One of the most difficult things I had to do after becoming a single mom was go to church.

I had been an active member at my church since my oldest child was a baby. We’re all wired a little differently, and sitting in a church service has always left me feeling more connected to God. But the summer my husband left us, I couldn’t go.

I didn’t return for seven weeks. I wasn’t mad at God. In fact, He and my kids were the only reasons I got out of bed that summer. I trusted Him, and knew He had a plan for my life. No, the reason I couldn’t go to church that summer is because I couldn’t be around the people.

It wasn’t their fault. The people at my church are wonderful. They all meant well. I think many of them just didn’t know how to be with me. They didn’t know what to say, so many of them said the things you say when “you don’t know what to say”:

“I’m so sorry!”
“Wow that must be really hard.”
“I’ll pray for you.”
“Everything will be okay. God will take care of you.”

The other thing I couldn’t handle was seeing all the complete families. It didn’t matter that nothing had really changed; I had sat alone in church for years. But now I didn’t “fit” there anymore. We didn’t fit there. We were a broken family. There isn’t a place for broken families at church. There’s a moms group, and a singles group, and a married couples group. But I felt like I didn’t really belong there anymore. The small groups at many churches were organized by life stage. There wasn’t a group for “divorced, single mom.”

If you’re a single parent, maybe you know what I’m talking about. I’ve seen estimates that say 67 percent of single parents do not attend church (and I read one estimate that was even higher at 95 percent!). Most of the single parents I know, both online and off, don’t attend church regularly if they go at all. And very few churches have single parent ministries or small groups equipped to help single parent families get connected to the support we need.

Personally, I hate the terms “broken family” and “broken home” and would like to meet the person who first added those terms to our lexicon. I would tell him how incredibly awful and hurtful those words can be to a family. There is an automatic stigma attached to those words in our culture. When society uses those words to define an idea (single parent homes brought about by divorce) they aren’t pausing to consider that “broken” families consist of real people with real feelings. We use the term without thinking of the people we’re describing, how it will impact their view of who they are as a family, and their place in the community of believers.

Now, if you didn’t catch it, there is something wrong with a statement I made before, that “There isn’t a place for broken families at church.” Actually, two things are wrong with this. One, when you feel broken, church and the people there are actually the best thing for you even though it feels impossibly hard. And two, my family wasn’t broken. We were hurting and scarred, yes, and firmly planted in “survival mode.” But we weren’t broken. Not really. We have had to learn how to be a different kind of family—different from our original family—but not broken.

I did go back to church. Corporate worship is the place where I experience the presence of God the strongest, and at His urging in my spirit I knew I needed to return and root my family in Him. I cried through every service for two months, and a lot of people avoided me; but I went. I attended a DivorceCare class there and met another single mom friend. I met with people who I knew cared about me and my children—people who spoke wise words and didn’t pity us but loved us even though we were different. After all, the Bible is full of different.

Returning to church was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do as a single parent, but it’s also one of the best things I’ve done for my family. I needed to surround my little family with people and a community who love the way Jesus loved. That is the only kind of love that heals families and hearts.

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