As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Thursday, August 31, 2017

How will my children know Him?

My children and I spend a lot of time together in prayer and devotions.  We have the regular prayer times we take as a family (grace, the Angelus, morning gospel readings), we have evening prayer at our parish once a week, monthly adoration and rosary, and we attend Mass every Sunday and during the week when we can.  Like probably every other Catholic parent on the planet, I watch my children in all of these situations with little to no real sign of participating or understanding, just of being there because Mom and Dad bring them. Which is okay, because I know they are all so young still and I don't expect conversion to happen overnight.  Still I can't help but wonder if I am doing enough to help them know the Lord beyond the mechanics of everything we do, how do you make the transition from faith being something you do to becoming a relationship with a person that permeates everything you do?

I understand the value of exposing children to all the things we do that make Christ real to us (Mass, the Sacraments, devotions) and of course I will always keep doing these.  But sometimes it is a struggle to enter into these moments myself, because I find I am consumed with watching their behaviour, making sure they are "taking part" or even just wondering why they aren't taking part and whether I should do more to push them along, or allow the Lord to work on them in His own time, trusting that being there in His presence is enough?  It is a real test for me to realize that I can't create a closeness with Christ for my children, that needs to be His doing.  I am beginning to realize that the first and most important criteria needs to be a personal and passionate relationship between Jesus and me, which is of course the most difficult thing to nurture in the busy day-to-day life of a parent.  Most of the time I simply resign myself to knowing Jesus is working in their hearts simply by their presence before Him, and trusting that I am doing the right thing by including them in the ways I live out my own personal faith in a way that is meaningful to me.

One such way for us in recent years, as I have written about many times, has been our involvement with Communion and Liberation.  We always include our children as much as we can in group events we take part in, our own School of Community is always preceded with group prayer and social time, and it is a joy to see how much our friends really take an interest in and love our children.  We recently came home from a CL Vacation which we hosted for our friends from away, and one of the women who attended provided a real opportunity for one of our children to feel affirmed.  This child often feels left out and just doesn't make attachments as easily as the other kids in our family, and within an hour or so of meeting him she pulled him aside.  She asked him his name, and said to him, "I can tell that you are very caring, because I see the way you help your Mom with your brothers and sisters.  I can tell you are intelligent, because I see how you find solutions to problems.  I can tell you are athletic, because I see you playing soccer with your siblings...." and the list went on and on.  My son beamed more and more with each addition to the list, and after the conversation was over he said to me, "Mom, I'm having a really great time on this vacation - the people here really like me."  It was so beautiful for me to see such acceptance, and how she was able to speak to the need he had of being noticed and appreciated in a sea of children who are often easier to develop relationships with than he is.

Fast forward to yesterday when this same child had a particularly painful falling out with his friend.  It is not unusual for he and his friend to have disagreements, but this time I could see that it was really affecting him.  He was really questioning his value and importance, and I could see how painful it was for him as he relayed his experience to me.  As he talked I could not argue that if I were him, I would probably feel that way too, and it broke my heart for him - because even though I knew it was not true, I could absolutely understand how he felt that way. As I listened to him explain why he felt like he didn't matter to anyone, I realized he was transferring his experience with his friend onto everyone else, and I reminded him of what that woman said to him, and how good it made him feel. He responded that she only said those things because she didn't know him, but that his friend knew him better and he feared his friend's interpretation was more correct. In that moment all I could do was remind him of all the other people in his life who don't share that experience, and tell him that sometimes the closer people are to you the more you fight with them, and that often they miss things that everyone else can see because they already have their own opinion about you. I could see that on an intellectual level he understood, but that his heart was still very much hurting, and I told him that God doesn't see him that way.  As I began telling him about how God sees him - that he is goodness, that he is positive, he said to me, "I haven't been talking to God much lately."  And I told him that God is always there even when he doesn't talk to Him, but that he would probably feel better if he talked to Him more.

We continued our conversation into the afternoon on an errand I had to run in town (van conversations are the best!) and I shared with him about how often I find the suffering in my life helps me to appreciate the good things God gives me. He had said that he didn't like being a kid, and I told him that it's hard, but that he's getting to a point in his life where he can't always find an easy answer to things, and that this is how God will meet him and help him through.  At a certain point he remembered a kind word his friend said to him, and said that maybe God was speaking through his friend when he said it.  At this point I remembered again the way the woman on our vacation had spoken to him, and how it had completely opened him up, and I reminded him of that. He asked, "does God speak to us through the people around us?" and I told him that yes, of course He does! I made a list of people in his life that see goodness in him, including the friend he was fighting with, and told him that when people affirm those things it is because God is showing it to them.  I could see his heart start to change as he understood in a different way how God speaks to him, and how He is close all the time.

Our conversation ended with him wanting to spend more time in prayer, and trying to figure out how to make that happen in his everyday life.  By the end of it I could see how a moment of crisis in a not-so-little boy, coupled with an experience of a person who was very close to the Lord relaying to him the goodness that she sees in him, provided an opportunity for a very real encounter with Christ.  More so than any of the things we do, these events happened because of a reality lived by others in his life, not in a constructed way but as a completely organic and natural response to a very human moment.  I'm sure she didn't understand his position in the family or the struggle he would face in the week after he came home when she said those things, she simply responded to what she saw, which I believe was prompted by the Holy Spirit.  But her enthusiasm and sincerity planted a seed he could return to when he struggled, that he could really believe in whenever doubt crept in.  Such a way of being naturally brings things back to Christ, because how could someone know those things  or see those things within such a short time of meeting someone if not for Him?  It is my prayer that having had this encounter, which was made known more deeply in his moment of crisis, will lead to a more intent practice of the devotions we engage in, not because of the devotions themselves, but because Christ has touched his heart.  And I can see also that while it is of course important that we continue to participate in the life of the church with our children, it is the human experiences they have that will open Christ up to them in ways no person could construct on their own.

I have no expectations of how this will play out, nor do I think that all of a sudden my boy will instantly be more engaged at Mass, or pray a daily rosary unprompted, or even (miracle of miracles!) not horse around with his siblings during serious moments of prayer.  But in this moment none of that matters, because I can see how his heart was touched by God.  And that is worth infinitely more to me than a quiet rosary, or a perfectly ordered prayer.  Those will come, in time.  But in this moment, he knows Christ is real because He answered a need.  What more could a mother want for her child?

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