isolation and living alone

There are only so many times a living-alone-Single-extrovert can hear the words ‘isolation’, ‘social distance’ and ‘cancelled’ before the weight becomes a little too much to carry and it has to leak out of my eyes! Yesterday I had a significant ‘moment’ (think tears, snot, a few little hiccup-y gulps and one or two audible groans!).

Last month I shared a post how long ‘til the realise I’m dead? and it seemed to resonate. Single people commented repeatedly “This is exactly how I feel!” and married responses repeated the sentiment “I’ve never even thought about this before.”

The same people who worry about not being discovered to have died are bound to be experiencing an additional layer of anxiety in the face of these shut downs and measures of separation to responsibly manage the movement of COVID19 and it’s impact on our health care system and to protect our most vulnerable.

CHECK ON THEM!

Social media is being flooded with posts from Introverts saying this is their idea of heaven. From what I understand, the cancellation of social events and being ‘forced’ to stay at home are the stuff their dreams are made of! 🙂 HOWEVER, even the most introverted of introverts could acknowledge that, as much as they love being alone and are personally energised by that time to recharge, there’s also the reality that without the interruption of exchange with others there can be an un-health that shapes their thought life. As much as they can do without social interactions, the circuit breaker of other people’s engagement in their thought processes and internal dialogue is a healthy and necessary thing.

CHECK ON THEM!

As organisations (like mine!) move to working from home (can we just pause for a praise break that we live in such technologically advanced times – so many opportunities to stay working and connected through online platforms!) while this is a fantastic provision – it’s also a socially isolating move. Many living-alone-Singles rely on the accountability and regular interactions of work life and will struggle without it. As churches move to streaming their services, be reminded that it’s not just the sermon or worship our congregations will be missing (in fact, these things have been out-source-able for a long time now) it’s the connection to one another, a sense of engagement in something bigger than themselves, the opportunity to keep regular relational accounts with one another – to give and receive prayer and encouragement.  (My church has set up an online/phone prayer service to facilitate this – what a great initiative!)

CHECK ON THEM!

For those of us living alone who have the love language of physical touch – this experience has another layer of impact. The social distancing protocols don’t apply within your households. You might sleep closer than 1.5m to your spouse. Go ahead and TRY convincing young children not to invade your (or each other’s) personal space – that’s not happening! So, even in a time of physical disconnection you’re experiencing some connection. In my regular life I can go days without physical touch and now, it’s mandated! In my little ‘moment’ yesterday, this was part of my processing … how long do I have to go without any physical connection?

CHECK ON THEM!

I messaged my friends – the ‘her is ours now’ family referenced in this blog being family to those without family – and shared about my little meltdown and said “I decided you could adopt me, then if we need to isolate I’ll isolate with my ‘family’”. The response was, essentially, an affirmation that they thought I already WAS adopted, and that if we get shut in as family-units then my place of shut in is with them! “If ‘Her is ours now’ then ‘her corona is our corona now’ too!”

Of course, we’re prayerful that the measures our country are employing now might avoid a complete lock-down. Things are changing daily as we continue to track the spread and learn what we can from other countries (another praise break – how grateful are we for all the fabulously smart and compassionate people in our medical system?!) and there’s no real point in leaping ahead to worst case scenarios. Being sensible and caring in this moment is our best next step. If I came to know I was infected I would never intentionally expose them to the virus.

But, I can’t tell you the relief that came to me in my emotionally charged episode, to have my friends make it clear that I won’t have to be alone. It was such a circuit breaker for my fear, loneliness, overwhelm and distress. There’s a plan, an option.

CHECK ON YOUR LIVING ALONE FRIENDS.

If only to give them a safe place to process the emotions they might be feeling. Each of us will travel an experience like this differently as it’s shaped by our lifestage, personality, health status and other factors. Let’s do what we can to grow in our understanding and empathy for one another.

your single friends need you (probably more than you need them)

A few years ago I was sitting with my housemate and we both got a text message from a married friend. She was letting us know that she’d had some medical issues arise. There’d been some preliminary testing that was either worrisome or inconclusive enough to warrant further investigations. So she was going to have more tests done and was asking for us to be prayerful.

