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When They Leave the Faith

Welcome to this installment in the series Real and Raw – Soul-Stirring Stories, a series focused on taking a candid look at the Faith and life’s struggles as we journey to heaven. Being Catholic doesn’t mean you won’t suffer–in fact, Jesus promises we’re likely to suffer even more for being His disciple. But Catholics often feel self-conscious about admitting to doubt, confusion, sorrow, or anger in their relationship with God. We want the world to be attracted to our beautiful faith, so we minimize the darkness and emphasize the light in our lives, usually at the expense of authenticity. Yet there’s value in sharing our journey in all its shades–in admitting there are gray and black days, too. We offer these stories to let our suffering readers know they’re not alone–we’re in the trenches with you and so is God, who loves us and has a divine purpose for pain, even if it’s hard to see or accept in the moment. Most importantly, we hope these stories give hope to readers…hope that there is help and that they will survive. And one day, they will make it out of the darkness and be stronger for it.


Our Struggle

This is a story about adult children who abandon the Faith.  I have vacillated, worried, and prayed over sharing our loss (and I do call it a loss) here.  It is not a topic I’ve seen addressed very frequently, and there is the subversive thought often troubling my mind that somehow we have failed as Catholic parents. Were we too hard on them? Were we not hard enough? What more could we have done to ensure they’d remain faithful Catholics? In the end, and after much prayer, I came to recognize and embrace the reality; we cannot be alone in this struggle.

My husband and I have seven unique and amazing children, ranging in age from early elementary to early 20s. They have been our life’s work and we take joy in each and every one of them. In our younger years, we thought we had the magic formula for raising steadfast Catholic children. We strongly believed—“The family that prays together stays together” and “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it”—Proverbs 22:6. We homeschooled using almost exclusively Catholic materials, went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day, frequented confession, and prayed together every day. The Faith permeated our home and everything we did and we thought it was enough.

Our Battle

As our oldest two became teenagers, we began to see the frayed edges of their faith unravel. Prayers appeared to be a chore. There were hints of exasperation when matters of faith and morals were discussed at the dinner table. Their friendships with Catholic friends became strained and they formed friendships with more secular acquaintances. As long as they were under 18 they did not openly question our authority or expectations but when they each turned 18 we decided we had to make it a rule that as long as they lived under our roof they had to attend Sunday Mass and join us for evening family prayer. They complied, but it was inherently obvious it was not out of devotion. Their body language said it all. Eventually, they moved out of our home and their Mass attendance abruptly stopped. They have embraced the values of secular culture and abandoned their faith; pursuing false promises of happiness and adopting distorted views of freedom.  No matter how often we admonish them that their current lifestyle does not yield true happiness or authentic freedom, they turn deaf ears upon us. 

Our Despair

There have been times I’ve wanted to throw up my hands in defeat and resignation. I admit there are times when I feel crippling fear and worry they very well could die outside of God’s friendship. I’ve begged and bargained with God.  Yet, I know we’ve been called to continue parenting them here and now. My heart and soul cry desperately, “Jesus, I trust in you. I place them in Your hands.” We pray, and hope, and continue to invite them to come to confession and mass with us. Occasionally they do. It’s been a delicate back and forth and I pray for the balance needed between saying enough to encourage them without saying so much they reflexively balk.

Our Help

There have been a few things, besides my anguished appeals in prayer, which have helped me in this effort.  The first is friendships we have recently made with families in the same position as ours.  We mourn together, commiserate with each other, pray for each other’s children, and hope with one another. We celebrate together as prodigal sons and daughters make a return. The support of like-minded friends has been invaluable and an enormous comfort.

A second help has been the patronage and example of Saint Monica.  Little did I know how important choosing her as my confirmation saint would be.  Her saintly example of constant prayer, beseeching God to convert her son Augustine’s heart, has been my inspiration to pray without ceasing for all of our children and to trust God will bring them home.

Thirdly, my husband and I have each other.  We have carefully crafted a partnership in parenting our children, young and old.  We are on the same page with each other, praying, counseling, and leading our family, hopefully to greater holiness each day.  Having children who have left the Faith has strengthened our resolve and our partnership. Our end goal is the same—Heaven, and we work diligently, with God’s Grace, to make sure each of our children knows what needs to be done to remain in God’s friendship.

