Today is one of those moments.
When my oldest son was little, I took him on a trip to Disney World. Creating experiences and adventures for him was always very important to me. We’d done smaller trips like hiking at Starved Rock, climbing the sand mountain at Mt. Baldy, and regular jaunts to Six Flags Great America. I’d even taken him with me on a company retreat to Stone Mountain, Georgia. Needless to say, I was proud of this leap. I’d recently purchased a home for us, and I was moving up in the ranks at my job. I thought it was a good time to take a big summer trip with my son. I booked our hotels, bought our flights, and I’d also reserved some time in Daytona Beach so I could visit an old high school girlfriend while we were in Florida.
I was shell-shocked but still determined to give my son a good time without letting him see that mom was flat broke. Here’s what I did next: I took about half of it and went to a local grocery store. I bought a loaf of bread, a box of microwave popcorn, some lunch meat, a bag of green grapes, and a pack of cookies. I can still vividly remember the smell when I accidentally burned one of those treasured bags of popcorn in our hotel room microwave. This was our bread and butter – literally – for the rest of the week. But oh, did we have a blast creating memories. I still remember the joy my son found stepping on the floor fountains at the entrance to Islands of Adventure. And the time we got caught in the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse attraction during one of those abrupt afternoon Orlando rainstorms. And the snapshot I took (and still have) of him in front of a mechanical T-Rex and still another of him kicking his feet in the Atlantic Ocean. I still giggle about the time when I was so excited about mapping our progress through the Magic Kingdom, and his little smart mouth formed to say the words, “you’re getting on my nerves, mom.”
As the week went on and we continued to nibble on our humble turkey sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, combined with me repeatedly denying requests for ice cream and souvenirs, I think he slowly realized that we didn’t have any money. AT DISNEY WORLD.
At the end of the week, a great aunt of mine who lived in the area and would be taking us back to the airport brought us over to her house for a swim and a lunch of – you guessed it: turkey sandwiches. As though it were ripped right out of a “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book, my son and I looked at each other and let out a simultaneous groan.
We ate those sandwiches, though. We were hungry. And out of lunch meat.
I share this story not to invoke sympathy or to poke fun at my own poor money management skills and naivete at the time, but to tell you that I know a little bit about this single mom thing first hand.
Not all single moms struggle, but I can assure you, the burden of being both mom and dad, both provider and nurturer, both cook and handywoman, both tour guide and financier—it’s no walk in the park. Tether that with our innate human drive for companionship, a culture that idealizes marriage as the goal (no matter the cost), and a painfully bleak dating outlook, and even the strongest and most savvy single mom might say: “this thing is hard.”
So knowing this, why would the church EVER be the hardest place for single moms to find joy, love, and acceptance? Sadly, it is.
And along with all of the painful thoughts that these moms might be working to keep at bay, which could be stemming from their own life circumstances (teen pregnancy, abortion, emotional abuse, sexual trauma, divorce, widowhood), we (the church) can unknowingly lob additional unnecessary condemnation, guilt, and shame on an already overloaded (and possibly broken) heart.
My Jesus would never do that. So it stands to reason that His followers would never do that either. Sadly, we do. And with every brave face and bold decision that single moms make despite the many real or perceived side eyes that they sometimes walk through, they choose to keep coming back. They choose to serve. They dare to build friendships. They attempt to date. They reclaim their purity and choose celibacy. ALL WHILE RAISING THEIR CHILDREN. And making dinner. And getting the car washed. And paying the electric bill. And getting the broken bathroom sink repaired. And succeeding on their jobs. And taking off time from work to take their kid to the eye doctor. And . . . and . . . and.
Unpopular thought: Mary was a single mother when she became pregnant with Jesus. What if her community stoned her? What if Joseph chose fear over faith and rejected her? What if the shame was so great for Mary that she could not live out her God-designed purpose as the mother of the man who would change the world?
“ Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things.” -Ecclesiastes 11:5
Thinking of Mary as a single mother changes the context a bit, doesn’t it? How the church responds to single mothers affects not only their destiny but the destiny of their children.
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” – Jeremiah 1:5
Here’s another world-changing thought: instead of becoming another burden on the laundry list of hard things these moms are likely writing in their brains, what if we chose ease and acceptance? Instead of the pitiful, suffocating, poor-you, ruinous sympathy that has the capacity to handicap a perfectly capable person, what if we chose a parallel empathy—the same that we’d use with a respected co-worker or a dear friend. Instead of seeing a project, what if we adopted a lens of compassion?
They (young moms and single moms) need the church to change the narrative. They (we) need the church to be the community where instead of shame, guilt, or condemnation, young moms find respect, safety, and confidence. Let us (the church) be the community where single moms are not made to feel:
Ashamed. Guilty. Fearful. Embarrassed. Lonely. Doubtful. Insecure. Inadequate.
Instead, by walking in authentic community in a Christ-following, Bible-believing church, they become:
Forgiven. Joyful. Courageous. Accepted. Peaceful. Knowledgeable. Loved. Kingmakers. World-changers.
Certainly, there are practical applications on how to do this, but that’s another blog for another time. For now, let’s agree to recognize that this is holy work. This is transformational work. This is the work that Christ has asked us to do.
BE the salt. BE the light. BE the church, friends.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of the greatest single mother I have never met: Christine “Honey” Bell (February 10, 1950 – August 2005). My late mother-in-law raised seven God-fearing, church-going, salt-of-the-earth human beings by herself (five boys and two girls, including a set of twins), and never apologized for any of it. Instead, she left a legacy of unparalleled love, faith, and family that lives on through her children, their spouses, and their children.