My friend and I both thought to respond in the same way and I sent a message back including “I hope you have some friends journeying this with you”. We later discovered that this was considered to be a strange kind of response. There she was informing us as her friends and inviting us to be part of the process – why were we questioning whether she was including her friends? Ultimately as a married person the need to contact friends was triggered far later in the process than it might have been for a Single person. A Single person who is experiencing negative health symptoms would probably contact a friend straight away. A Single person would seek the opinion of a friend or family member to know if they should go and get that checked out. A Single person might let a friend know that they’re going to a doctors appointment and perhaps even invite them to come along. So by the time further testing was required a Single person may have included their friend/s a lot more in the process. The reality is that for the married friend she had been processing all that with her husband up until that point.

Single people can have different expectations and requirements of friendship.

For a Single person, their friends are the entirety of their network of advice giving, problem-solving and listening. For those who are married and in a family environment a friend serves a different purpose. If circles of trust were to be drawn a spouse might find themselves at the very core and then friends at varying stages of distance in the widening concentric circles. For a Single person without a spouse at that core, often friends are drawn into a place of higher trust, of higher reliance; of higher connectedness.

What this creates is a potential power and need imbalance in friendships. Where the Single person requires more of you than you require of them. Where your name would be listed closer to their inner circle than their name would to yours. A friend of mine recently recounted a revelation she’d had of this when her Single friend asked her to come around to look at her new flooring. She thought it was an odd request until she connected with the fact that she would have had numerous interactions with her husband over new flooring and not felt the need to tell others – whereas her Single friend might not have had any engagement about her floors with anyone else. Perhaps a trivial example, but a helpful illustration of the different experiences.

This plays itself out in many ways, including socially. Where a planned social gathering might be additional to your weekly social calendars and fuller household, it can be the entirety of a Single person’s social connectedness. Where a cancelled dinner or a lack of invitation might result in you having a more quiet night at home, for a Single that could equate to being completely alone.

My friend Nancy and I talked about this recently as we sat across from one another at dinner. I made the observation that I needed that interaction more than she did. She’s married and is also a mum and as we talked some more she reflected, “I don’t think I had ever really considered how much my relational tank is filled incidentally and how that shapes how many friends I need, what I need from them, and the time and space I have to give them.”

What that means is that a Single person needs to maintain a lot of relationships to ensure their input and output are sufficient to experience the human connection we are built for. Even for me, as a highly extroverted and socially and relationally competent person, that can be EXHAUSTING! There’s a lot to balance to ensure that there are enough of those once a week, once every fortnight, monthly catch up types of relationships to spread across the day to day of life in order to keep the relational tank at a healthy level. That need makes us vulnerable. There’s great risk attached to this reality that we probably need you more than you need us.

Singles, identify and own this reality. You need others. It’s risky. It’s exhausting. It takes intentionality and purpose but you can create the kinds of relationships that will allow you to give and receive the love, belonging, serving, fulfilment, purpose and joy that you need.

And for you non-Singles, maybe you could do a self-audit like my champion friend Nancy, to recognise the level of relational filling you operate out of before leaving your house or making any extra effort. It might increase your sensitivity to the needs of the Singles in your world and grow your understanding of the neediness they experience and the risk they take to stay relationally engaged.

married at first sight & back to school photos

One of my favourite times on the Facebook calendar is back to school week. My newsfeed is flooded with naaawwww-worthy photos of ‘firsts’. First days of school (massive backpacks on little legs and hiding under seemingly enormous sun hats; school dresses triple hemmed and ‘shorts’ that reach down to mid-calf), first days in a new year level or a new school. Last first days for those at the other end of their schooling. Some show the side by side photos of the changes made across the years – tracking the inevitable growth and accompanying differences. Moving from teary hugs and farewells at the classroom door to the increasing independence that sees a child walking or riding off on their own or with friends.

I love it! It marks a new season, acknowledges the passing of another year, signifies for the family yet another shift in life stage and rhythm and celebrates the success and potential of movement through education and other life markers. And it’s pretty stinkin’ adorable, too.

