When I remember high school, I remember hanging out in the halls before class started or basketball and football games that were a huge part of our social life. I remember choir concerts and plays. I remember the homework and the pressure to apply to college. I decided early on what major I wanted to pursue in college, which made the application process fairly easy for me. I applied to one university, which happened to be the same one both my parents and grandparents had attended.
If I pressed the issue of my memory, I would also remember the stress of not knowing who would share my lunch period or if I would be sitting alone that semester. I might also remember sitting in the living room surrounded by notecards as I prepared a term paper for English. If pressed further, I might mention that it was hard to see people with “significant others” and not have one myself or to fight with a friend. You see, high school was hard, hard to navigate (and I don’t just mean the crowded freshman “E” hall). It was hard to find that line between staying true to the beliefs with which I had been raised and the person I was trying to become, one that “fit in” enough to not be made fun of on the bus or teased in the halls.
Eventually, I found my way with a few close friends and survived the high school world. Would I want a Groundhog Day-style do-over? No thank you. As much as the fond memories have managed to overshadow the hard ones as years have passed, I have no desire to go back and do it all again.
For one thing, the experiences I had, the choices I made, and even the mistakes I made have molded me into the person I am today. Am I perfect? Oh goodness, no. Not by a long shot. But those times gave way to the moment where I met my husband, which led to the family we are building together.
Why am I reflecting so much on my high school days all these years later? Well, a big reason is that our oldest son started high
school this year. He is an intelligent young man with dreams of his own. He has been the independent oldest child as long as I can remember, not needing much help or direction with school work ever. As we watch now, though, he struggles. He is struggling with who he is becoming and the choices that seem to be looming in his immediate future. He is scared. He is lost. In so many ways. He isn’t sure what he wants to be when he “grows up” and suddenly that’s a decision that was supposed to be made, well, yesterday. He’s only fourteen.
Suddenly class choices are not just made for him, but are dependent on what he wants to do – oh and don’t forget to factor in how this or that will affect your GPA if you want to make sure you are scholarship-eligible!
Watching him try to navigate this new world of high school is interesting as we also run the gamut with childbearing years. We watch our oldest in high school at the same time as the youngest-for-now learns how to use the potty and share and sleep in his own bed!
When the children were younger, we would hear about how things will be easier once they start school. I would often be asked if I planned to go back to working days when the children were in school. You know, because I would have so much free time. Once the older ones started school, I learned that parenting was not easier. It wasn’t harder necessarily, maybe a little less physical. While I chase the toddler during the day, I do have older children who love to play with him once they are home from school. On the other hand, they are developing lives outside of our nuclear family. They each have their own interests, which means many times we are pulled in multiples directions – math competitions, robotics, sports, music – sometimes all in the same day. It is becoming an intricate puzzle of who needs to be where and when and how can we arrange things so that everyone arrives and is picked up on time. I sit down at the end of the night exhausted.
Then comes the hard part – navigating friendships and relationships and seeing our children hurting and not knowing how to help or where to turn, listening as they try to vocalize the pain they are feeling – sometimes successfully and sometimes only enough for us to scratch the surface. Oh how our hearts long to make the pain go away. Yet, that isn’t the way life works. We aren’t promised a life without pain, without suffering. Instead our goal is to seek God’s will and presence IN the suffering and pain. Seeking His will, seeking His way will help us to grow into the people the He created us to be. God created each and every one of us with a specific purpose, and not a single one of us can take another’s place in God’s plan for the world.
As an adult this concept is hard to accept and apply in the midst of suffering. As a teenager or child? How as parents can we help our children to rely on God and His plan for their lives? How do we teach them to trust and have faith?
The easy answer is to model it ourselves. Easily said. Doing it each and every day? That’s a little harder. Make that much harder. Admitting when we are wrong and trying to live in God’s mercy? Breathe deeply. It is possible.
In some ways, we are doing the same things we’ve always done as a family – starting our days with prayer, ending our days with prayer, praying before each and every activity and meal. We look for opportunities to be open about our own fears and are finding that our children want to know how we “messed up” as teenagers. They want to see “proof” in us that mistakes and forgiveness are both possible – mistakes because we are human and have free will and forgiveness because we believe in a merciful God who never tires of receiving us back into His open arms.
In that vein, we are looking for things to grow closer to God both as a family and individually this Lent. We are excited about following the Corporal Works of Mercy each week and doing something concrete to help others. Our oldest is looking for ways to become more involved as an adult in the church. He is serving as a Eucharistic Minister for the first time on Ash Wednesday. Each of the children has been charged with finding something that will help him or her grow this Lent. We can hold each other accountable as we go through the Lenten Season.
Lent provides us with a chance each year to slow down and see where we have allowed secular life to supercede our faith journey. We can look at the ways we need to change our behavior or attitudes to be more inline with God’s plan for us. This year especially, as we are navigating the new-to-us world of high school all the way down to toddlerhood, we can see where our expectations for the future are inline with God’s plan for us or out-of-sync and in need of adjustment.
I pray that this Lent we all make it to Easter with a renewed sense of faith in God’s unique plan for each of us and a renewed joy in His love and mercy.