Pastor John, here’s an interesting question from a single mom, who has the gift of singleness (or thinks she has the gift of singleness). Anna is her name, and she writes this: “Pastor John, thank you for all of your wonderful service to our Lord! My question for you is one that I have wrestled with since the birth of my only child, a son. He is three. I’m a single parent and have been since his conception. I thank the Lord for his work in my heart that has transformed my soul and lifestyle from where it was then. Now, as I attempt to wrap my head around the overwhelming task of raising this boy into a man by myself, I do not feel called to marriage. But am I obligated to find a godly mate to complete the model of family that is clearly laid out in Scripture? As a single parent, is it forbidden for me to embrace a life of singleness and ‘unhindered service’ to the Lord as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7?”
Well, I join in rejoicing that God has changed her life from those days, and it sounds really true that he has. Here’s my short answer: no. No, she is not obligated to find a godly mate so that her son can have a father. I don’t see any direct mandate in the Bible or clear implication of biblical teaching that rises this to the level of obligation. That’s my short answer. My encouragement would be not in terms of obligation, but rather openness to marriage and prayer towards marriage.
Let me just sow a few thoughts, Anna, into your thinking so that as you ponder and pray over the Scriptures, God might use these to rack your thinking. First, Jesus, the incarnate Jesus that we know in the Gospels as an expression of God’s own heart, has a special concern for mothers who have children to raise on their own.
For example, in Luke 7:12–13 we read, “As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” Her husband is gone, the only son she has is gone, and this is the next thing we read: “A considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her.”
“Ask God for a natural, emerging heart for marriage and an opportunity for marriage.”
Now, sentences like that are in the Gospels precisely to encourage us to take heart. Why would we be told that our Lord Jesus — the Creator of the universe, the one who holds everything in being, the one who died for us and reigns over us now, who cares for us, and is with us till the end of our days — had compassion on a woman who has lost her husband and who has now lost her son?
He says to her, “Do not weep” (Luke 7:13). The point of the story is that he has power to raise the dead. He raises the boy from the dead. He does it, he uses that kind of power in the service of compassion, for someone for whom life has dealt a very difficult hand. That would be the case for Anna. The first thing, Anna, is to take heart that Jesus has a special kind of compassion for women in your situation.
Departure of the Nuclear Family
Second, never think of the family — the nuclear family: husband, wife, and children — as the only or the eternal or the main family with which God is concerned. The church is God’s main family on the earth. In the age to come, there will be no nuclear family because Jesus says in that age that we will “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). The nuclear family is temporary. The eternal family is the church with God as our Father and all of us as brothers and sisters.
I want to elevate this. She didn’t mention the church, but I’m sowing the seed for her to think about it. I want to elevate the local church as the expression of God’s family for her life. That’s precisely where she should embed this child in relationships with the wider family — men, women, boys, and girls — so that the child will connect in all the varying ways that he’s going to need in order to be as rounded as he should be.
The third is just an expansion of it. The church is where this little boy is going to find or should find strong, humble, godly men in action. Here’s where the men should emerge into your life, Anna, besides any family members you have. Maybe your father could be involved, or uncles or cousins. But the church is really crucial in his upbringing because your son is going to need to have mature, healthy, godly men around him. You want him to grow up, not just to be a freewheeling man, but a godly churchman, a lover of the people of God — the church.
Pray for Marriage
The fourth thing to say is, to be sure, marriage is more than the creation of parents. Marriage is more than providing masculine and feminine role models. You should not marry merely out of a sense of hope that your son will get an example of manhood. It’s more than that, and you’re going to need more than that out of it for it to be what it ought to be. I would encourage you (and this may stretch you) to ask the Lord for a heart for marriage.
“I want to elevate the local church as the expression of God’s family for the single mother.”
You say you’re not called to marriage. That means there’s no burning desire for it, no sense of desperation or need for it — and that’s fine. I would ask that you seek the Lord for a natural, not desperate, but natural, emerging heart for marriage and an opportunity for marriage. Let the heart and the opportunity come together lest there be frustration. The reason I say this is that even though I would not call marriage an obligation, I would say it is doubly natural in your case.
Marriage is natural, first, because marriage is the ordinary pattern that God set up in the world. “It is not good that the man should be alone,” and he would say the same thing about the woman (Genesis 2:18). It is not good for the woman to be alone unless various circumstances make it so. It’s natural because that’s the way he set up ordinary relationships.
The second thing that makes this natural is that it’s natural for children to have two parents even though this is not possible in many cases today. It seems right to me that you would pray for something like that. This would be my sample prayer for you if I were you:
Lord, I don’t feel any need for marriage in myself. I don’t have any passion for it, but I see it in your word as natural for men and women. I see it as good for children and as a beautiful testimony to Christ’s covenant with his church to the world. So I am open to your working in me and in my relationships to bring this about. If this is what you want for me, would you give me a heart for it and bring the man into my life with whom I could fully and joyfully serve you and raise my son?
That’s my prayer. It is possible, Anna, to pray like that and not fall into the trap of being so preoccupied with what might be that you’re unable to live a happy, fulfilled life without that.
So you see the tension. The Lord is able to give you contentment both in singleness and give you the ability to seek the heart for marriage and the possibility of a partner in life and a father for your son. Both are possible. My closing promise would simply be 2 Corinthians 9:8: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). That would be the good work of being a single mom or the good work of being a wife.