Running parallel with that this year, was the start of another season of Chanel 9’s super successful ‘reality’ show, Married at First Sight. “Successful” in terms of its ratings, not in regards to its success in bringing couples together who actually stay together. It’s a psychological and relational train wreck that produces fascinating television viewing and boosts the social profile of those who participate (surely that’s part of their purpose for being there, right?). But it also highlights underlying cultural and personal expectations that the narrative of a ‘normal’ or ‘fulfilling’ life is centred around finding your soul mate and living in marital bliss.

In the lead up to the show’s airing, one participant, Sarah, recorded a sound byte that played on repeat,

“I’m 38 years old and I have nothing to show for my life.”

As she looks at her life and she applies the known methods for measuring it, she finds herself with nothing to show for it. This comment (and the fears and feelings that framed it) represent her justification for applying for the show. She’s 38, she’s not married and has no children – time is a’wasting! It’s time to employ emergency measures!

At a cursory glance, this comment is dismissible as untrue. Without knowing anything much about her we could readily identify things she might have to ‘show’ for herself. Lives invested in, experiences she gathered, career and other successes she’s enjoyed. But I think we need to listen to what she’s saying. To lean in a little more and seek to understand more fully what her comment is echoing of a message society sends (in both subtle and more overt ways) of how a life should be measured and celebrated. And particularly how that translates for a Single and/or childless person.

For those who are married, each anniversary is an opportunity to reflect with gratitude and celebrate the achievement. High five, us! We made it through another year! Social media gives opportunity to publicly affirm one’s spouse and for the couple’s community to congratulate and encourage them.

For parents, milestone days – the birth of children, firsts of all kinds, ‘before & after’ pictures denoting achievements, changes and growth, performances and of course, birthdays, engagements and weddings – all bring opportunity to gather friends and family (in real life or online spaces) to again, celebrate, and encourage. To reflect on the journey till now; to dream and plan together for the future.

To use Sarah’s language, these are many of the things you have to “show” for the years you have lived, the transitions you’ve navigated and the impact you’ve made on the earth. These are the things publicly celebrated. They are acceptable, anticipated and even requested opportunities to share with others the rewards of the labours of time, money, energy, expertise and sacrifices of all kinds that bring about these moments.

So, if you are not married and don’t have children – how does your life’s journey get marked and acknowledged? In what moments are the community of a Single person called to gather to celebrate, publicly affirm and encourage, to invest advice and energy, to reflect growth and change, to honour success and draw others in?

Commonly, Singles report that attempts to share moments of celebration, difference or success are often perceived as self-absorbed or self-promoting (“why are you making such a big deal about your birthday?!“) or met with jealousy (“I wish I were Single so I could travel more!“).

The success stories told usually include friends, colleagues or family stepping in to facilitate those celebrations and affirmations. My friend Nancy is a champion at this! She enthusiastically and creatively celebrates the birthdays, new jobs, buying a home, graduations, return from holidays and moving days of her Single friends to ensure they’re well marked. And to draw his or her community into expressions of encouragement and celebration.

Think about the people in your world (specifically but not exclusively Singles and/or childless). How can we act to ensure they know what they ‘have to show’ for the life they’re living? What moments of reflection, celebration, affirmation and gathering can we be part of facilitating?

nobody likes small talk (it’s not just the introverts)


“Introverts don’t like small talk.”

Introverts (those who gain or recharge energy by being alone – as opposed to extroverts who draw energy from others) are often assumed to be shy, socially awkward or even rude because of the way they engage or don’t in social environments. However, those attributes are more to do with personality or emotional intelligence than the number one marker of introverts – they find people-heavy environments physically and emotionally exhausting. 

Introverts often express a deep dissatisfaction and even frustration with “small talk”. But I have an increasingly strong belief that NO ONE likes small talk. Not even extroverts. 

Extrovert readers, please feel free to correct me if you disagree, but no one likes small talk. It’s repetitive, it’s shallow and it’s only really a means to the end – a more rich and stimulating conversation or connection. 

The difference is that extroverts have the social stamina to endure more of it. Because they gain energy from being with people, they are not as drained by the small talk and don’t fear an exhaustion of their social energy before getting to a deeper conversation. They are also happy just to be talking – to people! – and so will more readily settle for surface level chit chat. 

For introverts, there is a very real chance that all of their social energy will be spent before they get to a point in conversations where they find meaningful connection or intellectual enrichment. 

