The young bride-to-be, a good friend’s daughter, sent me a thank you note for my gift and my attendance at her bridal shower. She wrote: “Thank you for being a ‘second mother’ in my life. I am blessed to have grown up with role models of faithful, holy women.”
That’s the second time I’ve heard her call me that. The first time was at the shower as she opened the gift. Her mother smiled at the compliment, recognizing how she, too, has been a kind of spiritual mother to some of my children.
Every young Catholic, especially teens, needs to find credible witnesses for the faith. I’m so grateful to the family members and the friends who have helped to spiritually mentor my children – especially in their teenage years on the way to adulthood. Those Catholic friends made the faith real to my children. I’m seeing its effects now as my grown children age into their mid-twenties.
Spiritual mentoring, or other faithful adults whose witness bears an impact, is just one of three important factors that raises the odds for our children having an adult faith.
Three powerful influences help shape the spiritual life in children in a lasting way – the faith practice of their parents, a spiritual mentor or two outside of the family, and a personal encounter with God.
The first is the practice of faith in the daily life of the family.
There is no replacement for the genuine faith and devotional practices of a child’s parents in leading the family. The eyes and ears of children are the most sensitive spiritual surveillance systems ever designed. They pick up on authenticity, honesty, and integrity of their parents’ relationship to God and to the teachings of the Church better than we imagine.
Children and teens can spot hypocrisy in us, or better stated, if we are walking the talk. They also notice if we seek to correct our failings. It’s hard to admit that the onus is first on us parents to truly live what we believe, and to continue to grow in our faith. We may be far from perfect, but let us not be far from being faithful.
This is not just doing one thing or another. It’s our perseverance in faith that brings about hope in our young people. It is a multitude of experiences over time. It is years-in-the-making, like that thank you note from a young bride.
Parents must live the call to create a domestic church at home. We teach our child to pray by praying with them and over them, and by modeling a devout life. We teach love of God’s Word by reading it and knowing it for our self. We radiate dedication and service by belonging to a church, and by serving others. Leading by example is a theme familiar to many Catholic parents. It challenges us to live our faith both in private and in family home.
The second and third spiritual influences in the formative life of our children require more finesse and diligence as parents.
There comes a time when children will look outside the home to see if anybody else is living the Christian life that you are trying to fostering in them. They will need to meet credible witnesses, or people who can mentor them spiritually, or stand up for their belief. These might be a faith-filled older friend, a leader at a Christian youth camp, a teacher, a youth minister, a prayerful campus minister or neighbor.
There were countless ways my husband and I sought to widen the spheres of influence in the lives of our children: from Christian camps and service projects, to youth ministry events and making out-of-town Catholic youth conferences part of our vacation budget, to inviting other local Catholic families, priests, or missionaries to a family meal.
Never underestimate the power of a good faith witness. You never know who might help shed light on your child’s spiritual life. It does not happen automatically or predictably. We have to patiently pray that these happy meetings take place. Then we must foster such possibilities, as we encourage our children to take notes on the kind of persons that inspire them. Think back to the faithful men and women who have inspired you. Who was a spiritual mother or father to you? Who made a difference in your faith development? Share those stories with your child -- how and why that soul means so much to you today.
The final influence is an encounter that means the most. It is one that you cannot manufacture or predict in your child’s life, but you should watch for it. It is a real-life encounter with God, and the Lord initiates that, not us.
Jesus can inspire a child or a teen, and come into their heart, in a limitless variety of circumstances – through it is often through a sacramental encounter or through a quiet prayer alone or with another. It might be within confession, or at a Mass or Benediction, or in a retreat setting. Whenever it is, or wherever it happens, it will be a moment with Jesus that is memorable to them, a meeting that is personal and unmistakable.
Ultimately, your modeling of your faith, building a domestic church, and introducing opportunities for meeting other inspirational Christians really just boils down to priming the pump – or preparing your child’s heart to meet God in an intimate way. Your own openness to the action of God, and to a relationship with God will help open your child or teen to these powerful moments.
When your child experiences all three of these influences in their young life, they have a very good start and a higher likelihood of maintaining their faith into their adult years.
Yet even if they do not, remember that God’s power is not shackled by what we lack or what hinders us. Even if your child has not experienced these things in a regular way, or has been deprived of some important influence, God is never limited by a lack of resources.
God longs that we all come to know him, and the Holy Spirit blows where He wills.
Always keep praying for God’s graces to be manifest in your child, or in your adult child’s life. Pray always, as St Paul taught, and let your love for your child be a steady constant.
Copyright 2014, Pat Gohn
About the Author
Pat Gohn is a married "empty-nester" with three adult children and one grandchild. By day she is the editor of Catechist magazine. And by night the host of the Among Women Podcast. Her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. Visit PatGohn.net