QUESTION: I divorced my children’s father 10 years ago because of infidelity. He is now living in another country and has a new family. He has pretty much turned his back on his American children and won’t help them financially, even though he is wealthy. Recently, my hard-working daughter had a financial setback when her husband was injured on the job. She asked her father for help and he declined, even though at some point the money would be paid back.
My heart is so sad that my children are being treated this way. What spiritual advice would help them and me? I have to add he won’t talk to me and wants nothing to do with me, so I can’t talk to him.
~ Sad Mom
Dear Sad Mom,
Your ex-husband sounds like a real piece of work, and I am especially sorry for your daughter’s hardship. But you asked for spiritual advice, so here is mine: try to forgive him, both for cheating on you 10 years ago and for ignoring his children. I’ll admit that trying to forgive someone when what you really want is revenge is very hard. But nobody ever said the life of a believer is like a walk in the park. And don’t forget that the one who said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ended up on a cross. So most people have a really hard time with forgiving someone who really doesn’t deserve it! But that’s the Christian faith, and forgiving your ex sounds like a good place to start. And you can forgive him even if he won’t talk to you.
By the way, your forgiveness of the father of your children is a great start, but don’t expect him to start taking an interest in his children. He may but only after a long time has passed. It goes without saying that you or your daughter should never expect to see a dime from him. The kids should keep trying, but not for financial gain, and you should try to forgive him. After that, everything is in God’s hands.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman,
La Cañada Congregational Church
Dear Sad Mom,
I know that there is no pain like the pain we mothers feel when our children are hurt or rejected, especially by a parent as you are describing. Even with our adult children, the sting is real and such a difficult process to let go of. I deal with my own anger and frustration I feel when my ex-husband (my teenage children’s father) and their stepmother don’t support them the way I think they should.
In your situation, with your daughter’s father being wealthy and refusing to help your daughter and son-in-law when their need is great is an incredibly frustrating thing indeed.
I am a Christian, which for me means I practice the spiritual path of the radical compassion of Jesus. Throughout his teaching and preaching during his short ministry, Jesus of Nazareth asked of his followers some almost completely impossible things. One of the most impossible: to love our enemies. Being human, with all my shortcomings, imperfections, failures and mistakes means I don’t do anything perfectly – especially loving my enemy – but I have learned to take baby steps. I usually start by praying for the person who I find difficult to get a long with by just asking God to bless them. For me, to bless them means that I want them to have all the spiritual gifts that I have experienced: peace, joy, happiness, love, faith, etc. I have some challenging relationships in my family and I never put myself in the line fire but I do pray for their wellbeing. Sometimes all I can do is pray for the willingness to be willing to pray for them, because I am so angry that praying for them seems completely impossible.
If I put my focus on God, cultivating a tiny amount of compassion or praying for my enemy, I am usually on the road to loosening my grip on my anger and allowing for my heart to soften and open just a bit to the difficult person in my life. God bless!
St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church
QUESTION: My wife and I get along great except on the subject of religion. I was raised in a Christian home, and now that our oldest child is approaching school age, I want to send him to a Christian school. My wife was raised in a hellfire and damnation religion and doesn’t want our children exposed to fear-based teachings.
I’m at a loss as to how to continue this discussion with her, and would appreciate words of wisdom to help us get to an agreement.
~ God Loving Dad
I understand your predicament. I raised my daughter as a Religious Scientist (not Scientology) as I taught the Ernest Holmes’ philosophy to the children in my church. And she went to a Christian school from kindergarten to high school. I enrolled her because I felt it would be safer than a public school, even though I didn’t totally agree with some of the teachings in that particular school.
She had a few challenging conversations with her religion teachers during her middle school years and together we discussed her concerns, which I taught her to speak for herself and her own beliefs. If you and your wife can maintain individual, balanced, yet open attitudes and discussions, your child can have the advantage of hopefully safe, good structured schooling in a Christian school and still develop her own foundation of belief. If you do go to a church that is different from the Christian faith, then your child and you can discuss what is taught in school, at your church and your home.
Children today are really very wise souls, and inherently know truth versus dogma. My daughter as a young adult, even though she does not attend church now, uses our philosophy successfully in her life and does not have any “damage” from having attended a Christian school.
My suggestion is give the Christian school a chance; talk with your child about your concerns and your own beliefs, and teach her to share with you any questions/situations that may arise so she can learn to discern what feels right in her own heart and mind. You are then teaching her to have her own opinions, which can be challenging for young children and teens, although they are learning to make wise choices and be independent as adults.
For me, I have no doubt in my mind that my daughter can take care of herself. In her own words, she told me, “You didn’t raise a sissy!”
Good luck with your peaceful discussions together.
Clearly, your wife has had a different experience of religion than you have had, and a far less positive one whereas you wish your child to have the same richness in his or her spiritual life as you experienced in your faith. It is clear your wife does not want her child to go through the suffering and self-torment she knew of being taught about an angry and unforgiving God that condemns, rather than a loving and forgiving God that accepts.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, a minister himself, in his address to the Harvard Divinity school laid blame on religion for the ills of the human body, mind and spirit because it taught fear of a rejecting God, uncertainly of salvation and self loathing for our natural imperfections. So I can well understand where your wife is coming from, and her concern for her child. Likewise, I can well understand where you are coming from and the confusion you feel over this issue in light of your own experience. I know you have your child’s welfare in mind just as much as your wife does.
The answer lies in communication and compromise. There is no shame in seeking professional counseling or mediation when you reach an impasse such as this. You both have strong views on the matter, and rather than closing off and feeling hurt from the conflict, and what you each perceive as a lack of understanding on the other’s part. It is important to keep talking, and listening, through this. All real learning comes out of dialog. All lasting solutions come out of dialog. A good counselor (preferably non-religious and impartial) will help with that, not take sides, guide and assist the both of you in communicating and listening to one another and finally help you both craft a solution each of you can agree to, and even be happy with.
Part of that process may entail your wife going to the school and finding out from the teachers and principal just what her child is going to be taught about God. She will either have her concerns confirmed or be pleasantly surprised and agreeable to your child going there.
In any event, continue to talk, be respectful and compassionate to one another in the process, and be open to compromise, and crafting creative solutions together.