Nobody likes small talk. Some are better at it. Some can participate in more of it before fatiguing their social energy. But no one actually likes it. No one comes away from a party and says “that was so good I spoke to a whole lot of people about absolutely nothing”. People of all temperaments are stimulated and satisfied by intellectually or emotionally meaningful connections with others.  People want to laugh heartily, be challenged mentally or connect personally – regardless of temperament. 

My hot tip for an introvert to thrive in social gatherings is this – find yourself an extrovert! Stand near them and ride the wave of their small talk into an actual conversation. Save your energy for the good stuff! 

Further reading 

six truths about extroverts
extroverts and quiet times

becoming more patient | #3 being others focussed

Have you ever had those moments when you’re pretty sure everybody around you is just trying to annoy you?

Everyone is driving slowly when you’re in a hurry. People are walking the aisles of shopping centres like they’re balls in a pin-ball machine, making it impossible to get around them. The person at the petrol pump in front of you decides now is the time to clean their windscreen back to showroom condition. The clerk processing your payment at the post office reminds you of the sloths from the movie Zootopia (check it out, great movie). Your child is attempting a world record for longest time taken to eat a bowl of cereal. Your teenager is on their third trip back into the house to get something they forgot and can’t leave without. Your work mates are reaching new heights of meeting-hijacking abilities.

Of course you have those moments, sometimes many of them in succession. We all do. If you were getting anywhere with this whole ‘becoming more patient’ idea then these are the moments that are set to derail you … big time!

Patience is the act of waiting well. It’s the ability to endure set backs and challenges without becoming anxious or irritated. Patience is indeed a virtue and one that is tested on a regular basis.

In our efforts to become more patient we’ve noted the need to take  a big picture perspective – to step back and see things in their broader context. We’ve looked at the idea of planning in order to be more patience – choosing  wisdom over reaction. And we also need to keep an important truth in mind … it’s not actually all about you!

It turns out not everyone is intentionally plotting ways to make your life miserable – even though it might seem like it. The slow driver in front of you probably has no idea you’re there. The dude at the petrol station is more worried about his windscreen than you. Your teenager is probably just forgetful or distracted. There is not, despite the seeming appearance to the contrary, a concerted focus on the part of all the people in your world to make life miserable for you.

And this makes perfect sense as you read it. But in those moments, so much of our irritation is borne out of a sense of focus on ourselves that causes us to see everything as a deliberate mission to make us frustrated.

It’s not all about you!

Next time you find yourself impatient with the actions or in-actions of another person, pause and take a moment to consider the situation from their perspective. “I wonder if that slow driver is lost, or a learner, or experiencing anxiety or dealing with a crying baby in the back seat.” “I wonder if this sales assistant is new to the job or tired from a full day of work.” “I wonder if my teenager is trying to keep too many things in their mind, or is worried about something; or is hormonal.”

Such a thought process changes nothing of the circumstances. You’re still going to be impeded or impacted by the other person’s behaviour in some way. But patience isn’t about not waiting it’s about waiting well. And when we shift the focus from ourselves we release something of the anxiety and irritation and replace it with empathy or compassion.

What might that look like for you? How might taking the focus of yourself cause you to be more patient with others?

 

Read more –

Part 1 – big picture perspective

Part 2 – wisdom over reaction

when porn is the ‘other woman’


Pornography is insidiously addictive and destructive. Whilst it holds almost no resemblance to true intimacy (read more –5 lies porn tells) it engages the hearts and minds of men and women and distorts a person’s own sexuality. It leads to sexual dysfunction and relational breakdown. 

Given that almost 100% of boys have seen porn before they reach adulthood the reality for all couples is that porn will be an issue to address. It is a wrestle most men (and many women) will be entrapped in – addiction is rife. 

For the wife of a porn using man it is a hurtful and difficult path to walk. 

Porn feels like rejection. 

For a woman, it feels like a man’s choice to use porn is a competition that she has lost. Between the real life her and the on screen performer, the performer has won. This speaks inadequacy and inferiority into her heart from the person she is most vulnerable to.

Porn feels like unfaithfulness. 

Anyone who steals the affections, attentions and desire of one’s husband is the ‘other woman’. It is hard for a wife to not feel betrayed by the breach of the intimacy of the marriage bed to include other images, acts and preferences beyond that which has been explored and experienced together. 

