Last week I told a story about how speaking out saved a duckling and potentially saved other accidents… the previous week I spoke about violence, especially violence against women. There is a theme on my heart that I seem to be skirting around, but it could be expressed as concern for the ‘orphans and widows’ – often the weak, the vulnerable, those who have nobody else to speak up on their behalf. There are many vulnerable groups, but I want to focus on these.
Orphans and widows, according to Scripture, are very much a priority on God’s heart and God exhorts us over and again to look after them… God says He hears their cries. They are still real and visible in our society and yet for whatever reasons, we often do not see them. In many ways in modern Europe, aside from actual widows and orphans, single-parent families can also be placed in the category of orphans and widows – for whilst the other parent may still be living (and therefore those left behind are not orphans and widows in the strictest sense), they share the same burdens of societal shame and of practical and financial stress. As with orphans and widows, there is a sense of the woman and children being left without protection, without emotional, practical and financial support, etc.; often without respite from caring, or time at all for oneself, partly because living as extended families is no longer the norm. Often they are also heart-broken and suffering a sense of bereavement and loss too. I say woman, because it is most often the single mum, though increasingly it is the father, who takes custody of the children and sometimes it is a grandparent… In many Western countries there is some financial support for single-parent families, but the rest of their needs often remain invisible to society. I also know that there are many couples who struggle in their lives together, those with children and those without. I’m not saying that couples who stay together with their children have no needs, because I know that they do. I myself, as a child, often wished that my father would leave my mother, or vice-versa, but he never did and she never did. But in this piece of writing, I want to focus on the needs of single parents, who are most often, but not always, mums.
I would like us to draw our attention to these unseen, and frequently therefore, unmet needs. I think of this because I get it. I have been there for many years. And I see both sides. For the single parent, one of the unseen needs is for adult company, friendship and emotional support. In many ways, single unmarried women also share many of the challenges that I highlight here. There is nobody to come home to and to share ones joys, delights, burdens and stresses. Nobody. Nobody for whom you are that one special person. Nobody who shares that love and concern you have for your children. I particularly want to point out one phenomenon that may never have occurred to someone who has never experienced being single, but is very real to those that are – and that is that one is very rarely invited out – even by friends or by church family.
We have arranged an evening dinner for friends – for him and her, Mr and Mrs, this couple and that couple, but what do we do about you as a single parent? There are obvious reasons of course – you’d probably have to arrange a babysitter for the children or some other childcare? Or maybe you’d feel like a gooseberry, if everyone else is in couples? Or maybe you are always tired by 8pm, having had the children since 6am? Or maybe it’s awkward when everyone else is in couples – who would you be seated with? Would we have to do some ‘match-making’? And we wouldn’t want the children to come, it’s not suitable…. And we’ve never been invited to dinner at yours! Perhaps there are also deeper issues that we are not prepared to address? Maybe there’s a fear that there’s something wrong with you – after all, one of you in the couple walked out? Who’s fault was it really? It takes two to tango! Do you have commitment issues? Can you be trusted? You may have emotional needs and other needs we are not prepared or equipped to meet? What if you break-down and talk all night about your problems? Or maybe you want to steal one of our husbands? Of course we don’t really think that… not out loud, anyway!
When I lived in London, as a single mother for my two young boys, I was introduced to a ministry called ‘CHEER’ set up by a wonderful single mum, Cherie Coleman, who gets it. Once a month on a Saturday, me and the boys travelled across London to what they looked forward to as their “Party Church”, where they were greeted enthusiastically by a fabulous group of people who gave them an amazing few hours of fun, food, toys and love. Us single mums were taken for a fantastic breakfast, were treated like special, trusted friends, were led in a time of worship, with freedom and time to pray for one another. There was usually a speaker to inspire us on some issues that one encounters when raising children as a single parent , but often we also just told our own stories – and people listened, they cared, they didn’t judge… because they get it! They had empathy, most of them, but others were there to help and to serve, because they had compassion and the cause of modern-day orphans and widows had been placed on their hearts. One of the single mums back then now also is a married woman and a pastor and runs a similar group in North London – Fresh Start Single Parents Ministry. She picked up the baton and has gone on to serve the needs of other single parents in her neighbourhood.
Are we aware of the single parents in our neighbourhood and in our church – even in our own families? Do we pray for them? Are we aware of their needs, but also of their talents, giftings and passions. Do we trust them, accept them and make provision and allowance for them to join in, or do we sub-consciously discriminate against them? Do we step up on behalf of their children and be family, be healthy role models to them? Do we pray for all of our families, no matter what shape they are?
Bear them in mind.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)