When was the last sermon you heard that included the blessings of being childless or the joys of single adulthood? There are few positive examples of childless or single-adult families in the Bible. We often see barrenness as a curse and singleness as something to be overcome. (Think of Sarai in Genesis 11 or the story of Ruth wooing Boaz). Jesus is an unmarried person with no children, but we rarely highlight these aspects of his life.
We highly value the traditional view of family—two married individuals raising biological offspring—and sometimes forget to honor those who do not resemble that structure. Yet we still believe that God is at work in people who will not be parents, we see the Holy Spirit moving in unmarried people and Jesus reaches out to large and small families alike.
A few years ago, I went to a routine medical check-up and got some jarring news: I can’t get pregnant. My heart health had just started to deteriorate, and my doctors explained that a weak heart means a weakened body, one unable to support another life. I was crestfallen and honestly a little afraid of what that meant for my role within the church. I was worried this might make me less able to encourage parents and invest in the lives of their children, especially as a family pastor.
When I started dating my husband, Ben, I was up front about my well-being and the fact that I will never be a biological mother. He decided to join me and gave up his chance to be a biological father. After four years of marriage and the ups-and-downs of my medical care, we also realize we are not (and may not ever be) in a place to be foster or adoptive parents. It is just the two of us and the two of us is a full family.
People like me and Ben have the choices made for us in our circumstances. Others are choosing, and prayerfully so, to not marry and/or be parents. Some are welcoming nonbiological members into their family unit. There are many different ways to be a family!
Ben and I connect with our extended biological families and church family as two adults. Our church community has welcomed us and given us opportunities to be part of a larger spiritual family. They understand the words of Paul: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).
We have experienced pain from being childless adults, yet we have been given opportunities to be mentors, to connect with people of all ages and to live into generosity that fits well with our state of being.
As a church community we recognize not all of our family units will look the same. With that in mind, there are ways we can better care for each other:
Be cautious of prying questions. Please don’t ask “Why are you not married yet?” or “When will you have children?” Realize that these inquiries imply that something is wrong and can be very hurtful.
Include the full family of God. Encourage those outside the traditional family structure to serve as leaders. Walk with those who are fostering or in the process of adopting children. For those preaching, talk about singleness and childlessness without negative tones.
Celebrate together. Extend your child’s birthday party invitation to those who are not raising kids. Reimagine traditional holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and make changes to better fit your community. Rejoice in weddings and new babies, but also celebrate graduations, job promotions and all the other pieces of church family life.
Fullness does not come from our biological family but from being connected to Jesus Christ. God has a calling for all of us whether we are single, part of a large family unit, raising children that we did not birth or living as empty nesters. Praise God.