How many women worldwide are single moms?
The answer may surprise you. It surprised me.
One out of eight.
In sub-Saharan Africa it climbs to an astronomical 32%.
I teach a lot about families, parenting and, perhaps most of all, fathering.
I believe deeply in the powerful and pivotal role of a husband and dad in relation to wives, moms and children. Maybe because involved and engaged dads are a dying breed.
So where does that leave single moms? Those women who have been divorced by their husbands, abandoned, betrayed, abused or tragically widowed... and, as a result, are left to raise children on their own?
They are, in many ways, the heroes.
And they are in very good company.
After Jesus was born, His parents took Him to Jerusalem to be dedicated when He was about six weeks old. While they were there, the Holy Spirit came upon a man named Simeon, who then offered some very disquieting words to Mary, the mother of Jesus:
This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul. (Luke 2:34-35, NLT)
And the first sword through her soul would come quickly.
One of the better known details about Mary is that when she was betrothed to Joseph and had her angelic visit about the birth of Jesus as a virgin, she was young. Engagement usually took place immediately after entering puberty, so Mary would have just entered her teens—as in 13, 14 or, at the most, 15.
But what isn’t as well known is that while Mary was young, Joseph was old. So theirs was what is known as a “May-December romance.” And by our standards, very May and very December. He was probably in his 30s or 40s.
But this would not have been uncommon for that day.
This helps explain why we don’t hear anything about Joseph once Jesus is an adult. Sometime when Jesus was between the ages of 12 and 30, Joseph apparently died. The last record of Joseph is when Jesus was 12, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple. The next scene from the life of Jesus in all four biographical accounts of His life in the Bible, is when Jesus was approximately 30 and began His ministry.
In all four accounts of Jesus’ life, not a word is mentioned of Joseph. When Jesus returns home, when Jesus interacts with Mary… no Joseph. And on the cross, before His death, Jesus asks His cousin John to watch over Mary. This intimates that Jesus, as the oldest son, had carried that responsibility to that point, and now asked another family member to watch over His mother. This tells us that Mary was a widow.
There’s even an old tradition – not in the Bible, but a tradition – that says that Joseph lived until he was 111 years old, dying when Jesus was 18. That he had been married with children before Mary, but his first wife had died. That would make him a very elderly man when he was betrothed to Mary—around 92 years of age.
But regardless of exactly when he died, or what filled his life before this marriage, his death explains why Jesus didn’t begin His public ministry until His 30s. He was providing for the family, carrying on as a carpenter as taught by His father. He assumed the role of caregiver until His brothers were able to assume primary care for their mother and the other siblings.
So the first sword through Mary’s soul?
The death of Joseph while she was still young and raising children.
Many of you are single moms. In fact, the typical single parent is a mother.
Did you ever think about the fact that Jesus was raised by a single-parent mom?
You know what that makes me think? It makes me think that maybe God has a special place in His heart for those whom are thrust into that role. It makes me think that all of your efforts, when it feels like you’re fighting an uphill battle, wondering if you’ll be able to pull this parenting thing off all by yourself, may turn out okay.
Jesus sure did.
Now I know that some of you who are single parents feel that God couldn’t possibly have tenderness in His heart toward you and your situation because you found yourself a single parent through the trauma of divorce or an out-of-wedlock birth. So somehow you’re not only a single parent, but you’re on God’s bad side for how you became a single parent. You don’t think of yourself in the same category as Mary. You think there is some kind of scarlet letter on your chest that results in God caring about single parents who are widows, but not divorcees or those who made a sexual mistake when they were young.
Where are you getting that from?
I don’t mean to make light of divorce or sex outside of marriage because no, that’s not God’s perfect will for anyone’s life. But to view either one as an unpardonable sin that brings about the wrath and scorn and rejection of God for the rest of your life is simply wrong. Whatever your circumstance, God’s heart does not shrink toward you as a single parent and the struggles you face.
You want a comforting verse from the Scriptures? It’s from the 34th Psalm:
Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you'll find God right there; if you're kicked in the gut, he'll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time. (Psalm 34:17-19, Msg)
And He will be there for you.
Every time I teach on the importance of fathers to the family, I always wish I could tack on a special message to the many single moms who feel an extra dose of discouragement, defeat, guilt, shame, hopelessness or fear.
To be sure, I believe in the critical importance of fathers in the lives of children. Any single-parent home – composed of a single-parent dad or mom – is never plan A.
But when it happens, particularly to a woman – and no matter the reason – not only does grace flow freely to repentant hearts, but there is also a special place in the grace-giving heart of God for her challenges.
He was raised by one.
James Emery White
Steve Crabtree and Sofia Kluch, “How Many Women Worldwide Are Single Moms?” Gallup, March 5, 2020, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.