September 13, 2015
I had the opportunity to speak with the St. Pius X 8th graders and their parents Thursday night at their annual retreat. I shared the following thoughts on growing faith as a family during this critical time in a child’s life:
There is a common myth that claims that young people lose touch with their faith when they go off to college. I would argue that the middle school and high school years are the battleground. When it comes to faith, we often win or lose during this critical time. College simply amplifies where students are in their faith upon arrival.
Where does the breakdown occur? When our children are young, we walk them through everything. We explain and teach and model. Once they reach middle school, we want them to learn independence, so we tend to set them off on their own. When we send them to Catholic schools, we often leave the “God piece” to the school. That’s why we send them to Catholic schools, right?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is very clear: Parents are the primary educators of their children. This is especially true when it comes to faith and values.
In high school, our kids are busy. Family time is diminished. There is very little focus on faith and family, with most of our attention directed toward getting our kids to college. We must be careful not to lose sight of our primary goal – getting them to heaven.
With all of this in mind, how do we proceed?
Suggestions – (Note: be prepared, all involve time and commitment):
- Commit to family time – schedule it
- Dinners together: I recognize that families are busy. Start with one day a week and eat a little later than normal if needed. Is everyone home by 7:30 on Tuesdays? If so, that’s family dinner night.
- Family game night once per month
- Work on big projects around the house as a family
It has nothing to do with the food you’re eating, the game you’re playing, or the project you’re working on. These are all activities that allow for conversation – it is about relationship building, a time to share our faith and our family values.
- Sunday Mass
Going to Mass on Sunday (or Saturday night) is the most important thing you do all week. You make a statement when you make Mass a priority for your family. You also make a statement when sleep in and decide to “skip it this week.”
- Pray together
Find time to pray together outside of Mass, perhaps after one of those family meals. Some people struggle with the how-to of prayer. Don’t overcomplicate things. Keep this in mind: gratitude, others, me.
Start by thanking God for all He has provided for us. When you start listing these gifts, you’ll see just how blessed you are. Then pray for the needs of others – family, friends, community, country, world. Finally, tell God what it is you need. This type of prayer helps in two ways: First, your family is praying together. Second, you are teaching your children that gratitude and prayers for others come before our own needs.
- Faith field trips
Take your family on a “faith field trip.” Occasionally, drive outside of town and attend Mass at a small town Catholic church. There are some beautiful churches in our Archdiocese. After Mass, ask the locals where to go for breakfast. Faith, family, and time to talk are all combined.
- Intentions board
Carol and I have an “Intentions Board” in our front entryway. It is a chalkboard on which we write the names of people we want to hold in prayer. We invite guests that enter our home to write their intentions on the board as well. This sends a message to your children – we value prayer.
- Faith question board
This is the same idea as the “Intentions Board.” On it, your kids write a question they have about their faith, or regarding a teaching of the Catholic Church. Over dinner, you discuss the question. This makes parents nervous, because we feel like we need to have all of the answers. We don’t. If we know the answer, that’s great. If not, we simply say, “I don’t know the answer to that one, let’s find out together.” Then, together, we get online or check out the Catechism of the Catholic Church or some other resource to find the answer.
- One-on-one time
Make time for some one-on-one with each of your children. It is amazing how much you can learn about one another. Talk about values, hopes, dreams, and faith. Have a deeper conversation than “How was your day?”
- “Where is God in this?”
When something happens in your life, or you see a story on the evening news, ask this question aloud, “Where is God in this?” Get your kids thinking about all of the sacramental moments in their lives. You are sending a message – God is here with us and will always be with us.
Most parishes participate in the Sacrament of Confirmation early in high school. Confirmation a big deal and needs to be treated as such! We should participate and be fully engaged in the process with our children. When they were baptized, we spoke on their behalf. Now it time for them to claim their faith. We need to give them the courage and support they need to do that.
I can speak from experience – in the blink of an eye, your children will be heading off to college. They are prepared academically. How solid is their faith foundation?
When they pack for college, let’s make sure they pack their faith and take it with them.