Solo parent

Week 14 – Moving Forward to a Place of Hope

Solo parents know weariness. You might carry emotional burdens for yourself and your children—sometimes even for your ex, who may be struggling too. Sometimes it feels like your furrowed brow is turning to concrete, making you look like you’ve aged ten years in one. You might carry the burden of financial shortfalls; complicated co-parenting; job insecurity. Or guilt, disappointment, and the judgment of others. Or hormonal teenagers, kids with special needs, preschoolers with a constant stream of impossible questions, or toddlers whose energy is tough to match with an empty tank. Sometimes, it feels like you’re barely treading water, let alone gaining ground on a brighter future.

In 1851, French novelist Alexandre Dumas fled France upon the presidency of Napoleon, who reviled him. He spent wildly and was persistently broke. He had as many admirers as he had powerful enemies. He knew plenty of death, scandal, and accomplishment. Who knows when he said this— perhaps later in his life, upon reflection, or as a farewell—but it serves as the evergreen advice of a man who knew vast extremes of joy, darkness, indulgence, vanity, talent, injustice, and love:

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world,” he wrote. “There is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life. Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: wait, and hope.”

A hundred years later, England’s J.R.R. Tolkien echoed Dumas, though from the mouth of a warrior elf facing insurmountable odds in Lord of the Rings:

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it, there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

We are not being banished by Napoleon, or facing an apocalypse of orcs. We’re ordinary people once wrecked by small banishments and tiny apocalypses in a context more real than any history or any fantasy: that of our family, our home, and our expectations of life.

The weariness that follows the shock might have made you crumble under pressure. Frustration robs us of both the future and the present. Disappointment clouds the simplest, most important truth: what we should do to overcome it and keep moving forward.

Weariness is a wall between you and hope. But it’s not made of bricks or stone, as it might look. It is an illusion—its only strength is in its ability to make you believe you’re hopeless. As soon as you know it’s an illusion, one push will topple it.

The Gift of Today

Cartoonist Bill Keane, who created the Family Circus comic, wrote, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift of God—which is why we call it the present.”

Staying present in the present—not overflowing with regret for the past, or with worry for the future—takes practice. We’re wired to replay the ways we’ve been wronged and the ways we’ve wronged others over and over again, and to fret so much we can’t focus on the small, sweet moments right in front of us.

None of us can practice staying present in the present by ourselves. Keane is right. Today (and every day) is a gift. To appreciate it, interpret it, learn from it, and share it well, pay attention to the giver.

Author Paul David Tripp reminds us: “Your hope is not to be found in your willingness and ability to endure but in God’s unshakable, enduring commitment to never turn from His work of grace.”

We are all God’s work of grace. You are His work of grace. Your children are His work of grace. And here’s a brain-twister, though you know it already no matter how hard it can be to admit—your ex is God’s work of grace.

He turns away from none of us. What distinguishes our practice of appreciating His gifts of the present (or not) is that some of us remember the origin of the gift, and some of us don’t. Some of us get swallowed up by regret, worry, and replaying our negative loops over and over again so loudly we can’t hear Him anymore, the one who gave us today.

To find hope, turn the volume down on all the noise in your head and heart. Seek quiet places, quiet reflection, and quiet forgiveness. God is not going to shout—He is going to wait for you to calm down enough to hear His voice.

Tripp continues: “God isn’t working for our comfort and ease; He’s working on our growth.”

Growth can hurt, but all the work, pain, and frustration is not for nothing. Like an aching muscle used past its breaking point, He is using it to fortify you. He wastes nothing.

Author and minister Robert Fulghum might have been taking a cue from those lessons when he wrote, “I believe imagination is stronger than knowledge. Myth is more potent than history. Dreams are more powerful than facts. Hope always triumphs over experience. Laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe love is stronger than death.”

Share Time:

On a scale of 1-10, how weary are you right now, with one being I feel the weariness, but I’m buoyed by hope and ten being I’m drowning?

The Nourishment of Giving Thanks

“Fake it until you make it” is interpreted by some as a call to bury your feelings, or act like someone you’re not. Not a fashionable piece of advice for those who recommend authenticity, and fair enough. But when it comes to gratitude, we need it most when we are least grateful. When we’re drowning, and consumed by regret and worry.

At first, we have to force gratitude to snap out of our focus on the negative. To interrupt and replot old neural pathways and patterns of thinking, we’ve got to fake it.

“You must be the person you have never had the courage to be,” said Paulo Coelho. “Gradually, you will discover that you are that person, but until you can see this clearly, you must pretend and invent.”

We have to snap out of tallying up what is bad and start paying attention to what is good. This is what pushes down the wall of weariness. There’s not only one way to give thanks. You can pray. You can write notes to the people you love, explicitly thanking them for being there for you. We don’t tell the people who matter how much they matter. Not often enough. You can journal. Or you can watch your son push his face into a cupcake and come up covered in icing, and you can laugh. Take a photo and send it to your ex with a smiley face. You can hold your breath as your moody 14-year-old daughter snuggles up next to you to watch a movie. You can let yourself soften, thinking Maybe we’re going to be okay after all.

Gratitude orients us to a calmer core. Begin by faking it until you develop a habit. You’ll start to notice the kindness and attention of others. You’ll start to notice the synchronicity of God’s timing. You’ll start to be present today.

Hope is a choice.

Share Time:

What is one thing you are thankful for right now?

The Surrender of Hope

In his book A Long Obedience In One Direction, author Eugene Peterson writes, “Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is the opposite of desperate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what He said He will do… His way and in His time.”

Calls for optimism can feel oppressive—especially when we’re deep in a dark patch. Someone saying “look on the bright side” might make you fantasize about knocking their ice cream on the sidewalk. But choosing hope isn’t optimism. It’s letting go of control.

Surrender your will for His, your timing for His. God knows hope feels impossible. He is surprised by nothing. Ask for His presence to help you begin.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for,” wrote novelist Barbara Kingsolver. “The most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”

Share Time:

What’s one area in which you can choose to hope this week?

Further Action Step:

The Hebrew word Zakar means “to remember.” As a Solo Parent community, we want to encourage you to create a Zakar jar throughout this season. The purpose of a Zakar jar is to remember God’s faithfulness in your life by writing down and keeping moments of gratitude. Whether you decide to remember once a week or on a daily basis, fill your jar with little reminders of God’s faithfulness to you and your kids.