A Single Parent Psalm for Lent

The struggle is real. For every one of us during Lent—single parent or not. And yet for us single moms and single dads there are nuanced layers that sometimes threaten to swamp us with otherness. Our marathon isn’t unique—we struggle with the same passions and temptations as everyone. Yet, when we go home to our children after work the partner-less, half-empty house seems to point at our failures in an unavoidable way.

Scarlet letter anyone?

Every single mom and single dad I’ve spoken with longs to be seen while striving to be invisible at the exactly the same time. Of course we battle the same sin of pride as everyone else yet the nakedness of our shame tempts us to fall into one extreme or the other. The temptation to give in to self pity (and pride), longing for someone to recognize and acknowledge how “super impossible” life is for us or instead to give in to defensiveness (and pride!) by claiming we are “doing the best we can” are powerful self-soothing measures I’ve often taken up myself.

More deeply than these half measures, however, our soul longs for a practice of acceptance and forgiveness and an experience of striving-along-with the body of Christ. So often our own sense of shame seems publicly evident and stands between us and the experience of togetherness with our church family. For instance…those times when we show-up-at-church on our own those weeks the kids are with the other parent or maybe we just don’t come to service at all for a week or two or three. Or those times a stray comment about “I’m praying for you and your kids” twists inside us and becomes “why? What did you hear?” Or what about when the kids are running in three different directions and I only have two hands and no godparent, friend or partner is in site! The thought of “if only I had a partner to help” quickly becomes “they’ve got to be wondering if I’m any kind of parent when my kids act this way!”

Hiding in plain site

Maybe our status as single parents isn’t the first thing that comes to mind for our church family and our friends, but I’ve often felt that there is something unavoidably naked about attending services as a single mom. I confided in a dear friend of mine recently about how painful it is to come in to a service and have no one meet my eyes and no one seem delighted to see me. Then I recognized, with sadness, that the next time I came to service and she greeted me warmly, remembering our conversation, that I instantly ducked my head and returned to my usual, comfortable, invisible cloak of hiding-in-plain-site.

What if the answer to both the temptation to hide and to defend is the same? What if the Psalm for our single-parent lives, particularly in Lent, is both to both acknowledge and accept this “awful, beautiful life” (to quote a Country Song)?

Seen. Heard. Forgiven.

The ironic reality is that my own sense of shame is all that stands between me and forgiveness. Just as the intense and immediate freedom found in confession is proceeded by a willingness to name my sins out loud, that moment of being-seen and feeling-heard and experiencing forgiveness is directly proceeded by showing up.

I’m not sure if anyone else relies on the Paschal Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom like I do. Knowing that the feast is prepared for my failing-to-keep-Lent-well self just as much as if I threw in my whole determination to keep-the-fast-perfectly is such a direct refutation of all my perfectionism excuses.

The same experience of realness is available to me, and you, around our unmarried parenting status too, I think. So far this Lent I haven’t made it to any extra services after Forgiveness Vespers, but I’ve sent my children with various friends and rides a time or two. I have many reasons, or excuses (depending on your definition of each of these words), and yet the biggest obstacle for me now is “just” those old specters of embarrassment and the lie that I carry my shame more visibly than I do the forgiveness offered to all of us.

Today I read on Facebook that the most important part of a prostration isn’t the bowing but the getting back up afterwards. Sometimes, for some of us, that “getting back up” is walking in the front door of our church again—whether it’s been two weeks since our last time through the doors or two years.

Then I choose to show up

At some point in my waffling and running away God always stops me in my tracks—offering again and again the experience of Balaam’s Donkey or Paul’s blinding—invading my headlong rush into oblivion to remind me, if I pause long enough, that “I’m right here. My Body and Blood, my Self in the Holy Mysteries, are right here for you just as for every other Christian. Your need for me is no greater or no less than for every other soul. Please don’t continue to starve and thirst and waste away when my Living Water is here for you. Yes. For you.”

It isn’t lost on me that my last post here on the blog was about missing services out of necessity and now I’m writing about the temptation to avoid the Living Water offered to each of us in unending abundance!

May you and I accept that Living Water and especially the overflowing blessings offered during this season of Lent. The only thing standing between me, or you, and true soul-deep consolation, are old lies of the enemy. No matter how daunting or embarrassing or impossible it seems, let’s choose to show up for the feast during the fast. After all we have each been invited to “taste and see” haven’t we?

About Elise Photini

Elise Photini is an author, Beautiful Way coach and Registered Nurse raising her “littles” (now teens!) on the dry living-desert side of the Pacific Northwest as a single mom where she works as a home health geriatric nurse, while creating time to write and speak between horse shows with her girls, Boy Scout events with her son and gardening with herself in rare and treasured silence. See more about Elise Photini with links to her latest projects on ElisePhotini.com.

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