I wanted to write you a letter of encouragement as a single parent in the church. I want to encourage several of you, so I’m going to write with several different scenarios in mind and not any one person in particular. So please take whatever applies and leave whatever doesn’t.
First off, I want to emphasize the fact that there are no-second class citizens in the Kingdom. As a believer in Christ, you are part of His body, and He has put you here. There are no perfect families, but sin and death do their damage in different ways in all of us and some effects are more obvious than others. Some families have special needs children or other health or medical challenges. Some families are broken by divorce or adultery, and some families come into being through sinful relationships. And a single parent home faces its own challenges. But please know that you are welcome here in the church. Not only are you welcome; you are most welcome. And your “welcome” is exactly the same as every other “welcome” in the room. It is the welcome of Jesus Christ Himself. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, married or single, divorced, or widowed in Christ Jesus. All are sons in the Most Beloved Son. By faith, we are all here by the blood and righteousness of Jesus. And so you are most welcome, and you are here on purpose. You have gifts and abilities that are for the building up of the saints, and at the very least, this includes your ministry to the children God has given you to raise on your own.
But let me back up a bit and underline a theological point that relates to all of this, and that is the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. The Bible teaches that God is absolutely sovereign over every detail of the universe, including all of the details of your life. Every detail is on purpose. Every detail is meant by the One who gives all meaning. Jesus taught this when He warned His disciples not to worry: your Heavenly Father feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass and the lilies of the field, and you are of much more value than they are (Mt. 6:25-34). He also taught that every hair of our heads is numbered – He cares for every detail. But God’s sovereign care is not generic, it is a very specific plan to bless us, which He established before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). This blessing is centered on Jesus, in whom we have redemption through His blood, but the cash out of this means that we have been granted an inheritance in Christ, who is working all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). Jesus not only saves us; He is at work in “all things” to bring us to the mind-blowing inheritance He has won for us.
Another way to say this is that because of Christ all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28). We sin and people sin against us, but God is not powerless toward evil. Remember what Joseph told his brothers: what you meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20). God is the greatest artist and there is no evil blotch on the canvas of History that He is not able to brush into His Masterpiece. Are you in Christ? Then this is true for you. In fact, the Bible says that we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). We are His sculpture, His painting, His artistry. This applies to what other people meant for evil toward you or your children, but it can also apply to your own sin, what you meant for evil. Because you have confessed those sins, you are forgiven, and God is now even working those things together for your good.
Now put all of this together. Your story is not an accident. It has been difficult and painful and still is, but it was hand-written, hand-woven, hand-painted by your Heavenly Father. Not one detail is out of place. Every detail is being worked together by the counsel of His will for your good. Do you believe that? And whatever you or anyone else has done that is evil, God is in the process of turning to good. Do you believe that?
There are a couple of additional points that flow out of all of this: you need to make careful distinctions in your mind and heart about the difference between guilt, shame, and consequences. You may have sinned and/or been sinned against and now you are pregnant or perhaps you married an unbeliever who was abusive and hateful and maybe you were a real pill or an angry person, contributing your own sin to an already toxic stew. The gospel is for all of that. Did you sin? Then Christ died for it. Did you sin badly? Christ suffered for all of it. Have you confessed your sins? Then God is faithful and just to cleanse you from all of it. In Christ, God only sees your perfect record, your obedience, your holiness – all gifts from Jesus. And all of your guilt and sin is gone forever. It was buried in the deepest sea never to be found. As far as the east is from the west, so has God removed your sins from you (Ps. 103:12). Nevertheless, you may have all your sins forgiven and yet you may still feel the shame of what was done to you or what you did and you may still be dealing with the consequences of your sins or sins committed against you.
Shame is the sting of guilt and abuse. Shame is the burn that often lasts for many years after various sins or crimes have been judicially dealt with. You can know you are forgiven and you can have forgiveness for the ones who wronged you, and yet you can still feel horrible, dirty, worthless, embarrassed. The Bible teaches that there are at least two kinds of shame: one is a good shame that Christians can actually embrace and the other is the kind that Christians really must walk away from. Good shame is the sort that teaches us to run away from all sin and folly and run straight to Christ and His righteousness. Bad shame wallows in the feelings of worthlessness and ironically ends up pulling you back down toward old habits and sins. I think Paul had something like this in mind when he talked about godly sorrow and worldly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10). Godly sorrow leads to repentance, but worldly sorrow leads to death. It’s the same way with shame. If you burn your hand, and the pain causes you to run to put your hand under a cold water faucet, that is good. The pain drives you to the solution. But if you burn your hand and you just stand there crying and yelling in pain, the pain is worthless and over time it will cause you to act even more irrationally. So it is with shame. If it drives you to the cold water of Christ and His righteousness, then thank God for it. We can never get enough Christ. And whatever God uses to pull you closer, you should thank Him for.
