even the most self-confident person can struggle with self-esteem when they see everyone getting engaged and married before them. You simply telling your friend that they are amazing will have a tremendous impact on them.