Marya Hayes responds to a recent study about America's nonreligious youth and their relationships with their families.
I recently read “The tipping point generation: America's Nonreligious Youth." This report is based on a 2019 secular survey of nearly 34,000 nonreligious people living in the United States.
The underlying claim of this report is that “even as America becomes more secular over time, nonreligious young people are subject to high rates of family rejection and to discrimination in education, both of which can have a dramatic, lifelong negative impact. This is particularly true in very religious communities because young nonreligious people in these areas are subject to heightened rates of discrimination, family rejection, and stigma, and yet they are more likely to lack supportive resources that can help address these deficits.” In the Reality Check report, ”Family rejection because of a young person’s nonreligious beliefs is distressingly common, and it can have a lifelong impact on educational attainment and psychological well-being.”
As a Catholic Christian mom, my answer is this. There are many different reasons for depression, lack of educational attainment, and low psychological wellbeing among youths. I acknowledge that facing discrimination or harshness from friends and family can contribute to that depression and isolation. We must meet these youth where they are at. What role do we have in grounding our children in their faith without pushing them too far, and ultimately away from the foundations of their Catholic faith?
To be honest, this report is rather weak in that it grabs hold of any negative incident -- whatever the youth may perceive as a negative incident. This could be something as simple as being invited to thank God for a blessing. The nonreligious are uncomfortable with this. That’s why it’s a little hard to address, because it’s vague and it places blame where there shouldn’t be. That being said, we must take accountability for what we can. We must talk to our children. We need to ask if they have any questions regarding their faith. Sometimes we need to give them time, and just be the best role models we can possibly be. Sometimes we will show them how to be servants of God by serving them and others. Think of St. Francis and Mother Teresa, and how they often preached without using words.
If a child is still finding his/her way, we must be patient and keep inviting them without pushing too hard, just as the Virgin Mary constantly invites us back to her Son. This is a very hard balance for parents who do not want their children to be lost without faith. It is important that your child does not perceive rejection when they question their faith.
It is also important that, if you don’t have the answers to their questions, you work on getting them. There are plenty of apologists that have written about almost any question that can be thrown at the Catholic Church. She has survived 2000 years of scrutiny and has solid reasoning. I have pointed my daughter to research the questions that her friends throw at her, so that she feels she knows her faith. I think she is getting more and more confident as she learns the reasons behind what we do, and what we believe. However there are those moments of uncertainty while she decides for herself who and what to believe.
Remember that everyone has their own individualized faith journey. Sometimes it is only our job to sew the seeds. In a later time they may come to Jesus on their own, or by some other path. I find it helpful when a person can relate to a story. This is why conversion stories are powerful. If a young person can relate to the person that describes their struggle and then success, then they can be motivated and changed. They can be inspired. In the context of conversion, a soul describes himself/herself as “of the world” and enjoying earthly pleasures but not experiencing true joy or happiness. They may describe this as an emptiness or loneliness. But when a person truly finds God, and opens himself to God, this is the period in their life of true joy, contentment, and peace. Being on a path to holiness is one that results in a positive sense of well-being, a desire to improve, to share, to engage, to feel authentic, and to build close ties with others.
An example of an evangelist that meets youth where they are at is Ryan Ries. He is co-founder of The Whosoevers Movement, a non-profit organization that empowers students at public schools around the world, skate parks, rehabs, and detention centers for the youth all around our country. He preaches about giving up sin and asking the Holy Spirit to enter into their lives. Although he is not Catholic, he does have a powerful conversion story, and has dedicated much time to sharing the good news of the Gospel with the youth of today.
Here is a documentary film which my daughter found intriguing because it contained lots of skateboarding. In this film he is sharing the good news and his story with the youth of Mexico. This film reminds us how to meet the youth where they are at.
In addition, this is Ryan Ries' conversion story:
There is a hunger for Jesus and a hunger for truth. As Catholics we know that there are many who have hungered for the truth and have come to Catholicism through their consistent search. Some examples are Patrick Madrid, Scott Hahn, Tim Staples, and Peter Kreeft. Again I want to point out the healing nature of conversion stories. They offer hope. They do not offer condemnation, stigma, or harsh rejection.
The videos below tell about the spiritual journey of Matt Fradd, who was an agnostic and found the truth of the Catholic Church and a relationship with Jesus.
You may also want to view the conversion story of NHL star Mike Fisher.
If you can leave your child with one message, it should be this: "Jesus is always waiting for you. He will never forsake you. If you feel you have fallen away too far to come back to Him, then this is not God talking, this is the devil placing doubt in you so that you won’t return. You are loved by us, and you are loved by God. This will be your greatest gift to receive and your greatest gift to give others. If you have any questions we are here to help guide you to the answers. Many have had those same exact questions and have come to know the joy of being a Catholic Christian and having a relationship with Jesus."
Copyright 2021 Marya Hayes
Images (top to bottom): copyright 2018 Holy Cross Family Ministries; all others copyright 2021 Marya Hayes, all rights reserved
About the Author
Marya Hayes is mother to 3 active teens and is a military spouse. Her days consist of running the household and her mini business, and driving her teens daily all over the planet. Her favorite saints include St Francis de Sales, Saint Benedict, Padre Pio, and JPII. Marya enjoys cooking, hiking, and spending time with the family outdoors. Pray, hope, and don’t worry!