Divorce, Single Parenthood, and the Church

I recently had the distinct pleasure of participating in a school function—DURING THE DAY—with my two 2nd graders.

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Mom and Mary joining Timmy for lunch at school.

Eva’s turn!

Distinct pleasure? For doing a regular “mom thing”? Let me explain…

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when there was no way I could have justified attending Bring Someone Special to Lunch Day at school. As a working, single mom (on and off for 12 years), I rarely had the luxury of attending school functions during the day. I was the sole breadwinner, so if I didn’t go to work, then the bills didn’t get paid and little mouths didn’t get fed. There were a few instances (graduations and special plays) that I didn’t miss out on, but there were never opportunities for me to just enjoy lunch with my kids at school. It was something I often grieved over. And I know it disappointed my son to not have his mom at school when so many other kids did. That is what probably hurt the most.

While sitting at home yesterday, looking at these pictures and feeling so thankful to have had that time with my kids, I was reminded of those years when this wasn’t my reality, and I was instantly overwhelmed with sadness for those who are still in this season of life.

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During my years as a single mom. Exhausting, but so thankful for these precious children!

You see, those years during which I was navigating divorce and surviving as a single mom were so very lonely for me—and they shouldn’t have been. God’s presence was so very real, and His provision was nothing short of miraculous, but my earthly relationships (outside of family) were almost non-existent. With divorce and single parenthood so prevalent in today’s society, it’s a wonder that ANY of us feel lonely, especially those of us who call ourselves Christians and attend church regularly. But that was me. Weekly church attender; served regularly; attended small groups. But the loneliness and general feeling of “not fitting in” didn’t go away until I was back in a loving, stable relationship. I may be ruffling some church feathers today, but THIS HAS GOT TO CHANGE!

I hated being a part of the statistic of failed marriages as a Christian, knowing full well that God’s heart is for marriages to thrive and ultimately reflect His goodness and love for us all. But sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Whether it’s our sin or bad judgment (or both) that resulted in the marriage failing – many Christians find themselves in the throes of divorce—and you know what?  It sucks. Much of what I was feeling was my own shame of having to end a marriage, but there’s another aspect that contributed to my loneliness—and here’s where I expose the elephant in the room….

Many people in the church just don’t know how to care for those who are in the midst of divorce.

There.

I said it.

Out loud.

It’s heartbreaking, but it’s true. As a single mom, I didn’t fit into the college and career crowd because a) I had a kid, and b) I’d already been married. Most of the folks in that group were still daydreaming about their future spouse, and had never traveled the rocky road of divorce, let alone parenthood. They just flat out couldn’t relate to my situation.

On the other side of the coin, I didn’t fit in with the couples crowd because, well—I was no longer part of a couple. Talk about feeling like a fifth wheel.

And herein lies the problem. So many people think that just because they aren’t in the same season of life or can’t relate to someone going through divorce (or being a single parent), that they can’t be a good friend.

What a lie from the pit of hell.

We can’t always relate to those afflicted with cancer—but we can pray, we can serve, we can listen, and we can love.

We can’t always relate to the affliction of the homeless—but we can pray, we can serve, we can listen, and we can love.

Divorce is no different.

Divorce is a death. Not the death of a body, but the death of a covenant. I don’t care what your circumstance is—divorce is painful. And those of us who are in the middle of it NEED TO BE LOVED. We need to feel like even though we’ve failed, we are still accepted. But how can you do that—practically speaking? Glad you asked!

Here is what I wish I’d had during those painful years.

1. Someone to listen who WASN’T a family member

I’m so thankful for my family, but they are biased in my favor and they were oftentimes grieving right along with me, because it was a death for their relationship with my spouse as well. I wish I’d had more friends who would provide a shoulder to cry on, or just offer a hug without feeling the need to give advice. I had enough advice from pastors and attorneys—I just needed someone to listen to me.

