Is My Singleness Making Me Selfish?

By Amy Juran, Writing Assistant Intern

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Lately I’ve been having this inner struggle about how my singleness might be making me into a selfish person.

I guess it makes sense that because I don’t have a husband or a family of my own, it appears I don’t have anyone to look out for but myself and my own needs. I can duck out early from social situations so I can get something done that I’ve been working on, or so I can get some ​me ​time in before work in the morning.  I look around at people who have spouses and families, who probably barely remember what personal time feels like, and have to ask myself, ­­ “Is my singleness making me selfish?” To counteract the natural tendency to be self­-centered, there are three resolutions I have made to help keep myself in check.

1.)  Avoid Comparisons

It probably doesn’t help that I’m reaching a time in my life where the majority of my family and friends are married and an increasing number are pregnant or have kids. As a result, I get to hear a lot about the frustrations and challenges of marriage: how difficult it can be to coexist with another person, what little sleep you get with a crying newborn, and so on. There’s no arguing either, because it all does seem like a lot of work, but it’s the kind of work that gleans fulfilling rewards.  Granted, I’ve never been married, so I may be completely off in my theory, but one of the beautiful things that I’ve observed in marriage is having an automatic purpose and mission right in front of you all the time. Of course people in relationships are called to many other tasks than being a good partner and providing for their spouse’s needs. However, when they are confronted with the daunting question of “What is my purpose in life?”, they have at least one go-­to answer of “I am called to care for and honor my spouse” or “My mission is to set a good example for my children.”

Sometimes when I ask myself this same question, I get frustrated because it can be unclear what God wants for me in my life because I don’t have the automatic purpose married people do. 

I have a wonderful friend, who has taught me a lot on this subject. She coordinates the children’s ministry at church, plans events for our life group, and cares for a home, all with a rambunctious two year old on her hip.

One day I had made a bunch of treats for the service, and she came up to me and was thanking me profusely for all my hard work. I couldn’t help but shy away from the compliment, and think how small my token was in comparison to everything she is involved with and responsible for. And then she said one of the kindest things I could hope to hear at this point in my life: ­­”Hey, your life is important too! Your contribution is no less than anyone else’s, and this place wouldn’t be the same without you.”

That validation got me a little emotional, to be honest, and it made me really reevaluate how I view singleness. I concluded that it’s not that I resent being alone or this season of my life because I am partnerless, but instead I am frustrated sometimes at how much more difficult it can be to live a life that seems meaningful or impactful in my community when realistically, my life is all about me right now.

The path isn’t always straight out ahead of me, and sometimes I’m searching vigorously before I find the answer.  What I need to keep in mind, though, is that this challenge isn’t a bad thing.  It forces me to stretch myself in personal interactions, and to step out in faith to do things that might make me uncomfortable.  These inconsistencies between myself and others can lead to some pretty dangerous comparisons.  When we feel that we don’t measure up, or that we should be further along in our journey than we are, some definite narcissism can emerge.  By trying to look a certain way, or have the right things, it’s a way we can control the things that are in our power, and keep that dividing line between us and our peers as minimal as possible.  And when it comes to being single, comparing yourself to others who are married or have children can lead to a skewed self-image or a discontent that makes us focus even more attention on ourselves and what we don’t have.

2.)  Seek Out the Needs of Others

I must search for places to pour out love and to exert energy constructively. Instead of using my time only to do things that gratify myself, I must be intentional about seeking out others in need. When I have some spare time, instead of binge watching my favorite Netflix show, or rearranging my apartment for the tenth time, I could reach out to a friend, or call up my mom to see how she’s doing. There is something so healthy that happens when we put someone else’s needs ahead of our own. It definitely feels uncomfortable at first, but once I’ve made a habit of focusing my attention towards those around me, I begin to feel fulfilled.

3.)  Find Contentment in Where God Has Me

When I begin to use singleness for these purposes, I don’t have time to focus on what I ​don’t ​have, or who I ​should ​be dating, or what I want my future to look like. Instead I can reach a place of contentment, in this place God has me for the present. And I can actually reap the benefits of this unique time of life where I don’t have a relationship or a family, and I can be wholly available to do whatever He calls me to.

So can singleness lead to selfish behavior? Absolutely. If I’m not consciously making an effort to put others first, I could quickly spiral into the black hole of my own needs and self-­focus. But by seeking out the needs of others, cutting the comparisons, and finding contentment in where God has me at this time, singleness can actually be an extremely rich time of servant hood and caring.

Pornography as art?

keira knightly interview magazine

Never before has pornography been as accessible as it is today.

I was reminded of this fact when recently Paper magazine tried to ‘break the internet’ with images of Kim Kardashian showing her backside on the front cover and going fully nude on the inside. Many have celebrated and praised the magazine and Mrs. Kardashian for these ‘tasteful’ images. But we have to ask the question: How is this any different than Playboy which, as of this writing, is still considered pornography?

