The Absolute Value of Serving Single {The Grove: Serving Single}

Sarah, Laura, and Krista provided us with such rich material and discussions this week as they put flesh on the bones of serving singles. They have graciously pulled back the curtain and said, “these are the private parts” of this journey. They have stood up and “showed us their guns,” flexing the muscles and the competence of singles on the field. They have said, this is not always what I envisioned, but it’s where I am.

The seed of this article was planted around March 14. If you record March 14th as 3/14 it’s Pi Day. You know π as in 3.141592. . . I’m a Pi Day nut and have blogged about why I love Pi, Pi songs, Pi jokes, Pi cartoons, and even Pi-ku. Have I mentioned I love π? This year, I began to wonder what other mathematical constructs might offer insights beyond dear Pi.

Do you remember absolute value? The part of math that uses the vertical lines? |-3| and |+3| both equal 3. If this is making you twitch, I get it, I do. But this won’t get too complicated. Absolute value is basically asking how far away a number is from 0 (zero). So, whether you are -3 or +3 you are 3 away from 0, the center of the number line.

Putting God in the center (so, not saying he’s a zero, but you get my point), what does absolute value add to our discussion of serving single?

|+ Serving Single| and |-Serving Single| still equal Serving Single.

Whether you are single, married, have children, or don’t have children, to a certain extent every one of us serves single. There comes a point where it’s just

  • |You and God| or
  • |You and this teammate| or
  • |You and this part of the culture| or
  • |You and this part of your organization| or
  • |You and this child| or
  • |You and loneliness| or
  • |You and longing| or
  • |You and body image| or
  • |You and food| or
  • |You and joy|

Whether you see yourself as |-single| or |+loneliness| or |-married| {meaning that your marriage stinks and their marriage is what you want}, the beauty of absolute value is it shifts the focus from your state (single, lonely, married) to the orientation to 0 (God).

I fear this might come across as sticking a Christian bow on areas carrying pain. The heart of this post isn’t “just look to God and be absolutely happy!” What I love about |absolute value theology – which I just made up| is there is still place to honor the state.

|+Single| and |-single| or |+longing| and |-longing| are equally valid, without one being better than the other. Absolute Value can handle positives or negatives because it doesn’t really care about positives or negatives. I think we are prone to think |+| > |-| . . . or using my words, we are prone to think positives are better than negatives, confusing “enjoyable” with “better than.”

Is |+single| (meaning I’m not overly wrestling with this state currently) more “fun” than when I’m all stirred up? Sure. But fun and better than are two different questions.

We’ve all had times where |- part of the culture| is churning up our souls so much it hurts. Hurts. We can’t sleep, we agonize over what to do, is it our place to do anything? Or |+ part of the culture| where we see a slice of God we could not have seen from our shore. A part of us blossoms and we know we are on holy ground.

If positive and negative are the wrong words to ask, I also don’t want to give the impression that |absolute value theology| is about being as close to God as possible. We are going to have times where we feel distant or lost. This doesn’t mean you’ve sinned or done anything wrong.

Instead, the heart of |absolute value theology| is this:

  • Where do I see God? (How am I oriented to 0? Can I see him in this state?)
  • Can I be honest about my state? (Am I – or +?)
  • Do I believe that God can handle my state or do I feel I need to somehow fix it?
  • We’re not talking about sin. |-Stealing| and |+stealing| is still stealing. We’re talking about non-sin, messy, glorious, hard, life.

Circling back to the theme of this week, serving single, this is one for all of us. As much as we are rooted in relationships, teams, and communities, sometimes, it’s just |You and God|.

Whether you are single or married what encourages you as |You and God Serve Single|? What have been unexpected challenges? Unexpected blessings?

This is what we call The Grove.  It’s where we all gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art on our weekly prompt.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions


  1. Elizabeth August 7, 2015

    Ah Amy! You know I love your math analogies! Write some more please 😉

    I think life is just hard. Cross cultural service is just hard. Nobody really gets a pass from HARD, whether married or single. It’s something I’ve been thinking about since Krista’s post yesterday but didn’t quite know how to say it. I really appreciated her line (and think it should be immortalized somewhere!!) that “serving single isn’t necessarily harder, but it definitely isn’t easier.” I think she struck gold there.

    Jonathan and I have this running conversation about serving cross-culturally, as we notice the differences in the ways married and single people live and work. Some things look easier for singles, some things look easier for marrieds. Some things look harder for singles, some things look harder for married (especially with children). And there’s so much difference across cultures, and across individuals, for what is harder or easier. But I think mostly, it’s just all hard. The specifics may vary, but the general truth doesn’t.

    And it seems everyone expects different things from everyone else, depending on their life circumstances. But if we could understand that everyone, regardless of marital status, is under tremendous stress, maybe we wouldn’t compare hardships so much, and maybe we would say heartless things less often, and maybe we would listen to each other better, and maybe we could support each other that much more. Maybe.

    Love you!

    1. Amy Young August 7, 2015

      I love that you’re a fellow math-lover/appreciator Elizabeth. What I also love, are the incredible consistencies of God woven throughout the disciplines. And yes to life just being hard. And yes to all of us listening to each other better :). I think the “saying kind of dumb things” can happen to anyone, anywhere. My sister, who has four daughters, gets  very tired of mother of boys saying to her, “you’re lucky you don’t have the noise of boys.” and it’s all she can do not to hit them. The noise of girls is different, but their home most definitely would never be confused for a silent retreat center!

      I love the power of validating. Life is hard. Bravery points to all for showing up. Cheers to us!

  2. Danielle Wheeler August 7, 2015

    If it weren’t for you, Amy, my only math connection to God would be infinity.  Now I have pi and absolute value.  Thanks for expanding my mind and theology! 🙂

    Such a powerful reminder (made in a whole new way!) that no matter what the circumstances are, ultimately you always have you and God, and that is enough.

    1. Amy Young August 7, 2015

      This is how I feel about poets and people who can draw (I mean an image that actually LOOKS like the image. I can draw, but no one could consistently recognize it :)!!). Poets and artists expand me and my theology. Love back to you, my much more poetic than me, friend!

  3. Sarah Hilkemann August 8, 2015

    Amy, what a fun way of looking at singleness and our life overseas in general! I really liked the questions you included at the end as a way to stop and create space to look at our lives and where we see God, what is happening in our hearts and minds and what might need to be re-oriented. Your posts are always some of my favorites. 🙂

  4. Beth Everett August 8, 2015

    I’ve appreciated the posts this week and have reflected some on my time as a single in Ghana, now almost close to 20 years ago – those were some hard days. (And in retrospect also good days). Hard for a variety of reasons. I left tired and unsure of myself and my future. I remember also saying to myself that I didn’t want to ‘go overseas’ again single. God worked in my heart over the following few years to heal what was broken. He did take me ‘overseas’ again, this time married. Some things that were hard as a single were also hard married. Some things were easier too.

    As I sat down to write a post for this week my thoughts took me on a little bit of a different path … spurred on by the theme ‘serving single’, but with a bit of a different focus. Hope that’s not cheating.  🙂

  5. mamaligadoc December 21, 2020

    With respect !!!

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