It’s no secret that married couples in local churches need to reach out to the singles in their midst. “Doing life alone” can be exhausting, says Holly Stallcup. But the Scriptures “consistently paint a picture of interconnected community … where we find ourselves in day-in and day-out partnership with others.”
Bridging this single-married divide is particularly important for women. Although married women are called (rightly) to extend friendship to their single counterparts, there’s another ministry that often goes unnoticed: the outreach that single women extend to young mothers, in particular.
Hannah Wong, visiting lecturer at Baylor University, sees potential for profound encouragement in being “the person who says [to a young mom], ‘I see you!’ and more than that, ‘I’m paying attention!’”
Wong is in her early 40s and has spent years in relationship with many friends who have married, had children, and sometimes given up careers to stay home. She views her friendship with these mothers as a ministry that’s “deeply connected to what Jesus did.”
The need to be “observed and understood,” says Wong, is experienced by everyone, but singles and young mothers feel it with unique intensity. As a single woman in the church, she feels called to be a witness who can speak words of affirmation over those whose work is difficult, relentless, and often unseen.
“Once a friend said to me, ‘You must think I’m so impatient with the kids!’” says Wong, who then told her friend, “What I was thinking was, Good gosh, how are you so patient? I’ve got to tell you, you were a lovely, patient person before you had kids, but now I see you doing things that seem superhuman. It’s amazing. It’s beautiful to watch.”
During her graduate studies, Wong often avoided conversation about her dissertation and gave the quickest answer to questions about her scholarship. “The only exception I made was for mothers of young children. They were extremely curious and dying to hear about things that weren’t about bodily functions, eating food, and changing diapers. So I’d be standing there at a church picnic next to a woman who would say in so many words, ‘I want to be a mother, but I also really miss intellectual conversations.’”
“It was a sacrifice to talk with a stranger in a deep, engaged way about this thing that caused me so much emotional burden,” says Wong. “But it was worth it to me, because these women were starved for intellectual engagement.”
Latresia Peak, a single social worker in Kannapolis, North Carolina, sees the important role that singles have in reminding their friends of who they are, especially after major life transitions. “My friends get married, or they’ll have a baby, and that thing becomes what consumes them,” says Peak. “I have a passion for people going through hard times, and a young mother may need a reminder that she needs to meet her own needs.”
According to single Bekah Mason, director of women’s ministries at Sojourn Community Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, many new moms experience difficulty in maintaining friendships. She views reaching out to them as an important part of her ministry. “One of the most helpful things I do is just being an adult presence during the day with stay-at-home moms. Doing the mundane things of life in community is such a life-giving thing for both of us.”
During the first seasons of a child’s life, new parents often struggle to stay connected to church community and other social circles, which leads to isolation and greater risks for depression and anxiety. “Stay-at-home moms can have loneliness compounded by feeling ‘trapped’ in their homes during the day,” notes Mason. “Simply being together with them in their home is a help in healing isolation.”
The care singles offer marrieds is an act of love and service, not simply an outpouring of extra time.
“While it gets frustrating when people just assume that single people have all sorts of free time to be used,” says Mason, “what is true is that our time tends to be more flexible because there’s only one schedule to consider. Flexible time was hands down the most valuable gift I gave to married women, but especially moms.”
According to Stephanie Rogers, ministry team trainer for Josiah Venture in Lesce, Slovenia, “As a single, I can hop on a plane and go visit my married friends much more easily because I have one schedule to work around and one person to budget around.”
Local churches can help build these important bonds by programmatically connecting single and married congregants, says Rogers’s colleague Gwynne Gardner, director of communications for Josiah Venture’s Slovenia office. “Here in Europe on the mission field, the families I work with become like my family. In the United States when I was a part of a church, I was put in an all-singles small group and was a part of the singles ministry. There weren’t as many opportunities for me to befriend married women.”
While childless single women have distinct gifts to offer moms, they also share a particular bond with childless married women.
“I have seen God work in some very particular ways in my relationships with married women who are struggling with infertility,” says Jenilyn Swett, director of adult ministries at Restoration Community Church in St. Louis, Missouri. “The longing to be married and the longing for a healthy pregnancy are similar. Both are upheld but not guaranteed in Scripture, both involve dealing with waiting, hope, and disappointment. Some of the women who have been most tender toward my singleness are those who have struggled at length with infertility.”
These unique connections between married and single women are vital not only to female community within the church but also to strong, individual relationships with Christ. According to Rogers, “Deep down, single and married women deal with a lot of the same things, like loneliness, pain, and hunger for God’s presence.”
Whether we’re single or married, says Wong, God offers us a continual school for holiness. “With moms of young kids, there’s a sense that we’re in the same class, but I’m in lecture and you’re in lab,” says Wong. Christian singles may have different experiences than their married counterparts, but “when we have some distance, we start to see our similar struggles with identity and worth.”
The same bond that brings together single women and young mothers also bridges divides between men and women, adults and children, poor and rich: the common call to the gospel and shared participation in the body of Christ.
“One of the most unique gifts that single women can offer to married women—especially moms,” notes Swett, “is to remind and encourage them of the key thing we have in common: Our primary identity is as an adopted daughter of God. Being a wife or mom is not the primary identity.”
Courtney Ellis is a pastor and speaker and the author of Uncluttered (Feb. 2019, Rose Publishing). She lives in Southern California with her husband, Daryl, and their three kids. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog.