Two groups ask me often what they can do to help their children grow in faith: parents of toddlers and parents of young adults.
Surprised? While their ages and stages of life may differ, the two groups are closer than you might think.
When I write about faith at home, I often hear from new parents. They want to know what prayers or books they can use to make sure their child learns the faith. Their enthusiasm and anxiety are evident: They want to get it right.
When I speak in parishes, I always hear from parents whose adult children have stopped going to church. They want to know why their children left and how they could encourage them to come back. Their faith and grief is clear: They want to know where things went wrong.
Empathy makes my heart reach out to both groups, though there are no easy answers.
I sympathize with parents of young ones. It's the beginning of family life at home. The stakes for faith feel high.
And I ache for the parents of adults who have left the church. It's beyond the years of family life at home. The stakes feel even higher.
I want to tell the first group: Don't worry. You're doing more than you realize. God is at work in ways you can't see. It's not all up to you.
I want to tell the second group the same.
But encouragement is not enough. We want to act, especially when our children and their faith is concerned.
So what can we do? Take our own advice.
“Use your words.”
Just as parents coach and coax toddlers to practice their language skills (rather than throw a tantrum), we can encourage each other to use our conversations, witness and prayers for the children we love.
First, use your words to share your faith.
Remember the power of example. How often do you talk about God, prayer, or the Church with the children or young adults in your life? Have you ever spoken about your own faith journey, struggles or questions?
If you share what brings you joy, purpose, peace, and truth, young people will notice. Even if they don't always agree or understand, they are paying attention to the way you live your life and how your faith shows up in everyday conversations.
Second, use your words to bear witness to your faith.
Remember the importance of integrity. How do your children hear you talk about other people? Politicians you disagree with? Individuals or groups you don't like?
Children are listening from their earliest days. Despite the influence of friends, media and culture, parents still have significant influence on the beliefs and morals of their children.
Think about the language and tone you use in conversation with your children. Do your words and tone reflect your values, no matter the topic?
Finally, use your words to pray for young people.
Ultimately our children's faith — like every part of their lives — is out of our control. But prayer reminds us that each child belongs to God.
Remember the words we believe, the Word that matters most: “Be not afraid. I am with you.” If we start a daily habit of entrusting the children we love to God, we can find comfort, hope and guidance in God's care.
At the recent synod on "Young people, faith and vocational discernment," the Vatican's preparatory document read: “The church wants again to state her desire to encounter, accompany and care for every young person, without exception.”
We can do the same for the children in our lives. We can use our words for good.
Two groups ask me often what they can do to help their children grow in faith: parents of toddlers and parents of young adults. Surprised? While their ages and stages of life may differ, the two groups are closer than you might think.