The request came in on a Monday. I read the email and just kinda sank in my chair, immediately feeling the weight of wanting to say no but knowing I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — or just wasn’t meant to. The youth minister at our parish had reached out to ask if my husband and I would consider speaking to the parents at the upcoming Confirmation classes (which happened to be a short five days away). The topic she asked us to speak on was “the importance of passing on our faith to our children.”
“Really, Lord? Now? In five days time you want us to pull this together?” I could think of plenty of “buts” I wanted to insert into my prayer and grasped at any thought I could to justify saying no, but I’ve learned when one of those requests comes in, it usually means God wants me to do some soul-searching. How can I say no to that?
If I’m being totally transparent, I have to admit that preparing our remarks was no easy feat. It wasn’t so much the time constraint, but the face-off between me and control, between something I want but can’t force. To put it simply, I want our children to embrace their faith more than anything. I want my children to believe in and love God, like a child wants the latest and greatest toy at Christmas. And like that child hounds her parents with all the best reasons she should be given her desire, I hound our Lord on this request daily. I offer Mass and the sacrament of Communion for it every weekend.
“Dear Lord, I ask that you give them the courage to open their hearts to your love, their minds to the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit and set their feet firmly on the path that you have laid for them.” This is my mother’s mantra.
Come Friday night, my husband and I had put a few ideas down on paper but were far from having anything that was presentable. I ended up going to bed in tears. I was, once again, overcome with fear. All the “what ifs” were taunting me. What if they don’t ever come to a place where they truly understand God’s love for them? What if they go through life thinking this is all there is? How will they get through the difficult times if they don’t turn to God? What if they miss out on all of God’s mercies and the gifts He has designed especially for them? What if they choose a different path?
No one can argue that we are living in an unprecedented time of spiritual warfare. The negative influences are much the same as they’ve always been, but the devil has so many more means with which to place temptations in front of our children. Our culture’s addiction to all things social media opens us up to constant exposure to the many things the devil uses to turn our attention away from God. Sin is more accessible to our children than ever before.
I fell asleep with my stomach in knots and woke up with one question going through my head, “where is my faith?” God was gently pulling me back and reminding me to put all the “what ifs” into His hands, to use the very faith I want my children to have. To remember He loves my children more than I humanly can. To put them into His arms and trust.
Come Saturday morning, with my defenses disarmed, I began to get the words I needed from God and my husband and I were able to come up with a top ten list of reasons why we feel it’s important for our children to have faith.
1) There is a God. This statement begs the question: Do our kids believe there is a God, a living God that loves them? There is a good chance that our children have real doubts about God, as it can be difficult to believe in something that maybe they have never seen, touched or experienced. This is why it’s on the top of our list. It is first important to identify with the reality that God does exist and then work from there in building our faith. Questions will certainly arise, like, “if God exists, where was He when this or that happened?” But if the foundation of the belief in God is solid, then our children can always lean on that, even when they are having a hard time understanding who exactly God is and how He fits into their individual lives.
2) It’s not you. This is an important one … and it’s tough. There is a God and it’s not you or I or our children. This should be freeing, but for most of us, it’s just plain scary as it requires the handing over of control. If, however, we trust that God’s plan is perfect, then we don’t need to pretend we have it all figured out. Because, in reality, we don’t and we were never intended to. God will guide us in our lives, but we have to first invite Him in, respond with faith and trust in Him.
I love the story about the man waiting to be rescued during a flood. As the waters started to rise, he cried out to God to save him. A short while later, a man floated by on a canoe and invited him in. “No, thank you,” he responded. “God is going to save me.” Not long after, now desperate and standing on his roof, a helicopter passed overhead and a ladder was lowered for the man to climb. Again, he proclaimed his faith in God and assured them God would save him. When the man perished in the storm and reached Heaven, he asked, “God, why did you not save me?”
And God responded, “My son, I sent you a canoe and a helicopter.”
This story speaks to the truth that God is always listening, present and active, even when we may not humanly understand His plans. We can get so caught up in the answers we are expecting from God, that we can often miss His presence and His more perfect answers.
