The interesting part was an insight he told me the first time we met. He observed that every one of the kids he'd worked with fit into the four categories Jesus talked about in the Parable of the Sower. And, from that insight he could predict whether they'd stay in the group or not.
That stuck with me. I wondered, if the parable was so accurate a predictor, could it be used proactively? Could parents find signs of the four categories in their children and work to get rid of the bad ones?
Let's look at the Parable of the Sower and see how parents can use that to positively influence their children's faith life.
“'Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it had not much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil; and when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. And other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.'” Mark 4:3-8
The seed is the word of God. That could be many different things--someone telling you about Jesus or a Church teaching, a passage from the Bible, an inspiration from God or perhaps a word spoken by a friend that leads you toward God. Whatever form it takes, it’s some message you receive from God.
The Parable of the Sower is a story about soil. The soil is your heart. Not the thing beating in the middle of your chest. The spiritual center where your thoughts, feelings, and decisions emerge. In the parable the seeds fall into four different kinds of soil.
I think Jesus is giving us insight into four spiritual problems, four heart problems, that become obstacles to belief. On top of that, he's showing us how to fix them. After all, Jesus explains the problems with the soil, but he never says you can't amend it.
We all have these problems to a greater or lesser degree. And to the extent we do, we won't be fertile ground for the Lord's grace to work in us. You can't give what you don't have, so really the first step in helping your children is to help yourself. You need to understand the soil of your own heart and work at amending it before you can do it for your children. So let's start analyzing soil and figuring out how to fix it.
Open Your Heart
First we have the soil on the path. It's hard and dry so the seed can’t germinate. It lies out in the open for the birds to eat.
Hard soil is like a hard heart that’s reluctant to open up and let God work. Faith lies vulnerable and Satan easily snatches it away. The remedy is receptivity, an openness toward God and trust in his providential care.
Your child learns to trust from following your example. Do you pray about your problems and worries, or do you just go about fixing them? Do your children ever see you pray? In your family prayers, include your own prayers and the things you need from God. Also, talk about your victories and answers to prayer. Your children need to see where you're winning and learn to see God's hand in it.
Deepen Your Roots
Because the rocky soil is shallow, the plants can’t develop deep roots. With little means of finding nourishment, they die in harsh conditions. So it is with those who have shallow faith. They follow God when life is easy, but lose their way when hardship comes.
The remedy flows from what we just discussed. Receptivity leads to trust, and trust is the foundation of faith. Do you believe God has your best interests at heart? Or, do you secretly wonder if he's leading you to ruin when things seemingly don't go your way. It's tough to follow God when things look dark and you can't see where he's leading. But really the only way to get to the good things God has for you is to go through the bad. God plays the long game. You have to stay in play to get the rewards.
Deepen your spiritual roots by preparing for the tough times when things are good. Establish solid habits of devotion--daily prayer, weekly Mass, monthly confession. Pray the rosary together or consider a regular time of adoration as a family.
Strengthen Your Heart Against the Thorns
The seed sown among the thorns grows at first, but stronger plants surround it and crowd it out.
The world is filled with attractive things that capture our attention and choke out the desire for God. Sports, media, and hobbies take up a lot of time. I know for myself, video games can be addicting. That goes double for my kids.
Constant noise and preoccupation is detrimental to the spiritual life. If you never have time alone with your thoughts, God can't speak to you. Build time into your family life to unplug from media. Make time for religious and church activities, as well. At the same time, examine your own attitudes toward media, money and material things. You don't need to be a monk, but you should watch how much these things rule your life.
Till the Fertile Ground
Did you ever notice how the fertile ground doesn’t need any preparation, but it still produces varied yields? Even though the obstacles are cleared, the soil needs work.
Strong faith requires continual water (prayer), sunlight (grace), and food (Eucharist) to grow. Even when you don't show signs of deficient soil, don't neglect to tend the garden. Weeds can easily grow up and ruin all your hard work.
What gives me hope is this, Jesus never says you can’t fix the problem. With his help, we can amend the soil of our hearts.
Our goal as parents? Understand your own heart and work at amending it. Then by example, prayer, and cooperation with the Holy Spirit, work to overcome these tendencies in your children, as well.
Hopefully, with God's grace, we'll all become fertile ground for the Lord's word.
Copyright 2014 Marc Cardaronella
About the Author
Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick from Ave Maria Press. Marc directs catechist and discipleship leader formation for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. He is married, has two teen boys, and writes about Catholic spirituality and how to share the Faith on his personal blog.