Written by Cindy Palin

It started when I took two toddlers home from their dad’s workplace. His wife had left him, so he had to bring his kids to work every day at the crack of dawn. I wasn’t the babysitting type. Parenting my own children was difficult enough. But when I saw their blankets crumpled in a heap behind the store counter, I couldn’t help but ask if they could play at our house.

What was behind my spontaneity? A prayer. Several weeks prior, I prayed, “God bring your will to my door so I won’t miss it.” Those words were most definitely Holy Spirit inspired, and not of my own volition.

My husband and I had the children and their father over a few times. We ate supper together and got the kids ready for bed so he could feel supported in his first raw weeks of single parenting. One of those nights the youngest looked at me and called me mommy. That was it! My heart was breaking, and I had to do something.

My husband and I began a free dinner for single parents with the help of our church leadership and family. Our hearts broke together as we offered practical support to the rejected, divorced, and widowed.

Here’s where the experiment gets interesting. I don’t like meal planning. Hospitality isn’t at the top of my gifts, yet God was asking me to lead a single parent dinner. Instead of begging for volunteers, I was to pray for volunteers to show up.

The first night a dozen volunteers arrived to serve one single-parent family. I was mortified, but our pastor told me that having volunteers show up at all was a miracle. I looked around the table, and I saw a pattern. Most of those who had come to help were women affected by rejection and divorce themselves—women who had parented alone at one time, or who had a relative who did. God was up to something.

I believed eating together would create an atmosphere where people around the table could be heard. But for them to be heard, we had to learn how to listen. The volunteers listened for God’s leading as they got to know the person across the table. Listening became the precursor to building a relationship. Relationships ushered in opportunities for personal testimony, introductions to Christ, and then invitations into the family of God. 

In our wealthy society, even Christians have become accustomed to giving stuff instead of self. For example, someone dropped off meals at the home of a divorced friend of mine. But when she returned to pick up the dishes, most of the food had been left untouched and was rotting. The woman was angry because her charitable gift of food had been rejected. As I pondered the situation, I realized that I too am far more comfortable giving from a distance than listening. How many times had I offered a band-aid rather than a solution? The food was a kind gesture, but a visit and some spoon-feeding would have been more effective. This young man’s pain was so debilitating he wasn’t sure he wanted to live, let alone eat.

This realization reaffirmed our community dinner, and our efforts to spend time going beyond the surface. This adventure lasted for eight years. Despite our God-given inspiration, our efforts to listen and keep the dinner simple slowly morphed into creative additions and unrealistic expectations. Fatigue followed. When fatigue robs joy, analyze your heart’s motivation. Perhaps it is time to let go and let God all over again?

We think ministry means helping people when it’s really God saving us from our self. I am thankful for our imperfect church and a gracious God who continues to teach us how to love.