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Salvation for the Single-Parent Family

What can your church do for the single-parent families looking for answers and help? More than you can possibly imagine.

By Lois Breit

Imagine losing your main source of income overnight and wondering how you will buy groceries, pay rent, and keep utilities on while facing an unknown future. Now add:

Welcome to the daily life for many single parents, something with which I am familiar.

When my husband left, I was unprepared. My identity as a wife and mother changed. I had the responsibility of raising five children, while dealing with the loss of family, friends, home, community, and a husband I loved.

By the time I stumbled into what became our home church, I was broken and so were my children, then ages 2, 5, 7, 9, and 11. My boys were angry at their dad, me, and life. They fought all the time. My girls were confused and crushed. Disciplining my oldest son was impossible because he was so depressed he did not care what privilege I revoked. My fun-loving second son became mouthy and cynical. My shy, 7-year-old daughter began bed wetting. My youngest previously cuddly son now refused any hugs or affection, while my 2-year-old kept looking for her daddy to come home every night.

Recent statistics tell us that more than 50 percent of marriages, even within the church, end in divorce. I offer the following suggestions and challenges to pastors and congregations to meet this ever-increasing need.

My family was changed because we found a church that was willing to take on the challenges we brought. Here are ways the pastoral staff and church body cared:

Practical Ways To Minister to Single Parents

Pastor, how would your church have welcomed us? How would you have counseled us? What hope would you have offered?

Offer acceptance

My divorce left me feeling like a failure; while love and acceptance gave me the courage to go on. As a single parent feels safe, he or she will begin to face personal issues.

Meet immediate physical needs

Asking non-invasive questions is often what it takes to discover the needs of someone struggling alone. The need may not be food, shelter, or a ride, but protection from an abusive spouse. Do you know where the nearest women’s shelters are located? A person’s mind and spirit will be open to the Word once you alleviate her biggest source of fear or worry.

Emulate forgiveness

Forgiveness is the key component to healing and wholeness. If the single parent avoids this step, he or she will waste everyone’s time. Here are a few indicators of single parents’ willingness to forgive:

A woman divorced her unfaithful and addicted husband. She and her children became involved in ministries; but, because she was unable to forgive, her patterns changed little. She cut off friends who would not agree or commiserate with her and her church that tried to protect her when she wanted to enter another bad relationship. Her new marriage was a disaster. Her children became rebellious teens and ended up in difficult marriages. Forgiveness is a choice.

Develop training programs

After I taught a parenting class, a single mom said, “I am now ready to go back home. I have hope, techniques, and a plan to bring order to my home.”

One teen MOPS meets at a coffee shop each week. Last Christmas, nine high school and neighborhood teen mothers accepted Jesus after hearing the gospel through the Christmas story.

Financial planning

Finance classes will benefit everyone in your congregation, but are necessary for single parents. With over 50 percent of single-parent homes below the poverty level, here are some ways the church can help:

Provide counseling

Offer a choice of trained counselors in your community. Lack of transportation, finances, or depression can immobilize a single parent, but your church can help get the ball rolling.

Suicidal thoughts can capture the mind of an overwhelmed single parent. Help leadership recognize the signs of depression and suicide. They may be the only one close enough to see the danger signals in an emotionally distraught parent or child.

Small group involvement

Bible study or care groups are essential to understanding and having a personal knowledge of the single parent’s real needs. These groups can be a training ground for trust, friendships, and lifelong behavior patterns.

I caution against exclusively single-parents groups. They can feed anger and resentment, while being around the healthy breeds healing. Careful training of leadership will keep single-parent groups positive.

Rebuild self-esteem

Court appearances, accusations, and threats leave single parents lacking confidence. What can the church do? Compliment. Find a single parent’s strengths and encourage them. Avoid unrealistic expectations.

A mini spa, fresh haircut, manicure, or a make-up party can help heal a crushed spirit.

Social life

Encourage your congregation to invite a single parent to personal gatherings, not just church functions. Divorce, death, and moves cause many to lose their friends, family, and homes. They feel on the outside, but have a desire to be included.

Bringing a single-parent family into your social realm involves wisdom and boundaries. Single parents can become clingy in their need, dependent in their weakness, and pesky in their loneliness. When the pastor, leadership, and congregation set guidelines and boundaries for this ministry, problems should be limited and healthy friendships should grow.

Spiritual growth

Set mini goals for the single parent; provide a printed list of God’s promises; encourage their presence in Sunday School, Bible studies, etc. Have people invest in and mentor your single parents. Senior citizens can be mentors answering spiritual questions, challenging their faith, and keeping their actions accountable.

Sensitivity to the children

Patience and grace will be needed as you minister to the children. In the first several years their lives are raw. Parents often bicker and put their children in the middle. Some children cry because they do not see their absent parent; others cry because they have to. Some children are angry they cannot live with the other parent; some are angry they have to talk to them. Some wait for a phone call or visit that will never come.

What to do with the children?

Train volunteers to:

The Church Made a Difference for My Family

The church did not know us, but they embraced us. They had no grounds to trust me, but they gave me an old car to use. They did not know if we had food, they just brought groceries. The church was Jesus, letting us know we were still loved and cared for at a time we felt unloved and abandoned.

My children’s behavior was often irritating, disruptive, and humiliating. A man once told me, “Take your disruptive children out of the service.” But the pastor told me to keep bringing them, even though my 9-year-old son was talking back to him during the services.

The pastor said, “I can take it if you can take it; he needs to be here.” I listened to the pastor who not only took what my son gave him, but became a lifelong friend to him.

Because of this church and its pastors, our lives changed. My brash and mouthy young son grew into a man who loves God. He and his family are now missionaries to Mexico City. The toddler waiting for her daddy to come home every night is preparing to leave as a missionary to Eurasia. The shy, timid girl became a witness in her school and workplace. She is in nursing school, and she and her husband are youth pastors. The isolated little boy became a passionate evangelist and outgoing youth pastor. The angry, frustrated son has learned the power of forgiveness and has given his life to the Lord. As for me, I am an ordained minister, having served as an associate pastor, district youth director’s assistant, and currently as a U.S. missions and district retreat/conference speaker. God can do the impossible when the church lives out the gospel.

What can your church do for the single-parent families looking for answers and help? More than you can possibly imagine.

Lois Breit, Costa Mesa, California

 

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