Some readers may notice that May was silent around here. I am sure I’m not the only one who struggled with a post-Pascha mailaise of some kind or other. For many of us the days of Bright Week seemed like a continuation of the struggle of Lent as “life” just never seems to relent for many of us. When David Dean, my co-leader here at the Living Water Blog, asked for help with topics and guest posts we had a wonderful and enthusiastic response from several in our Ancient Faith Single Parents Outreach group on Facebook. Today’s Guest Author is a single father of young children writing on the realities many of us single parents face. He writes anonymously to protect his privacy and that of his children. Please prayerfully consider his words of challenge to us all.
Both Inside and Outside
This is supposed to be the season of Paschal joy. Yet (for the third year in a row, for various reasons) I was unable to attend the Holy Week services, was unable to take my children to the Paschal Liturgy. This is partially a failure on my part, and I feel that failure strongly. Some things were out of my control, but the sense of failure remains.
Even had I been able to attend services, there would have remained the sense of being “outside”. As a divorced man, I recognize the sins that have brought me to this point, I recognize the sins that still entangle me. And because I see all that so clearly in my own life, it is often hard to imagine that others at Church can look at me and see anything different. As a father of three children it takes a lot of energy to attend services. The problem is compounded for those of us (and there are many of us) that do not have supportive families, or families living near us. If we are converts, perhaps our families oppose our conversion to Orthodox. Or perhaps we have moved a long distance from our family. All of our energy can be expended simply in preparing and driving (sometimes hours) with kids arguing in the back seat. Then we have the knowledge that tomorrow, we will have to go back to work unrested. This being the case, it is no wonder that single parents often feel like they are not truly part of the Church. (It is important to note here that the blame is not placed on the Church or anyone at the Church. It is simply a fact of life.)
But in addition to being “outside” the Church in some ways, we are living “inside” the world. And we have no choice in that regard. As single parents, we cannot leave the world and go to the monastery. We cannot, as St. Mary of Egypt did when finding herself stuck outside the Church, flee to the desert and repent. And even if we had the freedom, I would guess that most of us do not believe we are called to the monastic life. I would guess that many of us want to date, but dating is next to impossible. The number of Orthodox singles is low, if we are co-parenting we are bound to our current location, and that leaves mostly people outside the Church. This leaves us straddling the two worlds, trying to embrace both our Orthodoxy and our need for companionship. And I need not delve into the details of the sins that can easily entangle us, the bargains we make with ourselves and our souls to somehow try to keep our sanity while meeting the needs of ourselves and our children.
Divorce and Judgement
As a divorced man who fully admits my own sinfulness and complicity in the divorce, I also have to speak a word about the “culture wars” that are enveloping our society. Orthodox Christian single parents are considerably more conservative than society as a whole. We agree with the teachings of the Church of marriage and family life, and are not seeking to change them. That said, judgmental speeches about the destruction of marriage and family life, even when they are not directed at us, only intensify the judgment that we have passed on ourselves. (Ironically, were I not to admit my own sins, I could more easily participate in such speeches, and blame the downfall of my marriage on the world and the leftists. But this would do my own soul no good.) The way that the “culture wars” are often discussed leaves us stuck in the middle. We want to be fully Orthodox, we want to participate in the life of Christ, but those of us who have passed through a divorce, especially a divorce after we have joined the Church and the dissolution of a marriage that was blessed in the Church, inevitably feel rejected by hard-liners, and not represented by those seeking to change the Church.
What can we do?
If you’ve read this far, and you aren’t a single parent or divorced, you may wonder what to do. Obviously, pray. Prayer may be the best gift that can be given for us, especially because we spend an awful lot of time wondering whether our own prayers are even heard. But also, think about the things that are said at coffee hour. Think about how it might affect people who are there. Remember that a single parent or a divorced person has neither the energy nor the desire to ask someone who has said something hurtful to re-evaluate their thinking or their position, and step in for us. Offer encouragement when you have the opportunity. If you see us struggling with multiple children, get to know us and our kids so that you can ease a bit of the burden of Liturgy. And, again, pray.