Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season. The holidays are meant to be a time of joyful celebration with family and friends. For many single parents though the holiday season is a time of loneliness and confusion. What single parents need to understand is that they fight battles bigger than the ones in front of them. We are all truly soldiers in spiritual warfare, and loneliness and confusion are part of the enemy’s arsenal.
I didn’t recognize my pain as spiritual warfare in my early years of single parenting. Maybe this new recognition is part of blessings that rose from curses of 2020 and insanity that followed. It has become clear to those paying attention that battles we face reach beyond those of our immediate family. Today’s suffering reaches into the realms of the spiritual warfare. How else can we explain the darkness that threatens our families, our nation, and our Church?
Combating Loneliness This Thanksgiving through Gratitude and Humility
I sat toward the back of the church at Thanksgiving Mass this morning. After receiving the Eucharist, it was like I was transported back in memory to shortly before my husband left. We had the picture perfect family. Yes, life was chaotic with all those little boys running around, but it was all so beautiful too!
I felt a warmth come over my heart remembering those days. There was so much love and laughter in our home and in the craziness of our lives!
But I remembered more too.
I saw myself as I was then. I was Ms. Popular. That is not said to brag. It is simply the truth. I had just been made youth minister. I was CYO basketball coach for my two oldest sons and had coached with a little one on my hip for years. I was PTA mom and a member of the building level planning team at my sons’ elementary school. Everyone in town knew me. I liked pretty much everyone and pretty much everyone liked me in return.
I remembered it all fondly. There was no pain to my memory, just sweet sadness.
Then, as I knelt leaning into the pew in front of me, came the realization that shortly after these joyful remembrances, my life, and the lives of my precious children, would fall apart.
My husband left suddenly, and we went from being a very popular family to being a family everyone talked about but few talked to.
In the scramble to move and find housing, update my expired teaching license and land a job, face a horrifying divorce court and do my best to raise five little boys whom I loved so much but could not give attention to the way any of us needed to be attended to, I lost my status and most of my friends. Not that they weren’t wonderful people because they were! It was me. I was overwhelmed and traumatized. I was in survival mode and barely keeping my head above water. I could no longer relate to small talk and trivial things that make life “normal.”
14 years later, I have not regained the skill of small talk. Some days I miss it. I miss the naive companionship that comes from knowing one’s place in life and thinking it will last forever. On the other hand, I also know I would not trade, the Wisdom, I’ve been given for the past I used to believe in.
As I sat in church today, I thought back to those days and saw the me I was. I also very clearly felt the scripture verse as if it was written over the top of the me I envisioned:
But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
Once I was first. That me would have proudly sat near the front. I’d have pridefully paid more attention to my boys on the altar looking so good serving God than to the God they served.
Now, I sit so far from the Eucharist, and yet I am closer to Him than Mrs. Popular had been in the front row.
What I did not realize back when I was Mrs. Popular was that my family and I were already engaged in spiritual warfare. My husband was under attack, and I didn’t see it. I thought I was doing (almost) everything right (scoffing off imperfections with a trite “nobody’s perfect!”). I pridefully assumed my family was my reward. I did not realize I was already a soldier in the battle for my soul, and I was allowing pride to win. I did not realize the risk to my children or the fallout on others. I did not realize then that each of us is in a battle for our souls whether we recognize it or not.
Spiritual Warfare & the Battle for Our Souls
I have come to understand only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the final battle between Jesus and Satan, as was told to Saint Faustina, almost 150 years ago. I see the destruction of Marriage and family as it pertains to my life and the lives of the women I work with, love, and am inspired by. I see the loss of sparkle and directionless movement my children and all children of divorce. This is true even of the ones who seem to prove their “resilience.”
It can be hard to witness, and yet as I grow, I realize the truth, that each of us no matter how popular we are, will one day, stand alone, naked, exposed, and vulnerable before our Lord and Master. All the blessings of friends and family, of wealth and comfort, of reputation and status will be seen with different eyes. We will come to understand which are true blessings and which our pride turns into false gods.
I saw this pride and love of reputation and status in myself very clearly today.
Over the years, I have come to see the biggest trick we’ve fallen for in the last century is not a belief that Marriage is unimportant or that divorce is the problem or that our government will save us or that the Church is corrupt. All this is true, but it is incomplete.
Our spiritual warfare lies in having mistaken human connection as being more important than God’s connection. If we want to heal, we must put Him first as our ancestors did on the first Thanksgiving centuries ago. We must choose to be grateful for simple things. We must stop assumptions about the way life “should” be and be thankful for the way life is, hardships and all. We must pause to give the Creator thanks for the simple, yet wonderful and complex, gift of life as our Founders did.
Early Americans were simply thankful to be alive. It is through giving thanks to God that our nation was founded. It is through His glorification over the glorification of individual status that made America great. It is that once common humility and gratitude through Jesus that provide the ammunition we need in spiritual warfare we face today.
As I sat in church this morning, I went all in for the battle for my soul and the souls of my loved ones and others as well. I felt the need to rise in the spiritual warfare single parents battle this Thanksgiving. I was humbled by the pride I saw in my former self and in my current desire to be seen as important, liked, and wanted again.
I was also warmed by immeasurable gratitude for my hardships and for the gift of detachment I now recognize as just what I need to lean on God alone. I was thankful to Him who knows what I need even when I balk at what I am given. I was thankful for what I once saw as chains holding me back from the life I want that I now recognize as ropes pulling me toward Heaven.
I was thankful for the family and friends who have stuck by me, imperfect though I am. I was thankful for the gift of children and whatever little time I get to spend with them. I was thankful for the belief in the Almighty, All Powerful, and Ever Present God who will crack open hearts when He says the time is right.
Most of all, for the first time, I was thankful to be in the back of the church. I was thankful for being overlooked and forgotten. I was thankful for the humility that came for my lost status. I was thankful to already be on the journey of detachment that I will need to enter heaven one day. I was thankful for the gift of humility that teaches me that, alone, I will face my Lord and through Him alone I will come home.
I am thankful to know that, even when I am last, I am so much closer to being first than I ever was before. I am thankful to know that being last in the Kingdom of Heaven is so beautifully, powerfully, over flowingly full of Love that last is enough for me. I am here to humbly serve and to give thanks, to love and lead from the rear many times. I pray other single parents battling demons in unseen spiritual wars to humbly and gratefully serve with me. With the Lord at our head, we will prevail together in His Glory!
Today, if you are alone and feeling bad for yourself, know you are never alone. War against Satan‘s tricks and call. on your Guardian Angel. Choke out the enemy’s whisper of isolation and embrace Savior’s gift of detachment. Pray to see where you need humbling and trust yourself in the hands of Mary and Jesus. When the world, family, children, and Church seem to forget you and you are left alone and vulnerable, choose humility and gratitude because God has not forgotten. He is in control. He cares. He sees. He hears. He knows. He Loves.
You are not alone.
I’m posting this on Thanksgiving in lieu of my regular Saturday morning post. I will do the same for the first day of Advent. I hope you join me then too. In the meantime, happy Thanksgiving!