Over a year ago my daughter moved with her mother to live eight hours away from me. I live in the Philadelphia area, and they in Maine. I wrote my thoughts and intentions here at Grow Christians back when it happened, and looking back at what I wrote then and reflecting on the year that has followed, I hurt.
I hurt because my daughter feels so far away. Despite all my best intentions, despite the opportunities I’ve had to be with her – two summers where she was with my family, Christmas, Easter and Spring Break, and more – despite online video chats and occasional phone calls, nothing can take away the sting of being hundreds of miles away from my baby girl. I imagine nothing ever will.
I hurt because I look at the ways I planned on being intentional in my parenting and faith formation, and I see where I’ve fallen short. I hurt because none of it has gone as smoothly as I had hoped from the start, and I hurt because I blame myself and struggle to show myself grace in an extremely difficult situation.
All of these things do hurt; divorce and co-parenting, even in the best circumstances, is incredibly challenging and all too often painful. But in those challenges, I see good news. Again and again, I have seen God working in ways I could not have imagined or expected to bring good out of these difficult circumstances, and others have been there to show me love and support along the way.
One example of this is the way that my family has stepped up to encourage my daughter in her faith life from afar. My mother has without fail sent Sunday School lessons, Bible coloring pages, and crafts made especially for her as gifts from our church’s Sunday School to Maine so that even though she isn’t with our Sunday School, she remains connected. Seeing that commitment and resiliency in my own mother has been encouraging and has held me accountable as I try to be an active and involved parent from such a far distance.
Another example of seeing God work in my situation is the surprising involvement of her other parents, my ex-wife and partner, in her faith life. One of my fears in raising a child in faith from such a far distance was the fact that her mother does not share the same commitment to faith that I do. While I respect our religious differences, I’ve always wanted to be able to raise my daughter in the Episcopal faith. I am immensely grateful in the little ways they have encouraged my daughter in owning her faith, even as she does not attend church actively at her home in Maine.
All of this is to say that God is bigger than the pain of divorce, bigger than the challenges of co-parenting, and much bigger than the distance between my daughter and I. God has the power, and has proven again and again to be able to bridge that seemingly massive divide, reminding me and encouraging me at my low moments. I believe with all of my heart that families have been given to us by God to reflect the good news of God’s love to us, a sacramental reflection of the beauty of Jesus Christ, even when marriage’s beauty has been marred.
For all of you single parents out there and long distance parents, I know it can seem impossible at times to see the good in your situation. I know the wounds and the scars, and how it can be hard to separate co-parenting from the pain of divorce. But I also encourage you in your journey, because God is indeed working in your situation. God is present with you and is in your child’s life, longing to raise them up as children of God.
Looking back at the last year, there’s much I could not have anticipated. I know that the next year will bring its own surprises. My life is so much different now than it was then, and I have learned many lessons that I hope to share with the readers here at Grow Christians as I also share my struggles. But in all of this as I go forward, I hold on to this good news: that God’s nature is to always be making good out of bad, and that God’s love for my daughter is bigger and stronger than I can possibly imagine. As my mother would say, I love her, but Jesus loves her even more! I pray that God gives me the grace to remember that each day, and encourages every parent of faith in the same.
How do you parent for faith from a distance?
Mary Lee Hanford Wile says
Beautiful, painful, honest: thank you for your courage in sharing this part of your journey.