Ever heard the saying, “be careful what you pray for”? A recent experience gave definition and perspective to these six simple words. It was a lesson well learned, but a tough one at that.
A few weeks ago when we were encroaching on the beginning of Holy Week, I was having a conversation with my son about the mass schedule for the Triduum. He immediately responded that Holy Thursday and Good Friday are not holy days of obligation. I actually wasn’t aware of that, but what surprised me most, and truthfully stopped me in my tracks, was the fact that he had taken the time to pit the wonders of the internet against me and Googled what he needed to bolster his argument that he shouldn’t have to attend these celebrations.
In my more unfortunate and all-too-common humanity, I let fear control my response. I looked right into his beautiful blue eyes and, instead of respecting the vulnerability that lay behind them, I asserted my best attempt at parental control and assured him that he would in fact be going to mass with his family as the these celebrations encompass the most holy days of the liturgical year. That said, the conversation (the little I had allowed of one, that is) ended and I walked away angry and certain I was right in making this decision for him.
It never takes long for my fears as a mother to take hold and bring me to the point of visualizing the worst possible outcome from what is often an unfounded fear. That simple encounter left me reeling with feelings of anger that my son wasn’t respecting the faith we work so hard to value as a family. My frustration blocked any understanding of the many times my son has respected our wishes and dutifully attended Sunday mass, confession and the days the church does mark as obligatory. I felt as though I had failed, I felt frightened and I selfishly and dramatically came to the conclusion that he was rejecting his faith entirely.
Several months ago now, at the start of the new year, my small but mighty book club of six “flawed but faithful” women (as we often refer to ourselves) cracked open the title “My One Word” (by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen) and embarked on the challenge of choosing one single word to focus on throughout the year. This one word can be anything, but the intention is to arrive at your word through prayerful self-inspection, asking God what it is He would like you to work on to grow into a more faithful son or daughter. The word I have chosen for the year is prayer.
So far, it’s working. However, that’s not to say the journey has been entirely pleasant. This one word is changing the way I view tough situations, enriching the way I parent and opening my eyes to the countless gifts that surround me. It’s also showing me the ways in which I am flawed. And they are many. And it stinks. But I get it. If I’m going to make any positive changes, I need my flaws to be laid before me.
When walking away from the “discussion” with my son, the one positive thing I did was turn to prayer. I specifically asked God to help me defuse the situation, give me the wisdom and empower me with the right words to talk with my son about my concerns. God answered me, pretty quickly I might add, but most certainly not in the way I expected.
What God gently brought before me was exactly how UN-like Him I was being. I was trying to force something on my son that God never forced on me. I was placing judgment on my son that God has never placed on me. I was placing expectations on my son to meet me where I was at with my faith, rather than selflessly meeting him where he is at. I was making his faith about me and in doing so, was stripping my son from the gift of free will that God has entrusted to all of us. The clarity with which I saw my “epic fail” was sobering. God gave me words all right, but they were not at all what I was hoping for. The answers I was receiving were in no way affirming of my actions and words, but rather humbling and challenging.
The following day, I found a quiet moment with my son and I apologized. I told him I was sorry for my anger and explained that it is all rooted in fear; fear that perhaps his faith won’t mean as much to him as it does to me; fear that if he doesn’t open his heart to God, he will miss out on all the gifts, mercies and graces God has specifically chosen for him. I explained how unfair it is of me to expect him to understand his faith at the young age of 13 in the same way I do at the more seasoned age of 41. It’s a journey and it needs to be all his own. As a parent, I can’t make him pack his bags any sooner than when he himself is ready to embark on this very personal adventure.
That’s not to say, of course, that as parents we are meant to just sit back and hope for the best. We are called to live by example, to teach what we know to be true and to continually place our children in His loving and capable arms. And prayer is perhaps the most critical piece of the puzzle, the one thing that will never fail to guide us the right way. The trick, I’ve found through experience, is praying with an open heart rather than a strict agenda with preconceived notions that we are already on the right path. We have to be willing to have our weaknesses exposed, take hold of our humility and be ready to be surprised by what we might hear in response.
At the end of our conversation, when all apologies had be issued, my son looked at me and quietly said, “thanks”. And there was my answer to prayer.