Porn feels like the standard. 

Women whose husbands use porn know that what they watch is appealing to them. Rather than the wife being the standard of beauty, attractiveness and fulfilment a highly produced, orchestrated and edited image becomes the new standard. One to which no woman could possibly attain. 

Porn diminishes sexual appetite. 

Increasingly younger men are reporting decreased or dysfunctional sexual drive and capacity for arousal. This means some relationships are failing in terms of intimacy before they’ve even begun. The joy of sexual exploration and discovery together is usurped by a counterfeit experience. 

Porn is not harmless. Porn impacts those who view it and those seeking intimacy with them.

See Fight the New Drug’s “Fortify” program http://fightthenewdrug.org/get-help/ for help in getting freedom from porn addiction. Don’t do it alone. 

If you are an impacted partner of a porn user reach out to talk to someone to help you navigate what you’re experiencing. Don’t do it alone. 

how broken relationships are like credit card debt


A while back I received a credit card in the mail that I hadn’t applied for. My handbag had been stolen the month before and I suspect the thief had used my details to apply for it – not thinking to change the address to his/her own. I notified the bank immediately, forwarding the police report as evidence, and was assured the card would be cancelled and all was sorted.

In the months that followed I discarded mail from the bank without even opening it, assuming it was promotional material. Until I got a very official looking letter from a debt recovery agency informing me I had an outstanding debt of more than $8,000!

Eight. Thousand. Dollars.

In the nine months since the card was activated there had been no activity. However, the initial charge of $30 for the annual membership had remained unpaid and accrued fees for late payment and interest compounding to now be a debt of over $8,000!! (The matter was clarified and has thankfully been resolved.)

As someone who has never used credit (other than that little old thing we call a house mortgage!) I’ve not really understood how people can amass such large personal debt … until I saw the impact of a $30 charge left unchecked for a few months. It doesn’t take long to multiply!

The same goes for avoided conflict. The smallest of unchecked offences can compound to significant relational dysfunction when left unresolved. A debt of forgiveness unsought or unpaid, a misunderstanding left un-clarified, a miscommunication not corrected; an opportunity for reconciliation not embraced can see a seemingly insignificant amount of hurt or disappointment fester and grow to become an almost insurmountable rift. A truth withheld can cause more damage when revealed down the track.

The longer it is left unresolved the larger it can become in our hearts and in our memories. It becomes a foothold for bitterness, anger, rejection and wounding to grow. It impacts our capacity to give ourselves wholeheartedly to new relationships and interactions when we are carrying around an old wound or offence.

What about you? Is there a debt of offence you need to cancel? Is there a payment of forgiveness or apology that you need to make before it compounds further? Can you resolve to not let relatively small issues become massive ones by dealing with them sooner? 

why YOU should serve in Kids Ministry

I am an unashamed advocate for a generational focus in our churches.

Jesus was too. He’s my role model. With open arms and open heart He welcomed children and presented them as a model of response and heart posture before God. 

Significant portions of Christians make their response to Jesus before they’re 13. Healthy kids ministries are environments where children can explore and experience faith and a resource parents can draw upon in THEIR role of raising kids in faith.

It’s a given that Kids ministry is also a high-volunteer-engagement department. Duty of care requirements and the sheer practicality of how mobile, inquisitive and active children are means lots of adult supervision is required.

But here’s my case for why you (whoever you are!) should do a stint in Kids Min at some point. 

1 Kids min requires a broad range of skills, gifts and personalities.

IT & A/V; physical set up and pack down of rooms; craft and game planning; administrative tasks; leading in music or dance; preparing or delivering teaching; developing relationships; prayer and more – a successful Kids Ministry is sustained by a diverse team each contributing their part. I guarantee you have a skill that your Kids department could benefit from. 

Some children will respond more to a quiet, gentle personality and others will gravitate to the loud and playful. 

Commonly, kids ministry teams are filled with teens and young adults. It’s true in my context. They are the engine room of our kids min with their energy, passion, availability and relational “cool factor” with the kids. But the wisdom, experience, knowledge and security of more senior team members is required too. Both as a resource to the younger leaders AND to the kids themselves. 

