‘Just pop him in the buggy and take him to the playground.’ I had volunteered to help a young family in the church, and Daniel, their lively 18-month-old child, had been thrust into my arms.1 ‘Of course’, I smiled, hoping that my voice didn’t betray the rising sense of panic within.
I was 58 years old, single, and had never been entrusted with the sole care of a toddler. Ever. And who on earth invented the buggy? Probably the same person who designed the shopping trolley with the built-in wonky wheel! As I was handed Daniel’s travel bag (whatever that meant!) thoughts raced through my mind. What happens if he does a poo? What if he cries all the time? What if I lose him? The couple were oblivious to the potential danger in which they were placing their precious Daniel, they just saw me as an answer to prayer. Bless.
I didn’t become a Christian until I was 25 years old. Prior to that I had been living as a gay woman for several years before finally finding someone whom I loved enough to commit to for life. It was all going pretty much to plan, and I was content with my lot. Then I encountered the person and teaching of Jesus Christ. Through reading the Bible and being convicted and led by God’s Holy Spirit, I knew that living actively as a lesbian was not compatible with living life as a committed follower of Jesus. Commitment to Christ was compelling, and I had no regrets in making that decision but walking away from all that I knew and loved, although necessary, seemed as though every tissue had been scraped out of me with a dessert spoon. I was raw and hollow.
Other men and women make equally difficult choices. There are those who choose not to marry rather than be unequally yoked with an unbeliever, some of a Muslim background are cut off from family and society when they accept Jesus their Saviour.
A challenging Q&A
‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’, asks Jesus in Matthew 12:48.
Pointing to his disciples, he says, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’ (Matthew 12:48-50).
This is a radical statement by Jesus. Spiritual unity, he says, surpasses even the most fundamental of blood ties. Jesus wasn’t saying that he didn’t love his mother or siblings, but he was stressing the magnitude of what it meant to be born again into the family of God. He challenges every Christian to step away from the confines, however wonderful they may be, of human family and to step into the larger eternal family unit with God as the Father and Jesus as the Saviour and blessed Brother. Christ’s statement does not diminish the importance of the nuclear family but places it within God’s bigger picture. It means that the Christian nuclear family is not a sealed unit complete as it stands, but is a small expression of God’s intention where we are all one in Christ. How else are we to understand Jesus’ words in response to Peter’s statement, ‘We have left everything to follow you!’?
‘“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life”’ (Mark 10:29-30).
The woman who will not compromise her faith by marrying a non-believer, the gay guy who chooses to live a life of biblical orthodoxy rather than re-interpret Scripture, and those men and women who walk away from a false faith all know what they have rejected. They also have the faith to believe that their inheritance in God’s kingdom will be great. But what do they make of the middle part of Mark 10:30? Laying to one side the subject of persecution, where does a new Christian find something – in this present age – a hundred times better than what they have left, homes, families, and often careers, if not through the worldwide family of God?
Is this sense of flourishing promised by Jesus a reality in the lives of most single believers today?
What is on offer?
What does a church mean when it claims to be a family-friendly church? Does it mean that the children are catered for on any given Sunday morning or is its vision to live out Christ’s statement above? What about your church? Does the congregation think and behave any differently to the nuclear or couple-based society outside its doors?
Does the church foster a sense of belonging for the single person, or rather, albeit unwittingly, a feeling that they are merely a tolerated appendage? The longer one attends the church, questions and well-meaning comments inevitably arise. Are you still single? I can’t understand why you haven’t been snapped up. What about *** [insert name of the most unsuitable candidate], they’re still single. These sorts of comments aren’t helpful. And neither is the belief that marriage is a mark of maturity and single people really should get a grip and settle down.
Who holds positions of leadership in your church? Is your vicar single? Do you have single elders and/or deacons who serve alongside those who are married? Who hosts the midweek home groups? Is it always a married couple or do you have pairs of single people co-lead some groups?
Changes don’t have to rock the foundation of church life for them to create a different and more inclusive atmosphere.
And that goes for home life too. Although childcare may not be my speciality, I have knowledge and skill in gardening, DIY, and pet care. Many times, I have traded a few hours work in their garden for a simple meal with a family from church. Encouraging children to garden with you not only furthers their love for creation but also promotes some enlightening conversations that may embarrass the parents if shared!
You may be wondering about my inaugural outing with Daniel? Is he still sitting on a swing waiting to be returned to his parents?
That afternoon was life-changing. To be trusted with a little person, to be his sole carer, to be mistaken for his grandmother, to be hugged and held just for fun, to run and swing and sing silly songs that made him laugh revealed inner thoughts and emotions that I never knew existed prior to that day. Five years on Daniel, with his older sister, Charlotte,2 now enjoy adventure days when we take off in my van and go on mystery tours. I even stand at the school gate on occasion and whisk them off to swim or gym club. They make me cards, and I buy them ice cream and we talk about Jesus. The family welcomed me into their bubble during the Covid pandemic, and I helped with home-schooling. Even though phonetics was a challenge and year 3 mathematics was beyond my understanding, I’d like to think that I made a very impressive model volcano.
The first part of Psalm 68:3 reads, ‘God sets the lonely in families’. Our church congregation is the family best equipped to share life with others based on the abundant life we find individually and corporately in Christ. Together we can fulfil Christ’s promise of homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields (and gardens) now, along with an ever-increased expectation of all that is to come.
This post originally featured as an article in Crossway, the magazine of Church Society.
- The story is true, but names have been changed.
- Again, not her real name