3) He loves you. As teenagers, our kids are in a stage of their life where they are thirsting for acceptance. And often, this thirst will lead our children to make decisions they normally wouldn’t make, if only to get those few extra likes on Instagram or secure their place in a particular friend group. If we could only get them to understand their innate worth and value in being the sons and daughters of God, it would change everything for them. We work so hard as parents to assure our kids that we love them, that we will be there for them no matter what. But we are mere humans and that means we mess up, we let fear guide our decisions and reactions and, by doing so, can threaten our kids true understanding that our love for them is all-consuming and will never waver. If they can understand, from a young age, how incredibly unique, special and critical they each are to God’s plan for this broken world, that they can mess up a thousand times over and still be loved, their identity and self-worth will reap the rewards.
4) He’s not going anywhere. A good friend once told me about a conversation she was having with a man who was very angry at his life circumstances and admitted he would yell at God. Her response was something that has always stuck with me. “Good,” she said. “At least you guys are talking.” I just love that. It humanizes the relationship God wants to have with us. He doesn’t want us to robotically recite prayers and have some sort of stuffy, formal relationship with Him. He wants us to talk with Him, yell, get angry, ask for help, thank Him — He wants us to have a friendship with Him. All relationships require attention and communication for them to deepen. Encouraging our kids to begin the dialogue now will forge a friendship that will last all their lives.
5) Live for eternity and not the here and now. This is such a tough one, being the parents of teenagers. Our kids are at such a vulnerable point in their lives. It’s been scientifically proven that, at this stage, their brains are not developed to think much past the next minute, never mind forecast what they want their eternity to look like. Our culture forces the here and now: every ding on their phone, the constant feeling that it’s time to snap another picture and post it, the ever-present opportunity to do what feels good at the moment. If we could just challenge our children to think about the end goal, they will hopefully be more willing to make decisions now that will lead them closer to God.
Our purpose as parents is to get our children to heaven. We have this amazing promise before us of a more blissful eternity than we can humanly imagine. I want that for my kids, and selfishly, for me, so I can be with them forever.
6) Trust in God’s perfect plan. Teenagers are at a point in their lives where they are faced with a lot of decisions. And although they may not realize it, many of these decisions will impact the rest of their lives. The way they perform in school, the college they choose, their decisions on whether or not to use alcohol and drugs, whether or not they live a chaste life before marriage. On their own, I’d submit they aren’t strong enough to always make the right decisions. But if we introduce them to God, help them build a dialogue with the person of Jesus through prayer, and help them understand that God has a plan in place for their lives, they will start to take pride in the people they are, identify with the reality that they are made in the image and likeness of God and develop a desire to follow His will.
7) To receive God’s blessings and 8) To have a reason to suffer. These two go hand in hand and go right along with understanding that God’s plan is perfect. Of course we all hope our kids will be blessed with a happy, healthy life, live their dreams and be protected from suffering. We also know, that suffering is part of the reality and, in some way or another, our kids are bound to encounter it. If they believe in God and His plan for their life, they will be open to receiving the blessings He has designed just for them and they will be able to see past their suffering to a bigger purpose. Knowing that Jesus died on the cross for them will change their life and their perspective. With that strong foundation in faith, they will have what they need to face the struggles that will inevitably come.
9) Every breath is an opportunity for forgiveness and renewal. I can certainly remember the many mistakes I made as a teenager. I don’t think I ever truly understood that God was ready and waiting to pick me up and put me back on the path He wanted me on. Our own honesty with our children will go far in helping them understand this. Admitting to our kids that these teenage years can be tough and we made many mistakes along the way will hopefully show them that God’s love doesn’t depend on doing everything perfectly. Rather, we need to turn to Him when looking for the strength to make positive changes in our lives.
10) Have a heart of gratitude. Since life is a gift, we have to live life with gratitude. Instead of becoming numb to the amazing things surrounding us, the most simple things start to become extraordinary: the gift of a hot shower, the taste of your first sip of coffee in the morning, the sun rising and setting. Our culture today threatens the creation of “thankless” human beings. We tend to live in our own bubble, taking things for granted and, in doing so, forgetting the suffering of others who would love nothing more than many of the gifts we feel entitled to. With recognition that every breath we take is a gift from God, life takes on a richer and fuller meaning.
After all was said and done and my husband and I completed our presentation, I was left with the visual of literally taking each one of my children, carrying them over to the altar and placing them into Jesus’ most selfless, loving and capable arms. There are too many things as a parent that I can’t control. What I can control is loving them with all I am and taking to my knees for all the rest.
Copyright 2018 Nicole Johnson