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God’s Grace for Every Family

God’s Grace for Every Family

Thirty percent of families in the US are led by a single parent. Nearly nineteen million children have just one parent in their home. And while the actual numbers will vary from nation to nation, most of the Western world experiences something similar—large numbers of families that are led by just one parent. Sometimes the cause is divorce, sometimes death, sometimes unplanned pregnancy, and sometimes any number of other factors. But the reality is that more people than ever are raising families alone.

And this makes me wonder: Are our churches a safe and attractive place for such families? Do we welcome them and make them feel accepted? Do we account for them in our ministries, in our programs, in our sermon application? Do we acknowledge that single-parent families not only exist, but form a significant part of the population? Do we truly value them?

It was these questions that compelled me to read Anna Meade Harris’ new book God’s Grace for Every Family: Biblical Encouragement for Single-Parent Families and the Churches That Seek to Love Them Well. Though I do not have experience in being part of a single-parent family, I do serve a church that has included a good number of them. And I have wondered if we have served them well. Her book is meant to provide comfort and counsel to single parents while also informing and training churches to love them well.

Harris became a single parent in 2010 after her husband succumbed to colon cancer. At that time, their boys were nine, twelve, and thirteen years of age. And she was left to finish raising those boys and to press on in life without her spouse, her partner in so many of life’s blessings and challenges.

“In these pages,” she says, “I celebrate what my boys and I learned about the steadfast love of God for single parents and their children and invite the rest of the church to witness his grace made visible in our families. But before I could appreciate God’s grace for myself, I had to discover how limited and needy I truly am.” In other words, she had to come to terms with her own “not-enoughness.” She had to admit her need and inability. This introduces a section of the book that functions like a kind of guided tour of the particular challenges of single parenting. She writes about fear, grief, exhaustion, loneliness, vulnerability, uncertainty, shame, and pride. Though each of these may exist among any of us, they can be especially pronounced in those who are parenting alone.

Later, each of these factors receives a chapter-length treatment. A few stood out to me. Her chapter on fear explains why single parents may bear an extra measure of fear as they not only grapple with some form of loss, but also as they consider raising children without a second, complementary parent. Her chapter on exhaustion helped me understand how a church’s programs are often built around the capabilities of a two-parent home in which responsibilities are divided between a father and mother and in which someone else is often available to care for the children. 

Her chapter on vulnerability helped me better appreciate how single moms are often especially vulnerable in any number of ways and often carry that sense of vulnerability with them throughout life. And her chapter on shame helped me understand how churches can inadvertently increase the sense of shame that so many single parents carry, even when the circumstances that led to being single are in no way their fault. These lessons and so many more have helped me better understand, better appreciate the challenges, and, I trust, better love those who are living them out.

“Single parents want nothing more than to love their children, to provide and protect, to see them heal and thrive, but doing that alone seems virtually impossible. At times, that impossibility threatens to break our hearts.” The hope and confidence in this book is that the challenges of doing all this alone can be met within the church where God’s family can step up, care, love, and provide. The church is meant to be a place where the fatherless can find a father figure and the motherless a mother figure, a place where many brothers will reach out to assist a needy sister and many sisters will reach out to assist a needy brother. It is, in short, a place where God means to bless every family—even, and perhaps especially, those families who are most broken and most in need of his grace.

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