Young children believe. They ask all kinds of questions, and being young, accept every answer a parent gives as gospel-truth. “Why do the trees change color Mommy?” “Because Jack Frost paints them with his paintbrush!” It may not be true, but it will keep their imaginations alive as they await the arrival of Jack and his paintbrush every fall when the weather turns cold. More importantly, they believe! “Why did Grandma have to die Daddy?” “Because God missed her and wanted her to come to His home.” And they can begin to imagine Heaven as a place filled with love. “Mommy, how did the clouds get up in the sky? “God put them there so the birds would have a place to stretch their wings.” Smiling, they lie back on the grass and watch the migrating birds.
They asked, and we answered. They believed and were content. Then one day, before we are truly ready, the questions became harder.
“Why is it so important to learn about all this religious stuff?” my oldest daughter asked one day as I was struggling to stuff her squirming baby brother and sister into their respective snow suits, mittens, and boots. Catechism classes started in 10 minutes, we were 15 minutes from our Church, and Heather had been complaining for the last hour about all the homework she needed to have done, without beginning any of it. “None of my other friend’s mothers make them go. Why do I have go?”
Kneeling on the floor and looking up at her 13-year-old mutinous face and combative stance I was tempted to forget the whole thing. Why indeed?
I will admit I was not in my “mother-knows-best” mode. I was tired, frustrated and dreading the next few hours. Although Heather may not believe me, I did not relish the idea of waiting for her in the Church basement, entertaining two over-active and cranky preschoolers. Classes began at 6:30 pm. Afterwards, I had to pick up her other brother from his Cub Scout meeting and then return home with all four of my lovely children to do the bath-story-bedtime routine. Dinner dishes would not get clean by themselves, homework still needed to be started, finished, and checked and I had given up any hope of a quiet soak in the tub about four hours ago. Since their father was traveling and out of screeching range, her question tempted me to cry “Uncle! You’re right! Your friend’s mothers’ are right! Let’s forget the whole thing.” But, I didn’t.
Instead, I sat back on my heels and looked up this beautiful daughter of mine. I did not want to argue with her; I needed to make her understand with the minimum amount of words because at that moment, time was of the essence. “Get in the car. You’ll go because of the Oops Factor. It is easy for me to believe because I know about the Oops Factor. It’s as simple as that. Now, help me with your brother and sister. You are old enough now to understand. I’ll explain all about this Oops Factor once we are in the car.”
She just looked at me for a moment, bewildered, and then shoved her sister’s feet into her boots. Picking up her catechism books and the diaper bag, she quietly followed me out to the car. Once we were all buckled in our seat belts, she looked at me and grinned. “OK Mom, I give up. What’s the Oops Factor?” Glancing at her, I realized she was willing to listen and learn.
“When I was about your age, Honey,” I began, “your grandmother told me about The Oops Factor, and I have never forgotten it. Think about this for a minute. Do you really want to die and then find out I was right about how important it is to know about God? Imagine standing before Our Lord in Heaven, and saying ‘Oops! Mom really was right?’ That’s the Oops Factor.”
“There are no second chances in life. We are all given this gift of life and when you are an adult you will have the freedom to choose whether or not to practice your faith. Whether or not you choose wisely is up to you and you alone. As your mother, I really do believe learning about our faith is important. It is so easy to believe in God when you know Him, and it is my job to teach you. And you should know that I plan on entering Heaven. Jesus promised Heaven to everyone who believes in Him, and I do believe in Him. I also plan on spending eternity with all of my family, not just a few. I want you to be there. So, Honey, just believe and it’ll be so much easier to get there!”
A bit heavy on the guilt? Maybe, but she never asked again why I believed our faith was so important.
Jesus exhorted all of us to enter “as a child into the Kingdom of God.” Believing in God with a childlike acceptance, without questioning, is what I think Jesus meant when He told us the secret to entering Heaven. When children are little, they simply accept our answers. We are all children in the Lord’s eyes, regardless if we are four years old, fifty-four years old, or ninety-four years old. Intellectually, I know my four children are now adults, but I continue to worry about them, miss them, and yes, at times, I still try to correct them. Just as my own children will always be children in my eyes, we will always be children in His eyes. To understand this universal truth about parenthood is to understand how we are all Children of God.
Heather is now 29 years old, married, and the mother of a one-year-old. My son-in-law had been baptized Catholic as an infant but was not raised in the Catholic faith. Before their wedding day two years ago, he mentioned he was studying to receive the Sacraments of Communion and Confirmation. I was thrilled and asked him if this new found desire was due to my daughter’s deep convictions and church-going example. Imagine my surprise when he admitted he was becoming a full member in the Church because Heather had explained to him the “Oops Factor”. She loves him, and wants him to be with her forever in Heaven. That was the reason he began the journey to become a full member in the Church and on his wedding day, Carlos received both Sacraments: Holy Communion and Matrimony.
As parents we never truly know if any of our teachings will take hold. We teach by example, as Our Lord did, and we teach by stories. I know that the many years of structured Faith Formation classes gave all of my children the basic tenets of our Catholic faith. Attending weekly Masses gave them discipline and an understanding of the Eucharistic Feast. But, it is only through prayer that we begin to know Christ. Knowing Him is loving Him, and loving Him makes one want to spend eternity with Him. He gave us the keys to enter Heaven; we only need to believe as a child believes, even if that belief begins with an explanation of the “Oops Factor.”
Copyright 2009 Carol S. Bannon