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Faith Formation Guest Posts Parenting Prayer Vocations

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

 

 

Categories
Guest Posts Perspective from the Head

The Significance of Hope

A friend of mine who is involved with Youth Ministry mentioned to me once that a lesson for the teens at our parish touched on the topic of suicide. He qualified it by saying the talk mostly focused on the love of God and all that “touchy feely” stuff. I actually know something about that topic, I thought.

The first time I talked someone out of a suicide attempt was during high school – I may have been 15 or 16. A friend, who I was not even particularly close to, inexplicably opened up to me out of the blue and confessed that he was planning to kill himself. After a very long discussion, I somehow convinced him to “wait a few days.” We never talked about it again, but he never made any attempts on his own life, either.

As a police officer for about 7 years now, I have seen several successful suicides, attempted suicides, and been fortunate enough to interrupt many others. One of the glossed-over realities of police work is that every cop on the street has to deal with suicidal people, or potentially suicidal people, very frequently. And you don’t have the luxury of a post-graduate degree in psychology before you do. In my rudimentary understanding, though, mostly gleaned through experience, I have learned that suicidal people share a common trait that is important for us to understand as Christians: they have let go of hope. It’s most likely not a surprise to hear. But do we fully understand what means and how we can help?

The emotional low point that leads to thoughts of suicide is called despair (the opposite of hope). Closely accompanying despair is fear. And in our society today, we are conditioned to be afraid. We are so conditioned to fear our surroundings that we actually go to great lengths to scare ourselves and each other for entertainment, for example. It’s a thrill to be afraid. We buy all the products that are peddled to us using fear for our safety and security. We read all the articles in the news about scary things that happen all around us, and we panic about what they might mean for our future. We fear being the victims of slander or gossip, so much that we try to build ourselves up to the people around us, never appearing vulnerable in any way. We fear financial hardship, humiliation, physical pain, emotional pain, and even minor inconveniences. The irony in all of this is that we fear all of these things so much that we sometimes lose the healthy fear of evil and hopesin.

What does God tell us about fear? The Bible tells us not to fear at least 100 different times. The reason? Psalm 39 answers it: “My hope is in the Lord.” We can depend on and trust in Him in all things. Why should we be afraid? Hope is contrary to fear.

In my experience, the thing that makes people feel like suicide is a viable option is that they simply look at their future, and realize that it is just too scary for them. The back-story can vary, but often involves the painful consequences for past sins. Consequences hurt. Suffering is hard. It can make people think that there is no hope. And if you are suffering and feel hopeless, and no one in your life is treating you like that matters, you start to think they’re right: Your suffering doesn’t matter; maybe you should just put an end to it.

We as Christians often are not careful enough about knowing where hope can be found (in the Lord), guarding it in ourselves, and spreading hope to others. Often we overlook the suffering of others, because we don’t know them well enough, or don’t want to get too involved with them. Spreading hope doesn’t have to mean making close friends, though.

Recently, I had occasion to deal with an 18-year old girl who was on the brink of giving up on her life. I simply sat down next to her for a minute and talked to her like she is a human being. I knew from the start that there was really not much I could offer, being an “old,” and white, cop. I knew that she had past sins that she didn’t like suffering for, but most likely as soon as she was back to her life, she would go back to those same sins and addictions. When you see this situation as a cop, it is easy to be callous and think nothing you say or do is going to matter in that person’s life, and most of the time you will probably be right. But just taking that extra 5 minutes to have a conversation with this person, acknowledging her humanity, I could see that something changed in her, at least for that moment. I asked her, “Have you ever tried to get help?” She paused, then said after a minute: “I think I will now.” I can only hope she followed through.

The point of the story is simply that we can spread hope without overtly evangelizing, or necessarily opening ourselves up too far to someone we don’t know. We Christians need to be aware of when someone is at or near the point of despair, in a crisis, and know what role we can play in bringing them out of it. Most often, we can spread hope by acknowledging the bleakness of the situation they are facing, but reminding people that they matter. After all, in reality, we are all hopeless sinners without God’s grace.

Joe is a lifelong Catholic, and happily married father of three incredible children. When he’s not  out “protecting and serving” or spending time with his family, his favorite activity is running. He recently ran his first marathon and can’t wait to do it again! 

