Finding Faith: The Voiceless Child

01.17.2013, 8:30 AM

Leah Misch is an RN, BSN and owns Independent Nursing Services. She also serves as an American Red Cross Disaster Relief/National Health Service Volunteer and was a Houston County Divorce Panel Spokesperson.

 

Though I grew up “churched” every Sunday, I was never centered in my faith. I felt distant from the church after my parents’ divorce, questioning God’s existence and feeling what the report, Does The Shape of Families Shape Faith?, refers to as the “second silent schism.” My biggest question being: how could the church say it was wrong for my mother to leave an abusive relationship? In parental battles and trying to find social acceptance amongst my peers at thirteen, I felt isolated and alone. I don’t recall the church reaching out to me at this time, but even so, I would have been reluctant in accepting help, not feeling open to confiding in anyone in this sector.

There is truth in ‘that in which does not kill you makes you stronger’.  In adversity the lack of a crutch can make the weak strong and learn to stand on their own, and thus maybe one of the greatest gifts my parents could have given me. My parents financial instability came as a result of their divorce; living in two separate homes and thirteen years of court battles. I learned at an early age the value of a dollar and hard work to succeed. A desire to make a better life for myself, I decided to go to college.  I juggled working three jobs to support myself through school to become a nurse.  Because of the chaotic work and school schedule I felt no time to continue my Sunday Church routine. I knew of God, but lacked a relationship with Him; whom I could have used in the near days ahead.

After graduating college, slowly my days became dark and I found myself in an abusive relationship similar to the one in which my mother divorced my father. I swore to myself I would never walk down that same path, but with little experience of dating and no true relationship role model, it subconsciously seemed normal that abuse was involved in a relationship. Slowly my light was being put out, but in the struggle of darkness I saw light. In the report it states “grown children of divorce might turn to congregational life from a place of loneliness or suffering”.  I was losing everything and didn’t know myself if I would survive. Through positive role models reaching out and deep self reflection I took a terrifying risk to break away. I looked at my life and how lost I was, and formed my bucket list, what I wanted out of life to make that light shine again. It was in that time of despair I began to hear God’s voice through a voiceless child.

By the course of unexplainable events I was brought into a family’s life to work with a special needs child who cannot speak. I learned the family’s journey of faith, being brought to their knees in the grace of their child.  It was here I found God’s word in a family who became my faith mentor. For my 24th birthday I received a bible from the family. Through conversations and invitations to church, I discovered God in a new light. I was able to question, search, struggle, and find my own grace in God, and then not just knowing God, but having a relationship with God in everyday life.

Having a faith role model filled with words of God helped me through the darkness and was vital in making it through more dark days ahead. Within the next year and a half I would encounter two life threatening accidents with multitudes of critical injuries. With a broken back, punctured lung, broken ribs, whiplashed neck, injured hip, and artistic road rash my physical body hurt. But I had a strengthening spirit of something I never felt before, God. It was through comforting words and prayers that peace was brought in my heart.

They could have given up on me so many times but didn’t; emphasizing the vital role faith mentors have in and out of the congregation. So in addition to the importance of the faith role model’s task “…to create a safe environment (for children of divorce ) to doubt, question, search, pray, struggle, and find hope, grace and truth on their own terms.  If you cannot listen openly and entertain the questions of a young person, then you will most likely fail.” But equally important; know the only time you fail, is the last time you try.

Through the concept of ‘not giving up’ I have come to learn from my faith mentors. Though both coming from previous marriages, they found faith and centered their lives within it. In their marriage I have seen what it is like to struggle, but I have also seen what happens when faith is kept centered; one can make it through anything. Which gives me hope someday I may find the same in marriage.

In terms of giving voice to children of divorce, I found my own voice as a speaker on the Houston County Divorce panel. I offered insight to parents of the tribulations in my experience growing up in a ‘broken home’. I always brought forth the notion to place themselves in my shoes by questioning, “Instead children’s lives being divided between two homes, why don’t the parents go back and forth between the children’s home”? I knew economically this was not going to fly with adults, but it offered insight on children’s need for stability.

