Faith, Reruns and Leftovers

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?

There’s a verse in Scripture that compares the body of the church to that of the human body, where all parts do their own thing but contribute to the wellness of the whole.  In our current church culture, generally all the Toes meet in room B3 and the Fingers meet in B4, neither benefiting from the wisdom and perspective of the other. And the idea of fingers and toes having their own meetings kind of cracks me up.

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 at least ten years younger than me. And I certainly I didn’t fit into the widowed and divorced group where most everyone was 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-vowel’d Texas accent, “Since you were out eating a hamburger when I had her.”

Gotta love an old gal that speaks her mind.  See what I would have missed had I been in the Old People With Toddlers class?

Originally published November 2006.

28 thoughts on “Looking For My Box

  1. AM,

    I completely agree with you. We have so much to learn from each other. We have so much to enjoy from each other.

    I am fortunate that in my church we have a pair of neat programs: home and visiting teaching. The purpose of these programs is twofold: 1) to ensure the welfare of everyone at church. 2) To organize for fellowship. My visiting teachers (a pair of older women–one in her 70s and one in her 80s) visit me every month. They tell me about their great grandchildren while they coo at my children. They share stories from their lives. I am so enriched by their visits–I love to hear their perspectives on things. Our home teachers also visit monthly–they are young and newly married. We talk about education and the world of work before they share their short gospel message.

    The neat thing is, if I were picking out friends, I wouldn’t have selected any of these people because we don’t have much in common. But through this program in which they were assigned to our family, I have new friends to call on if I need something. I have people to talk to at church. And I have different life stories and perspectives to blend with my own. We don’t have to stay in our boxes.

  2. I know what you mean about boxes…except I kind of wish there was one I fit into. Most of the churches around here don’t have much for singles and if they do, it’s mostly older divorced people with kids.

    Which is fine, but I’m 30, never married, and childless. I feel like the church lets people who are in the “out of college but not married yet” group fall into a black hole until they get married.

  3. I’m with you. I don’t want a box in chruch. I do need to return faithfully. It is part of the religion I was brought up in and still charish.

    You fall away for such trivial reasons. Some views of the clergy during the 70s was frightful. They needed to come live in the real world.

  4. That was one of the great things about the women at our old church. Women of all ages got together, studied, cooked, and listened to speakers. But I was still the odd woman out because I homeschooled. I was the only homeschooler at our church. I would have loved to attended more of their meetings, but I was the only one who needed child care. Everyone else put their kids in MDO, preschool, or regular school. I want to find a church that is willing to have a “stone soup” class: everyone just bring what they have and we put it all together and see what we get.

  5. Great post! One of the things I appreciate about my very small (total membership is less than 100 and that includes newborns) is that we cant’s afford to separate into boxes. If we did everyone would be alone in their own little box.

  6. AM
    Couldn’t agree more. I sit in the sanctuary during SS hour and have a blast with those who don’t hold the boxes of the churhc dear.

    Try reading:
    Delia Halverson
    Brett Webb Mitchell

    They are boxless church folk too.

  7. But, but, you found a box. You made it. It’s here, mixed in with everything else on your blog! I’m certainly sharing it — the middle aged moms with a young child box. What I like best about it is that the edges are soft, so that people who might not completely match still feel very welcome.
    Good job!

  8. Well, well. Every church must do that. It us so so true. I don’t they intend to be mean or hurtful. I think they really try to bring people comfort within their own ‘groups’. But I’m here to tell you….there may be a place for widows within the church…but divorce is a whole ‘nother ballgame. It still …. s.t.i.l.l. has a stigma. A huge stigma. You don’t belong anywhere. Very 2nd class citizenish. Women don’t want you near their husbands. I had one woman years ago tell me she did NOT want her husband talking to me (as a divorcee). I told her I had no intention of ‘visiting’ with her husband. And I was really mad that she would say that to me. Churches try to play the *charity* thing. It doesn’t work like it’s supposed to all the time. Maybe in the next life. 🙂

  9. I grew up in a church that had “boxes” but we now attend a small church of around 100 members and one of the things I love about it, is the lack of boxes. We do everything together including worship. We do have SS classes but there are just a few children/youth classes and then all the adults are together in one class. I love how the older kids play with the little kids and we just intermingle with one another. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. I so agree with you. Did you know why churches put people in boxes (groups)? It’s because there’s a lot of evidence that churches grow that way. Why are churches so obsessed with numerical growth?

  11. I was widowed and childless at 29 – waited forever to remarry – and divorced. (That’s a whole ‘nother story.)I found a widowed & divorced group sponsered by the Catholic Church. Later,I found a Divorce Recovery group at a Baptist Church, of all places. I was fortunate.

    That Baptist church now? No Single Dept. They let it play out. Just wasn’t a priority. And certainly no particular spot for a middle-aged woman with no children. It’s sad.
    But – in my large church, I just had to eventually make my own way, mix with those who didn’t put me in a box and were like-minded about being there to love others and love God.

    ‘Tweren’t easy – I’m not a people person.
    Certainly, it was a “God-thing.”

    ~Mad(elyn) in ALabama

  12. A couple of years ago we switched from our large box-y church to a smaller church. Our small group is the most diverse group we have ever experienced. It’s neat! Of course, we also notice people sort of searching for their “box” of people with whom they can relate in their season of life. I think it’s up to individuals (as well as the church itself) to go out of their way to look out for those who need to be drawn in and include those who don’t easily fit into a category. Great post! =]

  13. AM. I left and came back, I crack myself up,I was thinking about boxes and typing in a box, like here. I think the point of your post was seperation, I’ll be thinking on that topic & keeping it a priority, remembering people sometimes need an outreach, I will extend to them my hand. Take Care

  14. LOVED this post. I think it is very true. I can see how churches want to do boxes, because it can be very convenient. But if you don’t fit into their boxes, or don’t want to….it’s very hard to get enthused about getting involved.

