Ministry to the Single-Parent Family

Broken Heart

by Linda Ranson Jacobs

In 1985, I became a single parent. I also began praying for direction in this new life as a single parent. As I searched the scriptures, the Lord took me to Isaiah 61:1-3.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called trees of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

The time I first read this scripture, I did not understand what it had to do with me as a single parent. I was the brokenhearted. I was the poor in spirit and in finances. Ten years after my divorce, I remarried and my husband passed away from cancer. Again the Lord took me to this scripture. Again it did not make sense to me. I kept saying, “But God I am the brokenhearted!”

Through the years God has periodically taken me back to this scripture. In recent years, God has revealed to me what this scripture has to do with divorcing parents, the children who experience the broken dreams and shattered lives, and the church.

In the Old Testament, God sent Isaiah (and other prophets) to set the captives free and bind up the broken hearted. In the New Testament, God sent His son, Jesus Christ. In Luke 4:17-19 we read about Jesus reading from the scrolls of Isaiah:

“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

After Jesus ascended into heaven, God sent the Holy Spirit. As Christians, the Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. We are the church. If we are the church today, we should be the presence of Christ to the world today.

Is God telling us as the church, a group of believers who have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that we have the responsibility to…

  • “…preach good news to the poor” Could the poor be the people that do not have the resources to live a kingdom life? Many times children that experience the death of their intact family through divorce do not attend church. So often it is because their parent pulls away from the Lord and from church. Or the parents may attend different churches and many times this includes different denominations or religions. How is the child supposed to know whom to believe? And which church is really their church? After all they may only be able to attend services every other week and they do not feel they can attach to either group of people.

Children of divorce have a poverty of connectedness to the Lord’s people. They may experience a lack of connection with the Lord, our Heavenly Father. These children have poverty to the good news of Jesus Christ and to the kingdom life.

  • “… proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners”

Many of the people in the world today are held captive and prisoners by apathy, by terrorists and by the condition of our world today. In the states before 9/11 we had tremendous apathy. After 9/11 people began to come together and be concerned about each other.

After the shock wore off and things settled down they retreated into their homes. The mental health industry called it “cocooning.” They were scared. They were held captive by their fear. Even the furniture industry picked up on this phenomenon. They produced comfy afghans, soft fluffy pillows, chunky comfortable chairs and couches so people would feel comfortable and have the feel of soft things surrounding them.

Maybe what these captives needed was someone to bring freedom of their minds to them. As Christians we had to come along beside these captives and prisoners.

I lived in Oklahoma at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing, and I owned a therapeutic child care program. For weeks after the bombing, our kids from single parent situations had out of control behaviors. You could even see if on their faces. They were panicked that something was going to happen to the parent they lived with, and then what would happen to them?

The children in single-parent homes live with this fear on a daily basis. Research shows that feeling safe is a very real concern to these children. These children are held captive by their fear.

While in Edmonton, Alberta few years ago, one lady shared with me about her childhood experience and the safety issue. When she was a little girl, her dad announced he was leaving and getting a divorce. He proceeded to pack his bags and leave. As an adult she said, “To this day I remember watching him walk down the sidewalk. I kept thinking that he had packed ‘safe’ in his suitcase and I would never feel safe again. I could not take my eyes off that suitcase. I watched it until he got in the car and drove off. And then my safety was gone. I no longer felt safe. I still struggle with that issue today.”

One very helpful tool we used with children in my child care classes was to tell the children, “I’m the Safe Keeper. I’m here to keep you safe. Your job is to help me keep things safe.” I remember one eight-year old boy that came to my childcare program about several years ago. He had been kicked out of school, childcare and every organized group imaginable. I gave him my usual ‘safe keeper’ talk. (This concept comes from Dr. Becky Bailey,

Everyday we started our day with a daily prayer and share time. The first week he chose to stand next to me – his main safe keeper. The second week he began to branch out and move away from me. At our circle-up prayer time toward the end of the second week I told the kids that I was going to be traveling the next week and would they pray for me.

