It was my first Sunday at church after the birth of my son. I spent the service alone in the nursing mother’s room, soothing my squalling baby while trying to hear the sermon from a speaker in the corner. When it was time for Sunday school, I found the nursery and signed in my son. The nursery volunteer looked at me and said, “You’re too young to have a baby.” I gazed at her a moment, my throat tight, and replied, “Well, he’s mine.” Then I turned and walked out. I had attended this church every Sunday since kindergarten.
I grew up in a quiet South Carolina town, where people donned sunny dispositions like a uniform. As a teenager, I was a member of the church and made all A’s, so my pregnancy provided scandalous news for the high-school rumor mill. Behind my back, people were certainly talking, but to my face, they said almost nothing.
After my high-school graduation and my son’s birth, we lived with my gracious, supportive parents while I attended a local university. Somewhere in the blur of time, our household found a comfortable rhythm of life. But most people in my larger community continued to relate to me with awkwardness—or silence.
If not silent, people typically approached me like that nursery worker did. I can’t count the number of times individuals both inside and outside the church told me I was too young to be a mother, or assumed my son was my brother. Their words left me discouraged. I longed for close friends willing to know the woman behind the single-mother label.
I longed for close friends willing to know the woman behind the single-mother label.
Thankfully, not everyone approached my circumstances this way. I had the privilege of belonging to two churches as a single mom. In each there was a group of women who knew and loved me well. Their willingness to enter into the uncomfortable fray of single parenthood spurred me toward joy in Christ.
For churches looking to welcome single moms, I can affirm the life-giving value of six practices.
1. Acknowledge Mess, Speak Truth
The church women who mentored me didn’t try to offer an easy solution to my struggles. Instead, they acknowledged my difficulties and sat with me as I cried tears of disappointment and fear. While they held my sweet baby and poured me a steaming mug of coffee, I grieved the loss of moving away for college and having an adventurous career. I grieved for the family I couldn’t give my son.
My emotions ebbed and flowed with seasons of loneliness, struggles to fit in with peers, and sheer exhaustion from being a mom, student, and employee. The women listened without judgment to my doubts about God’s goodness and love for me. They asked hard questions and gently pushed me to seek biblical answers. When I lacked faith, they encouraged me to endure.
2. Look Beyond Labels
These women didn’t see me as a project to fix or a fool to rescue; they saw me as a friend and a fellow Christian. They knew the shame I carried, yet they never reduced me to a label. Their acceptance helped me believe the truth—I am more than the sum of assumptions people made about me. I am more than past sins and circumstances I never imagined I’d be in. I am a beloved child of God.
3. Have Fun
These friendships weren’t always intense. We laughed and played card games together. We gathered every Wednesday night to watch Lost. We made fondue and exchanged slow-cooker recipes. We stayed up late sharing our hearts and singing ’90s music. We celebrated our kids’ birthdays together, and I always volunteered to make the cake.
4. Love Her Child(ren)
The love of these women extended to my son. My friends brought my son into their families. Their husbands included my son in ball games and bike rides with their own kids. They asked how school went and listened to him talk about tractors and skid steers. These men provided secondary male role models for my son when his father or grandfather couldn’t be there.
5. Offer Practical Help
Because these women knew me, they also knew what I needed. They watched my son so I could grocery shop, go to class, or go to work. They helped me find babysitters in the church, and asked others to help with yard work. Several months, while I was working and in grad school, unexpected groceries kept us from eating ramen noodles every night.
6. Encourage Her to Serve
When I asked to serve in the church youth group, the leader didn’t turn me down because my past sin was obvious. He encouraged me to minister and share my unique story with the students. Through loving and serving the youth in my church, I more fully grasped how God never falters in his love for us.
When we hear of serious struggles within our churches, it’s easy to assume God will provide through someone else—someone who can better relate. It’s easy to practically love only those who appear to have it together. It’s easy to remain silent in the face of obvious adversity.
But God calls his church to be the hands and feet of Jesus, his provision for the lonely and fatherless. James 1:27 exhorts believers to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” May the church—our churches!—be a place of active love for the brokenhearted among us.