Parents often feel self-conscious taking their small children to church. We worry that our little…
What am I most thankful for? The faith of my children
Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It likely slots in second behind Christmas and well ahead of the festivities of Fourth of July, Halloween and others.
When I think of the holiday, memories of Thanksgiving pasts dance in my head. As a kid, we’d get together with the extended family on my dad’s side — great aunts and uncles, second cousins and first cousins once-removed, whose faces I remembered from the previous year but whose names I did not. We’d all pile the beef and noodles, turkey and other Thanksgiving staples so high on our plates that the family joke was, “You need sideboards for that?” It was crowding around a portable 12-inch TV someone had brought to the community center we rented every year to watch the football games. There never seemed to be a distinct line between lunch and dinner; one simply faded into the other.
In my mind, these memories have a sepia-tone quality to them, like a Norman Rockwell painting of euchre games and old men napping as their wives chat away. I’m thankful for them, and I’m thankful for the memories being made now.
The older I get — and the years seem to be piling up quickly these days — the more I have to be thankful for: my wife and children, the health of friends and family, a warm home, food on the table and, as David Werning writes in this issue’s In Focus (online Nov. 24), a merciful God who has made himself present to us in the Eucharist. Most days, these are things we take for granted, but on Thanksgiving, we pause to appreciate them a little more.
One of the things for which I’m most thankful is seeing each of my kids grow in their own faith lives — in their own ways and at their own paces. Recently I’ve tried to be more intentional about watching them as we pray at home as a family, when we’re at Mass, when they’re serving at the altar, singing as a cantor or crawling on top of or under pews. A few examples:
A few weeks ago, Gemma, our 2-year-old, curly-haired tornado (whom I’ve written about before), was the first to be hit with the seasonal flu. As a parent, nothing brings you to prayer more than the helpless feeling of holding a sick, sobbing child, and so I asked her if we could pray to Jesus and ask him to help her feel better. She stopped crying and wiped the tears from her eyes and asked, “Can we pray to Mary, too?” And so we did.
Then there is our 4-year-old, Dominic. While he fights with us when it’s time to get ready for Mass, he behaves perfectly once we get there (save for frequent requests to get a drink and use the bathroom). While he bristles at praying the Rosary, he is the self-appointed prayer leader at mealtime, taking the initiative to start grace as soon as everyone is in their place. Maybe he’s just the most motivated to start eating, but either way, I’m counting it as a win.
Our oldest two sons — ages 14 and 10 — have a tough act to follow, as their 16-year-old sister is the classic overachieving oldest daughter who looks for every opportunity to grow in her faith — and to help those around her grow in theirs. But the boys are coming around, leading our family Rosaries and serving at Mass most weekends (when we make it there on time).
Statistics show that the average age of young people who leave the Faith is 13, and 23% make the decision to leave before they’re 10. With these numbers in mind, it’s hard not to notice that I don’t often see some of their friends at Mass.
Seeing that they’re not only staying (at this age, in our house, they really don’t have a choice) but growing in faith fills me with pride as a parent. As someone whose prayer life all too often gets off track, their faith inspires me. And today, as I take stock of the good things in my life, it’s what I’m most thankful for.
My blessings, it seems, are piled so high that it feels like I need sideboards.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.