2. Grace

Listen—I know better than anyone that I was high maintenance during those years. I was broke financially and broken emotionally. But thankfully, those who WERE walking with me extended some grace during the times when I was a literal and figurative mess. Try to be sensitive even when it costs you. I promise, it will mean all the world to that person.

3. Time

I probably watched more TV than I’d care to admit, because my schedule was always free and clear. This is especially important for the single parents, who are usually playing the roles of both mom AND dad. It’s exhausting, and very lonely. Oh how I would have given an appendage for someone to whisk me away for a mani-pedi!

4. Love

When in doubt, just love ’em where they’re at. We all have love languages. If you have a friend who is going through a divorce or doing life as a single parent, just figure out their love language and speak it every now and then. Write an encouraging note, buy an inexpensive but thoughtful gift (or make one!), or have that single mom’s oil changed. Just knowing that they were a thought in your mind could change their perspective on their pain…even if just for a moment.

 

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12 thoughts on “Divorce, Single Parenthood, and the Church

  1. This is me today just a hug would do wonders…I thought I was the only one who felt this way…thank you for sharing knowing I am not a lone is so helpful. Thank you

  2. This article, written about single parenthood was very relevant to me. I’ve been a single Mommy of four children for 4 years now. It was nice to read this article. I can relate to how you felt when you went through that time in your life.
    I truly believe that God will bless me with my dream of finding a lifelong partner……. A future husband. I desire to be married very much. And I know that God gives us the desires of our hearts when we trust him and obey him 🙂

  3. This is pretty powerful stuff. I can relate to the awful pain of divorce though I’ve yet to become a parent. I think at times I understand some of the difficulty that would bring but I know I don’t know the breadth. You’re totally right about the church not knowing how to deal with divorce. And I’ve personally called it a death too. I lost my spouse and also lost the love of her family. Thanks for these words.

  4. Karen, I think you’re right, many people just don’t know how to care for their friends in those situations. It also seems like for couples that split, all their friends have to make a (silent, but binding) choice to be friends with one or the other or neither of the two that are separating (which that in itself is nonsensical). Divorce is a hard thing for outsiders to understand and reconcile sometimes (I have been in that group too, outsiders I mean). But, love is really the best choice, no matter what.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Karen, this was a really special read. I’ve not been divorced, but our family went through some “estrangement” and major health issues a few years back and I was in the middle of learning to be a farm wife, which is a <2% of the population oddity. After coming through all that, appreciating the reconciliation and physical healing God brought our family and settling into my farmer role, I've had several thoughts of what I wish I had. I feel that the Church did not know what to do with us, so they did nothing.

    Like you just told Dana, my misery has become my ministry. From Church to farming and back again I am determined to help people feel welcome and included and supported. Your list is just great. I couldn't have written a better one myself.

    Thank you,
    Emily Grace

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more. I was married for 10 years, involved in ministry and locked into a loving church. Then everything changed. I was divorced, at a new church and trying to survive with 2 kids on my own. I expected my new church to reach out and love me where I was. And it just didn’t happen. Once I finished mourning my loss, I began to see how hopeless my situation really was. My church wasn’t inviting me to dinner, the other mom’s didn’t invite me to playdates. I was completely alone in my endeavor to lead a Christian household. My family was very supportive and helpful with my kids. However, I do not have a single family member that is a believer.

    Thank you for saying this. Thank you for speaking up about this topic. I would like to see a way to reach other single mothers in the church. This is an epidemic in the church that needs to stop.

      • I will be asking the Lord for direction on this topic. Talking about it is the key. I have always had a passion for the type of ministry that I like to call, “getting-your-hands-dirty ministry.” I just didn’t realize that Christians considered a single mother a taboo until I became one. Now I know.

        Thanks again for speaking up! The building of our testimony is not always easy but we can stand on Rev 12:11 – “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…”

    • By the way – I would encourage you to be the one to reach other single moms. You know what they say – your misery becomes your ministry. Ask the Lord how He might use you to reach out to others in your situation. 🙂

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