In our oversexed world it is becoming easier and easier to pass these images off as art. No longer is sex or nudity something we reserve for the bedroom but as something to be exploited and treated as a commodity. In the instance of Kim Kardashian what seems to keep these images from becoming x-rated is the photographer who took them, Jean-Paul Goode. Goode is famous for his work, which is featured in museums around the world, making Kim Kardashian more of a muse and icon than someone posing naked for a magazine.

Over the years magazines have rarely shied away from gratuitous nudity. Jennifer Aniston, Miley Cyrus, Zoe Saldana, and even pregnant Demi Moore have taken it all off, though with creative placement covering up important parts. While nudity in the public forum is nothing new, the public discourse on whether or not this is pornographic has all but disappeared, even as the frequency of these images has increased.

A similar thought passed my mind this last summer when Keira Knightley posed topless for Interview magazine. She is most famous for her starring role in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Her desire was to show the public what she ‘really’ looked like. She was tired of having her body manipulated by airbrushing and wanted to share an image free of editing. At the time she said, ‘OK, I’m fine doing the topless shot so long as you don’t make them any bigger or retouch.’ She went on to say, ‘I think women’s bodies are a battleground and photography is partly to blame. Our society is photographic now.’ And she’s right, we do live in a photographic society, which is the reason it becomes important to clearly define ‘porn.’

Historically, most dictionaries define pornography as printed or visual material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal. Groups like Fight the New Drug share how pornography rewires the brain, heart, and ultimately the way we engage in relationship with the world around us. Harvest USA says that pornography is anything the heart uses to find sexual expression outside of God’s intended design for relational intimacy. For all of my life, my parent’s life, and my grand parents life that has been true of pornography, until now.

Britannica online points out that porn is defined by society: Because the very definition of pornography is subjective, a history of pornography is nearly impossible to conceive; imagery that might be considered erotic or even religious in one society may be condemned as pornographic in another. Thus, European travelers to India in the 19th century were appalled by what they considered pornographic representations of sexual contact and intercourse on Hindu temples; most modern observers would probably react differently. Many contemporary Muslim societies likewise apply the label “pornography” to many motion pictures and television programs that are unobjectionable in Western societies. To adopt a cliché, pornography is very much in the eye of the beholder.

That is exactly what we find happening here in the United States. Magazines like Paper and Interview are changing the way we think about pornography by labeling it art. But in reality this is pornography. Or, to be more exact, this is soft-core pornography, which is sexually explicit images that are ubiquitously found in advertising. Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist at Texas A&M, has published many articles on the harmful effects of pornography and in particular, soft-core pornography. He states, ‘The problem with soft-core pornography is that it’s voyeurism – it teaches men to view women as objects rather than to be in relationships with women as human beings.’ According to Brooks, pornography gives men the false impression that sex and pleasure are entirely divorced from relationships.

The sad truth is that soft-core pornography, like the images of Kim Kardashian and Keira Knightley, are appearing now more than ever before. If you disagree that these images are art you’re labeled a prude or someone who lacks the ability to see this for the beauty the rest of the advertising world says it is, art. That is one reason we do not see much discourse on this in the public sphere.

Interestingly, three years ago she was crying on the shoulder of her mother, Kris Jenner, on the show ‘Kourtney and Kim Take New York’ after a W magazine spread came out and she was unexpectedly naked saying, ‘You can see my nipples, you can see my asscrack.’ She did agree to be naked, though she was supposed to have been painted silver with objects digitally cover her privates. When the magazine was published she found something very different exclaiming, ‘Oh, my god, I look more naked than I did in Playboy.’ In fact, she goes on to share how she wanted to be known for something more than her naked body. Well, it’s obvious she changed her mind…much like the rest of the United States is changing its mind about how pornography is defined.

We need to be alert to the desensitization of how we view pornographic images. As pornography is being redefined by advertisers, we need to also remember what science and research shows it to be, a force that is destructive and changes the way we see others. In an effort to counter some of what we see in our media, it is important we take the following steps with our kids and ourselves:

Clearly define what pornography is. As our society begins to change how it perceives and defines images like those of Kim Kardashian and Keira Knightley, it is important that parents and churches don’t do the same. One of the clearer definitions comes from Tim Chester in his book ‘Closing the Window.’ He says anything we use for sexual titillation, gratification, or escape, whether it is intended for that purpose or not, is pornographic.

Understand the impact that pornography has on our culture. We have to start being honest with the fact that pornography is rewiring our brain. In his book ‘Wired for Intimacy’ Dr. William Struthers says, ‘As men fall deeper into the mental habit of fixating on [pornographic images], the exposure to them creates neural pathways. Like a path is created in the woods with each successive hiker, so do the neural paths set the course for the next time an erotic image is viewed. Over time these neural paths become wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography. They become the automatic pathway through which interactions with woman are routed….They have unknowingly created a neurological circuit that imprisons their ability to see women rightly as created in God’s image.’

Realize that we are made for relationship. Scripture tells us that we are made in the image of God. We are created to be in relationship with Him and others, just like He is in relationship with Himself through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But pornography demeans and objectifies others. It causes us to see the other as someone who is there to meet our needs. Research shows that when we are exposed to pornography, it becomes harder to be aroused by a real person or relationship.

