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help & hope for the single parent
By TONY EVANS
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2014 Anthony T. Evans
All rights reserved.
God's View of the Single Parent
My heart was broken recently when the son of one of the single parents in our church looked up at me and said, "Pastor, why won't God give me a dad? Every night I ask God to give me a dad, but He won't give me one."
What would you have said to him? I didn't have any easy answers for that young man, but I tried to explain to him that he did have a father, his heavenly Father. Yes, that concept may be beyond his worldview right now, but I wanted him to know that he was not alone. And I want to say to single parents that they are not alone either. Single parent, God has a word for you, and it's a word of hope and comfort.
The Need for a Word from God
That's not to say there isn't plenty of disturbing news out there when it comes to the issue of single parents. What used to be considered rather unusual not too many years ago—a family with only one parent present —is now a crisis of growing proportions. The reality in our culture today is that a staggering number of children are growing up in single-parent homes, the vast majority of which are fatherless.
In 1970, for example, only 13 percent of children grew up without both parents being at home. But today that number is over 30 percent in the culture at large with over 21 million children being raised in a single-parent home. For African-American children, that percentage more than doubles to over 70 percent. We're talking about millions of children growing up in homes where in most cases they will know little or nothing of a father's influence. I know that mothers are leaving their families too, but the numbers are still heavily weighted toward missing fathers.
Statistics show that close to half of all American children will go through at least some part of their lives without having a father at home. The implications of this situation are staggering in terms of the world we have to live in and minister to. This is not theoretical for me. My church in Dallas is not immune to the problem. One Sunday morning I asked single parents to raise their hands; then I asked those who had been raised in a single-parent home to raise their hands. In each case a large number of people put their hands up and the problem is only getting worse.
So we need to ask, What does God have to say to single parents today? What hope and comfort does He offer to the mother who is alone and fears for her children's future because they have no father at home—and fears for herself because she has no mate? What does the Bible say to the small but growing number of fathers who are rearing children alone?
Before we turn to the Scriptures, let me say a word to the reader who may be thinking, This is not really my problem. I'm not a single parent. Let me say that God's Word to single parents will benefit you too, for two reasons. The first is that all Scripture is profitable. Many of the principles and truths we'll consider in this booklet will also help two-parent families in their child-rearing task. The second reason you need to know what the Word says on this issue is that you may be just one step, one heartbeat, one accident away from becoming a single parent. It could happen to any of us at any time. And as much as we hate to think about it, our homes could also be hit by divorce, death, or abandonment.
What I'm saying is that none of us is immune to the problems of life, so we need to know what God says.
Besides, even if your home stays intact you will have to deal with this issue as a Christian and a citizen of this country because the fallout of family breakup is hitting all of us. Your children may be sitting in a classroom right now where there is a high percentage of single-parent kids. And you will almost certainly come in contact with a single parent if you don't know one already. And with close to half a million children being born out of wedlock every year, we're all paying a huge economic, social, and spiritual price.
God Is for the Single Parent
So we need a word of encouragement and hope and correction from God. First of all, I want you to know that God is for the single parent. No matter how you became a single parent, if you love God and have a heart for Him, He is for you.
In Psalm 27:10, David says, "My father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up." David is saying that God will be a parent when a parent is missing. God will take up the slack caused by the absent parent. That's good news. It's good to know that your child has a mother you didn't know he or she had and has a father it he or she doesn't know where the earthly father is. There is a saying I sometimes make, "If you don't have a mother, He will be your mother. If you don't have a father, He will be your Father. He will be a lawyer in a courtroom and a doctor in a hospital and whatever else you need."
God can meet your need. Even though you may not have an ideal home situation, you do have an ideal God. Filmmakers use fancy technology to turn a character in a film into someone else. God says, "If you need Me to be a father, I will be a father. If you need Me to be a mother, I will be a mother. If you need Me to be a spouse, I will be a spouse. If you need Me to be a friend, I will be a friend. I will be to you whatever you need." That's a good word for you if there is somebody important missing in your home.
