WHEN MY WIFE JOANNE AND I GOT MARRIED 13 years ago, I said "I do" to the whole package.
The whole package meant helping to raise her two small boys, Jordan and Jarrod, which was no small task, but one I was ready to dive into. What turned out to be a bigger challenge was dealing with the boys' dad. He wasn't at all pleased with my entrance into Jordan and Jarrod's lives, and he chose to show his displeasure by threatening me. In fact, it got to the point where I actually feared leaving our house.
At the time, I'd been in the full-time practice of Christian Science for eight years, so I was used to taking all sorts of challenges to God. And I knew I would have to change my concept of this man if this situation was going to improve. I wanted to see him as a spiritual and loved expression of God, rather than as a mean-spirited mortal who had the ability to disturb or hurt me.
As I prayed, I thought about the distinction between material personality and spiritual individuality. I knew that divine Spirit, God, our Father and Mother, determines our spiritual individuality. The material personality that can do all sorts of strange or cruel things is the counterfeit of who we truly are, which is the substance of Love itself.
This wasn't always easy. At times, I had to pray about self-righteousness—especially when it was hard to feel like this man, who'd been behaving so horribly, was a child of God just as I was. But the more I recognized that, as the manifestation of an all-good God, both this man and I expressed the peace, stability, and permanence of divine goodness, the more peaceful our relationship became. His threats against me lessened. Then the way opened up for our family to relocate to a city farther south—a move that hadn't even seemed possible up until that point.
We made regular trips to and from the airport as the boys flew to see their dad every other weekend. Watching the boys come and go became a ritual—often an emotional one. It was clear that, especially with their father's influence, they were struggling with divided loyalties. And this proved challenging for Jordan and Jarrod—who alternated between not wanting to leave our home, and then taking some time to adjust when they came back. These weekend visitations were challenging for me, too, since I was the one caught in the middle. The boys would run excitedly to their mother when we'd pick them up at the airport—and there I was, the guy who was doing everything he could to be a financial and emotional support to them, standing like a lamp post as they passed right by. I wrestled with the question, "What about me?"
I realized the best thing I could do for these boys was to love them without making a lot of emotional demands. To just express love, without getting hung up on what I was or wasn't getting in return.
I wanted to solve this question with a spiritual answer. And as I prayed, I began to see that the real problem wasn't that the boys didn't love me the way I wanted them to. The real problem was that I had been thinking of myself as separated from Love.
I had learned in my study of Christian Science that real Love is God. And God is the only I AM or "me." So that question—"What about me?"—actually denied God's presence and great love for every one of us. I saw I had to learn that God is my only Life, Love, Mind, and consciousness. As Mary Baker Eddy put it, "When we realize that Life is Spirit, never in nor of matter, this understanding will expand into self-completeness, finding all in God, good, and needing no other consciousness."Science and Health, p. 264.
I realized the best thing I could do for Jordan and Jarrod was to love them without making a lot of emotional demands. To just express love, without getting hung up on what I was or wasn't getting in return.
So I did that. I stayed involved, went to their preschool classes to play the guitar, became a Cub Scout leader, coached Little League. Every good interaction became a reminder to me that goodness, which has its source in God, is not fleeting and fickle, but permanent. And that good lasts, not because it's found in material circumstances or even in really good human relationships, but because it comes directly to each one of us because of our link to Spirit. As I held to these ideas, any remaining feelings of hurt or rejection disappeared, and I was free to love the boys and enjoy my time with them without feeling like the odd man out.
Of course, there were huge rewards. When the boys were young, Joanne and I would often take them out to dinner as a treat. Soon I noticed it was a habit for Jarrod to announce that he had to go to the bathroom right when our food was being served. I begrudgingly took him each time, although the ritual started to get old really fast. But it was on one of these trips to the men's room that Jarrod looked up at me and said for the very first time, "Keefer, I love you." That meant more to me than anything—and any feeling of annoyance disappeared.
Love also erased the conflict between the boys' dad and me. Over the years—13 now—my relationship with him has mellowed, and I can honestly say I feel no bitterness when I think about him. Our family even sat next to his family at Jarrod's high school graduation this year, and there was no animosity between us.
Jarrod headed off to college this year and Jordan is a junior in high school. And I have to say that Joanne and I have enjoyed every moment of their teen years. I've learned to be grateful for everything good—in our relationship, our home, our boys, the lessons along the way. And that gratitude fuels my love. A love that never quits.
Keith Wommack is a practitioner and teacher of Christiar Science in Corpus Christi, Texas.