Seeds of the Word - Why children lose their way

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Some children wander away from their true path despite the great example of their parents

It is common to see parents expressing their affliction when they see how their children, as they grow into adulthood, or even earlier, still in college, abandon their faith or choose to live according to principles that go against the values they learned at home. “My son was an altar boy, he loved going out on missions. When he got to college, he stopped believing in God.” “My daughter went to school with nuns, she sang with the choir at Mass, she would go on a spiritual retreat every Lent, she said she dreamed of becoming a nun. Yet she no longer goes to Mass and lives with her boyfriend.” “My husband never drank or smoked. He was never late getting home and spent all the time he could with our sons. Three of them followed the footsteps of their dad. But the youngest has fallen into all sorts of vices and seems to be unable to get out. We raised them the same and gave them the same model! Why?”

What children not always live up to their parents’ expectations? Why, despite the most noble effort, self-giving, commitment and good example of parents, do children abandon God?

Parents tend to blame themselves: “What did we do wrong? What was our mistake?” Certainly, there are fathers who don’t care, irresponsible mothers, absent fathers and selfish mothers. Let’s not focus on them, but rather on those moms and dads who know deep in their hearts that they tried their best, but believe it is their fault that their children lost their way.

Parents doubt their teaching and believe that maybe they said a lot but didn’t support it with their own example. Isn’t it that words may be convincing, but it is the personal testimony what is truly influential?

The truth is that the advice and good example of anyone are not enough, regardless if they come from a father who is always present to his children, or from a loving and tender mother, or from the wisest teacher, the nun with the deepest commitment, or the most virtuous priest. Not even the teachings and the example of Jesus himself are enough if the child, pupil or disciple lacks something that is essential even for our salvation. Paraphrasing the lyrics of “La Bamba,” we could say that “para subir al cielo se necesita una poca de gracia y otra cosita” (to go to Heaven you need a bit of grace and something else). Grace is given by God. That something else comes from man alone: his will. As the Augustinian maxim goes, “God, who made you without you, won’t save you without you.”

A Marist brother placed a sign in my high school: “Neither the knowledge, the time, nor the dedication of a teacher matter without the good will of his pupil.” So true! See, even the apostles were disciples of the Teacher of all teachers and lived with the Incarnate Word himself. Yet one of them ended up betraying his Master! Those Twelve received the same teachings and example from none other than Jesus. But one of them chose to lose their way the worst possible way.

Without a doubt, parents’ teachings and good example help to form good Christians and virtuous citizens. But it is only the good will of the children what will lead them to listen to their parents and follow their example. By the same token, it will be up to their will to refuse to listen to their parents, to reject their teachings, and to disregard their good example to leave as they fancy. The use of their will, ultimately, is respected by our Father in heaven himself.

When children lose their way, and their parents know in their hearts they gave it all to lead them through the right path, they can be at peace. It‘s not they who have failed.

As loving parents, they will worry about their children. There is no other resource then than entrusting their children to the tender care of Mary and to pray our Heavenly Father, who loves them more than anyone else, to shed upon them the light of his Holy Spirit. At the right time, as the prodigal son of the parable, they will rise from the mud and head back home, where they will be embraced by the love of their parents, and will recover from God any dignity they have might lost along the wrong way.

Be passionate about our faith!

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - September 2019

Mauricio I. Pérez, a member of St. Monica Parish on Mercer Island, is a Catholic journalist. His website is