Recognize that porn distorts God’s design for sex. Whether they want to or not, the majority of teens are getting some of their sex-ed from pornography. Researchers have repeatedly found that people who have seen a significant amount of porn are more likely to start having sex sooner and with more partners, and to engage in riskier kinds of sex. Sex is meant to unite two people. It is meant to lead to children and it is meant to recall, and even reenact, the promise that God makes to us and that we make to one another in the marriage vow. Pornography promises only to leave us lonely, empty, and unfulfilled.

Don’t believe porn is something we just have to accept. Although the number of images has increased over the last few years we should not think it is ever okay. Porn is never part of a normal and healthy relationship. As more and more data shows the negative impact images like these have on the brain and heart, the more important it becomes to educate our youth and young adults to push back.

Please…No More Answers

Always looking for answers

Always looking for answers

We seem to be living in a time where answers are plentiful but not very good. The missing Malaysian flight is proof of that fact. I turn on the news and it seems every single detail is shared, “this just in, a U.S. navy ship is now 400 miles away from a potential wreck site in the Indian Ocean. When we last reported they were 410 miles away. We will track this story as it unfolds along with every other detail.” Now this could be an exaggeration of how news works these days, but not by much. In our 24/7 news cycle we are constantly looking for new answers. However, in our constant search for answers we find that we are unable to be comfortable with the unknown.

Maybe that is why we see fewer and fewer young people who confess a faith in Jesus and even less in God. A solid majority still do – 86% – but only 58% say they are “absolutely certain” that God exists. That is lower than it has ever been according to a 2012 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project.

This reality came to life this week like never before. For the first time ever, one of our volunteers was in a school classroom where not one student had been to church or confessed a faith of any sort. That has never happened! But I am sure it will happen more and more in the future.

Faith doesn’t play a part in our lives as much as it once did. But our search for answers only continues to grow.

Remember, faith is a belief in the unseen. That includes a belief in things we just can’t answer. And for this generation, heck, even mine, that is not a comfortable place to sit.

Levi's Ad

Levi’s Ad

That is why I was so intrigued when I saw the ad to the side. It reads, “#equipped to be true.” This is a tribute to the narcissistic world we live in. It says that what I believe is truth, while also pointing to the fact that truth is not found in God but in relationship with others and in material goods.

Recently I asked a professor I deeply respect what the different is between how he used to teach when he was younger and now. His response was powerful. He said, “When I was younger I wanted to teach everything that I knew. Now I only teach the things I think are important and equip my students to find answers to the rest on their own. Thus, allowing them to learn how to learn. I am teaching them that not everything needs an answer. Sometimes they just need to have faith and allow for time to reveal what is needed to be seen.”

Now I know that as we grow older our questions change. And if our past is prologue, these young adults may develop a stronger belief in God over the course of their lives, just as previous generations have. But we have to provide dialogue, not just give in to the temptation to always give answers.

As I speak to youth I am constantly reminded that in my own journey it was when I didn’t have all the answers and had to start living by faith that God became more real, not less. It began to influence decisions I made because He was placed above everything else.

May we not forget this truth so that a new generation can live by faith and not some made up answer to fill the void of the unknown.

Selfie – Word For a Generation

It came as no surprise that the word for this year is “selfie.” As in, taking a picture of yourself and posting it on whatever form of social media that is your preference, facebook, twitter, and/or instagram. In a decade that has continually become more narcissistic and ME has become bigger then WE the “selfie” is just another reminder of the world we live in.

The “selfie” doesn’t just stop with pictures on a website or social media. It has invaded every aspect of our life. The way we digest church and theology. If we don’t like it we move on or throw it out. The way we watch sports. Small plays are made to seem HUGE after we watch a celebration for a simple tackle. It has even impacted the way we think about relationships. We look for what is in it for me.

At first glance you might think this would have nothing to do with the work we do with Project Six19, which aims to promote biblical sexuality. It has a tremendous influence on the message we share. Here are 3 quick thoughts on how this works:

First, when we are so focused on our self we can easily forget about the one that created the self. We are all made in the image of the one that created us but it is not so we turn our attention upon us but rather turn our attention towards others. In fact, in Scripture when sex is first implied it is about being known…not about being seen. This would imply that it has more to do with others then the self.

Second, the biblical attitude towards sex and sexuality is always in the context of obedience. It is not restrictive in the sense of “no” but it is an attitude that reflects the beauty of the gift that God created and our desire to honor Him rather than just making it about a list of rules. When we turn inward and become more focused on the ME part of that equation then obedience becomes a lower priority.

Finally, the “selfie” perpetuates an already lonely society that looks for ways to be found in a culture that is lost. In the book “Alone Together” author Sherry Turkle argues that technology has become the architect for our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication and relationship. That will never lead to us being found….only more lost.

My hope is that the “selfie” turns into a search for the one that created the self. In Him we will find our true beauty and an intimacy that could never be matched anywhere else.