"Half my heart believes in Jesus, but the other half isn't sure he's real." Seven-year-old Becky hugged me. "What am I gonna do, Mom?"
Her honest words grieved my already aching heart. After four years as a youth pastor, my husband had traded ministry for business. He allowed me to worship God freely, but he eventually stopped going to church and started calling himself an agnostic. I knew Becky would notice our spiritual differences someday, but I still felt unprepared for her question.
God, however, wasn't surprised. As we sat on the bed and opened her Bible, Jeremiah 29:13 provided his answer: "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
"How do we seek him, Mom?"
I read the previous verse, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you."
An idea I'd heard several months earlier came to mind. "Let's make construction paper flowers and write a prayer request on each one. We'll pray every day for the requests. When God answers one, we'll stick the flower on the wall until we have a whole garden of answered prayers. We'll be able to see God in how he answers us."
By the end of that first week, God answered five of Becky's simple requests, including healing her teacher's illness and allowing a friend to visit for a sleepover. At Becky's suggestion, we stuck the flowers to her bedroom ceiling where she could read them day and night. By the end of the month, 20 flowers graced her ceiling garden. One of them read, "Please help me to know you, God."
Becky is 15 years old as I write this story. Her dad, an awesome father by the world's standards, still considers himself agnostic. Becky, on the other hand, steadily grows in her walk with God. So how can we raise kids to love God when Dad doesn't? I hope the following suggestions offer encouragement.
1. Remember, although you may be required to answer questions about God single-handedly, you're not alone.
When children ask, "Where is God when I hurt?" or "Why doesn't God make Daddy believe in him?" answers may not always seem as obvious as God's leading in Becky's ceiling garden. However, God promises in James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault." Connect with God immediately through prayer and listen to his gentle promptings in your heart and from his Word.
2. Respond honestly, briefly, and positively to questions about Daddy.
Even worse than fielding questions about God is answering questions such as, "Why doesn't Dad go to church?" or "Why was Daddy so mean tonight?" Since you can't honestly answer for him, you might suggest: "Why don't you pray about asking Dad that question."
When an immediate reply is necessary, I pray for guidance and then keep my response honest, brief, and respectful. For example, if Becky asks me about a questionable CD Dad just purchased, I express concern about the issue, while remaining nonjudgmental toward her father.
3. Speak the truth in love.
When Becky first learned the health risks of smoking, she immediately related her new knowledge to the next smoker we encountered! A stranger might excuse tactlessness from a child, but Dad can get pretty ticked off when reprimanded by his daughter.
Jesus spoke honestly with compassion. John 1:14 describes him as "full of grace and truth." A wise pastor once said, "Jesus was not so gracious he was not truthful, nor so truthful he was not gracious." Encourage your children to think, What would Jesus say and how would he say it?
4. Provide a spiritual heritage beyond your home.
As Becky's closest Christian role model, I tried to be perfect—and ended up defeated, discouraged, and exhausted! When Becky needs more than I can give, where can I turn?
Within our local church, one of Becky's friends enjoys spiritual adoption. Lili's "Gram" and "Grand" live authentic Christian lives in front of this preteen, continually reinforcing the fact that Christianity is more than just "Mom's religion."
Ask God to provide friends who will be encouraging and pray regularly for your children (and you). If these special people attend your local church, they may be the added incentive your child needs to get to church on Sunday morning!
5. Attend church regularly.
Often I must remind myself to "not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing" (Hebrews 10:25). Becky and I need teaching from God's Word and fellowship, but going to church alone is tough.
One mother commented, "My husband doesn't want to go, and it's just too much work to get the kids up and out without his help." I encouraged her to find an accountability partner—someone to pray for her daily and hold her to her promise to get to church regularly.
What do you do if your husband resents being left behind when you go to church each week? Because Jesus taught us to prioritize people over programs, occasionally we enjoy a "family Sunday" away from church. Becky and I sometimes accompany Dad on a Jeep trail ride or go to the city aquarium together. Additional weekly "God-times," like Pioneer Clubs and daily devotions, help keep our faith growing even when we can't get to church on a Sunday.
6. Learn to recharge your spiritual batteries.
While I don't experience the physical exhaustion of single parenting, my spiritual battles still leave me emotionally wrung out. I find my key to tapping into God's energy in Matthew 11:28-30: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." When my husband fails to be a spiritual team player, I picture myself yoked with God—who lends me his power and hope. I spend time alone with God everyday and find this commitment produces a powerful, positive, refreshed mother.
7. Get involved in regular Christian service with your kids.
Are your kids accomplishing God's work? Consider Philippians 2:12-13, which tells us to work out our salvation. This means we need to flesh out, day by day, a relationship with God that serves others. Becky and I sing at retirement homes and run errands for our neighbors. These and other activities put our faith into action, giving us joy, purpose, and unity as a family—especially when Dad joins in!
One of Becky's friends helps out in our church nursery one Sunday evening each month. Becky told me she'd like to volunteer too, but she's not keen on babysitting young children. As a result of her search for a ministry, Becky began writing a kids' page for our church newsletter. Recognizing a child's skills and interests can provide ideas about where God desires to use him or her.
Perhaps right now you're thinking, Whew! These seven strategies sound solid, but can I apply them all? Take a deep breath and ask God to show you one or two things he wants you to focus on at this moment. Maybe he's asking you to cut out paper flowers and watch your children's faith grow. Or perhaps he's nudging you to find that accountability partner who can encourage you when life seems impossible.
If you've read this article on behalf of a friend, ask God to reveal ways you can help: Pray with her weekly, offer to take her children and her to church with your family, or even watch her kids so she can spend quality time with her husband. Above all, keep praying for her family.
Regardless of which strategy helps you or a friend become a successful spiritually single mom, remember, we're never alone. As God promises us, "I am with you always" (Matthew 28:20).
Nancy Sebastian Meyer is the author of Spiritually Single Moms: Raising Godly Kids When Dad Doesn't Believe (NavPress) and lives in Pennsylvania with her family.
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