Shelly Henley Kelly offers ideas for spiritually supporting our children as they head to college this fall.
After six months of unplanned togetherness, my daughters are back at their respective universities and the house is unnaturally quiet. The loud raucous sibling entanglements that roared throughout the house -- exuberant laughter, snarky jabs, incredulous indignation -- is now a faint echo as our youngest struggles with the new challenge of becoming an only child.
As my daughters join others in their return to school where they face an atypical, uncertain fall semester, my thoughts linger on Proverbs 22:6:
Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.
Did I do enough to prepare them to face this secular world, that will continue to pull and push them away from the fullness of truth? Did I provide them a solid foundation of faith? Did I teach them to love and trust in God? Were my husband and I strong enough role models, not only in the good times, but also the bad? For many years we parents guided our children through life’s challenges and choices, but now they must face these on their own.
Whether you recently dropped off your first child or your last, or even if you have students still at home with you, consider how you can help reassure and establish a strong foundation of faith that will tether them to Christ and guide them in these turbulent college years.
Seek the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist
The post-high school graduation years are often a struggle to find oneself, to pull away from your parents and choose your own path. It’s a foregone conclusion that mistakes will be made; words will be said. However, Mary, our Blessed Mother, repeatedly calls us to repent, reminding us of the mercy and grace available in Reconciliation. We can find comfort knowing that Jesus waits for us in the Confessional to offer absolution when we falter.
When I moved to college, so many years ago, going to Mass wasn’t something that felt necessary as I tried to fit in, find my place. However, I still felt a yearning for the Eucharist and began attending the local parish about once a month. Choosing to attend Mass both reminded me of home and made me feel like an adult, responsible for my own life. This was my time to be independent and make my own choices. Like many, I made a few wrong turns before realizing that the connection with Christ I sought was found every Sunday kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.
Encourage your student to get involved in their local Catholic parish or Catholic Student Center. The local parish that welcomes students provides a spiritual home, of community and belonging and is a source for strong friendships and acceptance. Many students attend Mass together, find opportunity for retreat or bible study, small groups, ministries, and missions.
Upon leaving for her last year at Texas A&M, my oldest told me that she wished she hadn’t waited until her sophomore year to get involved in the ministries at St. Mary’s. It was so much more than meetings and talks about faith- she had finally found a place where everyone around her lived it, encouraged it, and was overjoyed in it. Now part of the Youth Retreat team, the chorus, and Aggie Awakening, she’s found a home in which she can be truly herself with no doubt of acceptance.
As mothers, we can support these local Catholic student centers that provide Christ to our students while they are away. St. Mary’s Catholic Church at Texas A&M offers the most robust spiritual community I’ve ever witnessed. They can’t do this without our support and prayers.
We cannot build relationships without communication. Through prayer, God invites us to know Him in our heart, mind, and spirit. Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated; it can start with a simple surge of the heart and grow in awareness from basic prayers to quiet mediation or reflection. A large number of online resources are available to bring us the daily readings through email, podcast or video, Catholic-based meditation, and guide us through the Rosary. Invite your student to subscribe to Morning Offering by The Catholic Company or find a faithful podcast or Instagram account that inspires them to pray.
Our young people will be struggling to find themselves in this crazy swirling world that throws as much noise as possible at them. They may not feel like they have time to spend in prayer. Help them anchor each day in good thoughts rather than self-doubt and worry by giving them a journal for the end of every day. Encourage them to take a few minutes to focus on the good from every day and jotting down what they are thankful for -- even if some nights it’s only that the day is over and they have a bed to sleep in.
Even though the world is scary and uncertain -- perhaps more so right now than at other time in recent memory -- our kids will be okay. We will be okay. Put your trust in God that the seeds were planted in their hearts and they will grow to yield good fruit. Above all, pray for all our young adult children during their quest for independence during this post-high school time.
Copyright 2020 Shelly Henley Kelly
Image: Tim Gouw (2017), Pexels
About the Author
Shelly Henley Kelly is a daughter of God, a Martha who strives to be Mary, living in the world, but not of the world, perpetually busy as breadwinner, wife, mother, catechist, and ACTS sister. A published author, Shelly writes about being a working mom and catechist at SoundMindAndSpirit.com and can be heard on various podcasts at SQPN.com.