As I do 'most every Sunday, I took my kids to church today. Unlike most Sundays, I encountered a little bit of resistance. Petunia had homework to finish and was just generally in a funk. Dash wanted to finish building a lego kit with his visiting grandpa and felt kinda comfy in his jammies. And Mama wasn't moved, for reasons I couldn't possibly explain adequately to my kids (and pardon me while I get there in a roundabout way) -- mostly because the worst part of this divorce -- the part that I truly cannot even put into words -- is its effect on them, especially on my oldest. I can provide an ear for them, and resources, and experts, and all sorts of things -- but I can't fix what's broken for them. Worse, I can't even call up my former partner either to praise things done right or to say "dude, our child needs something different from you right now" -- or "you're really screwing up." The blessing of dual-parenting (in the same house) is offsetting each other's weaknesses; to have that go out the window, suddenly, causes a great deal of imbalance in the message or treatment received during one or another's allocated time. Suddenly, my kids have new things to fight about: who chooses activities or food more often, who gets more stuff, who wins more favor. Sometimes, in the past, they'd disagree about food or about what to do, sure -- but the rest of it is all new, and it's causing a divide between my kids that I never thought I'd see. They're more at odds than usual, and it's only worsening. I buy them few treats these days because I fear the repercussions. They need to know that they're loved the same amount and will be, regardless of their strong feelings about these new lives that they very badly didn't want.
So what does a good mom -- no, a great mom, a mom who would give anything at all to ensure her kids' wellbeing -- do, especially when it seems like I'm all tried out?
I pray for Sunday to come. I pray to show up in a community that has been there for me 100% -- to be around the people who know our story and who have self-appointed as caregivers of my soul. And I pray hardest that my kids see that community as what it is: a safe and loving place outside of our family where their wellbeing matters to everyone around them. This is a place where other adults and kids and families come up to hug them, and where, when "peace" is exchanged, I pray most ardently that some of that peace enters into their little hearts. I pray for understanding and hope and resilience and so much more. I pray my heart out most days, but, most especially, on Sundays, when the cantor's voice reaches the rafters with my thoughts: "May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." Amen.
This is a somewhat newly-resurrected path for me. When my marriage started falling apart a year ago, I lost my faith entirely. By many accounts, I am one of the more faith-full people you might ever meet (faith-full being quite different from faithful or from Bible-thumping). As well, I am one of the most well-intentioned people you'll ever meet -- perhaps my delivery isn't always spot-on, but I show up for people. I live kindly, and well, and I help far more than I hurt. (I'd like to think I don't hurt others ever, at least not intentionally, but I'm not perfect -- so I pray for those I've hurt, too.) But a year ago, all of the sudden, I wondered why the God I believed in had turned his back on a faithful servant. Why could all of this bad stuff be happening to me, and to my children, when we'd lived well? We "did unto others as we'd have done unto ourselves" -- and we were happy. Then suddenly, we were surrounded with anything but godliness, anything but happiness, anything but kindness and goodness and all of those things that always seemed to find us in our lives. I'm not one of those people of faith who believed that God was challenging me. If anything, I believed Satan was real, because I was surely in hell, and I was pretty sure that nothing could save me.
It took a -- quite literal -- hit on the head to make me realize that, actually, God was still there. It was the most bizarre feeling ever to overcome my being. There I was, in the absolute worst moment of my marriage, knowing that it was the very end of that marriage, and all I could feel was this incredible warmth -- and over and over again, I heard "you are not alone, you are not alone, you are not alone." Sure, it might've been a coping mechanism. Call it what you want, but I do know God's presence when I feel it now; I'd felt it before at life's most stressful moments, and I felt it then magnified by a hundred times over. That warmth still hasn't left me, and it gave me such strength.
I don't expect my kids to Believe, but I do hope that they do, in part because they will know that feeling of both earthly and heavenly community. They'll come to their own conclusions as time unfolds, and for now, I expose them to my beliefs in hopes that some good lessons will sit and stick. And today, I saw that in action. We dropped Dash off at Sunday School; he came around quickly and was happy to be there to learn about the Ark. Petunia, grandpa and I sat in a pew, with grandpa greatly enjoying the music and with me holding Petunia's hand, seeing her upset face and trying to figure out what would get her to open up her heart just a little. The sermon was on stewardship (yawn), so that didn't quite do it. As we raised to gather around the table for communion (we stand at the alter for a long time for that), I heard the first notes of an old favorite song, and I shared with Petunia that I used to sing it to her as a baby. I could see that she wanted to be preteen about it -- to shrug and refuse to sing and remind me that she'd chosen not to attend today and was present under duress. But then the song unfolded, and her eyes softened, and her lips started reappearing, and, even if not internalizing, she was listening.
"Just as I am - Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come! I come."
I take my kids to church because I want them to remember that there is good in the world. I want them to know that they are loved by something greater than our small family. I want them to see that even if they are flawed themselves, they are still loved. I want them to hear that we all make mistakes and are forgiven anyway. And I go to church myself to remember that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, even get through the hardest thing in a mother's life: seeing her kids hurt. Every day, every week, every Sunday, I remind them that they are not alone.
"Just as I am - though toss'd about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come! I come."
Please, God, hear them, and help them, and heal them. Amen.