About a month after my husband died, I took a walk with another single mom who’d lost her husband two years earlier. No sooner had we hit the path than she remarked, “You know, Anna, how vulnerable we are.” Boy, did I ever know.
Statistically speaking, single mothers and their children are among the most vulnerable populations in our nation. We are more likely to be food-insecure, to live below the poverty line, and to struggle to find affordable childcare. This vulnerability is nothing new, which is why caring for the defenseless is a hallmark of true faith (James 1:27).
My vulnerability as a single mom encompasses many fears: economic insecurity, being taken advantage of, dating someone who turns out to be a jerk, and leaving my children parentless by dying.
Without a partner in my life, the world feels much more threatening (Eccl. 4:9–12). That’s why I love to read about the relationship God initiates with a young woman named Hagar.
Hagar was an Egyptian servant girl, likely given to Abram and Sarai after their difficult sojourn in Egypt. Dissatisfied with the Lord’s timing on the promised child, Sarai suggested that Abram sleep with Hagar. But when Hagar conceived, Abram washed his hands of the whole mess, Sarai took out her frustrations on her servant, and Hagar ran away (Gen. 16:1–6).
Consider Hagar’s plight. She was a foreign servant in a strange land and in a culture with a low view of women. Now, pregnant and alone, Hagar was as vulnerable and insignificant as a person can possibly be.
Imagine her astonishment when the angel of the Lord met her: “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Gen. 16:8). God knew exactly who she was, and the question echoed his own question to Adam in Genesis 3. He wasn’t unaware, but deeply concerned about what had happened to her and what would happen to her.
Directing her to return to Sarai, the angel ensured protection and provision for Hagar and her baby. Hagar received comfort and a promise: God would protect and bless her son and “multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Gen. 16:10). That child would be called Ishmael, “God hears.” Every time she called her boy to dinner, she’d be reminded: “the LORD has listened to your affliction” (Gen. 16:11).
Single Mom Seen
This pagan slave girl became the first person in the Bible to name God: “So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me’” (Gen. 16:13).
What does it mean that Hagar was “seen” by God? To be seen is to be valued, accounted for, and respected as an individual who bears the image of her Creator. Hagar had never truly been seen by another person. Her enslavers saw her as the spoils of conflict. Abram and Sarai saw her as an incubator for the promised child.
But God saw her, heard her, and knew her. He understood her history and spoke directly to her greatest fears by providing for her needs and giving her a hopeful future. He did all this while she was seated next to a well—just like another disgraced woman Christ would one day meet with “living water” (John 4:1–42).
He offers himself as living water for us, too.
God Who Sees You, Too
Single mother, God sees you. He is deeply concerned about what has happened to you and what will happen to you. He knows the burdens you carry; he knows you feel like you carry them alone. Your daily circumstances, like Hagar’s, may look bleak, but in Christ you are seated right next to a bottomless well of living water. He invites you to drink deeply of him, trusting him with your family.
Even more, God’s interaction with Hagar shows his lovingkindness not only to us as mothers, but to our children. After Isaac was born, Hagar and Ishmael were driven back into the wilderness. When their scant supplies ran out, Hagar wailed in misery, convinced the boy would die.
The Lord not only saw Hagar in her destitution (Gen. 16:7); he also heard her son in his need. God knew him, cared for him, and met him where he was (Gen. 21:17). He then reminded Hagar of the promise that Ishmael would become a great nation, and then he opened her eyes to see a well (Gen. 21:19).
God’s tender care for this mistreated mother and child knew no bounds. Dire circumstances caused Hagar to doubt God’s promises to her, but he didn’t lash out in exasperation or chastise her for lack of faith. Instead, he calmed her fear and met her needs and her son’s with compassion. He opened her eyes to what desperation prevented her from seeing: the well of water that was there all along.
Abba to the Fatherless
God our Father cares for single mothers in their lonely cries of desperate need. He does the same for our children, separated from their fathers by divorce, death, incarceration, deportation, or other traumas. God is a loving Father who keeps close personal watch on each of our children. He is not a distant Father, but an up close and personal Abba to fatherless children (Ps. 68:5).
On the cross, Jesus became fatherless to a degree that our children will never have to be (Matt. 27:46). He set aside his mighty power and took on our vulnerability. He exposed himself to abuse, abandonment, and death—all because he saw and he heard how our sin makes us suffer.
He lives even now, the endless well of living water, for us and for our children.
Anna Meade Harris is a single mom of three almost-grown sons. She is the editor-in-chief of the Rooted Ministry blog, a member of Brookwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the author of Fresh Faith: Topical Devotions and Scripture-Based Prayers for College Students. In her free time, Anna enjoys gardening, great books, running, hiking, hammocks, and ice cream. She cheers for the Crimson Tide and wants to live by a mountain stream in Idaho someday.