Categories
Domestic Church Fatherhood Ink Slingers Michelle Motherhood Respect Life Respect Life Month Spiritual Growth

How Do You Heal a Broken Heart?

balloonMadison’s balloon escaped from her tiny hands and floated gracefully up to the sky.  “My balloon!” she cried stretching out her arms as far as she could reach.  I tried to calm her down but she wanted her balloon.  I told her that we could get her another but tears sprang from her eyes as she continued to reach for her lost balloon.  I turned her face towards me and said, “Let’s let that balloon go to heaven.  That way our babies will have a balloon too.”  She stopped crying and looked at me.  She gave a crooked smile and said, “William and all our babies can have a balloon too.”  I took her by the hand and we asked the man handing out the balloons for another.   She smiled happily as I tied it to her arm for safe-keeping.

Shortly afterward we began our walk.  We were participating in the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s embrace ministry’s Remembrance Walk.  Slowly our family meandered our way surrounded by others who had also suffered through a miscarriage, still birth or the death of an infant.  They were like us… missing their babies and doing what they could to make sure their little ones knew they were loved and missed.  As we walked Madison looked up at me, her blue eyes searching my own and asked, “Mama, why did William have to die?”  My breath caught in my throat.  I worried about others overhearing her question.  Would it bring up too much pain for them?  Would my answer to her bring them comfort as well?  I looked down at Madison and replied with a sad smile, “I’m not sure Sweetie.  Sometimes babies just aren’t meant to stay with us.  They are called back to heaven to be with God.”  Madison smiled at me.  That seemed like a good enough answer for the moment.

As we walked I contemplated all that we have been through.  I thought about the pain, the suffering, the loneliness, the darkness, the healing, and the light.  If someone had told me almost three years ago that I would be happy now I wouldn’t have believe them.  How could we go through hell and still be ok?  When I was there, in the deepest, darkest parts of suffering, the light seemed so far away.  The pain ripped at my heart every second of every day.  It felt like it would never end.  In a way I didn’t want it to end.  I felt it was all I had left to tie me to my precious babies.  I was wrong.  I had something so much more to remind me of the little ones I only held for such a short time.  I had hope… the hope that one day I will hold them in Heaven once again.

I often wonder how people without faith are able to get through these kinds of “injustices” that life seems to hand out.  I think I would have been shattered forever if I had no hope of ever seeing my babies again.  However, I know that my babies wait for me in heaven and the very thought is what helped me many days when it seemed like all could be lost.   That hope was light in the darkness and I tried my hardest to focus on that glimmer that shone constant.

winding pathLooking back I can clearly see the path that my healing took.  It wasn’t a straight path but one that twist and turned and sometimes took me right back to the beginning.  It was a long path, one I am still on and probably always will be for the rest of my life, but one that has brought me to this place in my life now.  The place I am now is one of acceptance and peace.  It still has many moments of sadness and a few of despair, but most days I can see and understand… this is something I never thought I would be able to do.

In the beginning it was hard to pray.  I was sad, angry, hurt, and felt alone.  I didn’t want to pray to a God that took my babies! Still, I knew that it was important to continue to pray.  I also knew in my heart that God didn’t take them as a punishment but it was easier to think of Him as the bad guy when I just didn’t know what to think or believe.  Thank goodness our Father is so understanding and loving… He took my accusations and shouldered them.  He accepted my pain as His and held me even closer to Him.  I began to pray the prayers I had memorized as a child.  Thank goodness for those prayers as it was hard for me to pray in my own words at that time.

God knew my pain; He had lost His own Son too.  He knew what I would need to heal.  He sent me friends who had suffered as I had.  My beautiful friend Ann would become a confidant and source of great comfort to me.  She had lost her own son and knew just what I was going through.  She sent me the book “Tear Soup”.  I read it and cried.  It gave me permission to grieve as long as I needed to grieve and in the way that I needed to grieve.  While I shouldn’t have to have permission to grieve many times others make us feel like we are grieving too long or not in the right way.  But who is to say what your grief should look like?  Ann reassured me that I could cry as long as I need.  She told me that some days would be harder than others and that one day I would not cry.  I didn’t believe her then but I know now she was right.

