As parents, we have heard the conversation a thousand times. Our little ones talk about what they want to be when they grow up. We usually hear ‘teacher, doctor, animal helper, mommy, ..’ and other similar choices. It often changes and day by day they want to be 500 different things. It is always fun to see what they will say next. You just never know what will come out of the mouth of a child.
This very scenario was playing out again at my dinner table about a month ago. My girls were giggling, going around the table and talking about what they wanted to be when they grew up. My second born said “dentist.” My middle child said “chef.” And we all laughed and chuckled when it was my 3 year old’s turn and her answer was simply “what?” Then Reilly, my oldest, chimed in. “I want to be a Sister,” she said. The kitchen fell silent. I turned to her and said, “What did you say?” She repeated herself candidly. “I want to be a Sister when I grow up.”
I was a little surprised at my initial reaction. It wasn’t negative by any means, but it was just neutral. I always believed encouraging my children in their dreams, including entering religious life, but I just never imagined one of my children would bring it up. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the personal interaction Reilly has had with some of the Dominican Sisters at her school. Her former Principal was a Sister – a truly kind and generous person, and an extremely hard worker. She knew every child’s name and lifted the school up to such a high level of love and respect. Currently, one of Reilly’s second grade teachers is also a Domincan Sister. She has many of the attributes of our former Principal. She is generous, respectful and kind when you speak to her, has a great sense of humor, and you can tell she just drinks up the presence of the children. She is truly a blessing to have in the second grade teaching staff.
I finally talked to Reilly about her statement. I asked her if she was still interested in being a Sister. She told me she was. I told her maybe she should talk to Sister E (the second grade teacher) about her feelings and see what she said. Reilly then thought for a long while. She asked me “Mom, can you have children if you are a Sister?” I told her “Well, no, but you can work with children by helping them or being a teacher, or many other things.” She thought about it a little bit and then said “Well I will still keep my options open.” (As you can tell, she is a little beyond 7 years old on the inside)
I laughed to myself. Here was my oldest daughter, only 7 years old, contemplating some very serious life choices and commitments. I turned to her and said “Reilly, you can be whatever you want to be. Whether it is a Sister, or a teacher, or a mom… all vocations are important. You are only 7 years old. However, if you have a dream, or a calling from God to be a Sister, always stay open to it. Do well in school, be nice to people, but make sure to leave your heart open so as you grow, God can make your vocational calling clearer to you. If it continues to be a desire to be a Sister, it is a dream you should follow.” We finished up the conversation shortly after.
I think the important lesson from this conversation for me, was to always remember to have the faith of a child and as much as praying is important, to make sure I also listen just as diligently. God writes on our children’s souls before they are even born. He already has a plan for them, which He has designed for a specific reason. Remembering this, if our children express an interest in religious life, whether a priest, Sister, or lay person volunteer, we should always be encouraging of these dreams. We need children to grow up and want to be Priests and Sisters in order for our church to continue to thrive. We need children at the very least to grow up realizing that fulfilling a religious vocation is something to be proud of, and is in fact, important.
I think the best thing we can do as Catholic parents is to never discourage those dreams or those passing thoughts. Jesus always admired the faith of a child. Maybe sometimes, instead of giving our ‘well thought out’ answer, we, as adults should resign ourselves to that child-like faith. We should trust in the calling God has for all of our lives. When it comes to our children, we should be working especially hard alongside them to help them realize those footprints God left on their hearts.
This Advent season, as we prepare for Jesus’ birth, it is a perfect time to reflect on how we give ourselves over to Christ. It is a good time to listen to our children, and learn from them how we can better surrender to the season. It is also imperative we help our children realize how they can keep an open mind and open heart to truly hear what God wants of them. We should help them to take His hand, and follow the path He has made for them. What our children ultimately choose to do with their lives might not be the vision that we had for them, but if they listen for God’s calling and follow Him it will be exactly what God has chosen as their special path in life.
Just last night, my four older girls were having the all too familiar “what will we be” conversation…again. When it got to Reilly, she hesitated and said “Hmmm.. well, maybe I want to be a Sister…..or a doctor? “ I just smiled. I have no idea what Reilly will be when she grows up. Perhaps she will be a doctor, or a teacher, or a mom. But perhaps, God has put a little foot print on her heart, even at 7, and perhaps as she grows the Holy Spirit will guide her to a life in the Sisterhood.
Until then, it is not my job to discourage her or steer her on a different path. My only job is to learn from her – to ask God to let me have the faith of a child as she has already so outwardly shown me, and accept with a willing heart His will for her future in our lives. And either way, Reilly will have one proud Mama by her side.