Our Consolation

Recently I sat praying for my children during my weekly Holy Hour and I felt a great comfort as I meditated on the importance of free will in our relationship with God.  It is a beautiful gift, one which mothers may feel at conflict with. As much as we’d like to dictate our children to love and serve God, free will must be an aspect of Faith.  Without it how can our children freely choose to love God on their own?  What is love if it is not an active and free choice?  I have every confidence God will continue his work in our children.  I trust He will bring them back and they will choose Him.  Their Faith will be all the stronger for it.  In the meantime, I pray, hope, seek comfort, and wait for Him to complete His work.


REFLECT

Let’s dig deeper. Did this story resonate with you? If so, please continue on below and consider starting a journal to jot down your answers. PRINT several copies of these questions to start your own journal based on different posts. 

  1. What was my spiritual life like before this experience?
  2. How did the experience negatively impact my relationship with God?
  3. How did the experience negatively impact my relationships with my spouse, my children, my coworkers, my relatives, my friends?
  4. Was there anything that helped to alleviate the suffering I was going through? (e.g., counsel from others, professional help, medication/supplements, devotions, lifestyle changes)
  5. How did this experience positively impact my relationships, either during or afterward?
  6. How did this experience positively impact my spiritual life, either during or afterward?
  7. If I could go back and change how I responded to this experience, what would I do differently?
  8. What would I say to someone else in this situation to give her hope?

RESOURCES & SPIRITUAL HEALING

Help Them Return

Young People Are Leaving the Faith. Here’s Why.

Forming Intentional Disciples

Catholics Come Home

20 Habits You Can Cultivate Now to Help Your Children Stay Catholic

I’m Not Being Fed

Return: How to Draw Your Child Back to the Church

How to Bring Fallen Away Catholics Back to the Church

Rediscover Catholicism

Novena to St. Monica

Novena to St. Augustine

Father Mike Schmitz

Father Michael Sullivan

When They Leave the Faith

 

 

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  • Jennifer N - My heart aches for you. Thank you for being so transparent. I feel that I am close to that situation with one of mine who is 17. Except I am just entering the Church this Easter from being a life long (40 year) Protestant. He had a lot of responsibility placed on him in our old church and unfortunately saw the “business” side of the church attending a few pastoral meetings at 15 due to his heavy involvement.

    The teens are leaving the Protestant Church in droves too so it’s our secular society I believe. We also homeschool. Bless you mama. I will be praying for you.March 21, 2018 – 2:52 amReplyCancel

  • Louise Riccobene - They will come back! On their own terms and when they are ready, and they will know how, thanks to all the solid groundwork you laid for them as they were growing up. Something will happen that will draw them back to the arms of the church, whether it’s the birth of a child or a “severe mercy” where they realized they need to rely on something other than themselves. Keep praying, Mama!March 22, 2018 – 8:02 amReplyCancel

  • Cathie - I googled about leaving catholicism and found this. My husband and I are both cradle Catholics and we have 6 children; the youngest is 18, all of whom were catholic-educated. Our third son is gay. He was not “raised” to be gay – he was created that way in my womb. All of my adult children have left the church and after last week’s Mass, I am also leaving. My husband is the lone holdout. I told myself that the church was being consistent with its rules and guidelines on human sexuality, but it has become so obvious that it singles out those who are homosexual. As a 50-something lifelong Catholic, I don’t think the young people leaving are a surprise in the age of interconnectedness in which we now live. Instead, I think it is a reckoning that was supressed for years. I no longer view the church as infallible, or even morally sound. I was hopeful when Pope Francis was elected, but since our pastor pretty much called him out as a heretic last weekend (when endorsing an extreme-right, pro-gun local candidate and saying the death penalty was just), I see that supporting this institution full of malleable men and fallacy is not something I am called to do. Pray for your children who leave, but more importantly – question why it is that they did so. Perhaps it is your own reasoning for staying that should be challenged. Peace be with you.April 9, 2018 – 3:14 pmReplyCancel

  • RA - Thank you for writing this, and know you’re not alone. We did not home school, but sacrificed greatly for Catholic school tuition for our 4 children. I have 2 young adult children that are solid in the faith, and 2 that are shaky. I can feel your pain. Our diocese is very “progressive” and we as parents are very traditional so it’s tough to look at the shaky kids and not wonder why. Catholicism in most parishes and schools is so lukewarm and watered-down it’s truly sad. Keep hoping and praying.April 11, 2018 – 11:16 amReplyCancel

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