I snapped the photo during Cheyenne Frontier Days. I had no reason for the picture at the time and had no topic in mind to connect with the photo. I just took it to have it in case I wanted to use it on my blog. I was going to delete it today without using it, but then something caught my eye. It reminded me of some criticisms I have heard in regard to the life of the Church.
Have you ever been scared and needed someone to cling to for comfort? Have you ever been excluded from a group because you weren't part of the clique? Have you every yearned for a suitable companion to share your life with as husband and wife? Have you ever felt the desperation and loneliness that comes from being alone almost constantly? Have you ever been in a crowded room and still felt all alone? Have you felt the devastating loss of a loved one after many years of marriage? Have you ever felt invisible--and not in a cool, exciting sort of way?
Single people have frequently expressed their discontent in regard to life at church? Some have told me, "The church ministers to married people and children. Sometimes the elderly get a little more attention as well." One person went on to say to me, "Do you know why young people aren't in church?" I didn't have to respond because the answer immediately followed the question. "They don't come because they think no one cares."
Obviously, this discussion gave me food for thought. It compelled me to do some evaluations and assessments of things. Look at the programs offered at most churches. How much is addressed toward single, young adults? How much attention is paid to the single, divorced individual? Six months after the funeral is over, how much attention is paid to the surviving spouse? Are we simply a church for couples?
When Jesus invited people it was a widespread invitation. "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) Where have we failed in communicating that same message today? How can we better extend that type of hospitality which brings rest for the weary? There is no simple "one-size-fits-all" approach to the dilemma. However, intentional effort to include single people in our outreach can make a huge difference. What is included in the homilies? What classes are offered and promoted at the parish? What programs of interest are developed? Are we listening to the parishioners in regard to their needs and desires?
What caught my attention in the photo above? It was the empty swing. Was the individual alone or was there an odd-number of people in his group? Was the individual with someone who was too scared to go on the ride so he just went alone? I have no idea what the story is behind the picture. All I know is that the empty swing reminded me of the loneliness we can sometimes feel. If that loneliness persists for a long period of time the consequences can be devastating.
Let's be honest. Life can be very difficult and painful at times. This is true whether we are single or married, young or old. It is my prayer that the local church community will always be a place of hope when we are afflicted. This includes everyone. It is my desire that we serve others well by being attentive to their needs. May each of us bring the love, mercy, and comfort of Jesus to those who are hurting!
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)