Growing up with a single mom, chaos and instability seemed to be the only constants in my home life. My mom was married several times, which meant there were always different men (and sometimes children) coming in and out of our lives. One day, I would have a stepbrother or a stepsister, and then just as suddenly, they would be gone. I felt as though I had very little control over my world, including my personal safety, and I struggled with a lot of anxiety as a result. At the same time, I was dealing with a constant ache for my biological father, who was hundreds, and later thousands, of miles away raising a new family.
But thankfully, I had a lifeline. Although she made some poor relationship choices, my mom had a strong Christian faith. By sharing her faith with me, she gave me a way out of the cycle of poverty and family breakdown that engulfed our world. As I look back over my life, I believe that the most important thing my mom did for me (and my siblings) was to take us to church regularly, teach us about Jesus, and nurture our faith. This not only provided me with a supportive community of other believers, but it also gave me a sense of structure and stability, a reason to hope, and a purpose for my life.
Through the faith community, I was exposed to unbroken families, where kids had a married mom and dad who loved each other and their kids, and were raising them in generally stable, happy homes that I envied so much. I was able to see that there were men in the world who did not leave or harm their families, which was important for me since all I had ever seen in my family were men who left—or let us down. I found hope in knowing that happy and whole marriages were not just fairy tales, and that faithful fathers and husbands really existed—flawed men striving to be better, who love their wives and children by first loving God.
And one of the things I noticed about these happy families is that faith played a big role in their family life. The parents prayed and attended church together with their kids, and they were committed to something bigger than just each other—beyond how they felt from one moment to the next. This gave me an ideal to work toward in terms of the family I hoped to have one day. Although I did not know it at the time, research shows that couples who share religious practices, such as attending church, and prayer and Bible reading, tend to be happier. Additionally, religious faith is also associated with more involved fathering for men.
I also found a set of morals or values about life and how to live it that gave me a sense of structure that I desperately needed. I learned that boundaries were important—not to fence me in, but to protect me. And I found a set of norms that guided me along the way, such as sex should be saved for marriage and marriage is for life, and that working hard at whatever you do is a way to honor God. These values and the support I received from my mom and others in the church community helped me to avoid many of the pitfalls that other children from broken families sometimes fall into, things like early sexual activity, drug use, teen pregnancy, and dropping out of high school. Without the guidance and values that I received from my faith community, I doubt I would have ever made it out of high school without getting pregnant, or graduated college, or found a wonderful husband who shares my faith and dreams of building a forever family for our children.
Most importantly, I found peace in the midst of family turmoil by experiencing Christ’s unconditional and unfailing love. I found peace in knowing that although the adults in my life, including my parents, had let me down or disappointed me, God will never leave me. I was also introduced to the concept of God as our ultimate father who saw me as His child, which mattered a great deal to a father-hungry girl like me. Through this relationship, I found unexplainable joy in dark times, a reason to keep going when depression threatened to consume me, and a confidence that no matter what happened, God had a purpose for my life.
My greatest desire is for my children to have that same hope, and peace, and confidence in their hearts. Just like my mom gave that to me through sharing her faith, my husband and I are sharing our faith with our kids, and raising them in a church community with values that we know will give them a lifeline during whatever tough times they face. That is why every night before our kids go to sleep, we pray a simple prayer with them, asking for God to protect and bless their lives. We started this when they were babies, and it is one of many ways we are trying to teach them to look to God for their happiness and fulfillment. Through this, we hope they will understand that they are never alone, and learn that even when people let them down, including their imperfect parents, they can turn to God who will never fail them.