But you can be completely forgiven and bathing in the cold water of Christ and His righteousness, and there you are still facing the consequences of your actions and the actions of others. There you are with financial difficulties, custody battles, visitation squabbles, a pregnancy, loneliness, and just sheer fatigue doing it on your own. As a forgiven Christian you must have it firmly fixed in your mind that these consequences, these difficulties are not your sin clinging to you. They may be the consequences of sin, but if you have been forgiven, God is not bringing up your sin and accusing you when you still have to go through with giving birth or your ex is being difficult. When you become a Christian and when you confess your sins and have a clean slate before God, everything about you passes under the blood of Jesus. You have been crucified with Christ and now you no longer live, but the life you are now living is Christ in you (Col. 2:20). This means, that as a forgiven Christian, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus, you face every trial and tribulation just like Jesus. And how does Jesus face His trials? Are the trials and tribulations that Jesus faced His sin being thrown back in His face? No, not at all. He doesn’t have any sin to be thrown back in His face. And here is the point: neither do you. Stop and let that sink in. There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
So what are these trials then? What are these consequences of past sins and crimes? Why is it so hard? Paul answers that question at the end of the same chapter of Romans: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, not things present, nor things to come, [nor manipulative exes, nor child support payments, nor children out of wedlock, nor sin or crime committed against me,] nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
Not only does this mean that God loves us in all of these things, but it means that God is with us in all of these things. Christ is in us in every single one of these things. And how does Christ do facing His enemies? How does Christ do in the face of taunting, hatred, manipulation, abuse, and hardship? Christ wins every time. Christ conquers. He more than conquers.
And so this is the final point. Ask God to give you the eyes of faith to see that your current circumstances, the current crazy, the current challenge, the current moment is from His hand for you to shine in. If this is God’s absolute best for you right now, in this moment, then you should want to be nowhere else. You can and should hold this together with prayers of deliverance and taking judicious steps to relieve these hardships. But there should also be a deep sense that so long as God has you here, you would be nowhere else. Let your prayer be that you desire relief, peace, deliverance, a faithful, godly spouse, and yet, insist to Him that you would be nowhere else except where Christ is. And if Christ would have you remain longer right where you are, then you would have it no other way.
Darlene Deibler Rose spent four years in a Japanese concentration camp in the jungles of New Guinea facing starvation, disease, isolation, and every form of hardship, loss, and abuse, including separation from and the death of her husband. After her release she received a final letter her husband had written to her before his death in which he expressed the wish that he had evacuated when they had the opportunity before the war. To which, through tears she prayed, “Lord, I trust that You reminded him that it was You who impressed upon both of our hearts that we should not leave. I have been safer here, overshadowed by Your love, than I would have been anywhere else on this earth, outside of Your will!” (Evidence Not Seen, 198)
This would never be an easy prayer to pray, much less a conclusion that is easy to believe and fully rest on. It would only be possible by the supernatural power of Christ. But when you can thank God for putting you exactly where you are with all the hardships and difficulties and pain, when you can praise God for His wisdom in knitting together your story exactly like this, then you must know that this is only because Christ is in you. And that is why Christ brought you here. Christ has brought you here, to this exact spot, to reveal Himself in You. You know Christ now in this darkness like no one else. What a privilege. What an honor. Would you be anywhere else in all the world? Would you have any other story?
And now perhaps you know a little more of why you are most welcome here, why you are needed here, why your presence is a blessing to all of us. By faith, you are not here as a wounded straggler. By faith you are here as a witness to the goodness and glory and power of Christ. Yes, it is heavy. It is hard. And you know that we are alway here to help. But you are never alone. Christ is in you. He is carrying you and carrying all of it in you. And what’s more, He made you for this glory. He made you to shine here, as you trust in Him. This is your story. By the grace of God, you are here.