It’s difficult to get through a book these days with my child. Instead of listening to the story, her priority is to designate family members for each character. On every page, I have to begin something like this: “OK, so Mama is now the cow, Daddy is the horse, Sister is the bird, you are the dog, and you want Baby to be the frog? Got it. May I read now?” Her whole world is our little family of five. Together we are farm animals, princesses and kings, Clifford’s family, Curious George and friends, five naughty little monkeys, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf. Somehow, I always get pegged as the reindeer. But we are always together in our storyland adventures. She can conceive of it no other way, nor can I.
Jesus tells his disciples: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother . . .” (Lk 51-54).
As a daughter whose journey of faith brought some measure of heartache to my own mother, Jesus’s words served as great consolation, even encouragement for me as I departed from the tradition of my family. I wasn’t disobeying God by bringing grief to my mother, Jesus assured me. But now, as a mother, my first impulse is to erase that passage from the Gospel. Why would he bring division to our family? How could he possibly sever the bonds of love between Mama Llama and Baby Llama? What a cruel thing to do. Yet the passage remains and is proclaimed from the ambo. For babies do grow up.
As a parent, I am my children’s first and primary teacher in faith. My children are all under the age of reason, so their faith, for now, is a reflection of my own. If anything, their prayers are more ardent, simple, and trusting than mine. And yet, the day may come when their conception of God differs from my own. The day may come when they don’t live out those unwritten expectations I have for their lives. God may call them to vocations that I don’t fully and freely support. Their seeking of truth may challenge my very understanding of who God is. Their following of God’s will may bring me great sorrow. That day is more likely to come than not.
I often pray, “Give this child a heart to follow you.” I should probably add, “And grant me the freedom from my own expectations.” When claimed for Christ in baptism, our children are not our own, but his, although entrusted to our care. Jesus tells us, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing” (Lk 12:49)! He desires our children’s hearts, too, and the natural bonds of parental love must not inhibit our children from responding to that divine love in the particular way that he is calling each of them.
Prayer: Set my children’s hearts ablaze with love for you, and give me, also, the same heart of love. Amen.