Note: This column is based loosely on a talk my second son Gabe and I gave to parents and teens at a nearby parish on Wednesday evening. You can watch the video here.
Often, I have wondered why God entrusted my five children to me. At times, they seem so grounded and confident that my fatherly advice seems more hindrance than help; other times they are such a mystery to me that I wonder how we could possibly be related. I am exasperated when my brokenness shows forth in their behavior, and overwhelmed when some small seed I buried and forgot about suddenly blooms in them.
This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.Mark 4:26-27
As a father, I tend to demand respect and obedience from my children at the expense of actually listening to their perspectives or questions and possibly teaching (or learning!) something—the pride of my position as parent. I have been tempted to live beyond my means to provide a so-called better life for my kids, to give them all sorts of material goods and experiences that do not help and may actually hinder their spiritual growth—the pride of provision. And at times, I’ve seen gifts in them beyond my own abilities and wanted to push them to do the things I never could, regardless of God’s plan—the pride of potential.
If you see the same tendencies in yourself, is it any wonder that our children face the same obstacles all teens do? They often struggle with relevance (“My parents don’t understand my life”), relativism (“Their truth is not my truth”), and revolution (“The world is a mess, and we have to change it”). No doubt they sometimes wonder why God entrusted them to us, too!
When, as parents, we don’t feel equipped to guide our kids toward heaven or realize that we’ve been pursuing the wrong kind of “better life,” we should ponder the question, Why has God given me this family? As children, when we feel unheard or misunderstood, or when the life we’re living leaves us anxious or unsatisfied, we should ask the same question. Our God is not accidental, but providential—whatever He does, He does for a reason, and all His reasons are good.
These people are our people. We are at the right address.
Our family is meant to be a sanctifying relationship, fueled by the grace of the sacraments, prayer, and sacred scripture. If we are open to Him and present to each other, listening and learning, we find that we are being ceaselessly equipped to lift each other up.
But we can’t fake it. Parents, if we pretend to be saints, to be all-knowing and mistake-free, we shut down the conversations that matter. Teens, if you are afraid to ask questions—or to pursue the truth, even when it challenges you—you cannot learn and grow. And whenever any one of us seeks my life, my plan, my truth—for ourselves or our kids—we push God out of the equation.
So this Advent, as we wait for His coming, let’s make a concerted effort to be present to each other, as family; to listen and learn together; and to pray earnestly the words of Jesus to our Heavenly Father: “Thy will be done.”
This post appeared in the Sunday, December 5, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.