2 Sharing faith with a child builds and inspires your own. 

They say if you can’t explain it to a 6 year old you don’t know it. As we more simply and clearly express the gospel and the work of God in our life to young people we crystallise our own understanding and faith. 

Watching someone grasp God’s truth for themselves is incredibly exciting. Encouraging young people to establish themselves in the love of God, anchoring themselves in His truth and His faithfulness as a starting point for their life is an incredible gift we give to others. 

Children lead us in joy and awe. They remind us to be uninhibited in our response to the activity and knowledge of God. 

3 You demonstrate church in action 

You show parents that you really are committed to supporting them in their role. You show the children that everyone serves everyone. You give opportunity for intergenerational relationships (which are a crucial contributor to the feeling of “belonging” in a faith community – for all involved). You model body life – showing the feet, hands, arms and ears all acting as they ought. You share testimony of God’s activity in your life and how He works across various ages and stages of life. 

And before you’re even thinking it – here’s three excuses that just won’t fly!

I’m too something (old, young, new, uncool etc) God uses all types of people to reach all types of people. Your unique “something” could be just the tool He needs to connect with specific people. If you don’t serve, that “something” is missing. 

I’m busy. No one currently serving in your kids min team is doing so because they have nothing else to do. You prioritise what you value. And there is always flexibility in regards to time commitments, frequency and scheduling required by each ministry. 

I don’t want to miss the sermon/service. Podcast the message, attend a second service at a different time  (and consider why it’s ok for others on the teams who make kids min possible in your church to miss out on what you think is unmissable – just sayin.). 

So how about it? Why don’t you give it a go? At least for a season. Consider the impact you could make in the life of the team, the church …or even just one child. Be prepared for God to do something big with your availability and willingness. 

skin hunger – our need for physical intimacy


I love massages!! Any kind. Feet. Head. Crazy Thai ones where they stretch and contort your body like a pretzel. Soothing oil ones with dolphin music playing. I like getting my nails done. I love getting my hair washed or done. 

I love physical touch. It’s a weird statement to make but an acknowledgement of truth that is perhaps more pertinent in context to my status as a living-alone Single. Ultimately, all of those things above are more than just self-pampering, they’re a means to have my skin hunger somehow satiated. 

Skin hunger is a need for physical touch – not necessarily sexual in nature. It is a studied phenomena in psychology. Unmet skin hunger has been associated with failure to thrive in babies and infants, and increased anxiety, depression, stress and sleep dysfunction in children and adults. Each individual will have a different level of skin hunger and consequently, the absence of physical touch will be felt more acutely by those whose need is greater. 

Some stages and styles of life are innately more rich in physical contact. Living arrangements that involve others will almost always include physical touch – perhaps of an intimate or sexual nature, maybe because of the presence of small children being nursed, held and wrestled with, or even in the more incidental contact that happens as people work together in the kitchen or move around each other in the bathroom. Certain work environments are more physical – various fields of medicine and therapy, working with children, or coaching certain sports.

Physical touch affirms my presence. It is one thing to grasp my own hand or rub my own neck – but it is different to experience those things externally. It’s a tangible recognition that I hold a place in the physical realm; that I relate kinaesthetically to other people and things around me. 

Physical touch releases hormones that increase wellbeing and decrease stress. 

Physical touch communicates non-verbally a sense of belonging and connection. 

What does physical touch look like for a Single person? 

How is skin hunger appropriately satisfied in non-sexual or romantic contexts?

As I mentioned, I am a physical touch kind of person. I’m likely to grab your arm while I’m talking to you. I will normally go in for a hug and a cheek kiss when greeting someone I know. I love love love (love love) holding babies – especially soothing them to sleep. I love little person hugs and high fives. I even like the absent minded touches kids do when they’re talking to you – playing with your hair or leaning against your leg. I love big hugs from big people – I make sure my Dad gives me a couple every time I see him. For some, pets are a large part of their skin-hunger-meeting regimen. 

Skin hunger is connected with our need for intimacy and equally needs to be met in healthy and helpful ways or we will find ourselves seeking to satisfy it inappropriately. Identifying the degree of skin hunger we feel is important to being able to manage it intentionally. 

What does that look like for you? Or for those in your world?