Looking For My Box

Why is it that churches need to put people in boxes? When Jesus spoke to and fed the crowd of 5,000, did he organize them into Youth, Singles, Young Professionals, Young Marrieds, Young Families, Pacesetters and Widowed and Divorced?

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When I was widowed at 34, I eventually (re)turned to church to help me through the grieving process – not so much for spiritual healing, although that too was certainly needed, but merely as a way to force myself to get out and interact with other humans on the longest and loneliest day of the week.

What I found when I finally ventured back to church, now in my mid-30’s, unemployed, widowed and childless, was that I didn’t fit anywhere. I had no box. I didn’t fit into the singles group, where everyone was a good ten years younger than me. And I certainly I didn’t fit into the widowed and divorced group where most everyone was a good 30 years older than me with grown children and grandchildren.

Nothing changed after I remarried at 39. Antique Daddy and I didn’t fit into the Newly Marrieds group. Although we were newly married, we weren’t exactly young. And now even though we have a child, we don’t fit into the Young Families group either, because you know, we’re still not young. So we kind of roam around from church to church, class to class, bugging visiting people who are comfortably snuggled into their demographic box.

And while that may sound like a complaint, it actually isn’t. I don’t really want a box. I like being with people from all seasons in life. It’s more interesting. It’s kind of fun to make people squirm when you invade their box. It’s liberating to be box free! Down with boxes people!

I was appreciating my box-free existence a few Sunday’s ago. We were visiting a church and ended up in a Sunday school class with mostly older folks. When the teacher asked that the guests be introduced, an elderly gentleman stood up and introduced his daughter who was about my age. “Everyone, I’d like you meet Susan, my daughter,” he said proudly. Then he looked at his wife who was glaring up at him through squinted eyes — his cue to quickly correct himself. “I guess I should say this is our daughter.”

“I guess so,” she said dryly in her long-voweled Texas accent, “since you were out eating a hamburger when I had her.”

Gotta love an old gal that speaks her mind. I think I’d like to party with her. And see what I would have missed had I been in the Old People With Toddlers class?

33 thoughts on “Looking For My Box

  1. That is so true! I think the “box” concept was to try and include all people but there certainly are people at every church that can’t find or don’t fit in a box. How brave and bold that you just box hop! I love that concept even more. I think next week I’ll go in with the teenagers. That ought to roll some eyes.

  2. I understand your feelings. I want to be able to learn from people of all ages and I’m not a fan of the “box” thing. My mom felt this way when they joined a new church after my sister and I had both married and went to the “Empty Nesters” class. My parents were 45 and Empty Nesters, while most people there were 60 or over. The people their age were in the Young Families group, but they definitely weren’t a young family. Maybe you can start a “break down the box” movement! šŸ™‚

  3. I see exactly what you are saying and I fully agree. Even though I fit in to the Young Families box (albeit barely since I have older kids), Mr. Right and I don’t feel comfortable with that group because of their narrow view of life, sad to say (mainly themselves). We do attend the Young Married class even though we are 14 years of being Young Married, but that is because 1) they have such an outreach view on life and 2)we were asked to mentor them, although I’m pretty sure it was for a “what not to do in your marriage” example…

    Nothing wrong with being boxless. I often feel like I don’t fit the molds either. What a freedom we could have if there were no “boundaries” within the church. I hope you start a trend that helps the church to get back to the basics of “loving one another” without categorizing them at the same time.

    And Shannon – I’d love to go to worship with you and your church!

  4. I just stumbled on your blog today and I really had the same problem fitting into my home congregation. For a church with 3,000 members you would think I would fit in somewhere! I’m 24, single, working girl. I’m not married, or in college, and I don’t have kids. I found my place in an older women’s class which was wonderful because it gave me role models. On Sundays now I teach 2nd graders which is great because they don’t care that I’m single and childless. The truth is that I think I learn more when I’m the teacher anyway šŸ™‚

  5. This is one of the things that I find so appealing about homeschooling. My children have very little concept of “boxes”.

    My 5yo son counts a couple of 60yo men among his best friends. I have a daughter the same age as my best friends granddaughter. (and we’re only a few years apart in age)

    We miss out on too much if we just hang with people our own age. I mean really, they know the same stuff we do. How boring. I’d rather be with people who found me interesting šŸ™‚

  6. I think you are one of the most interesting people I ever met (albeit in cyberspace)and believe that you would fit in with any group of people. I have avoided being in a box by doing something to serve, instead of being served. The choir takes people of all ages (if they are brave ehough to audition), the women’s group has dozens of things that need doing (like cooking meals for people when the God-forbid happens or serving at funeral luncheons), the Sunday Schools need teachers and assistants, the nurseries are begging for people to help (We are a bunch of passionate protestants) and our MOPPS Group (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) is bursting at the seams. My kids (ages 42 to 49) are involved with Jr. and Sr. High groups, the Bible Quiz teams, the ushers, the financial team and the elder board. One thing leads to another and soon, you have friends out the ears. I really believe that God wants you to enjoy your church experience.
    We left last Thursday and drove nineteen hours straight to Ft. Myers for the winter. We will go to a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, but I will miss the church at home — where I am so involved.