David writes in the book of Psalms that God is "a father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows" (Psalm 68:5). If your child does not have a father, that's not the whole story because God is a Father to the fatherless. God also acts in justice on behalf of a widow. A widow includes those who have been abandoned by a spouse.
The Hebrew word for orphan means fatherless. In Israel, a fatherless child was considered an orphan even if he or she had a mother. Why? Because in the economy of God it was the job of the father to provide for and protect the family. When the father was absent, it made the family vulnerable.
In Psalm 146:9 we find more good news for single parents: "The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow; but He thwarts the way of the wicked." God supports those who are left alone. He picks up the pieces of their broken lives.
Many people who grew up in single-parent families have seen this truth in action. They made it not because their mothers had a lot to give them but because God showed up in their homes and made the difference. He made a way when there seemed to be no way. He provided when there seemed to be no provision. The fact is, God is so much for the single parent and the child with no dad that it could literally cost someone his life to abuse them:
You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict him at all, and if he does cry out to Me, I will surely hear his cry; and My anger will be kindled, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:22–24)
God says that you should treat single parents well because to do otherwise is to place yourself only one step away from that condition yourself. If you are a single parent, this should help you to see how valuable you are. If God will go to your defense at such an extreme level, then you should take comfort in His great love for you.
Let me show you one more passage by way of introduction and setting the stage—one more word that shows God's love and care for the single-parent family:
At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do. (Deuteronomy 14:28–29)
In other words, how you treat the fatherless family will often determine how your Father in heaven treats you. How you relate to people who are in need will affect God's hand of goodness on you. One of the worst things you can do is to spurn people who have not had the opportunities and privileges you have had; we can't know how someone ended up in the situation they are in without having walked in their shoes.
It is easy for you as a single parent to feel less valuable than those who come from a nuclear family. Or perhaps you feel out of place when you compare yourself to other families, or you feel like you are something less worthy or important than they are. Yet God takes special care to mention His great love for those who are vulnerable and alone in trying to raise a family.
These passages will give you an idea of how God feels about single parents and their children. But now I want to get very specific and give hope to the single parent who works hard each and every day to make a living for themselves and their children, then has to come home and make dinner, wash clothes, help with the homework, only to go to bed alone at night—then do it all over again the next day, with no one there to turn to for help, comfort, companionship and guidance. For those of you who are single parents, you've got a kindred spirit in Hagar.
The Saga of Hagar
I call the story of Hagar a saga because it has all the elements of a great drama, and it has some real-life lessons in it for us as well. We first meet Hagar in Genesis 16, where we learn that she was the servant of Sarai, and that Sarai and Abram (this was just before their names were changed) were unable to have children.
It was the custom of the day in situations like this to bring in another woman who would bear the husband's child and thus act as a surrogate for the barren wife. This was the case with Hagar—Sarai proposed the plan to Abram, who followed her advice.
Now it's obvious that Sarai wanted a child desperately. But we also need to remember that God had promised her that she would bear a child someday. The promise hadn't been fulfilled yet, so, like many of us, Sarai decided to help God out. By her actions she was saying, "Lord, I know Your intentions are good, but since You can't pull this off, let me help You."
Sarai gave Hagar to Abram, and Abram went into Hagar's tent for the purpose of conceiving a child (v. 4). Bad idea. It was doomed from the start because it was an attempt to bypass God's method and timing and force Him to fulfill His promise.
It was also a bad idea on the human level because it backfired. When Hagar got pregnant, she evidently began to look down on Sarai, and this made Sarai feel hurt and jealous. Even though the whole thing was her idea, she said to Abram, "That woman is not staying around here." So in verses 5–6 Abram and Sarai have an argument about Hagar and Abram backs down from taking any initiative in the issue. He tells her, "Do whatever you want. I'm staying out of this one."
Before we move on, I just want to remind you that it is never a good idea to try and help God out. If God did not ask for your help, don't assume that He needs it. God has a way to accomplish what He has promised, and so when we try to "help" God – it only makes the situation worse. It reveals that we lack faith. Abram and Sarai wanted to help God out, but all they did was create larger problems between Ishmael's and Isaac's descendants that have lasted for generations, even until this day.