God also helped me heal by sending me friends who had no idea what I was going through and yet loved me so much they wanted to be there for me.  My wonderful friend Jeannie would be one that I have no doubt God hand-picked just for me.  Always encouraging me and my big family she would also be one of my friends who would see me through the darkest times.  She called and checked on me, she asked if I was ok, she prayed for us, and then she did something that meant more to me than she could ever know… she asked me for all of my babies’ names. Only one other person had ever asked me what all my babies’ names were.  She told me that she wanted to make me something to remember them by.  I listed off their names, my heart breaking while writing them down.  She would go on to make me a necklace with all their names included in it.  It was the most beautiful act of love anyone has ever done for me, for my babies.  Knowing that someone else loved them too made my heart ache and fill with joy at the same time.  How could she love them when she had never seen their hearts beating as I had; had never felt them move; had never held them after they were born?  She loved them because she loved me.  God knew I needed our children acknowledged in this way.  Just asking what their names were gave validity that there were here, that they lived, and that they were loved.   Wearing that necklace my heart could feel a little bit more whole again.   Knowing that Jeannie still continues to pray for my children by name makes me feel like we are not the only ones who understand just how precious they are and just how much we love and miss them.

sunriseHealing comes slowly.  When you lose a child you lose a part of yourself.  It takes time to recover.  For me there are many things that have helped me through the dark times.  The first and foremost aspect to healing for me was to understand that all the feelings I have felt and will feel are legitimate.  They are my feelings.  No one can tell me what is right or wrong to feel.  I have lost something so very special that it will have an effect on my entire life.  When I embrace those feelings I can work through them easier.

Healing came through knowing that there are others who have gone through what I am going through.  No one has gone through exactly what I have but they know the pain of losing a child, or in my case, losing many children, especially back to back.  It’s important not to block out those who understand that pain.  They can help you through.  They know how very dark it gets but they have also seen the beautiful light that waits for you.  They can offer advice to help you ride out those waves of despair and help you through what seems impossible to navigate.

Prayer is a powerful healing tool.  Go to God.  He knows your suffering well.  He can comfort you like no other.  His love is unending and all-encompassing.  Go to Mary.  She lost her child too.  She knows your pain.  Let her wrap you in the mantle of her love.

Acknowledge your child.  Name him or her.  Talk about him. Celebrate his life.  If you have other children let them talk about their sibling.  Hearing my children often talk about one of their lost siblings makes my heart so happy.  They know and understand that just because we are separated doesn’t mean they aren’t a part of our family and loved so dearly.

Journal, seek counseling, become involved in activities that help others through loss, share your knowledge, comfort others, cry when you need to, feel happy and joyful when you can, love with all your heart and soul, pray, pray, and pray some more.  Your heart will heal if you allow it. Don’t be afraid to heal.

williamMy heart has holes in it that I can never fill.  Those pieces will forever be gone.  To be honest I don’t want them back.  My children, those who didn’t get to stay for long, hold those pieces.  It is one of the only gifts I can give them… a piece of my heart to hold forever.  It makes me happy to think that they can feel the love I have for them in the beating of my heart that they hold in their hands.

This journey has been long and hard.  I know it is not over.  There will days I will cry and days I will smile.  There will be days when I question God “Why me?” and other days that I thank God for the brief time I had with my babies.  But, I will continue to heal and hold fast to the knowledge that in my suffering Christ is always there beside me.

“The Lord is near the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18

Pregnancy loss pic (2)

Categories
Ink Slingers Lynne Spiritual Growth

Lean on Me


My son, when you come to serve the LORD,

stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials.
Be sincere of heart and steadfast,
incline your ear and receive the word of understanding,
undisturbed in time of adversity.
Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not;
thus will you be wise in all your ways.
Accept whatever befalls you,
when sorrowful, be steadfast,
and in crushing misfortune be patient;
For in fire gold and silver are tested,
and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation.
The Book of Sirach 2:1-11

I’m a melancholy person.  I look around at the world and feel an oppressive weight—the weight of the sin and suffering that encompass us.  It’s so big, and I’m so small.

 “You can do nothing here,” he said.  “Let us go.”

“My friend…”

“I tell you, you can do nothing.  Have you not troubles enough of your own?  I tell you there are thousands such in Johannesburg.  And were your back as broad as heaven, and your purse full of gold, and did your compassion reach from here to hell itself, there is nothing you can do.—Cry, the Beloved Country

That’s how I feel: there is nothing I can do.  Even on the smaller scale of my family, I break with sorrow over my children’s choices—choices that I can’t change or make right.  My helpless grief is a heavy cross.

