By Carmen Dillon
On an August afternoon over 20 years ago, my father left us—my mom, little sister, and me. The three of us moved in with my mom’s parents. My mom continued to homeschool us while trying to determine our family’s future.
As Christmas neared, she set aside a few second-hand clothes to wrap for us.
I don’t remember worrying about Christmas gifts. But those second-hand Christmas gifts weighed on my mom’s mind.
She knew what little girls dreamed of—dolls and toys and chocolate. How could she watch our disappointment on Christmas morning when there would be so few gifts to unwrap?
As Christmas neared, the Lord used His people to show love to my mom in a display that strengthened her trust in God’s unfailing goodness.
The Sunday before Christmas, my mom walked into her parents’ church and saw wooden back pews filled with Christmas packages. Assuming the gifts were for other needy people in town, she was touched by this church’s generosity to their farming community that boasted of two churches and a post office.
But her throat closed when she learned the gifts were for her and us. I don’t remember what ripping open those packages revealed—except some hand-crocheted doll blankets. But to my mom, each gift symbolized that the Lord had not forgotten her, and that He loved her enough to heighten her Christmas joy.
Christmas for the single parent can be a time of joy, but it can also bring throbs of pain. As Christ’s ministers, we want to share God’s love with single parents. Yet Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages shows us that there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to demonstrating love.
Instead, Dr. Chapman encourages us to show love through each person’s love language: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and touch. How, then, could we best demonstrate God’s love to single parents this Christmas? Here are five ways to share God’s love this Christmas, covering the spectrum of love languages.
Give gifts to the children and the parent
Giving gifts during Christmas comes naturally for churches. We relish seeing the joy on children’s faces when they open gifts. But sometimes we’re so focused on ministering to the children that we see ministry to their parents as secondary.
This focus needs to shift. Although we can touch children’s lives, parents have the ultimate influence. Therefore, we need to strengthen single parents to have a greater effect on children. When single parents see God’s love demonstrated to themselves and their children, they gain trust in their heavenly Father.
And as the parents gain trust, they have testimonies to pass to their children of God’s faithfulness and care. Parents are thrilled to have gifts for their children—giving those gifts is one way to show God’s love. But include at least one gift for the single parent—a gift card, a needed toaster, a commitment to mowing the yard, or another thoughtful gift.
Spend time with single parents during the holidays
During Christmas, time is valuable. We have gifts to buy, Christmas programs to orchestrate, houses to clean, cookies to bake, and stockings to hang. That’s why spending time with single parents makes the gesture even more meaningful.
Are the children spending time with the other parent over the holidays? Invite the remaining parent to help decorate the tree or make cookies so that the parent feels valued while their children are gone.
Don’t count out the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Inviting the parent to share a meal or a coffee can show God’s love by sharing quality time with them.
Include an encouraging note in a Christmas card
Giving words of affirmation encourages single parents who feel inadequate. Although remembering to say affirming words helps, a handwritten note is something the single parent can revisit again and again.
Christmas cards abound during the holidays, providing the perfect opportunity to add something special to the typical season’s greeting. Think about the dedication and sacrifices single parents demonstrate, and write how much their testimony means.
It’s hard for single parents to corral their children and get them to church, especially when Satan attacks them on Sunday mornings with doubts and discouragement. Reading that you value their efforts can be God’s voice of encouragement.
Offer to take the children so parents can go Christmas shopping
It’s challenging to buy Christmas gifts for children who are glued to your hip. As much as children connive to discover their gifts, anticipation is an integral part of Christmas giving.
It’s hard enough to go Christmas shopping without children when there are two parents, but the single parent has an even more difficult time. And who wants to ask someone to watch children during the holidays when everyone is so busy? Offering to babysit while mom or dad goes shopping is one act of service that demonstrates God’s provision for the single parent.
Show physical affection, when appropriate
Whether or not you’re a “hugger,” the single parent might be. If the single parent in your life needs the love language of touch, find a way this Christmas to ensure the parent receives appropriate affection.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that a male pastor should give a single mom a hug in the foyer. But find that older saint your church who hugs everybody and encourage her to give an extra hug or two to the stressed single parent. That simple gesture can become a symbol of God’s loving arms.
When ministering to single parents this Christmas, use the five love languages to show God’s loving care. You may not feel that you can do all of these things, and that’s okay. Find people in your church who can fill one of these needs and pair them with the single parent.
In doing so, you’ll remind single parents that God faithfully loves them and their children this Christmas.
Carmen is the youth leader at Faith Baptist Church in Holts Summit, Missouri. She is a regular contributor at graceandsuch.com.