‘Single parenthood is one of the most precarious states’ says writer Emily Beater, who explains the trials she faces in a church environment and how we can all support single parents better.
I’m late to church every Sunday. Slamming my shoulder through the door, I hold my daughter in one hand and a heavy bag in the other, hissing: “Sit down, sit down, sit down.” Over the murmur of prayer, we dump ourselves down and I stuff her with snacks, staring past couple after married couple and families clinging close as a wedding band.
I’m a young, single, unmarried mother. I’ve also been saved by the scandalous grace of God, brought - through the brutality of the cross - to unmerited fullness of life. Yet, as a single mum trying to live out the teachings of Jesus in a Christian culture which elevates marriage as the norm, I often feel weird, off-beat, out-of-step with the life of the church.
I believe sex is a gift from God, designed for the security of a covenant marriage. I also know, from meeting Christ aged twenty-one, that Jesus stoops to save us where we are. This is the story of every believer - all fall short; all are loved. But the marriage-idol in my own heart whispers to me that there’s a distinction between those who have done it “right” (no obvious signs of sex before marriage; Christian spouse, kids, in that order), and me, whose brokenness is on display every week.
A good part of my journey as a single, evangelical Christian mother, has been trying to solve the “problem” of my singleness. A Christian husband - that’s the solution, right? But slowly, I am learning that the needs beneath my longing for marriage – to be chosen, seen, supported, desired – were designed by God, and will find their ultimate fulfilment, whether I ever enter a human marriage or not, in Him.
The marriage-idol in my heart whispers that there’s a distinction between those who have done it “right” (no obvious signs of sex before marriage; Christian spouse, kids, in that order), and me, whose brokenness is on display every week.
The church, to be frank, needs to be better at proclaiming this. A Christian marriage and family are wonderful blessings, but they are not ultimate. When we elevate human marriage as the best way to be a Christian, we make single people and single parents feel like afterthoughts in the body of Christ.
If I could ask one thing of the church when it comes to single parents, it would be this: see us. Why? Because God is the ultimate seer of people (Genesis 16:13). Tears sting my eyes whenever I read the story of Hagar, the slave-girl pregnant by Abraham on Sarah’s command. When Hagar runs away from Sarah and God sends his angel after her, Hagar names God: El Roi - “The God who sees me”. Our God, who flung the stars into space, is a pursuer of desperate single mothers in the desert.
There’s no “magic solution”, no ten-point plan for supporting single parents in the church that will be applicable for everyone walking this path – just like every person, we have different histories, struggles and circumstances. But here are a few of my thoughts:
I recently discovered that several people in our church have been praying for me and my little girl. They were people I didn’t know all that well, and hadn’t spoken to in months, which somehow made it all the sweeter. Above all, single parents – and all of us in the body of Christ – need to be upheld in prayer, that we might depend on the rock that is higher than us.
Our God, who flung the stars into space, is a pursuer of desperate single mothers in the desert.
Single parenthood is one of the most precarious states, when it comes to trying to make life work. Managing on a single income and balancing sparse school hours around a long working schedule, with only your own exhausted, overworked body to bridge the gap, can feel impossible – and society isn’t set up to allow lone parents to thrive. So, please, if you have a single parent in your church, be open-handed with whatever time and practical support you can give.
At church, I have been immensely grateful for those who have tenderly walked alongside me, never making me feel my difference, but turning me again and again to Christ, the lover of my soul. A friend recently reminded me that, like it or not, my daughter and I have the whole church as family now – that truly means everything.