  7. This is a great post – good things to remember, wherever you are.
    We are at a very old, very small congregation right now – average 72 years old (not including my husband and I) 24 people when everyone comes. My closest friends are much older women who have so much wisdom to offer – and my young sons, 5 and 7, can interact with the oldest among them – and interact well!
    It is a gift. Thanks for the reminder to keep my boxes just for packing when I move.

  8. Some of my dearest treasured friends are squirreled away in the “old people” classes at church. . .my husband and I don’t hang with the young families–even though that’s where we “fit” being 37 and 38 with 8 and 5 year old children. We go to a “mixed” class where we are the youngest attendees. . .and what I find is that the people in there who are our seniors are so incredibly glad that we come and join them. We would not have an opportunity to know them did we not venture out of our box from time to time. . .

  9. Well, I love talking to people of all ages…I work the nursery at our church the first Sunday of the month with a lady that is 81 yrs young….I love talking with her during this hour. She is an extrodinary women..and I know God put me in there for a reason. Such a bright lady. And then there is the times I have to work Welcome Center with the teenagers….they each have their own great personalities…..everyone is so unique…and thank God for this…beacuse if we were all alike or even close to perfect I may blow up…….I loved your post and would be honored to sit next to you in a Sunday School class.

  10. If you were sitting next to us in Sunday school class you would hear this conversation:

    Them: Hi! Welcome! Are you members or just visiting?
    Us: Just visiting.
    Them: Oh great! Where y’all from?
    Us: We’re from here.
    Them: Really!? Have you been here long?
    Us: Yes. Six years. We’ve been here six years.
    Them: Oh…
    Us: Yeah….
    Them: And you’re visiting?
    Us: Visiting…
    Them: Well great. We’re glad to have ‘ya.

    Them: Walks away confused over how someone who lives here could be visting.

  11. The older lady’s comment was awesome! šŸ™‚

    Oh – and as for ‘boxes’? When you marry and have children really young you don’t fit in with anyone either. I’m just sayin’…..

  12. The church I attend right now has a gaping demographic hole in the 25-45 age group: it’s a big church, but very few people who are any nearer to me in age than ten years. There have been times in my life when I would not have chosen to attend a church like that, because a significant function of the church community was to provide me with a peer group (especially essential, I suppose, when one is in the husband-hunting stage). Now, I love it: my small group ranges in age from 21-50, and I find that there’s a different kind of dynamic when a common age group is not an essential part of the focus.

  13. We don’t fit in a box either, being married 13 years with no children, looking younger than we are. It is hard to find folks that just take you as you are. We attend a Bible study of mixed ages and I love it! It’s nice to have a good mix because each age and stage in life brings valuable insight. I just wish more people would realize that.

  14. Wonderful post! I don’t fit in a box either. I had my first child at barely 18, so all my “friends” were 10 years older than I was. I had 5 kids by 25, so I didn’t really know anyone like me, lol. So mostly my friends have been 10 years older. But now, after a 7 year break from having kids and then starting over, my friends are starting to be 10 years younger, lol!
    I just (11 days ago!)had my 7th baby and 3 other women in the church had babies the same week. I’m the old woman at 35, lol. There is one other woman in our church expecting her 7th (she couldn’t let me beat her, hehe) but she is older than I am.
    I don’t “fit” but I fit so well! I love having friends of all box sizes.
    God bless,

  15. I’m so glad we’re not the only ones who feel this way! We love our church but it is so hard to find a place to fit in when you’re not a “typical” family. We’ve been married 11 years but have never been able to have children. We’re at least 10 years older than the young married couples without children, and just don’t much in common with the people with kids. We have friends from all of the “boxes” including young single friends, but it would be nice to have some friends in the same stage of life!