“Perceptive people like you wound more easily than others. But if we’re going to work on God’s side, we have to decide to open our hearts to the griefs and pain all around us. It’s not an easy decision. A dangerous one too. And a tiny narrow door to enter into a whole new world. But in that world a great experience waits for us: meeting the One who’s entered there before us. He suffers more than any of us could because His is the deepest emotion and the highest perception.”Christy

I haven’t mastered the art of transcending my woundedness.  I cry with the pain of knowing that these things are, and that I can only watch—an impotent bystander.  I want to escape the world, to end the pain of being witness to things I can’t bear to see.

“You see, Christy, evil is real—and powerful. It has to be fought, not explained away, not fled. And God is against evil all the way. So each of us has to decide where we stand, how we’re going to live our lives. […] We can compromise with it, keep quiet about it and say it’s none of our business. Or we can work on God’s side, listen for His orders on strategy against the evil, no matter how horrible it is, and know that He can transform it.”Christy

 I want, in my heart, and also in my pride, to do things that make a difference.  But I’m not one of those people. I am the way God made me—small and weak. I am unable to shoulder the burden of much, and I do little except pray.  It seems a feeble offering.

“What is this want of power about?[…] What then is to be done? What you can do, and for which you will never lack power.  This is to form a simple desire of good, for God sees all the actions you would wish to perform in this sincere disposition to act rightly.  Cease then to distress yourself and to lament over your weakness.  Rather say, ‘Fiat, fiat.’ This will be of infinitely more value than anything that you could say or do according to your own ideas, to please yourself.”Abandonment to Divine Providence

Self-knowledge is painful.  Humility isn’t about being lowly; it’s about letting go of my notions of how things should be—in my family, and in the world—and in myself.  It’s acknowledging that not only am I helpless, but that this is how God intends me to be—dependent.  All my strength, all I do, must come from him alone.  Only when I’m broken can I learn this.

It was not that she was willing to compromise with wrongdoing or poverty or ignorance just that she was a long step ahead of wasting emotional energy on fretting. […]  She was—that was all. And her stance toward life seemed to say: God is—and that is enough. But why was it enough? That was what I had to find out. Even supposing one had proof of the existence of God, how could the fact of God suffice when all around us were conditions crying to be righted? How could Miss Alice be so sure that He had the world in His hand?”Christy

When I am feeling overcome by all that’s wrong, and by my own self-pity for what I cannot achieve, I have only to do one thing: look to Jesus.

“You have a traitor there, Aslan,” said the Witch.  Of course everyone present knew that she meant Edmund.  But Edmund had got past thinking about himself after all he’d been through and after the talk he’d had that morning.  He just went on looking at Aslan.  It didn’t seem to matter what the Witch said.”  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

There is an old story of St. John Vianney, in which he encounters a peasant, sitting in the church before the tabernacle.  The curé asked what the man what he was doing, and he replied, “I look at him; he looks at me.” That’s what I am trying to do now: look at him.  If I can do that, if I can look into his eyes and think only of him, if I can let go of all the things that I can’t make right, then for that moment I can breathe, I can live.

“What do you do when strength is called for and you have no strength? You evoke a power beyond your own and use stamina you did not know you had. You open your eyes in the morning grateful that you can see the sunlight of yet another day. You draw yourself to the edge of the bed and then put one foot in front of the other and keep going. You weep with those who gently close the eyes of the dead, and somehow, from the salt of your tears, comes endurance for them and for you. You pour out that resurgence to minister to the living.”Christy

I am not in charge; God is.  If I have no strength, it is because I have tried to do things in my own power, things that he hasn’t asked me to take on.  I have to lay the burdens which trouble me at his feet, and look deeply into the eyes of Him who loved me unto death.

“And so,” continued the Witch, “That human creature is mine.  His life is forfeit to me.  His blood is my property.” [….]

“Edmund was on the other side of Aslan, looking all the time at Aslan’s face.  He felt a choking feeling and wondered if he ought to say something; but a moment later he felt that he was not expected to do anything except to wait, and do what he was told.”—The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

“But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Is 40:30