What do you do when your kids aren’t doing what you want them to do, or worse, when they’re doing everything you’ve taught them not to do? That was the very conversation I was having with an editor from Ave Maria Press two summers ago when she shared some of the grave difficulties she was experiencing with her two adopted children. That same conversation would bring to birth my book Mary’s Way: The Power of Entrusting Your Child to God, as I attempted to not only answer the editor’s questions as a Catholic parent, but offer what I felt was needed perspective from a parent who had more than once been in a parenting predicament: me.
The issues I tackle in Mary’s Way are not theoretical, but have been borne of my own suffering as a mother: having a child who has suffered from addiction, a child who had a baby out of wedlock, a child who has experienced crippling anxiety, and five children, including four young adults and a 9-year-old, who lost their father to a massive heart attack. How does one navigate such trials with grace, faith, and hope? And to whom can anxious parents look as a model of faith and perseverance in suffering?
Having been frustrated by many of the Christian resources I encountered on parenting that seemed to offer mostly a “how to” approach for success instead of an “in the trenches” look at life’s messiness, I made a decision to honestly share our family’s story and struggles in a book. Through speaking with many moms and dads over the years, I knew that our family was not alone in dealing with such trials. I desired to offer a resource that would address problems from a Catholic perspective, a resource that also offered parents concrete prayer tools and hope. Further, I wanted to point parents to Mary as the model of faithful, God-centered parenting, reminding them that in spite of the fact that Mary was a perfect mother with a perfect Son, she was not given a pass on suffering.
Remember, the mother of Jesus faced a number of her own parenting travails, including facing potential stoning for being pregnant before her public marriage to St. Joseph took place, having no place to give birth to her baby, being assured at the Presentation in the Temple that a sword would pierce her heart, anxiously searching for her 12-year-old for three days during a journey to Jerusalem, and ultimately, painfully surrendering her son to a brutal, violent death upon the cross.
It occurred to me that by considering our own struggles within the framework of the mysteries of Mary’s life, I could find peace and strength, and that doing so would also help make sense of our suffering. It is thus that I inserted our story into the mysteries of the Rosary, gleaning what I could from Mary’s journey and embracing her challenges and victories as the paradigm for holy parenting.
Where did we get the idea that good parenting equals pain-free parenting?
Many Catholic parents today have bought into what is called the “prosperity gospel” — the idea that if we pray hard enough, try hard enough, and do everything just “right,” we’ll be guaranteed only blessing and prosperity in life, blessing that includes faith-filled, godly Catholic children. Yet in reality we see many faithful parents struggling to find answers as their kids rebel, leave the faith, engage in sinful lifestyles, fall into addictions, and more. What’s a parent to do?
First, we must pray, pray, pray, and never give up! We are instructed to ask God for what we want and need, and these prayers of petition are probably the way we pray most often for our children (see Matthew 7:7-10; Philippians 4:6-7).
Scripture assures us that “the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful” (James 5:16), and I’ve seen more than a few miraculous answers to prayer in my day. For example, one night while ardently praying a Rosary for my son in the middle of the night, he did a 180-degree turnaround and ran into my room to confess his involvement in a petty crime he had repeatedly denied being involved in shortly before. Why? He said that a light flashed in his mind and he heard a voice tell him to confess the truth, which he promptly did.
The power of prayer ultimately brought this same son, against all odds, to enter a Catholic community for recovering addicts and live there for 4.5 years. I marveled at the hours he spent there on his knees each day, hours that included daily Eucharistic Adoration, three Rosaries, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Liturgy of the Hours, plus copious amounts of praise and worship. Only a miracle could have brought him to that place, a miracle I unhesitatingly attribute to the power of prayer.
I believe that one of the most powerful prayers we can pray is to call upon our child’s baptismal vows, begging God for the promises of their Baptism come to full fruition in their lives. One of the prayers I habitually pray for my children is:
Lord Jesus, I call upon the power of (child’s name)’s baptismal vows, remembering that (child’s name) was consecrated to you through Baptism. I pray that the waters of (child’s name)’s Baptism will rise up like a mighty river within him/her to bring faith, hope, and love fully alive in him/her and to protect him/her from all temptation, deception, and evil. Amen.
Another extremely potent prayer is consecrating a child to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, placing them into her hands and heart for intercession and protection. (There is a free “Mary’s Way Consecration Prayer” offered on my website at MemorareMinistries.com. I encourage parents to avail themselves of this powerful tool.)
Parenting is the school of surrender
While persevering in prayer is good and necessary, sometimes it seems that our prayers go unanswered, no matter how hard we pray or for how long. What should a parent do then? It is in these instances that we are invited to learn “the prayer of surrender.” The prayer of surrender often brings about our own deeper conversion and transformation, because learning to pray “thy will be done” no matter what is happening in our lives changes us.
While we often think of parenting as “doing” something to or for others, parenting is also meant to “do” something to us: “form and fashion us, awaken and enrich us, strip and heal us, and teach us to become (people) of prudence, patience, and perseverance, as it trains us constantly in the art of consent.” (Mary’s Way, page 18). In other words, parenting is meant to form us in Mary’s graced posture of radical surrender, as we confront the reality that we are not in control (and learn that God is), and as life’s challenges beckon us to give an ever expanding, more deeply yielded “yes” to God. How does this happen?
It happens when we come face-to-face with our own poverties and limitations, and when it dawns on us that we can’t force life to unfold according to our will, plans, or programs. It happens when we realize that, while we are called by God to love and discipline our children, we can’t make their will conform to God’s or to our own. It happens when we encounter unexpected reversals or tragedies and are challenged to trust God more deeply to work all things together for our good. It is in these hallowed moments of permitted growth that we are called to learn to totally surrender all things to God. For opening our hands and hearts to God permits his grace toheal, change, and transform us.
The yielding, receptive stance of surrender was Mary’s constant posture before God. Her intentional “fiat” to all that his providence permitted demonstrated the way that all human beings are meant to relate to God. Practicing Mary’s posture of willing relinquishment releases in us the grace of trust, trust that enables us to stand strong in faith, hope, and love on the highest mountaintop or at the foot of the cross.
Surrendering yourself and your child to God
What does it mean to “surrender” to God? The word surrender literally means “to give oneself over” or “to give back.”
“To surrender ourselves totally to the living God is to let go of all that we grasp for or hold in our hands. That includes our souls, our lives, our wills, our ways, our dreams, and our children. … Such surrender opens the way for receptivity — the ability to receive the good things that God has for us and to trust that all that he permits in our lives is for our good. Just like Mary’s, our surrender is manifested through — and contingent upon — our yes” (Mary’s Way, page 24).
While such surrender isn’t always easy, I can emphatically say that it is entirely possible with God’s grace. Turning everyone and everything over to God takes intentional prayer, practice, and persistence, but it comes with a payoff: When we “kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14-15), placing every person and everything into his hands, he “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). Reflecting on our own family’s journey, I can unhesitatingly assure you that this is true.
Let us pray:
Father, sometimes I find it so hard to pray, “Thy will be done.” I ask for the courage and humility to open my hands to you and to surrender my life, my will, and even my children to you. Help me to trust that you love me infinitely, that you are good, and that you work all things together for my good, my sanctification, and my salvation. I ask for a spirit of acquiescence like our holy Mother, that I may say yes to you in all things, even when I am disappointed, sorrowful, or afraid. Make yourself known in my yes, Father, and may I rest in the knowledge that my yes, united to yours, can only bring forth life. Amen.