Sarai drove Hagar out of the house, and suddenly she found herself alone and pregnant, with no Abram or any other male to support and protect her. She was about to become a single parent because she got caught in someone else's plan to help God. A lot of single parents didn't ask for their status. It was brought upon them by someone else's decisions or disobedience, or possibly someone else's persuasion or pressure. But I like verses 7–10 of Genesis 16:
Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from and where are you going?" And she said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai." Then the angel of the Lord said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her authority." Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, "I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they shall be too many to count."
The star of the saga arrives: the Angel of the Lord. Notice how often this title is repeated in just these few verses that it was the Angel of the Lord who found Hagar. That's good news when you have been rejected. That's good news when the father of your child is nowhere to be found. That's good news when you find yourself alone and vulnerable.
Who is the Angel of the Lord? The Old Testament indicates that He was the revelation of God's presence. Later on, when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, the son he and Sarah had waited for all those years, it was the Angel of the Lord who stopped him and said, "Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me" (Genesis 22:12). The Angel of the Lord speaks as though He is God, yet He is distinct from God the Father. Who then is this divine person who finds Hagar in the wilderness? He is Jesus Christ before His incarnation in Bethlehem.
The Angel of the Lord is the preincarnate Son of God. He is the eternal second person of the Godhead. He did not show up for the first time as baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem—there is no time when Jesus did not exist. He has always existed and He made His appearance throughout the Old Testament as the Angel of the Lord.
What does the Angel of the Lord do? He shows up to make things better. Isn't that just like Jesus? He shows up in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. How can He do that? Because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The preincarnate Christ went out to the wilderness for the benefit of a single mother-to-be.
First of all, He found her. If you are a single parent, God knows where you are, the situation you are in, and how you got into the struggles that you now face. He loves you, forgives you for wrong choices you may have made, and shows great compassion on you. When you hurt, He feels it. He knows your loneliness, stigma, and pain. After all, He experienced the fullness of all three on the cross.
The Lord told Hagar in verse 11 that He was very much aware of her condition and very much involved in and interested in the birth of her son. Keep in mind, that even though the situation in which the child was conceived may have been less than ideal, in order for that child to be formed in the mother's womb, God had to go to work.
Sometimes we talk about the relationship that produced a child as illegitimate because it was outside the bonds of marriage. But there is no such thing as an illegitimate child, because God has never had a baby that was not legitimate. That is, God has never made a mistake in giving a baby to a set of parents; it is never the case that He didn't mean for that child to be there or considers that child to be any less than a fully valuable human being.
I say that because God's response to the conception and birth of Ishmael is a strong reminder that every child is special. The Bible says in Psalm 139 that every baby is woven together in the womb by God. Whatever the circumstances of a child's conception, the child produced by that relationship is legitimate because that child bears the image of God.
That ought to be good news for single parents. It does not justify wrong actions, but it is an affirmation that God recognizes the value of each life. Not only did God recognize the life of Hagar's child, but He named the baby "Ishmael" (Genesis 16:11). The Hebrew word for this means "God hears." In other words, God knows what I am going through. Guess what, single parent? God knows. He knows the trouble and stress that you are in, and He knows whether it's a situation you got yourself into, someone else put you in, or whether it is a mixture of both. He also knows where you are right at this very moment.
God showed up in the wilderness and told Hagar what to name her baby. Why is that good? Because every time she ran out of diapers she could say, "Ishmael needs diapers," for she knew that God was listening. When she didn't have enough food to feed Ishmael, his name reminded her that God knew that she needed food for her baby. The value of the child is also reflected in the fact that God described details about his future life and personality (v. 12).
Single parent, God knows what you and your children need. The reason God gave Ishmael his name was so that every time Hagar used that name, she would remember something about God. The Angel of the Lord told her to call him Ishmael so that every time she spoke his name she would remember "God hears and God knows."
That's the beauty of the grace of God for a single parent. Hagar is out on her own with no help, but God says, "I know." He goes on to say in verse 11 that she would have a son and that they would be all right "because the Lord has given heed to your affliction" (v. 11).
Excerpted from help & hope for the single parent by TONY EVANS. Copyright © 2014 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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