I confess upfront that this is going to be a somewhat personal post because this is topic near and dear to my heart and one in which I have experienced great heartache. But hopefully leveraging my own angst might generate some food for thought, especially among church leaders but definitely among all the people of God.
I sometimes think we have a bi-polar disorder in the church. Now I’m not making light of those who suffer from this psychiatric condition. Why do I say that? The other day, a friend sent me a sermon on 1 Corinthians 7 that was given to singles at her church. Now granted, it was part of a series so maybe some of what concerned me was covered in another sermon. But the heart of it was pretty standard stuff I’ve heard before. Paul says singleness is better because you can devote yourself to the Lord. Don’t be over-desirous of marriage because that is idolatry (note the introduction of the dichotomies we like to create so much). If you really hate singleness and really want marriage, you probably have a problem. Bottom line, be content where you are.
But in the same breath, we sound the alarm regarding the fatherless. We decry single-mother households and their detrimental impact on boys growing up without dad. Of course, the assumption is that it is that way because the moms have no use for men. Never mind that contributing factors in these situations also includes 1) the guy totally abdicate his responsibilities; 2) the guy mistreats the woman that breaches the marriage covenant; or 3) the guy dies. Yes, I hate to break it to the statistics mongers but devaluing a dad in the home is not the only reason these situations happen. We live in a very broken world, which also produces bad kids with dads in the house. Yes, lets talk about that in the same breath as how bad off fatherless boys are. Now I’m not undermining the importance of fathers, not in the least. Only that we need to be cognizant of rash generalities and the fact that many single-mother homes would rather not want it that way.
So on one hand, we tell the single mother with the fatherless boy to be content and don’t really yearn for marriage. But on the other hand, we give her every reason to believe that her household is dire straights without a dad. What is a single mother to do?
For me, I have felt this tension for years. I have prayed earnestly for years for my son who lost his dad one month prior to his 7th birthday. I have cringed and wept with every statistic so casually, and in some cases, callously thrown out there about the need for a dad as I watched my fatherless son go from boy to teen and headed for manhood. I have prayed for years for a godly spouse that will love us. I have prayed for restoration. It has not happened. I have prayed earnestly for the next best alternative – the right godly mentor who will take my son under his wings and provide him with guidance in his journey to manhood. I have sought out individuals who take an initial interest. Every door closed. I have wondered if God cares so much for boys to have fathers, why I have spent years in this vacuum with every request denied but at the same time….learning to be content. Tension!
Or maybe the church is the problem…
It seems to me that when I look in Scripture, God has made provisions among his people for those who suffer deficits – care for the widow and orphan. He calls his church to fill in the gap. Or perhaps we overlook this part.
Phillip Holmes, co-founder of the Reformed African-American Network has not and has written a piece over at Desiring God, Finding the Fatherless, urging the church to step up to the plate. He writes;
Paul is a great model for what it meant to be a spiritual father. He exhorts the church at Corinth to “be imitators” of his fatherly example (1 Corinthians 4:15–17). In this passage, Paul points out that the Corinthian Christians have many “guides” but few fathers. The difference between teachers and fathers is intimacy. Paul perhaps recognized that mere words are insufficient — opening our mouths isn’t enough if we never open our hearts to train. Paul sends Timothy, his beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind the church of his “ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church.”
Paul had modeled fatherhood well in Timothy’s life. He affectionately refers to Timothy here and in other letters as his “true child” in the faith (1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1). We know that Timothy was discipled by his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois. His father is not mentioned at all, which leaves us assuming that he was either absent or not a Christian. Paul sending Timothy provides the church at Corinth a model of fatherhood through the gospel — as well as the fruit of it. We can still learn from this example today.
It takes men and families building relationships with kids and young adults intentionally looking for spiritual sons and daughters to adopt “unofficially.” To our surprise, I think we’d find most kids and young adults with absent fathers would be open to older godly men acting as a spiritual father in their lives. These relationships need to be developed patiently, with the local church encouraging and supporting this initiative in the context of discipleship.
I wonder what it would look like if we actually spent more energy on looking to fill this gap than beating up single parent households about how bad their situation is. Please, lets me careful how we handle the already delicate situation of fatherless households. We can’t on one hand say, don’t desire marriage too much, but on the other hand say ‘damn your household’. Because that’s exactly what we do every time we sound the alarm about the fatherless and make assumptions that we just devalue men.