Leading up to Father’s Day many of us or those we support experience increased anxiety and frustration as all the difficulties of our parenting relationships come to the fore. This reflection on ‘faith’ won’t solve any immediate problems, but it might open a fresh approach in response to them.
For the first time in my adult life I have discovered a definition of ‘faith’ that I totally relate to. For years it has contorted my brain. While always busy seeking practical solutions to so many separated parenting issues, an inviting attraction to the value of ‘faith’ remains constant. I always feel pulled to appreciating a greater yet hidden systemic order, but I quickly rebuff any suggestion I should leave my intellect at the door when approaching the place it points to.
It comes from a source of wisdom we (or I?) so often shy way from, the Bible. I offer it here not as a religious message, but instead as a purely human expression of one person’s understanding of what ‘faith’ is. As human beings we deal with the unknown in every aspect of life every day, and we therefore are always putting faith in something, consciously, or not. So, why not check in with some ancient thought-leaders to see what they say about it?
Here is what I’m referring to, from the writings of St Paul: ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ (Hebrews 11.1, from the King James version.)
To me, this is a remarkable insight; an observation of what we all do, referring simply to how our minds work and how we might work them better.
For example, plenty of us play with our mobile phones while we are driving, even though it is dumb and dangerous to do so, hopeful that we won’t get caught. Or we speed a bit, or we don’t fully stop at every stop sign, forever hoping there are no police in view. The substance of this type of hope is based on the law of probability, it is highly probable that we will not get caught every time for these misdemeanors, nor are we likely to cause a major accident (even though mobile phone use is increasingly a cause of serious accidents). If these outcomes were more likely, most of us would modify our behavior accordingly.
The breakup of a marriage or any long-term relationship can be brutal, it can devastate us for a long time, especially when children are involved. To talk about ‘faith’ to anyone in the thick of such difficulty, in its early or advanced stages, is generally a useless exercise because there is often no near-reality to have faith in. There are sometimes no legal or social mechanisms available to offer any hope of quickly reversing some circumstances. That is, everything we once thought to be real and ‘reasonable’ can appear to have been completely blown away. Although there may have been advance warnings nothing could have warned us for what feels like such a completely inhumane attack on our experience and identity as a parent, not to mention the equivalent attack it represents to our children’s lives. And we are left in shock at the inability of the law or anyone involved to put things ‘right’.
It can be tempting for anyone going through this, or supporting someone going through it, to only see everything as being ‘wrong’. Trust me, these are words of experience. What this reflection suggests though, is that we may all benefit from carefully examining what substance of things we do hope for, and what evidence of things not seen is actually guiding our inner decisions and our actions. Becoming more conscious of how we practice faith in this way might help us give more attention to the positive steps/people/influences that are in fact available to strengthen us. In that way, ‘faith’ can work to bring us closer to what we really want.
For those of us serving as DIDSS or MIDSS volunteers in the community, or anyone interested in what we do and keen to support our efforts, we always need to keep looking for ways to function at our best. It is not always easy to put aside our own personal experiences while being reminded every day of the hurt we might still carry through the experiences of those coming to us for support.
I am confident every person I have ever supported through DIDSS has definitely found some substance of hope in them. And, they have also found evidence of some positive things in their life that may not be immediately visible. There are so many things it might be, a forgotten relative or family friend, an interest in playing music or fixing cars, a passion for studying philosophy or participating in water sports, there is nearly always something we can tap into to help alleviate the distress being experienced and to help provide a more positive focus. Listening long enough to draw it out, or dealing with the many negative ideas the person is carrying, or encouraging them long enough to act appropriately, may not always be so straightforward. But once we manage to help in this way, the actions people take are usually far more effective in creating a better situation for all involved.
Our challenge is to become more practiced in looking for these positives, and in helping others look for them. Otherwise, what is available to have faith in for each individual might be completely missed. If we do miss it, then we are at risk of acting without the strength that is in fact available. In the separated family environment it is crucial we work to find new strength to help replace what we know has been lost.
One of the most meaningful tools we have in DIDSS is the opportunity to really listen to what others are going through. As our welcome message reminds us in each meeting: Here we really listen to each other, or at least we don’t interrupt or jump in quick to say our piece or even give what we may think is just the best and most important piece of advice. Instead we give respectful attention. In this listening we connect with each other and more easily unravel the multiple forces that can easily combine to create unbearable stress.
Therefore, every single person in contact with DIDSS can be offered something real to put faith into. Our substance is a community of warm-hearted peers who have overcome many difficulties, and our evidence is that we continue to work, to volunteer, to be available for any one experiencing a family breakup that feels too difficult to bear.
This coming Father’s Day I encourage everyone to examine and nurture their practice of faith. No matter what the Day brings, there is sure to be someone you meet who can benefit from knowing there are strangers out there seriously committed to providing this special form of hope and help.