“On my 25th birthday, I was grieving the breakdown of a marriage and figuring out how to be both the father, the mother and the educator of my three children. I suffered more in those three months than all the rest of my life combined.
My whole life and sense of self had been built around the idea of marriage. I could take on life with full assurance that her hand would stay in my hand, staving off the cold, fighting with me and for me. It was almost the only thing I knew for sure. So when I received the two-minute call that ended our marriage, I collapsed. I felt the pain of absolute bewilderment. I wept outwardly before our three children. I thought that would vex them but it didn’t. Children are accustomed to the feeling of absolute collapse. Young children collapse every day in tears. Then they find comfort and rebuild themselves in the strength of that comfort.
Rebuilding myself like a child, I called my mother in the evening. I told her I was confused and utterly broken. Aged 24, I needed her comfort again.
‘Your father and I love you no matter what happens,’ she said, and my fitful breath slowed.
Being a human male, I’m very good at pretending I have things under control. It took a desperate sense of weakness, therefore, to call her, as it did to message two local homeschool mothers about my problems. The next day they both drove to see me. We talked things through in a daze, over my badly made tea while our nine children upturned my tiny house. During the following 3 months, they checked up on me daily as I cared for the children, home-educated, arranged parties for the three kids’ birthdays and organized for Christmas. My situation felt insane, but they made me feel secure and somewhat human.
Not only was I the only stay-at-home dad I knew, and the only full-time homeschool dad I knew, now I was the only single father in my Christian community. I was rebuilding a sense of self in this new image. I got up at 5am every morning to study educational theory, to try and get the finances in order and to lift weights before the kids got up. I didn’t want my new self to be a victim. I didn’t want to survive suffering, I wanted to be a conqueror. I wanted to choose a hard life because a good life is hard.
It was hard. One morning at a new church I met an elderly Pakistani gentleman who asked me how I was doing. I cried there in the foyer of that little church. I saw empathy (if not a little perplexity) on his face, and he gently pleaded with me to remember the depths and height of the Father’s love. That week I wrote a song from a Puritan prayer.
‘When my thoughts were then as knives You came in silken robes
I saw the dying son of life In him I found my all
The gospel horn, a sound unknown That Christ will never lose his hold
Then did my dead heart begin to beat
A wintery soul had glimmered with fiery heat.’
Those words: that gospel horn, the words of my mother’s love, of my homeschool friends, and of that stranger at church was the spring of my collapsed, wintery soul. I had a new assurance. I had a hand in mine after all, staving off the cold, fighting with me and for me.
I learned that kindness doesn’t wait for the spring: it brings it. My mother didn’t wait for me to be a good son. My friends didn’t wait for me to return the favor. Now I’m trying to bring that same spring to my children. I read to them, often when they’re not listening, I hug them before they ask for it, and I forgive them before they apologize.
I am weak and forgetful and have a penchant for narcissism. I’m not well qualified to lead three little hearts. But I’m becoming qualified by facing that weakness. I want them to speak before the world listens. I want them to know that the spring is made by a hard winter. I want them to know that, just like my mother, ‘I love you no matter what happens.”
This story was written by Jack Stewart of Oxford, England. You can follow him on Instagram here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.