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Caring for the Single Mom in Your Church

Caring for the Single Mom in Your Church

A friend told me of his neighbor, a single mom with two children. She worked long hours to provide and was often exhausted and lonely. Talking with this woman in her yard one day, my friend asked if her church ever invited her to participate in any of the women’s fellowship events. She avoided his eyes as she admitted yes, they always invited her, but she never went. She couldn’t afford to hire a babysitter.

The next day he called her church and told the women’s ministry director the situation. She was surprised; the church could pay the babysitter so the single mom could attend. Several issues come to light through this story:

  1. The church did not know how tight money was for this single mom because no one knew her very well.
  2. The single mother didn’t know about the funds. Perhaps she was ashamed of her need; perhaps she was too proud to ask for help. Either way, poor communication kept her and her children distant from their church family.
  3. For single parents who work long days, leaving the children at night is far more complicated than it is for a married parent. The single parent may feel too tired, too busy, or even guilty for leaving. Those who share custody often feel they cannot spare time away when their child is in their home.
  4. It is natural for single moms to be invited to women’s events and single dads to events for men. But are there adult events that are not specifically for married couples or childless singles? The church is a natural place for single parents to develop God-honoring, appropriate, meaningful friendships across gender lines. Single mothers need to be able to talk with godly men about raising sons; likewise, single fathers need guidance from godly women. Church can provide a safe place for this to happen with limited risk, and these are friendships the whole church needs.
  5. Though the majority of custodial single parents are moms, single parenting is not a women’s issue, it’s a family of God issue. My friend got involved on his neighbor’s behalf. Millions of single dads need the church desperately. Half the children raised in single parent homes are boys.

I became a single mother thirteen and a half years ago, when my husband died, leaving me to raise 3 sons who were 9, 12, and 13 years old. Since that time, I have heard countless stories like this one, of women in churches that wanted to care for their families but did not know how. God’s care for single mom Hagar shows us the way.

Our story is found in Genesis 16, where we find Sarah waiting for God to fulfill his promise of a child. She grows weary in waiting and takes matters into her own hands, persuading Abraham to sleep with her servant Hagar so she can claim the child as her own. Trouble follows when Hagar gets pregnant and the hostility between these two women grows. In despair, Hagar runs away into the desert, willing to die rather than endure Sarah’s temper.

As a foreigner, a servant, and a woman in a culture that did not value women, Hagar is as vulnerable as it gets. No one cares for her. But the angel of the Lord meets her with tenderness and compassion, calling her by name and noting her situation, “Hagar, servant of Sarah, where have you come from and where are you going?” (16:7). Like God with Adam in the garden, he is inviting her to share her history and her predicament (which he already knows) because he wants to earn her trust.

Remember our single mom from the first story. She was cut off from help because she was cut off from relationship; she was not known. The essential first step of caring for single moms is to simply get to know them. This in itself is a gift; single moms are often desperately lonely, especially in a church context that is largely made up of married folks. Single mothers are not projects or opportunities for ministry; they are simply people who are exhausted, under-resourced, and passionate about their children. These women are heeding a calling to parenthood that God meant to be shared by two people, and as such they (and their children) deserve special attention and care.

The angel tells Hagar to return and submit to Sarah. Life will not be easy in Abraham’s home, but she and her son will have what they need for the child to grow and flourish. Hagar responds to the angel with wonder: “You are the God who sees me” (v. 13). Hear the emotion in those words. She is seen, heard, known, and cared for. Her child’s very name, Ishmael, meaning “God hears”, will be a reminder to her every time she calls him in for supper. 

Note the progression here. Once he develops a relationship and gains her trust, then he provides for her needs. He does not judge her foolishness – why would a pregnant woman run out into the desert alone? – but demonstrates compassion for a woman who has been poorly treated by those who were supposed to take care of her. This is Yahweh, creator of the universe, and yet he tenderly cares for a person who is invisible to everyone around her. Rather than rebuke her, he dignifies this single mother by allowing her to be the first person in Scripture to give him a name, “the God who sees me.”

God’s compassion for Hagar provokes a similar compassion for the single moms in our churches, schools, and neighborhoods. Seeing, and hearing, and knowing these women requires an investment of time and energy. We seek first to befriend them, and then to meet their needs in such a way that dignifies their love for their families.

God, who is rich in mercy, has met our needs through the gracious gift of his Son Jesus. With grateful hearts, let’s seek to love the vulnerable single parent families among us.