Most days, I wake up behind schedule from the moment my feet touch the floor. As I rush off to my job, I make sure my two teenagers are where they need to be. Then, like many single parents, my boys and I occupy two different worlds, in contact only by the occasional text or phone call. This is not what I had planned when, from the halls of Bible college, I’d imagined my future Christian home. I envisioned myself as a wife and stay-at-home mom, volunteering in my kids’ school and ministering in our church. In real life, for several years I was able to stay at home, volunteer at my children’s school, and carpool kids to soccer and playgrounds. But when my boys were nine and eleven years old, a divorce I did not want put me in a situation I hadn’t foreseen for myself. It turned my life sideways, and I had to get my bearings to function in this new life.
Single parents are often overwhelmed by their inability to be and do all they think they should for their children. I feel overwhelmed carrying the financial weight for my family alone. I feel overwhelmed figuring out education and extracurricular activities by myself. Most of all, I feel overwhelmed as the sole person in my immediate home influencing my children toward Christ.
Day in and day out, I feel responsible for a job I am not strong enough to navigate by myself. I often think of Jesus’ sweet promise to his disciples before his return to heaven: “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). If anyone was ever left with a job too big for them, it was Jesus’ disciples! But Jesus promised he would not abandon them to figure it out by themselves.
My divorce made me feel like an orphan, left alone to navigate circumstances that threatened to drown me. Though divorce may change circumstances in drastic ways for both parent and child, it does not change our God. God had always been the North Star in my life, but getting lost in life’s storms renewed my deep need to center on him daily in order to find my way in my new circumstances. Even when I’ve felt profoundly alone, I know it to be true: God has not left me as an orphan to navigate this by myself.
Practical Theology for Single Parents
I’ve long felt that theologians need to write about the deep things of God in ways that make their practical benefit evident. This burden has been heightened in the years after my divorce. We parents need to know the character of God for ourselves, and we need to believe it for the sake of our children. God is our Father, God is our Savior, and God is our help. These truths of God’s character matter in our daily lives.
Prayer, then, is the bridge from the theology lessons of a textbook to our own personal relationship with God. It enables us to know our transcendent God in immanent ways. From him, through him, and to him are all things, Paul says in Romans 11:36. Prayer connects the throne of God, with all the power in the world, to my bedroom, with all its immediate morning stresses.
Our Daily Bread
Three prayers of Scripture have been especially beneficial as I bridge my head knowledge of God to heart knowledge of my relationship with him that sustains me as a single mom. First is the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). The disciples approached Jesus in Luke 11 with a request: “Teach us to pray.” Jesus replied with the essential template that can guide us when we feel too overwhelmed to start on our own. This prayer reminds us that our Father in heaven is our children’s Father as well. He is our sovereign coparent, and he hears our pleas that his kingdom will come in our households—that he will be obeyed in our home the way the angels obey him in heaven.
Of all the burdens on my heart as a single parent, this is the one that weighs most heavily. Will my children love God? Will they honor his name? Of course, two-parent families share these burdens for their children. But there is a particular struggle for single parents—it can feel impossible even getting our kids in the car to church.
Mykisha, my friend and fellow single mom, and I discussed the struggle just to get our families to church. Every time she attempts to leave her house with her boys, Mykisha said she feels overwhelmed. Her boys are all under six years old. Mine are teenagers. But in both homes—where we are the only positive peer pressure for going to church or reading the Bible in our house—it relieves our hearts to remember that it is ultimately God’s job to draw our children to himself. He is the coparent who does not shirk his responsibilities to lead his children to himself. He helps us get them in the car for church.
When I was a married, stay-at-home mom, I welcomed my children’s friends into our home. I saw to it that my kids were socialized with extracurricular activities. I planned for their meals. Now—unable to do most of that—I pray, “Give them and me our daily bread, Father.” Every day, I need God to expand my meager five loaves and two fish of time and money to cover more in my life than, as a single parent, is rationally possible.
The Lord’s Prayer guides us to pray, too, that God will deliver our children from the Evil One. I have tried to protect my children from temptation. But I am painfully aware of the limits of my influence as a single mom of teenage young men. We must lean on God to do the heavy lifting here. We can bring these burdens to our coparent in heaven through prayer, for he loves our children even more than we do, and he is equipped to do all for them that we cannot do alone.
Open Our Eyes, Lord
Another prayer that has been a gift to me when I am at the end of myself is Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17–21. Paul prayed for believers in Ephesus, asking that “the eyes of [their] heart may be enlightened” to the deep theological truths he was trying to communicate to them. He wanted them to practically apply the theology he was teaching them. As single parents, we can benefit from praying, Enlighten me, God. Open my eyes.
We may believe the right things about the character of God in theory, but many days we need God to put fresh lenses on our eyes so we can see them in real life. Help me see the hope of my calling in you, God. Help me see your power at work in my and my children’s lives. Paul emphasized that the very power that raised Christ from the grave is the same power at work in us and our children. Paul prayed that God would turn the light on in our minds. I pray it too. Help me see these truths in my life today.
The final scriptural prayer I lean on as a single mom is described in Romans 8:26: the prayer that has no words. When I can’t form words, and even the Spirit only groans, there is still real prayer between God and myself. At the lowest moments of life, when I stumble under burdens too heavy for words, there remains a bridge to the throne room of God where I can find grace and help in my time of need. My desolation—the anguish I am left to bear alone in moments of parenting crisis—actually serves as the force that drives me to the one greater than I, my help, my Savior, my Father.
Groaning, wordless prayer is a staple in my life. Recently, my teenage son shared with me something that grieved me deeply—something that I simply do not know how to parent him through. I got in my car and cried out to God as I drove. I cried out with words. But I cried out wordlessly as well. I cried out for my son, and I cried out for myself. Both my words and my groaning for myself and my son were heard in the throne room of God.
We can groan in God’s throne room, but we can rest there as well. This is our hope as we face burdens we cannot shoulder alone. There is rest, peace, and help in his throne room. There is no condemnation there through Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Instead, we find the one who shoulders our burdens with and for us. When I pray, I sometimes use my imagination to envision myself there in God’s throne room, dumping my burdens into God's wide-open arms. Scripture teaches me to approach him boldly and confidently and trust him with these burdens. And afterward, I can curl up and nap. Someone else is in charge.
Aid to the Weary
“She has done what she could,” Jesus said of the woman who anointed his feet with oil in Mark 14:8 (CSB). What a simple yet powerful statement. She has done what she could. Single parents need this affirmation from our Father in heaven as well.
Jesus, we are assured, is the exact representation of our Father in heaven (Heb. 1:3). He beckons us to come to him when we are weary and promises us rest (Matt. 11:28). He invites—actually commands—us to come to him in our time of need to receive his grace and mercy (Heb. 4:16). Like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, single parents do what we can, even as we are painfully aware of all we cannot do. Through prayer, we bring the immanent lack in our lives to the one with transcendent resources. In God’s throne room, our sovereign coparent enables us to face our days—even the most stressful—with hope that we do not do this alone.
Wendy Alsup is a mom, math teacher, and author. Her most recent book is Companions in Suffering: Comfort for Times of Loss and Loneliness.
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