Single Parents Can Get Help With A Village Of Friends

I’ve only been a single parent for a few days in my entire life, so I know it takes some gall to even hint that I might have an inkling of how it feels for the divorced parent to live that life every week.

However, there was a weekend several years ago I got a vague glimpse at the single parent role.It was a weekend when my while my wife was on a church retreat, I was on call in my job as a hospital chaplain and my pastor asked me to preach while he was out of town.

Many of you know that keeping your religion while single-handedly getting small children ready for church can become a theological juggling act capable of tripping even the most devout among us. Just waking a tween in time to shower is a miracle nothing short of beckoning the dead to life.

But when you add in a preschool son who likes lizards more than a good bowtie and a first-grade daughter insistent on doing her own hair, you have the same beginnings of the Sunday I was experiencing.With my head and phone ringing in stereo, I dropped the juggling and morphed into my best maitre’d voice.

“Good morning.”

“Chaplain, we need you in the ER.”

Since I was the hospital’s only chaplain — and without child care — I exercised my option to decline “inconvenient calls.” ER nurses know many colorful combinations of language, but I wasn’t prepared to hear what I heard next.”Please!”

I dropped the phone to my lap while I enjoyed the luxury of a breath before rejoining the conversation. “I suppose I could.”

She was in no mood to hear my child-care plan.”Now, chaplain. It’s a bad one.”

The last sentence was redundant. ER nurses don’t use the “P” word if it’s not especially bad. A call to a neighbor nurse found haven for my kids and gave me quick entrance through the first set of automatic doors outside the ER.

As the second set of doors opened, my first thought was that it looked like an entire church was assembled in the ER waiting room. My second thought was — they were. There were suits and scarves; hats and handkerchiefs; Bibles and bulletins. Only the pews and preacher were missing. Unable to tell the players without a score card, a triage nurse gave me the grim score. “Drunken Driver 1, Kid 0.”

“Room 19,” she added.

Making my way past secondary family and friends, I slipped unnoticed into Room 19, which was packed with the immediate family. I paused reverently at the doorway until a break in the sobbing allowed me entrance.

“I’m the hospital chaplain,” I said.The crowd parted and I was ceremoniously motioned toward the gurney to lead a prayer. But, my prayer disintegrated in my throat as I looked at the unforgettable sight of a small, seemingly unbroken, figure of a 9-year old boy. I distinctly remember thinking here was a little boy whose body was absent of the very thing that defines little boys — movement and energy. Aren’t little boys supposed to be so wiggly and squirmy that they are described as being made of “snails and puppy dog tails?”

And yet, this was most probably a boy whose life had been everything but static. It had moved, yearned, and inspired. “He won’t ever preach again,” his uncle muttered to me. My doubt gushed from my firmly blinking eyes.

“Preach?” I blurted.

“Oh yes,” he said, “he’s been preaching since he was 6. He spent countless hours playing church until his mom finally asked our pastor for the opportunity for the boy to preach.”

Child preachers were a part of the family’s religious tradition that didn’t squelch the religious interests of children. Children were made a part of worship that was expressed and heard by all congregants. I imagine that some would find fault with what seemed to be the tyranny of religious expectations on this boy’s life, but the critics would also be compelled to acknowledge there are those who wait all their lives to find their calling, while this little boy knew his calling and expressed it until his last breath.

And now, after that last breath, the little preacher continued to inspire the faithful to worship as the congregation remained to sing “just one more song.”

After excusing myself to pick up my children, I began comparing my earlier efforts at practically dragging my kids to church while this little preacher was somehow able to drag an entire church family behind him.

I realized in my anxiousness to get to church that day, I had almost missed the joy of seeing the church do the work for which it was called. It is called to bring people together.

Like many of you, the mother of this child was a single parent. Yet, it was obvious that she had not raised this child alone. And there in that Emergency Room, she was not alone. She had used her village, her church, to raise this child. And my honor that day was to witness how this child had single-handedly raised the standards of his own village.