  16. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    I’m not crazy about our church’s primarily demographic-driven division of classes, either. Although we have technically “fit the descriptions,” we’ve still struggled to genuinely click with the group(s) that we’re supposed to have so much in common with. Different values, different interests, different approaches to life. Although our faith bonded us, there was little else…and that could get uncomfortable at times. We finally landed in a “for all ages” class – one of very, very few in our church – which I’ve affectionately dubbed “The Island of Misfit Toys.” It’s been delightful. Various ages, various “life-stages,” but somehow that makes the fellowship more complete, more vibrant.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  17. If parents of teens are in a class filled with only other parents of teens….how will they ever be able to learn from older people who have already gone through this stage….and how will younger parents who have yet to go through that stage ever have the chance to learn from them?

    Booo! Down with boxes!

    I say mix ’em all up!

  18. In some ways the “boxes” are the privilege of a thriving church. It has been fifteen years since I was part of a church that was large enough to divide Sunday School into age groups. My last church did not even have adult Sunday School for a decade or two. When we started one, it was one class with six people.

    Unfortunately, pastors are taught in seminary that churches grow when there are homogeneous groups for people to fit into. It may work, but it can’t be very good for the soul. You have the right idea.

  19. What a liberating post, – I too hate the “boxes” thing. I count myself blessed to be a member of a small church with about 50% young people, – the young people are counted as anyone under 40 yrs (or older than that if un-married or if their spouse currently lives elsewhere!). A couple of years ago, about 25 of us (young people) went on an outing to the beach, the youngest was 5 the oldest was 78 or 79, we ranged from school kids, uni students, professionals to am elderly housewife and an un-employed homeless person. Try fitting us into a box!

  20. We don’t exactly fit in a pre-fab box either. four grown kids
    two and a half grands
    three in-laws (one daughter and two sons)
    and one toddler

    Yeah, we have a box all by ourselves!!! ;D

  21. Interesting post. I felt the same way a few years ago. My husband and I seemed to be the only people in our church who were 30 years old without kids. All the non-kid-related groups and activities were geared toward people whose children were in college or older. The bonus of hanging out with these people, though, is we made some friends with people who weren’t quite our parents’ age but who were fun and unknowingly prepared us for parenthood a little bit. They also make great role models.

  22. I’ve never fit in the typical boxes either–for various reasons that I won’t take the time to bore you with. Suffice it to say that I don’t look for my box anymore–I just look for my kindred spirit. Unfortunately, those are rare too.

  23. I have not heard my grandmother’s voice in my head in years, and yet when you described that mother correcting her husband, I heard it in absolute perfect clarity. Thanks for that memory.

    I am box-free myself. I find that it means that I’m also a little adrift and alone more than I’d like to be.

  24. That “boxes” thing really gets me too. It’s pretty bad for single parents like me, also. I struggled for 4 years in a church where I had nowhere to go, where other single parents like me actually walked through the halls and CRIED at Sunday school time because we had nowhere and noone. A few months ago, I found a church that’s anti “boxes.” They set up multi-generational Bible studies and smaller classes according to what neighborhood you live in, so you actually get to know people who live next door. No wonder that this church is growing like crazy.

  25. It is hard, those boxes. I will chant with you, down with boxes! I resisted Sunday School for a long time, just because the post college class was LAME, and I like hanging out with other age groups, anyway. (It’s never bothered me to hang out with people who are parents, grandparents, whatever.) Now I teach 2 year old Sunday School, which is a nice solution to the box issue.

  26. I think the boxes are designed to try to meet all the different “needs”.

    It’s a shame we don’t recognize and teach that Jesus is the only thing anyone really needs.

  27. As some others have mentioned, small churches don’t have “boxes.” There aren’t enough people. My small church (less than 50 people–American Lutherans living in Germany) has one Bible Study. When we belonged to a slightly larger church, there was one adult Sunday School class and maybe 2 small groups during the week.

    But maybe there are some denominational differences in how things are done? Even when we attended a church with several hundred members and two Sunday services, the Sunday School classes were organized by different topics, not “Young Marrieds, Young Families, etc.” They weren’t permanent classes, either. Each fall and spring, new studies/topics were announced, and people just attended the one that interested them.

    If you want to be “boxless,” small churches are definitely the way to go.

  28. I don’t like boxes either. I too like all ages of people. I have mostly qualified in every group their is anyway. I was young and single. then young with children. Then middle aged and divorced. Then middle aged with children. Then newly married, middle aged with kids. I guess I just float around and go with the people I am most comfortable with.

  29. I’m running very behind on reading the posts after being out of town, BUT this one hit home – hard. I’m 42, my husband is 68 and we have a THREE year old daughter. Believe me, there is no box for us! If you try to squeeze yourself into a box or try desperately to create a box it will drive you crazy. I love seeing the expression on on others faces when they learn of our family dynamics for the first time. It’s as if they have “box panic”. They cannot comfortably put us into a particular category. They don’t know what to do with us and I love it!

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