Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Gift of Piety


Children are my blessing and my cross.

That may sound harsh, but any mom or dad with more than a few minutes of experience knows the dichotomy of parenting; there are seasons of triumph and defeat, pride and disappointment, pleasure and pain. For some, the pain of parenthood is all too real as they watch their children lose their faith, succumb to drugs and alcohol, lead promiscuous lifestyles, and make mistake after disastrous mistake. Others witness the suffering of illness, disability and death. The dominant culture lures our children away from good and holy pursuits, glamorizes materialism and scorns faith. As has been repeated oft, 'tis a tough time to be a kid...or a parent, for that matter.

My experience continues to evolve as each of my children struggles in the universal march to adulthood. Yet the reality of parenting is that most days are fairly mundane, and most challenges are simply irritations and expressions of frustration and impatience. Each age group brings its challenges: babies cry. And poop. Toddlers make messes and break things. Pre-adolescent and adolescent children argue, whine and make general nuisances of themselves. Teenagers attempt to kill us all with their shenanigans. Young adults and adult children make monumental errors in judgment. It is daunting, but a huge percentage of the difficulties of child-rearing can be answered with patience, love and understanding. That isn't always easy. A wise Jesuit once told me that we are all prone to sin when experiencing the following conditions expressed as the acronym "HALT": hungry, angry, lonely, tired. I can't speak for all parents, but aren't most of us experiencing one or more of those on a regular basis?

It would have been helpful for God to have provided an owner's manual for each of our children. Nonetheless, we are, for the most part, on our own. I say for the most part because we will find some in our journey who can share the wisdom of their experience as parents. We have the written example of generations of parents in the Bible to study. The Church provides countless spiritual aids as well as examples of parenting among Saints who went by the name "mom" or "dad".

My experience is probably typical to many, though with nine children, multiplied a bit. I struggle with the educationally unambitious son, the "sneaky" teen, the skeptic, the anti-authority adolescent, the irresponsible young adult. My life is also challenged by the demanding toddler, the tantrum-throwing kindergartner, and the brooding middle-schooler. Yet, despite these challenges, irritations, and shortcomings, they are simply beautiful. Each is a precious gift, a pearl of great price. They swell my heart with pride and bring tears of love and affection to my eyes. They are mine.

God looks at us that way. We are His pearl of great price. We are precious in His sight, and bring joy to His heart. Unlike ourselves, with Him there is no impatience, no irritation, no moments of disappointment or disgust. He loves us unconditionally, wholly, and without reservation. Like our children, though, we continually test our relationship with Him by sinning. We show disrespect by taking our faith for granted. We ignore the teachings and wisdom of the Church He has given us. We use His name in vain. We abuse our bodies and squander our gifts. We fail to love our neighbor and do not see Him in the face of our brother. We think only of our own needs and wants. We act like spoiled, rotten little children.

Despite all of that, our Father in Heaven cannot be moved: He loves us. He calls us to Himself. He longs for our presence and desires for us to return His love. He is patient and willing to wait for us to grow up. He is the perfect parent.

Let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the Gift of Piety. Let us love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. Let us honor and revere the Church He has given to us. Let us see His presence in the souls of our brother. Let us try, in our broken, halting, childish, and imperfect way, to be more like Him. For He is our Father, and He loves us.

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