It’s the undisputed right of the eldest daughter to be mom any time kids play house, and I was no exception to the rule. I rocked baby dolls to sleep and bossed my younger siblings. Those hours of pretend play shaped my expectations for adulthood—eventually I’d trade the baby dolls for real-life babies.
But God sometimes surprises us.
He surprised me with singleness. I’m reminded of that surprise as I answer common questions like, “Are you married?” or “Do you have kids?””. The unspoken reality in my answers is that I don’t have a family.
But is that reality? Or is it possible that, once again, God is surprising me?
When Jesus talks about family, there’s often a surprising twist to his teaching. In Mark 3, he is told that his mother and brothers are looking for him and he makes this statement:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35)
Jesus extends the boundaries of family beyond those who share his blood. Family, he says, is made up of those who do the will of God.
In Luke 14:26, Jesus declares that to be his disciple you must hate your family—the bonds of family love aren’t strong enough to hold his followers back. But does this mean that disciples of Jesus should be prepared to live without family? No. To those who are called to leave family behind in order to follow him, Jesus promises “houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children” in this lifetime (Mark 10:29-30). He promises a family.
What does this family look like?
When we read the letters of the New Testament, we get a clearer picture: the family that God gives is the church. It’s the family into which we have been adopted as sons and daughters.
The language of family is all over the New Testament. Paul regularly uses the Greek word adelphoi in his letters to the churches—it’s a word that’s translated “brothers” or “brothers and sisters.” Paul calls both Timothy and Titus his “true child in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4), and he instructs Timothy to encourage an older man as “a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters” (1 Tim. 5:1-2).
Isn’t it just like our God to surprise us with a bigger picture of family? The church as God’s family doesn’t diminish the good design of marriage and parenting, but it widens the boundaries of the family. This family isn’t limited to those who share our DNA or live under our roof.
The surprise in my singleness has been my perspective on this new family. As believers, we are all a part of this family of God, but singles have a unique outlook on just how expansive that family is. Without a spouse and children filling my home, I’m prompted to look around and ask, “Who is my family?”
Think about the relationships in 1 Timothy 5 again. Fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.
In his insightful book, 7 Myths About Singleness, Sam Allberry notes that the language Paul uses is for immediate family, not extended family. “Immediate family implies a much tighter connection. We are to be there for one another and lean on one another. We have a stake in one another. What happens to one affects all of us.”
Pause for a moment and think about those family relationships: fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.
Who are your fathers and mothers?
Who are the men and women who have fed and nourished you spiritually? Who has discipled you and taught you? Who has lovingly corrected you? Who has cared for you as a mother tenderly cares for her child? Who would claim you as their “true child in the faith”? An older friend in the church recently told me of her surprise when one of the men in her community group said that he thought of her as a mother. He was honoring her as a mother, rising up to call her blessed (Prov. 31:28).
Who are your brothers and sisters?
We are all brothers and sisters in this family, with Jesus Christ as our elder brother, but let’s put some names in the family tree. Who are the men and women who, as Allberry says, are there for you to lean on, who have a stake in you? Who leans on you? Who do you have a vested interest in? Who do you call when you need someone by your side? Our siblings are by our side for most of our lives. Who are the people by your side, walking through life with you? Do you call them brother and sister? One friend often jokes that he’s the brother I never wanted, but there’s more truth there than he knows—indeed, he’s the big brother I always wanted and God provided.
Who are your sons and daughters?
The relationships in the family of God that are the most astounding to me as a single woman are those of sons and daughters. In the Garden of Eden, God gave a command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). We can trace the fruitfulness of God’s people through the genealogies of the Old Testament, but when we reach the New Testament there’s a new command. Jesus says:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
This command is to be fruitful and multiply…spiritually! It’s to make disciples and bear spiritual sons and daughters. It’s a command that’s given to all disciples. Single Christians—far from being excluded from this command—have a vital part to play. Isaiah 54:1 prophesies the joyful fruitfulness of the barren, unmarried woman:
“Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. (Is. 54:1)
Who are your sons and daughters? Who are you feeding and nourishing spiritually? Who are you discipling and teaching? Who are you caring for? Who do you call your “true child in the faith”? Are you longing for the kingdom of God to expand and multiply through you?
I’ve been surprised with a family. Surprised with a place in that family—not on the outskirts, but at its center. I’m a sister, a daughter, and even—in God’s surprising redemptive plan—a mother.