As many abandoned spouses know, today’s marital abandonment doesn’t always mean desertion. While society congratulates the parent who moves out for staying “involved,” it largely ignores longterm challenges abandoned spouses face redefining themselves and filling emptiness left behind when children visit the deserting parent.
Last week I celebrated another anniversary in my journey through abandonment. On October 11th, 2011, I wrote my first post for Single Mom Smiling: “Pregnant and Abandoned, Welcome to Single Mom Smiling.” You can find it here.
I know the pain and confusion of abandonment, the fear and trauma of divorce, the overwhelm, exhaustion, and isolation of single parenting, and the worthlessness and doubt encompassing it all. I write this to offer a different kind of hope for the struggling abandoned.
Eight years after my husband’s abandonment, I still don’t like saying goodbye to my children, but I also don’t dread goodbyes as I once did. I now have a deeper understanding of the inherent wrongness of abandonment, no fault divorce, and missing children you don’t tuck safely into their beds.
Six years after that first post, I also know how to use alone time to benefit my children, myself, and the world if I choose. I can use “time off” (an awful expression when forced on parents and children) to meet friends, travel, work on my writing, coaching, and speaking, make my home more welcoming, and draw closer to my Lord and who He created me to be.
In this there is freedom. Freedom comes not because of an abandoned spouse’s “time off” but because of what an abandoned spouse does in that time. Freedom comes from knowing God has you in the palm of His hand and never abandons you. Freedom comes from becoming God’s vision of you. Freedom is available to all who continuously decide to persevere in Grace.
The Good Life Before Abandonment
Married women easily make husbands and children their whole worlds. It doesn’t mean they do this perfectly or that they don’t have outside friends, jobs, and interests, but their primary focus is on family. Their universe, for the most part, revolves around family and seeking the best for each loved one.
As a married woman, I slid easily into this role. I was far from perfect, but I gave my all to my husband and children. I believed the basically good person I was showed in the good life we lived and in how far we’d come in the world. We seemed to have it all. What we didn’t have was within reach, and we’d get it sooner or later.
Before abandonment, I believed we were living the good life!
In abandonment, I believed all that was good would leave with my husband.
Abandonment Meant The Good Life, As I Knew It, Was Over
In many ways I was right. For too many after a spouse’s abandonment, the good life, as society defines the good life, as I defined the good life, is over.
In abandonment, what and who we value most is lost. What society says makes our families successful is lost. An abandoned spouse does nothing to deserve marital abandonment. Partially abandoned children do nothing to deserve partial parenting and partial abandonment!
Abandonment means shaking, sleeplessness, exhaustion, health concerns, pain, financial stress, employment challenges, court battles, overwhelm, self-doubt, confusion, fear, trauma, isolation and more. This is NOT how life is supposed to be.
Abandonment means you alone bear the weight of total responsibility,
In the ensuing chaos, abandonment means spinning wheels while losing a rat race toward the “good life.”
Abandonment Can Mean Living A Different Kind of Good Life
None of this is how life is supposed to be, but seeking society’s definition of “the good life” is also not how life is supposed to be according to God’s Will for us.
God asks us to seek His Love, His Peace, His Joy, His Fulfillment, and His Grace to thrive in His Good Life! Abandonment can mean Freedom to seek God’s Will and things that have permanent, eternal value and are truly Good!
When you are emptied of all you most value, you can decide what to be filled with or you can avoid the effort of decision making and be filled with what others bring you.
By continuously turning to God, you redefine “good life” to mean “…the peace of God that surpasses all understanding.” (Phil 4:7) and realize the truly Good Life does not come from a house, a job, trips around the world, financial security, or even human relationships. The Good Life comes only when there is Peace in your heart, mind, and soul. Without Peace, other stuff doesn’t matter.
When you make the effort to continuously seek the Lord, the weight you carried being like everyone else, the scrambling you did to prove you were living an authentic life, the junk you got so your kids could be “happy,” all that distracts you from what patiently waits in the shadow of you to notice what it gently offers…all that “good life stuff” disappears slowly, painfully.
It is in emptiness that you begin your search for fulfillment and an end to your lukewarm existence. It is in the search for meaning in the hell hole of an unjust courtroom in front of lackadaisical judges that you stare in at the words, “In God We Trust” and hope for The All-Knowing, All Just Judge, while also cringing over how you’re answering His Laws, and whether your “good life” helps or hinders all He asks and gives. It is in your questioning of whether your doing the minimum, “better than most,” or relying on your own feelings and understandings is enough. It is in this that you look beyond Sunday Mass and childish prayer around the dinner table to investigate how to believe in a deeper meaning of life and faith and suffering and value and yes, Goodness! It is in jumping into the fire of conviction that you realize how narrowly you’re escaping society’s definition of the “good life,” your own lukewarm existence, and the fire of real Hell it would have tossed you into.
It is in that search, not in the abandonment of the search, but in the red-hot, light-my-soul-on-fire-for-Truth search that you begin to find the reality of Goodness.
It is in abandonment that you intelligently investigate the Church’s teachings, teachings that flourishing societies have upheld and dead societies have desecrated for over 2000 years. It is in intelligent investigation, hard work, prayerful dedication, and a never ending search for Truth and definition of “The Good Life” that you find value in previously misunderstood or ignored Virtues.
It is in abandonment that you treasure patience when society demands pleasure and fulfillment in the now, perseverance when society says quit and move on, silence when society urges you to lash out and be heard, chastity and restraint when society taunts you with the belief that freedom means making your own rules and to hell with natural consequences, and love even of our enemies when society tells us love can’t last because it’s subjectively, whimsically, temporarily defined.
Eight years after marital abandonment, things I struggled with then continue to cause challenges. Finances, underemployment, time constraints, overwhelm, and isolation are just a few. There are days I mourn lost dreams, want to crumble under the challenges of parenting boys alone, long for friendships I don’t have time for, and am so exhausted I can hardly keep from crying.
Hope For Find Goodness in Abandonment
Eight years later, there are many days I cannot believe this, THIS, is my life.
But, part of that disbelief requires me to embrace the Good Life I’ve been given and the wonder at how Blessed I am because I am wiser and know things I didn’t know eight years ago! I know what the Good Life is and how to get back to it when I want to crumble! I know the Good Life is not something another can give me – and it is not something another can take away!
The Good Life is found in lost arts like knowing the secret to finding Joy in exchanging suffering for the redemption of souls. The Good Life means that, while I still want to break down some days, every single day I wonder at the Beauty of God’s creation. The Good Life means seeing each breath as a gift. The Good Life means that, while others question whether God is active in our world, exists, or cares at all, I feel amazement in their failure to give thanks for miracles that are Life. The Good Life means praying for the conversion of doubters who see and seek only the good life. Living the Good Life means holding hands with Hope that even those doubters will be converted and find Peace in the Good Life. Living the Good Life means being unspeakably grateful that I still put in the effort to know, Love, and serve God and will never again question His existence or Love for us. Living the Good Life means knowing my worth as a child of God and handing past, present, and future over to Him.
Living the Good Life means finding Joy in all things, yes, even in marital abandonment.
Six years ago, I began Single Mom Smiling with the hope of being the woman with the smile. Today, I have not perfected the goal all the time, but I am well on my way. I promise that by redefining the Good Life and turning continuously toward the Lord in all the seemingly odd ways the Catholic Church teaches, you too can find The Good Life.