NO ONE KNEW The Hidden Poverty of Middle-Class Single Mothers
All my years of theatrical acting experience did not prepare me for the show I put on that day. Most of the time, I was a master illusionist, able to transform my furrowed, single-momma brow into a display of peace and contentment. But that day was different, and I prayed I wouldn’t bump into anyone familiar, as my carefully manufactured facade would have surely crumbled at the smallest provocation.
To the other shoppers, I was just a mom, shopping for groceries with her daughters. No one knew my purse contained all the money I had in the world— $12 and with it, I had to buy two weeks of food and laundry detergent.
No one knew the times my daughters and I ate a cold dinner by candlelight because our electricity was shut off for non-payment, or that the county had rejected my application for childcare assistance and food stamps because I made $300 over the yearly income limit.
No one knew the fear that prevented me from legally pursuing the child support my children deserved. No one knew I had broken down in prayer a week earlier, pleading with God for help and confessing my financial failures, fears, and inadequacies. No one saw the fistful of change I put in the offering basket that Sunday to show God I trusted Him with all I had.
No one knew, but God did.
The shoppers just pushed their overflowing carts past us without notice and for that, I was thankful.
“I am nothing but skin and bones.” Job 19:20
Let’s be real here. No one has ever accused me of being “skin and bones,” as my dress size would attest. While I struggled as a single mother to provide for my family’s basic needs, we never knew a day of real hunger. We had regular access to shelter, food, water, clothing, transportation, employment, education, technology, utilities, and medical care. If we lacked any basic need, it was usually temporary.
By the numbers, my single-parent family fit within the classification of “lower-middle class.” But the threat of falling into “situational poverty,” however, loomed every day. Situational poverty occurs when an unexpected crisis or demand depletes one’s limited financial resources, causing them to fall temporarily below the poverty line and lose access to basic necessities. Factors contributing to the situational poverty of a single mother might include underemployment or loss of employment, lack of child support, lawyer fees, illness or medical emergency, vehicle repairs, Christmas and birthdays, back-to-school supplies and clothes, and the payments or fees associated with mismanaged finances.
Like many middle-class single mothers, I secretly experienced frequent falls into situational poverty. It was not uncommon for my bank account to be nearly emptied by the third week of each month, leaving almost nothing for food and gas for the following weeks. When payday finally arrived, I immediately spent money on food, rent, utilities, and gas to regain a sense of security. This vicious cycle repeated month after month, year after year, leaving me in a constant state of need, vulnerability, instability, and desperation—leaving me as “skin and bones.”
At some point, after I had grown weary enough, I defined myself as poor; and the world as a place of scarcity. I took this belief into my spirit, allowing its tendrils to wrap themselves around each area of my life, and soon everything seemed of short supply. Money. Love. Ability. Grace. Beauty. Knowledge. Time. Sleep. Joy. Friends. Faith. Blessings. This mindset not only tainted my perception of the world, but also of God as my provider, and served as a form of bondage that prevented me from embracing His life of abundance.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 (ESV)
In my poverty, I questioned God’s faithfulness, concern, and knowledge of my situation. After all, how could God, who holds the riches of both heaven and earth, possibly comprehend need? He might see our poverty from afar, as one views the moon through a telescope, but does He know how it feels? And if He did understand, why wasn’t He doing anything about it? That is when I began asking, “God, where ARE you in this?”
In response, Jesus led me to His cross.
Often known as the Great Exchange, Jesus’ death on the cross served as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, giving us salvation and a new life in Him. He not only took on our sin in exchange for His righteousness, but He also took on our poverty in exchange for His riches.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9
When Jesus died on the cross, He was:
Hungry: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Luke 22:15–16
Thirsty: “I am thirsty.” John 19:28
Naked: “When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them.” John 19:23
It was during this time of coming back to the cross and all it had paid for — my poverty, sin, scarcity, and lack — that I saw my life differently, as abundant, as rich in all things. Yes, the financial evolution took time, but what was most important was my spiritual growth. And what I’ve learned through all this, and so much more, is that I am one rich girl!
Michelle Lynn Senters has a message for single moms— one forged in her own journey and deepened through her years of ministry to single mothers. “You are not alone.” She is the Founder and Director of SEEN, a ministry designed to demonstrate the lavish love of Christ to single mothers. Michelle is a sought-after speaker at women’s events, Bible studies, and writer’s conferences. She is the author of The Unseen Companion- God with the Single Mother. .
The Life of a Single Mom is a national, faith-based, nonprofit that exists to see that no single mom walks alone. To date, we have worked with more than 1,500 churches & community groups to start or improve a single mom’s support group in cities throughout the U.S. and beyond. We have a large array of books, curriculum, training materials, and online instructional videos to support ministry leaders who lead single moms. Our single mom programs focus on empowering single moms to grow spiritually, emotionally, financially, and parentally through a number of projects including: Single Mom University, Single Moms Across America, the National TLSM Single Moms Conference, and a variety of programs throughout the U.S. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com