Last week, I wrote the initial entry on Reclaiming the Narrative: Single Motherhood, a series of posts that will explore how we can begin to re-imagine single motherhood in a way that is empowering, liberating, and purposeful.
As a public theologian, I cannot but help to write about these things through a Christian lens; my engagement in and with the Christian Church implores me to challenge and awaken the ways in which we engage Scripture as a tool for liberation because it has served as a foundation for the moral stances we take — whether we want to admit it or not. There has been a longstanding trend of using Scripture to oppress and marginalize single mothers. We’ve taken Scriptures like Ephesians 5:3-17 (that shames sexual sin) as a grounds for single mothers to be perpetually punished for their “sin” of single motherhood. We’ve glazed over texts like 2 Esdras 2:20 that admonishes us to care for the fatherless (fatherless children are raised by single mothers, yes?) because it does not fit the narrative of shame that we ask single mothers to try on for size.
This, again, limits our understanding of how women become single mothers (divorce, widowhood, adoption, etc.) and leaves no room for the diverse narratives of single motherhood.
In turn, it leaves out the roles and responsibilities men play in this shaming of single mothers — and the familiar ways the misinterpretations of Scripture that do not hold men accountable for their roles in the “sexual immorality” nor the many single fathers who the “rules” would apply to but are often left out of the conversation.
But that’s another blog for another time.
When considering the ways we can better engage Scripture to liberate and support single mothers, I think about the widow woman in 2 Kings 4. This nameless woman was experiencing the distresses many single moms experience: many debts and little money to handle them; a need that was beyond her ability and limited community support to assist her. While recent conversations about newfound single motherhood and how access to resources often nuance a woman’s ability to fully understand the plight of most single mothers, this mother in 2 Kings 4 was faced with a debt so great, that her sons would be sold into slavery to pay the debt. The Prophet Elisha came to her and this is where things begin:
Elisha said to her, “What can I do for you? Tell me what you still have left in the house.” She said, “Your servant has nothing at all in the house except a small jar of oil.” He said, “Go out and borrow containers from all your neighbors. Get as many empty containers as possible. Then go in and close the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all those containers. Set each one aside when it’s full.”
She left Elisha and closed the door behind her and her sons. They brought her containers as she kept on pouring. When she had filled the containers, she said to her son, “Bring me another container.” He said to her, “There aren’t any more.” Then the oil stopped flowing, and she reported this to the man of God. He said, “Go! Sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what remains.”
2 Kings 4:2-7
There’s an exchange of power in this text; this widow woman, culturally, socially, and financially reliant on the presence of a man, had limited power to liberate her and her sons from certain trouble. Elisha calls for her to collect jars from her neighbors — the community around her — to begin an enterprise of her own. The community comes to her rescue, not as a temporary fix for a bigger problem, but empowering her to create a sustainable life for her family.
Olive oil was a prize commodity in antiquity, highly valuable and suitable for payment for goods and services. The widow woman not only had enough olive oil to pay the debts owed by her husband, but enough to live on, for what we can assume, for the rest of her days. The text says that “[she and her sons] can live on what remains.” She had enough to sell and earn an income with. She had enough, I imagine, to cook with. She had enough that her circumstances of being a single mom, in debt, and with just a “small jar of oil”to begin with, had been multiplied to the place where self sufficiency and agency was now her new norm.
But what this text also shows us is that God is deeply concerned about the needs of single mothers. God wants single mothers to thrive and, in every biblical case I can think of, God has always gone above and beyond what was necessary to meet her needs. This story could have been that she had enough oil to pay the debt — and that’s it. But God ensured that she had more than enough — enough to live on for the rest of her days. How dope.
God made it so she could empower herself. And God called on the community around her to ensure she had the resources necessary to do it.
What will today’s community do to empower and make available resources to single moms to enterprise long held dreams and ideas? In 2015, Entrepreneur.com released a story on 10 single moms who, out of a place of need, created a business that not only helped her and her family, but met some need in the community around them. Today, we have more capital and access to resources than any other time in history; what will we do to help people see their full potential?
What would it look like if we moved our often skewed and limited social and religious views of single moms from a narrative of pity and misfortune to one of liberation and power? Single moms have the ability to balance budgets, are inventive and resourceful, and in the right settings, have the ability to supersede the work of their peers.
But first we must begin to change (challenge!) what we think to be the truth about single moms. We must begin to re-imagine how and why single motherhood happens for women all across the world. We must begin to reclaim the narrative of single motherhood and reshape it into one of potential and ability.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series! Share this post with everyone you know — begin the conversation with people around you!
On the Chase,