By: Vanessa Jackson
The primary thought most pastors’ have when it comes to the single mother in their congregation is concern for being truly helpful. What does the single mother really need? Here is a short article outlineing the four primary needs of the single mother.
When I became a single mother I had already been a member of my church for some time. I knew lots of people, most shocked at my circumstances and very few knew what to say. I was tired and emotionally weak from everything, questioning everything about my world, and myself, even my faith. To tell you the truth, it was a good place to be in. There is nothing wrong with questioning things, even questioning God. It meant I knew that I am not Him and that I was seeking Him. Minute by minute I leaned on Him, but this time instead of leaning on who I had decided God was, I was really seeking who He was. I had a new identity thrusted on me, I didn’t know how I fit in anymore and I needed to understand the God that put me there. I was at the foot of the cross on a daily basis. I don’t believe He caused my circumstances, I did that to myself, but He did allow it and I believed He would use it for His glory if I let Him. The only way to do that is to seek answers and new understandings, not to mention deal with my anger, but I know my questioning, frustrations, fear, and hurting made people around me feel uncomfortable. “Some joys are only possible on the other side of sorrow. It is true when the preacher says, “In much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. (Eccles.1: 18) But it is worth it.” (Piper 2010)
- First Need of Support: Non-Judgmental Friendship. Listening, Care and Fellowship are critical for her healing. Often, the initial crisis of single motherhood is what finally brings her to the foot of the cross. Be careful that you aren’t accidentally sending her away. “God’s heart is captivated by human need… God’s heart longs for relationship… we must enter the compassionate heart of God, who is as concerned about human aloneness as human fallenness. We must align our focus with that of the compassionate Father who is intent on meeting people at the point of their total need.” (Ferguson 1998)
On top of that, I was so sensitive to everything, easily crushed, and the words spoken to me had the ability to build me up, ready to tackle my week on Monday, or the ability to send me into a spiral downward. I felt raw and open all the time, like a fileted fish, and I honestly would have preferred to run and hide. I really didn’t want people to see me like that. The only thing that kept me going was the fact that I wanted my children in church. They had already gone through so much change, maintaining as much consistency as I could from before the separation was important.
- Second Need of Support: Take Care of Her Kids. Often the only reason a single mother comes to church is for her kids. If there are no outlets for her kids, ways for them to be involved, consistent care, and spiritual development for them, she has no reason, or the ability to be there. In addition to this, during events for her, providing childcare and scholarships for childcare makes it possible. “When we make a choice to invest strategically in the lives of few over time so we can help them build an authentic faith.” (Joiner and Shefchunas 2012) Caring for kids is more than just childcare, its spiritual development for both the mother and the child.
Support and Strength
I remember for months how every time we sang in church I couldn’t help but cry. I was hurting so deeply. I tried sitting in the back row but people noticed me and wanted to comfort me. I hated standing out, and being seen that way every Sunday was embarrassing. I would think to myself, “When am I finally going to heal?” I just wanted to blend in, but I couldn’t. I would sob so deeply every time we sang that I thought I might not ever be okay again. One Sunday I decided to sit in the front pew instead. It sounds insensitive but my thought was, if I cried and I knew I would, the only person that would see me was the head pastor or those on stage playing instruments; and they were confined to their places. I could be left to cry and no one would drew extra attention to me. My poor pastor watched me ball my eyes out every Sunday.
They started doing a call forward to pray once a quarter, where they had pastors stand up front during prayer time. Then, if you wanted to you could walk over to a pastor and have them pray with you. This was their chance! The pastor closest to me didn’t wait for me to come to him; he walked straight over to me. I’ll never forget that. It meant more to me than I’m sure they knew. My dignity stayed intact and yet they were paying attention and provided a way for me to receive support and strength in prayer.
- Third Need of Support: Outlet for Spiritual Strength and Support. The single mother is doing life as a parent without the help of a spouse. They may have a great support system, but generally they feel lonely and they are exhausted. I can’t tell you how important it is to have faithful men and women who can provide strength and support to help them endure what seems like an endless path of obstacles. This is true for everybody, but for the single mother, this means the difference between choosing to stay or leave. The Spirit reaches us only through experiences, and it may very well be that the support you give is that persons first encounter with the warmth He gives. You can’t see what is going on beneath the surface of the person. Remember that we are the hands and feet of Christ. “Simply, Love serves. Love honors. Love is practical devotion that seeks the good of the other: Equality. Unity. Closeness. Servanthood.” (Buchanan 2007)
I was blessed to have parents who stepped in to help us during my separation. We moved in thinking it would be for a few weeks and ended up living there for 6 years. Mom quit her job to take care of my kids for me so I could work and dad helped me get a car, insurance, a job, legal help, anything I needed. I think back to that time and how hard it was, my world was completely turned upside down and I lived in crisis-mode for the longest time, but I had them and their support. I started working a full time job and for several years it was all I could do to see my kids before bedtime and on weekends. I hated that, but I count myself as extremely fortunate because not once did I worry about a roof over our heads, the kids childcare was better than what anyone could buy, we ate better and lived better with them than we had on our own prior.
Much of the single mother’s time is spent engulfed in the financial strains of providing for her kids. She’s hemmed in. The time she has allows little freedom outside of work. She “can’t go too far to the left, or right, or front, or back.” (Roese 2015) It’s stressful and scary. What would I have done if my parents had not been there? Who would have helped me? Who would have protected us? I would have needed someone I could call, a back-up person to fill in the gaps. I cannot imagine how bad it would have been, had I not had them. They made it possible to get better and get out. Out of my crisis and on to the life God had in mind for me all along. Having Faith in God is more than just going to church, shared common beliefs, and fellowship. “Pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27).
- Fourth Need of Support: Resources and Physical Help. Church members and staff do not have to supply financially in order to help the single mother. Sometimes simple acts of service and giving of time are just what she needs. She can often make enough money to provide but while doing that she can’t get home in time to run her kids to the tutor, or meet them at the bus stop. At home she isn’t tall enough to reach certain things, or strong enough to lift certain things and could use a hand. In addition to this, the members of a church are connected to communities and within those networks are financial and educational resources she may not be aware of. Tangible resources and physical help are her saving grace.
The next time you are wondering, “What can we do?” I hope you will remember these four things and really take to heart what they mean and the difference these four simple things can make on not just the mother, but the effect it would have on the generations that follow her. Luther wrote, “Where is your faith? How does it show itself? Faith must never be useless, deaf, dead, or in a state of decay. But it must be a living tree that bursts forth with fruit. That’s the difference between genuine faith and false faith. Where there is true faith, it will show itself in a person’s life.” (Luther 2005)