In disrupting a young child’s normal environment it leaves children with a sense of emptiness and loss that can be traumatizing. In my firsthand experience of working with children traumatized by natural disasters it was vital to engage stability through familiar activities such as art and play. Likewise, art and play can be used as a form of therapy by counselors to gain insight in children by opening windows to express feelings after experiencing significant loss such as divorce.

In my experience with teenage children it is important for children who have experienced loss to engage in civil society. Stability and a sense of belonging for children who are statistically now more at risk for emotional and social problems can be found in civil society by surrounded one’s self in a positive social environment with role models to instill positive moral values and faith for those coping with divorce. While volunteering in civil society I began to see the world in a whole new color after my parents’ divorce. By engaging in volunteer organizations in civil society I learned to give the gift of grace while I received the gift of grace. Putting a faith based value, ‘Love they neighbor as thy self,’ into action. Through stewardship in civil society I began to see a ripple effect of positive social change in reaching out to those through who struggled with loss themselves.

While incorporating faith into children’s lives is important, equally are the people set to do this task. If instilling faith back into the lives of people is important, take note; never underestimate the power of listening and actively living as a faith mentor within civil society. In my experience volunteering as a nurse in Disaster Relief Operations for the American Red Cross, in the depths of despair sometimes the most important thing anyone can do is to be silent, just listen. But listen with a gentle compassionate understanding of feeling their pain. It is when you can relate to someone that trust can be built in each unique story. It was through a compassionate listener in how I found my faith after one of my deepest times of struggle. Children of divorce may search for a deeper meaning in faith through their struggle, but it may need to be heard by the right compassionate person. One will never know when that time may be, so live your life in faith.

 


2 Responses to “Finding Faith: The Voiceless Child”

  1. Wayne Stocks says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It was both touching and encouraging. As someone who works with children of divorce in a church context, I am curious: What do you think someone from your church could have done when you were younger to help you with your parents’ divorce? You mentioned your reluctance to accept help. Is there anything someone from your church could have done to get over this hurdle after the divorce, or is it important to establish these relationships with kids prior to divorce to allow you the opportunity to speak into their lives during and following the divorce? I’m just interested in your first-hand impressions. Thanks.

  2. Leah Misch says:

    Thank you for your kind words. I hope the piece is encouraging to someone out there and encourages congregations to know it takes a village to raise a child. Always be proactive in building relationships and helping each other.
    I think I would have been reluctant in accepting help for a few reasons, being quiet, withdrawn, and even a little intimidated to open up freely to an adult on such a personal issue. I feel I would have benefited from a faith mentor reaching out one-on-one; indirectly approaching the issues of parental struggles and feelings of loss (perhaps sharing their own experiences; allowing me to reflect on my own struggles) and incorporating faith into small conversations over an extended period of time. However, each child is unique in how the divorce impacts them and the support they need to cope. The way the divorce impacted me at age 13 was different than how it impacted my 5 year old brother; therefore a different approach may have been better to address his needs. He may have benefited better by using art, play, or storytelling to approach the topic of divorce and his feelings. The main concept that will help children of divorce in coping is someone with whom they can relate and trust. Someone they can open up to freely without feeling they are choosing sides, and; who will be there for the long run to offer unbiased guidance. Ideally, these relationships would be best to have prior to a divorce, but sometimes don’t evolve until after a divorce.
    Leah’s Top Ten Suggestions:
    1. Offer a friendly smile and a ‘how are you’ or ‘how have you been” to start building a new relationship.
    2. Read a passage from the bible that offers insight for the child to reflect on during the week.
    3. Invite a kid to church that doesn’t normally attend.
    4. Talk about a message in the sermon that stood out to you to a child and incorporate it into their situation.
    5. Put a child in touch with other child going through the same situation.
    6. Invite a child to a youth group.
    7. Get a child involved in volunteer activities.
    8. Follow up regularly with a call or text message. “Just checking in to see how you are doing?”
    9. Actively listen to a child’s concerns and pray with them about it.
    10. Simply let someone know you are praying for them.
    I feel like there is so much one can do to get involved in a child’s life after finding common interest. But in that involvement start to share your struggles openly and how faith was incorporated in it.