    I myself fit into a box. But I so miss the interaction with other folks that don’t fit into mine. So, I now pronounce that my box is an open clubhouse for all. Come on in! There’s iced tea waiting.

  15. Boxes are meant to be smashed. I don’t “fit” into any of the boxes they have at our church, so I just hang around with whomever I want. People my age normally do not have infants or preschoolers. But not many ever prayed that the table never be empty and to do whatever He wanted to do with my life just please, please take the empty ache away from my barren arms.

  16. As an AM myself, I so relate to being boxless. I could be a mother to most of the young women at our church who have babies. While most of the women my age have college-age or older children. It’s an interesting path we travel. I was talking with a couple this morning who were visiting their children who are expecting their first child. I could see in their faces that they thought I was “one of them.” Then, suddenly, my seven-year-old daughter bounced over to me. Their eyes widened, and they asked, “Do you have other children?” because surely this young child was the last in a long line of siblings. “No, I chirped…my husband and I were blessed to have one who came late.” Then, we settled back into our conversation. I, too, love being boxless. And it definitely makes for good writing material.

  17. Ooo, I totally agree with Jennifer! I was so there!
    But I have to say, I’m really liking some of the more intergenerational Sunday School classes our church has. Of course they have some age group ones too, but sometimes they just have a topic and anyone can go. Yay!
    And of course the best small group I was ever in was ladies from just out of college (me and my roommate) all the way up to a great grandma!

  18. Our Sunday School class is comprised of all kinds of people. Old, young, single moms, married with grown kids, married with young ones, singles, widows, orphans…

    Our common denominator is that we all arrive late!

  19. since my toddler wants me to quickly “change it to guys” (i.e. switch back to a page with comics), I haven’t read the previous comments, BUT your intro reminds me of a great book I read recently. Family-Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham is great (about raising kids who have a life faith and truly walk with the Lord), and he has a whole section about the “family-integrated church.” No boxes. A novel concept where, as you worship as a family, your kids–gasp!–learn to worship in the greater community just like everyone else.

    I absolutely love the hamburger story at the end!

    Have a great week!

  20. I tried to post a comment earlier but it did not go thru. I hate boxes, Hate is a strong word I seldom use it.
    When my mother left this world, and I know if given the chance she would never want to return, she waits for me in heaven. I laid my hands on her final resting place here on Earth (her coffin)(a box) and I closed the lid, while no one else was able to do that for her. I had to (wanted to) it could be no other way, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. Her box and that moment lives with me, etched deep into my mind.Then the miles long procession to the cemetery service and when it was over everyone left the cemetery except me. I watched as that box was lowered into her vault and sealed,then I could only watch through tears as her grave was filled with earth. I placed all the funeral arrangements, said a prayer and promissed to live to honor her with what I have left of my life, I could do no more. No, we need not box ourselves, when we can reach out for another.

  21. Well my comment has nothing to do with church or boxes….it has to do with the fact that my husband asked me if I minded if he went to get something to eat for breakfast after I was settled into bed in the labor room. I said oh okay….figuring he would go downstairs to the cafeteria and grab a bagel to bring back to my room. Nope. He went downstairs, got in the car, drove down the street to a restaurant. Had steak and eggs and a bloody mary and read the paper. By the time he got back…..I had gone through transition (alone) and was pushing. Oh…he didnt live that one down. ever. 19 years later and I still remind him. So it cracked me up when I read this story.

  22. I totally understand about the boxes. When I married just two weeks after my sixteenth birthday I didn’t fit in a box. When I had my first child at 19, many of the people my age weren’t even married yet. When I had my second child at 24, most people my age were just getting married or having their first child. When I got divorced at age 39, I HATED the class for divorced people. Now, at 48, I’m happily married to someone who is 16 years younger than me. Where in the world are we supposed to fit?

  23. Hi – I’m new here. I’ve been lurking for a little while and I just love your blog. I need the heavy dose of be in the here and now that you seem to give often. I love the blue flowers. I’m so glad to have found you. Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts. They are encouraging to me.

    I wish that church people were gracious to each other like Jesus was. Then there wouldn’t be boxes because we would all just be, instead of posing, and performing for each other and trying so despretly to fit in.

  24. Marrying for the first time at age 40, my husband (then age 48) and I experienced the same sorts of things. Where do we fit? We’re too young for this group and too old for that one. Finally, the Lord led us to just the perfect group. It’s mixed. Marrieds. Singles. Thirty somethings through sixty somethings. We love it largely because watching various folks interact with others who are not so close to them in age is really quite entertaining!

    Great post, AM!

  25. I’ve often struggled with the idea of keeping everyone separate from each other, like they are classes instead of a family. I saw this especially when we were Youth and College & Career Pastors…no one wanted the teenagers around. But they needed us and we needed them. I think we all missed out on some great opportunities there.

    Thanks for a great post!

  26. When I was 33, the mother of a teen and toddler, I started trying to find a Sunday School class I could fit in. Strangely, I accidently landed in a class named “Baby Boomers”. Although I didn’t really fit the label, I spent the next four years finding God under the guidance of a great group of people. It was one of the best experiences of my life!

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