About this time I looked up and I saw a panicked look on my friend’s face. I realized that I had not explained to him that I traveled a lot. I walked over to him and said, “Oh, I am so sorry I forgot to tell you that I travel a lot. I teach other people how to be safe keepers. You have many other safe keepers here, Miss Kathy and Miss Jayne.” And I named all the other safe keepers. Then this little kid on the other side of the circle said, “Ahh man, she is gone all the time. We are safe whether she is here or not!” How many children are held captive to their fears?

  • “…bind up the brokenhearted” Many times single parents and their children are wounded and broken hearted. Whether they are single due to death, divorce or never having been married, they may be oppressed. They need the New Testament church.

Let me relay to you two stories that will help you to see how a church can fulfill this scripture.

The first story took place when my son was about twelve years of age. After my divorce, I joined a church that had a singles group. After we had been attending this church for a while, my son’s Sunday school teacher came to visit him. We were working in the yard and my son invited this young man to join us on the patio. I remember thinking, “How nice, this is the first time someone at church has reached out to my son.” As we all three sat visiting the bible study teacher began to share about his class. “These kids from broken homes just destroy my class.”

I looked at my son and he had the most shocked look on his face and I got a knot in the pit of my stomach. He went on to say, “They do not come very often and when they do come, they do not know what is going on and they are troublemakers. I do not know why they cannot come every Sunday. It would sure make my job easier.” At some point in this conversation my son got up and ran out of the yard. I mumbled something to the effect of “Do you not understand you are sitting in the yard of a single-parent family?” He did not realize it because he thought Brian was a very nice kid who did not give him any problems. He wondered why Brian only came about every other Sunday. (He would visit his dad every other weekend.)

I could not ever pull my son back into that church. Oh, he went every Sunday that he was home but it was a struggle. My heart ached for my son. As a young teen, he has driven away from a church.

The second story is quite different. A few years later I had the opportunity to be called to a church as a church pianist. After we had been attending for several months they made an announcement one Sunday morning that the annual “father-son fishing trip was coming up.” As they made the announcement, I felt that knot coming up in the pit of my stomach again.

Brian was not with me that Sunday morning and after church one of the men came up to me and asked me “Is Brian going to the father-son fishing trip?” I said, “I guess you do not know that Brian does not have a father at home.” He said to me. “I guess you do not know that I have three daughters and no son at home.” He then asked if he could adopt my son for that weekend. I asked him to call my son that evening and ask him himself.

Here is the part of the conversation that I heard later that evening:

“Well, I do not think I can go. Uh uh, well I do not have a fishing pole. My dad took it. Oh, uh – uh, you will bring one for me? Well, I do not have a tent or a sleeping bag. You will bring those for me too? Well, uh, I guess I can go.” On Friday, I took a very apprehensive young man to church. Saturday evening when he came home, he was quite a different young man. He was so excited. “Mom, guess what? I got to go fishing in a boat. And at night, they invited me to sit around the campfire with them. And you know what else…they gave me coffee to drink!”

This group of Christian men did something that I, a single mom, could not do. They brought my son back into the folds of a loving New Testament church. In one weekend they brought my son back to the Lord. They built a relationship with a young man.

Churches are going to have to step up and support the single parent family. One reason we have to support the single parent family is because they are raising the majority of the next generation. While many of us in our twenties or early thirties may have pulled away from our parent’s faith, the majority of us came back to the Lord. Research shows that close to sixty five percent of adult children of divorce leave the faith of their parents.

In a report by Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector called “The Effects of Divorce on America” we learn:

The drop off in worship has serious consequences for our children. Religion has been found to have beneficial effects on physical and mental health, education level, income, virginity in teens, crime addiction and general happiness. Church attendance is the most significant predictor of marital stability; it is closely related to sexual restraint in teens and associated with lower crime rates as well as lower use of drugs and alcohol abuse.

What about the phrase in Luke 4 where Jesus reads “recovery of sight for the blind? Could this possibly mean those who are blind sighted? Is this church blind sighted toward the hurting families in your community? Has Christ opened your eyes to your blindness?

If this church does not step up and support the hurting families, what will happen to the children in your community? What will happen to your community? Where will your church be in twenty years?

