As a new school year begins, MaryBeth Eberhard ponders three questions to check how her family aligns itself with Christ.
The rooms in my home are quiet right now, the only sound being the typing of my fingers on my keyboard and the occasional yawn of a dog by my side. My college students, home for the summer, are still asleep. My husband has taken three of the kids fishing, and the rest of the kids are out and about already getting an early start. This will soon be the new normal for us as another Eberhard leaves the nest for college, leaving us with just five at home. The countdown started three years ago, and each year, we keep graduating another child. We will have a two-year break after next year to adjust for the next four to begin their trek into the world.
I am not a mother who counts the days till her children go to school. My family is a tight-knit bunch whom I see drawing closer together each day. I remind each one of them, that my husband and I will not always be here, so it is up to them to water their relationships with each other. A big brother takes a younger sister to the zoo. Two college-age siblings share appetizers and drinks out at a late-night restaurant. Teenagers take siblings to the library to hang out and possibly a promised drive-thru stop. Memories are being created, bonds forged ... and it is good. I am grateful they are growing together and yet these same memories they are forging with each other, I desire for them to forge with Jesus Christ.
There is a theory in group dynamics where each time a member joins or leaves a group there is a period of readjustment. The group must redefine itself. As a teacher, I use this theory in the beginning of the school year. The seniors have graduated and moved on, and we need to now take on new roles. Leaders must step up. We ask ourselves what type of group we are going to be this year. As I walk through this with my classes for this school year, the Lord has been calling me to do the same within the hearts of my own family. The word realign continually pops into prayer. Realign with what, I ask? With me, He responds.
If we are seeking to realign ourselves (and our family) with God, we need to ask ourselves three questions.
Who we are being called to be in this season?
As Catholic Christians, we are called to be authentic witnesses of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our family right now is called to return to our roots. Just as in a marriage, when you fall more wholly in love with your spouse and that period of growth is so good, so too do we desire for our family to enter into that period of growth and fall more deeply in love with our faith. It is so rich, and the Lord is putting on our heart a desire to taste it more fully.
What are we being called to do?
Our family is called to welcome and witness, welcoming in the stranger and calling them friend. We share openly of what we have and speak vulnerably of the challenges and joys of walking the Christian path. When we do this, we are whole. We have gone off the path a bit in this last season, stepping away from ministry, letting family struggles draw us more inward than out, and the Lord is calling us to our center. I feel a strong pull back to our missionary roots. The pandemic shook us, and our doors felt closed, figuratively and literally. For better or worse, we live a life that is very visual. There are many of us, and the needs of our family mandate that we live openly and let others walk with us in order for us to care for our children fully. It is truly the Christian way, to let yourself be loved and to wholly love others as Christ loves us.
How are we going to get there?
Prayer is the first response. From prayer comes clarity, strength and grace and we need all three if we are to turn the ship toward Christ. (This, at times, can literally feel like you are trying to turn the Titanic quickly.) Prayer helps us stay connected to Christ and constant prayer keeps us in close conversation with Jesus, letting Him be the captain and we the mates. I can turn to Him and ask every day: should we do this? Go there? What do You think? This closeness brings focus to our goal.
The second response to this question is to get involved in parish life. If we truly desire to know Jesus Christ, we must seek opportunities to be in connection and community with Him. When my children go off to college, I remind them that they do not have to belong to every club, activity or sports team, but that they should step forward and try some within their charisms. How can they share their gifts and how can they allow themselves to be served? So this year, my family is stepping back into parish life more fully using our charisms: hospitality, music, prayer, guidance, mentoring. With five kids left at home, we are still a busy family so that prayer mentioned above will be crucial in discerning the what and how of getting involved, but I am confident God will bless our yes, bringing our family more deeply into His circle of faithful friends.
This desire to realign our family to the heart of Jesus comes from a strong belief that true happiness comes from knowing Jesus Christ. Over our almost 25 years of marriage, we have come to realize that our happiest moments were in pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to witness that to our children. We want that witness to be a reflection for those around us and we have found that that is achieved when our family is wholly oriented toward being in a relationship with Jesus. We do this out of love for our children. We do this as a legacy passed down to them.
Whatever you do for your family, your children, your husband, your wife, you do for God. All we do, our prayers, our work, our suffering, is for Jesus. (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)
As the new school year begins and as we look towards fall’s seasonal entrance, may we take the necessary time to reorient ourselves toward the heart of Jesus Christ. May we humbly ask Mother Mary to be our compass, to gently (or firmly if needed) provide the guard rails keeping us on course as we pursue a deeper relationship with her Son, and may this all be pursued out an authentic desire to grow ourselves, our families and our church community.
Copyright 2022 MaryBeth Eberhard
About the Author
MaryBeth Eberhard spends most of her time laughing as she and her husband parent and school their eight children. She has both a biological son and an adopted daughter who have a rare neuromuscular condition called arthrogryposis and writes frequently about the life experiences of a large family and special needs. Read more of her work at MaryBethEberhard.com.