St. Thomas Aquinas
Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do.
Our lifelong quest for wisdom can strengthen our belief in God and our bonds with our children. On the path to wisdom we need to acquire knowledge. Yet too many of us live in darkness, failing to learn more about our relationship with God and also neglecting to understand how our relationship with our children should change as they mature.
Our pursuit for knowledge, both secular and sacred, needs to go on throughout our lifetime. Our earthly journey involves learning about ourselves and our children, staying close to them, listening to them, and understanding their needs and issues. Our spiritual journey involves understanding that we are all part of the larger kingdom of God. Through our actions and prayers, we can make a difference.
Too many of us, however, slow down the learning process as we age. How many times have you resisted learning about new technology, ignoring the Internet, for example, hoping it will go away? Have you judged your child by your own experiences as an adolescent, refusing to recognize that our present environment is much more dangerous for young people? Do you try to educate yourself about your child’s world, meeting his friends, listening to his music, watching his TV programs, reading about the youth culture? Doing so doesn’t mean you must become a modern-day Dick Clark, rockin’ and rollin’ to the beat. But if you never pick up a teen magazine, read what you teen daughter is reading, how will you understand your competition? When your daughter stops eating in a quest to be slim, you might blame your cooking, not the rail-thin stars she has adopted as her role models. Parenting education doesn’t stop when our children become young adolescents. In fact, gathering knowledge becomes much more critical during these years.
Similarly, our religious education doesn’t end with confirmation. That might be the last time we were required to study Catholicism and our faith, but it shouldn’t be the stopping point for enriching our understanding about religion.
Why is that continuing education so important? We relate differently to religion as we age. When we view religion through our own life experiences, we can ferret our deeper meanings that may have eluded us earlier. "The Prodigal Son" is perhaps the one example that springs to mind. Jesus told this story as a parable about heaven, that even those sinners who stray far away will be welcomed back into the fold by God. As a child listening to this story, you probably focused on the unconditional love the father had for his son, possibly hoping that your own father would feel the same way if you happened to wander off. Now that you are a parent, no doubt you see this story through the father’s eyes, hoping that your child, like the prodigal son, will one day return to you. "Rejoice! This brother of yours was dead, and has come back to life. He was lost, and is found." Oh, how you long to utter those words!
We related differently to our kids as they grow and we get older. Without enough knowledge on both fronts, we fumble around, not knowing where we are or where we are heading. If you are bogged down in the day-to-day trials of dealing with a difficult adolescent, you may feel helpless. You’re not. You have two powerful weapons. You have the ability to gather the information you will need to assist your child. After you have done everything you can, you can leave the rest to God.
When we understand that God lives within each of us, we will no longer feel powerless. We know that He is there and that with His guidance, nothing is impossible, even rescuing a troubled child.
Hearing the Good News of the Lord
All knowledge comes from the Lord, and the Bible is the physical presence of that enlightenment. The earlier believers can also be our guides because they were the first "reporters." Why was it necessary for the Bible to exist? To record for humanity the beginnings of the earth and the coming of Christ. In the New Testament, the apostles painstakingly covered the events of their days because they knew the power these words would have on succeeding generations to spread the word of our Lord. Who would believe these miracles if they were not written down?
We may be tempted to think of the saints as blind followers, men and women who did what they were told and asked no questions. We forget that the saints were human. Many came to the Lord after suffering desperate times when they questioned their beliefs. St. Therese of Lisieux, while on her deathbed, was nearly seduced by atheism. What saved her? She didn’t turn away, but faced her doubts full on. Thus, she found the spiritual strength to survive her crisis of faith, even while she could not muster the physical strength to defeat the tuberculosis that racked her body.
Parents may believe that "ignorance is bliss," that if they do not know what a child is doing, do not intervene; things will work themselves out on their own. This laissez-faire attitude will only lead to more difficult times. It takes strength to confront the truth about a wayward child, just as it took St. Therese courage to face her doubts about her faith. God is well aware of our plight, as spelled out in the New Jerusalem Bible’s Old Testament, book of Joshua (1:9): "Have I not told you: Be strong and stand firm? Be fearless and undaunted, for go where you may, Yahweh your God is with you."
Knowledge of God’s Presence
How many times have you felt you are struggling alone, that no one (perhaps not even a parenting partner) understands your agony? If you are a single parent, this suffering may be truly overpowering. When your child was younger, it might have been easier to find others to discuss the trials of parenting. You met these mothers and fathers at the playground, school, parent meetings, even on the supermarket checkout line as you bought diapers and formula. Now, with an adolescent, connecting with these parents is not so easy.
Reach out to others. Reconnect with some of the parents you may have lost touch with. Perhaps one of them is worrying and would welcome a call. Join a support group. If your child has an alcohol or drug problem, find an Al-Anon near you and attend regular meetings. You will find other parents who share your feelings. Many support groups are also available in cyberspace. Parent Soup on AOL and the Web has many message boards where you can share your concerns with others. Along the way, you may find others can offer sage advice on how to handle your dilemma, perhaps showing you resources you didn’t know where available. Whatever you do, don’t continue to endure alone. You need to fortify yourself so you can find the strength the help your child.
The knowledge that God is with us can help to fortify our spirit. If you doubt that, you are in good company. Think of St. Peter, who was put to the test on the Sea of Galilea. After performing the miracle of loaves and fishes, Jesus went up into the mountains alone to pray. He asked His disciples to get into a boat and go before Him across the water to the opposite shore. When Jesus returned, the boat was being tossed about in a stormy sea. Jesus terrified the disciples when He started toward them, walking on water. They thought He was a ghost. Jesus reassured them, but St. Peter called out: "Lord, if it is really you, tell me to come to you across the water." The Lord said: "Come!" St. Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But then he faltered and Jesus had to stretch out His hand and save him.
"How little faith you have!" Jesus exclaimed. "Why did you falter?"
How many of us have lapsed, too, believing that God has forsaken us in our misery? "Our lives are full of storms and struggles," said John J. O’Keefe, associate professor and chair, Theology Department, Creighton University, Nebraska. "When we keep our eyes on the Lord, we are fine, but too often we are distracted by the overwhelming size of the storm and the ferocity of the wind and waves. We easily lose heart: God will never deliver us from this."