Supporting local single-parent families

Allow me to define support according to Webster’s dictionary:

  1. To carry the weight of
  2. To hold up, to encourage, help
  3. To advocate, uphold
  4. To maintain with money or subsistence
  5. To help prove, vindicate
  6. To bear and endure

In supporting these families…

  1. You can help the carry the weight of the parent raising their children alone.
  2. You can hold up and encourage the parent and the child. You can pair up an emotionally and spiritual healthy two-parent family with the single parent family. The two-parent family can encourage and share parenting advice with the single parent.
  3. How many of you have advocated for the children in single parent homes? I have gone to school conferences with single parents. I have taken the parent to the counselor and sat beside them to advocate for their child.
  4. Walk along beside them and give financial assistance. But allow the parent to   maintain their dignity. Most single parents are embarrassed if they cannot provide for their children.
  5. Walk along beside the single parent and bear their burdens with them.

One other piece of information I want to bring to you today. As my generation moves into retirement there are some new ways that divorce is going to affect society that few have thought about. Many of the parents that left their families in search of something better that have alienated their children and are going to be in for a rude awakening as they grow into their retirement years. There is going to be no one to take care of them. The children they left behind will have no emotional connection with their parent. They are not going to give up anything especially to sacrifice for this person. Churches and societal resources are going to be tapped out very quickly when this happens. Is your church prepared to deal with this consequence of divorce?

Divorce is changing the landscape

Divorce has changed the landscape of our society and our churches. The world is reaching out to our families through television, internet, social media, phone apps, video games and much more. But the world has nothing but hopelessness to offer our children.

What can we, the Lord’s family, offer our children?

  • We can model what a Christian two-parent marriage is supposed to look like.
  • We can give them Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • We can give them a hope and a reason to live.
  • We can give them eternal life.

My question to you is If we are the church today, should we not be the presence of Christ to the world today?”

Let us go back to the stories about my son. Which church is your church? The first church that drove an impressionable young man away, or the second church that brought him back to the arms of God and demonstrated to him what God’s love is all about? They put their arms around him and enfolded him with love. Through their actions they became the New Testament church.

He has sent us to bind up the broken hearted. He tells us to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1c”

My son could feel the ‘crown of beauty’, he could taste the ‘oil of gladness’ and he could wear the ‘garment of praise’. As a young man, my son does not remember the back yard incident, but he does remember the fishing trip.

The scripture in Isaiah goes on to state, “they will be called trees of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Divorce is cyclical. Only with God’s grace and mercy and with the help of the Lord’s people can we slow down the cycle of divorce.

  • Who will minister to these children?
  • Who will bind up their broken hearts?
  • Who will help them to experience and understand the love of God?
  • Who will bring them into a loving church family, if not you?

If your church can do this, you will not only be planting ‘trees of righteousness’ you will be developing an entire ‘forest’, a forest that can display the splendor and the glory of the Lord.

You may be thinking, “Well, I am not divorced, thinking about divorce or the child of divorce so what has this got to do with me?” If you are blessed not to have been touched by divorce in some way, then…

  • Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ that have experienced this devastation.
  • Pray for them by name.
  • Pray for their comfort.
  • Pray for their safety.
  • Pray that God will put a hedge of protection around their hearts.
  • Ask God to reveal to you what you can do to minister to them.

In closing, I want to share a poem an eleven-year-old boy in a DivorceCare for Kids group in Oklahoma wrote.

A Family No More

It was very sad when my dad said divorce
My voice started to get coarse
I was only six
It hit me like bricks
My sister was four
When he walked out the door
I did not understand
He said goodbye
I started to cry
After the talk
He gave us the walk
My mom gave me a hug
I felt like a squashed bug
I felt like nothing
Not even something
It had to be a joke
I felt like I broke
I burst into tears
I had so many fears
Then it came to a halt
For it was not my fault
That is one less family to say
“So let us pray”

Linda Ranson Jacobs

© 2010 by the author
Nothing in this document or materials from Linda Ranson Jacobs should be considered as psychological or legal advice. Linda is not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or lawyer. These suggestions are simply suggestions and not guaranteed solutions to your particular problems. Linda offers this information because she was a single mom for years and ran a child care where the majority of her children were from single-parent families. She offers support, encouragement, and suggestions to help you succeed as a single parent. Linda is available to speak at your church to the adults who work with children of divorce or to conduct single-parent family conferences and retreats. Linda also developed and wrote the DivorceCare for Kids curriculum. (

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