I’ve been having some spiritual struggles lately, and much of it is based in my perception of what I’ve done as a Christian mother. I’ve been plagued with doubts and worries, and I’m filled with anxiety over whether or not I’ve done a good job instilling the faith in my children. I worry about if I’ve done right in their education, if I’ve done what is best for them emotionally, if I’ve set them up to have faith in their adult lives.
One daughter has decided to stop attending Mass, though she came to Midnight Mass with us last December. But it broke my heart, and I pray daily that her faith will be renewed. I barely speak to anyone about this at all, and this is the first time I’ve shared it on a large-scale basis because I’ve felt like a complete failure. Her rejection of what has become the foundation of my life hurts, and as a mother I am naturally concerned for her spiritual well-being, to boot. But I came to the conclusion that I can’t do anything about it, and I told God that I just give up. “You can figure it out!”
Well, that took long enough. I heard Him answer in my heart. Now when anxiety threatens to overtake me, I close my eyes for a moment and picture myself handing my daughter over to Jesus and Mary and letting them take care of her for me. It lessens my anxiety for her, but doesn’t make it completely disappear.
And yet I have barely spoken about so many of these feelings with anyone, but I have made a discovery in the last few months that have changed my mind about keeping it bottled up inside.
At a New Year’s Eve party (something my husband and I, frankly, never do), I sat talking with a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. She told me about some of the problems her kids were having, that they weren’t all following the Catholic Faith any more. She talked about praying 54 Day Rosary Novenas for each child who was struggling, and we commiserated about how difficult it was to raise children in the Faith in this day and age. I told my husband on the way home that I had no idea her family had been struggling that way, and it made me feel better to know we weren’t the only ones whose kids were having struggles with their faith in God.
Then I talked to other moms at the Diocesan Youth Conference, and I heard more stories of wayward children, loss of faith, anger at the Church for all the scandals that are raining down on us. We were all talking about how hard it is, how we’re heartbroken about our children who are walking away from the faith. And once again, I came away feeling relieved that I wasn’t alone.
But why do I still feel that way most of the time?
I remember talking to my mother about my younger daughter’s therapy, and she made the comment, “Everyone is in therapy.”
“Yeah,” I retorted, “but no one talks about it.”
And I think that’s our problem as parents of young adults: Most of us have kids who are wrestling with and walking away from the Catholic Church, but no one talks about it.
This has got to change, and we have to be brave enough to change it ourselves. We can’t be silent, we can’t keep quiet out of a sense of shame. We are not failures.
It’s Satan who tells us that. He fills our heads with those intrusive thoughts that won’t leave us alone:
Who do you think you are? You look so nice in that pew on Sunday, but your kids don’t go to Mass. Your grandchildren aren’t baptized. Your kids are shacking up with their boyfriends and girlfriends. Your kid is struggling with his sexuality. You’ve messed them up, it’s your fault, you’re a FAILURE. Not only that, you’re really the only one going through any of this. No one at your parish or your homeschooling group has these problems, so whatever you do, keep your mouth shut and don’t let them know what a steaming pile of garbage your life has become.
My friends, let me reiterate for you: This is Satan talking to you.
God doesn’t call you failure: He calls you His child. God knows very well that some of our children will struggle with and even leave the faith, but that’s not a decision we can make for them and He knows it. Most of all, God knows that we’ve been doing our best to help our children grow to faithful young adults.
I think the most powerful way to learn this lesson is to learn that you’re not alone. And the only way we are going to stop feeling completely isolated in our spiritual crises is if we become vulnerable and share our struggles with someone. And sometimes, in the midst of lifting each other up and praying for each other, we will see God move in the lives of our wayward children.
I’m still waiting for that movement to come. I’m trying to trust God, and, to be honest, I fail pretty badly rather often. But every day I start again. Each morning, I pray a Memorare and hand my daughter over to Jesus and Mary again. Each day, when the anxiety starts to creep in and Satan whispers in my ear, “You’re a failure. You’re a joke. You’re a fraud,” I stop and pray the name of Jesus. I pray a St. Michael prayer. (St. Michael is my daughter’s Confirmation patron.) And sometimes, I flat-out tell Satan to go back to Hell and leave me alone.
Yes, there are still times when I cry with heartbreak and anxiety and worry. Sometimes I sit in Adoration with my eyes closed and imagine crawling into Mary’s or Jesus’ lap and just crying and being rocked. But I’m honestly starting to make progress away from having too many of those moments, and I believe it’s because I actually know I’m not alone.
Friends, if you’re struggling in your faith life because your kids are struggling with or walking away from the Church, talk to your friends about it. We shouldn’t be so ashamed that we’re afraid to open up to people. We need to let ourselves be vulnerable because we need to find other people to share that cross with us. They’re already carrying it, you know. And sometimes a person needs someone else to open up and share first.
That’s when we come together and help carry each other’s crosses.
Copyright 2019 Christine Johnson