Well, to answer that question, I am still a worrier. And twenty years later, even more so now that I have kids, just like my mom predicted!
I worry about their wellbeing, I worry about their friendships. I worry about hurt feelings, about petty fights. I worry about laziness, I worry about pushing them too hard. I worry that I feed them too much, I worry that I haven't fed them enough. I worry that I've spoiled them, I worry that I haven't loved them enough. I worry!
|Luke, at the apple orchard.|
But more than anything, I worry about their souls.
My children know of God, but I don't know that they know Him personally. I am always talking about Him, promoting Him, pointing to Him, reminding them of Him. Every fight they have, every time they hurt one another's feelings, I ask them, "How do you think Jesus is looking at you right now?"
Every time a prayer is answered I try to remember to point out the obvious: "Hey! Jesus answered your prayer!" as though it's a surprise to all of us.
|Max with baby Anna, a few days before my heart attack|
During Mass at the time of Consecration, I do my usual lean-back-and-scan to make sure all kids aren't doing the lazy half sitting/half kneeling thing. If they are, it's not uncommon for fellow parishioners to hear me whisper, "butts up!" It doesn't matter what people think, my kids know what that means.
I watch suspiciously out of the corner of my eye as we say Grace (our heads are supposed to be bowed), for children who are "swatting flies" (my Dad's famous saying) instead of making the Sign of the Cross respectfully. If they don't, I make them do it again.
I ask them if they remembered "the Loneliest Man in the world" by saying a prayer to Him throughout the day. More often than not, they tell me they forgot. Well, at least they are honest.
Sometimes I feel I have good reason to worry. I have good reason to be vigilant. It's my job as their parent to guide their souls. And especially for some of my children, it does take extra vigilance and watchfulness.
But as I fall into bed each night, thinking over the days events, the problems we ran into and how I handled them as their mother, I find myself exhausted and discouraged. So little improvement seemed to be made over something that I put so much effort into. This, along with all my prayers for my kids, seemed to add up to pretty much nothing. Still, instead of going deeper as to why this was, I figured I would just have to work harder. And on and on this would go. Day after day, same battles to be fought with no victory at the end. Day after day, I was exhausted and discouraged.
|Anna and Henry|
Lately, I've been reading a book called Trusting God with St. Therese by Colleen Rossini. It was in this book that I began to discover the source of my lifetime battle with anxiety, the worry I have over everything and especially the worry over my children. I discovered that it was not that I wasn't working hard enough on my children's souls, it was that I didn't trust God enough to take care of them for me.
From the time of their infancy, I have fed them, diapered them, consoled them and protected them. I have been the source of everything they needed. Without me and Dennis as their parents, my kids would have died. They needed us, depended on us for their survival. As a new parent, and even after becoming an experienced parent, their dependency made a huge impression on me. Mother Hen I certainly was. Mama Bear to boot!
And even at their baptism--especially at their baptism--even when I was somewhat distracted with dealing with spit-up (it always seems to happen at baptism, doesn't it?), and keeping the baby quiet and content, I was listening to the words the priest was saying, the promises that I was making as their parent that I would do all I could to bring my child up in the Catholic Faith, to teach them the Truth, to keep them close to God. This to me, was the foundation of their happiness, their well-being. Being the natural protector and worrier that I have always been, I took these promises very seriously.
|Lucy, right after giving her bangs. (She begged and begged.)|
However, God never asked for me to worry. He never asked me to stress. He didn't ask or even want me to become discouraged and exhausted, to cry over something that I have no control over. I had promised to bring my children up to the Faith "to the best of my ability", and that is all.
As a parent, this is hard for me to accept. It means that I have to let go of my worries. Even worse, it means that I have to let go of my kids. It means that I must take the lower place, the humbler place, the "sidelines of the court" while I "allow" God to take over the game. However, being "benched" means that I finally get to have some rest while I watch God take over the work that I thought was mine.
This morning at Mass, after we received Communion and my kids knelt to say their Thanksgiving, I did my usual scan to see if my kids were actually praying or if their eyes were glazed over in daydreaming, which is often the case. After giving reminders and nudges where they needed to be given, I glanced over at Max, my almost 11 year old, who was slumped over in his usual half-kneeling/half sitting position on the pew, eyes closed, seemingly falling asleep. (I do not make them do the "butts off the pew" rule during Thanksgiving, as this is their time to be relaxed and talking to Jesus.) I leaned over and whispered a reminder: "Don't forget to talk to Jesus." He whispered back, "I am. I can't ever pray during this time because of all the people and all the music, so instead, I imagine me and Jesus sitting in a field, and we listen to the music together."
|Max, on All Souls Day, praying for an "adopted soul"|
Subdued and humbled, I took my seat back to the sidelines, back to the "bench". God had made it clear. Sometimes when it seems like my children are sleeping, it is then that God is speaking to their souls.
I am not going to say that I no longer worry. This is a lifelong habit that will have to be overcome with the practice of trust in God. But at night, I no longer pray and cry for my children's souls. Now I just hand them over to God.
I still take the promises I've made at my children's baptism very seriously. I believe that I will be held accountable for their souls if I am lax or lazy in their spiritual upbringing. However, I am reminded that is my job only to guide them and nourish them with both spiritual love and knowledge of our God. It is not my job to judge their souls.
It is not my job to judge their souls. I have found freedom in these words.
Only God can judge. Only He knows what work is being accomplished every day in their souls. And if I am working every day to point to God to my children, how can I assume that God is doing any less? How could I ever think that I had to do it all?
Stepping back, taking a seat at the sidelines, "decreasing while He increases", has given me the respite that I have been needing. Letting go and trusting, and watching what God teaches my children "while they are sleeping", shocks me into silent awe. I am more relaxed, I am getting more sleep, and I find joy in the words of "I give You my children" as I let go of the stress and tension I feel in my worries. I am teaching my children to trust as I learn also to trust. I am becoming a better parent for it.
Best of all, I do not have to do a thing but just stand back and watch what God can do.
"But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:19