by John J. Boucher
Once, while setting up for a workshop about “adult children,” three parents approached me. Maria lamented, “I brought my kids to Mass every week, but only one out of three is now willing to go to church.” Frank added, “My wife and I helped our six children receive all the sacraments, and we were deeply involved in youth ministry in our parish, but after going to college, only two are occasional churchgoers.” Another person added, “Our divorced son never even had our grandchildren baptized!” Pain was etched on their faces. And they needed answers about what to do next.
But there is good news! Such grief can awaken us to a call for fruitful intercessory prayer, honesty about our own needs, thanksgiving for our adult children, and finally, a love based in confidence that empowers us to gently share our faith in Jesus when the time is right.
Call to Intercessory Prayer
The Spirit in our hearts nudges us to intercessory prayer for our families, especially when they are experiencing stress, transition, and need. “Intercession is a prayer of petition which leads us to pray as Jesus did [from a place of union with God the Father]” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2634).
Just as we physically lifted our children thousands of times between birth and young adulthood, we are called to lift them up spiritually and place them into the heart of God, especially after they have gone out on their own. To learn how, we might even lift a photo of a daughter or son up to heaven as we pray.
When we let go, the Holy Spirit transforms us so we can see each child through God’s eyes. We can experience God’s faithfulness. Another approach is to visualize Jesus beside a family member. The more serious the situation, the more important it is to surrender a grown child and our relationship with him or her to God. Tell God how we feel; then add an Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, or a psalm from the Bible.
Call to Honest Prayer About our Own Needs
Only one out of my five adult children is even an occasional churchgoer. So I start my prayer by admitting my spiritual desires for them, my anxiety, and the mistakes I made in raising them. This often brings peace to my relationships with them. Things I might admit:
✦My guilt about inadequate parenting.
✦How often I fail to love them unconditionally or seek God’s wisdom.
✦How easy it is to hurt them, and how difficult it is to admit my sins toward them.
When we let go, the Holy Spirit transforms us so we can see each child through God’s eyes.
Sometimes I pray: Lord Jesus, you calmed the raging sea. Please grant me patient trust and real affection for my child [insert first name] as he or she struggles to grow into the person you have created him or her to be. Praying with honest needs allows Jesus to surprise us. Our daughter Anne is the single parent of our grandson Edward. Since they are not regular churchgoers, we are learning to rely on God about how and when to share our Catholic faith with them. During one Sunday birthday visit, Anne asked us to bring Ed to Mass for the first time. We were thrilled! That day, Anne also gave him a stuffed red panda, which he named “God”! Weeks passed, and whenever Ed lost track of the panda, he would roam around the house shouting, “Where are you, God?” It seems that God has a sense of humor with Anne and Ed.
Call to Thank God for the Good in Each Adult Child’s Life
Scripture invites us to offer praise and thanks to God at all times and in every situation. Doing so is an act of trust and hope, especially in the face of daunting circumstances. As Psalm 118:28-29 proclaims:
You are my God, I give you thanks;
my God, I offer you praise.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
his mercy endures forever.
Thanking God for the good things in our offsprings’ lives reconnects us to the truth of a daughter’s or son’s Baptism, when God first poured out his dynamic, unending love, as well as gifts, fruits, and charisms, even if only in seed form. We can have confidence that these gifts do not cease, but can blossom in mysterious ways.
Call to Pray for Our Adult Child’s Needs, Especially Spiritual Needs
God’s Spirit calls us to fruitful prayer for our adult children, especially when they need support in troubled times. When we bring specific needs to God, he can move us and our children from death to the joy of the Resurrection. We are enabled to step back and allow our adult children to face their own problems, without trying to solve them. Instead, we might ask, “What are your options?” or “How could you move toward a solution?”
When our daughter Lillian came home at the end of her first year of college, she was a wreck! She had flunked a course, and as a result, she would lose her financial aid package and her opportunity to continue her education. After listening to her sad story, my wife, Therese, asked, “What comes next, Lillian? Who might help you with this?” After a few hours, she called her academic adviser, while we prayed on our knees in another room. Thankfully, her adviser allowed her to replace the missing credits with extra work Lillian had done in her department. God is good!
We are also called to pray for our adult children’s spiritual growth. This begins with watching for what the Holy Spirit is already doing in them — like the day our son Charles’ truck skidded on an icy bridge and into the path of an oncoming trailer truck. In seconds, he was off onto a narrow shoulder while the semi whizzed past him. He kept saying, “I am so lucky!” I said, “I believe God’s hand protected you, because you still have many gifts to share with others.”
When we have a glimpse of God’s particular love, we can ask Jesus what the next step might be in our child’s spiritual journey and pray accordingly. But remember, we may not be the ones to guide them back to Jesus and the Church. So we pray for the person(s) who may do so.
Call to Share Our Faith in Jesus in Appropriate Ways
Every person has a relationship with God, whether he or she is aware of God’s presence or not. This awareness does not happen by magic. Our grown children may be missing some pieces of an adult faith, whether it is relationships with other fully-converted Christians, the conscious decision to be a disciple of Jesus, or confusion about the meaning of the basic message of the Gospel. Pope Francis explains this message: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you” (Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel, 164).Only the Holy Spirit can intervene and change an adult child’s heart.
As parents, our primary role is to walk beside them through the stages and struggles of adulthood. Maintaining an open relationship with them is key. If we break our relationships, we will lose our influence on their journey with Christ.
Pope Francis invites us to the “‘art of accompaniment,’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other [see Exodus3:5]. The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates, and encourages growth in the Christian life” (EG, 169).
We can be a blessing for our adult children who have drifted from the Catholic faith. We can lift them up into the heart of God through persevering intercessory prayer, honesty before God about our own needs, thanksgiving to God for what’s good in their lives, prayer for their needs, and a willingness to share faith in Jesus with them when the time is right. Then, and only then, we can:
✦Ask open-ended questions such as, “What does this mean for you?” (followed by listening).
✦Offer short blessings, such as “Peace be with you!” or “Alleluia!” or “Lord have mercy!”
✦Share how the message of Jesus has affected your daily life.
✦Share faith stories about our lives, our parents, grandparents, and other loved ones.
✦Extend effective invitations to serve oth-ers with us or join us at parish functions and events.