Scrolling through my Facebook feed a few months back, a post from a fellow “Mom Group” member caught my eye. The post read: “Help. My grandmother is on hospice, and my husband and I are panicking because we don’t know what to tell our 4-year-old son. What should we say to explain to him what’s happening and why?”
A handful of responses said things like “Tell him your grandmother is going to be with the angels in heaven.” But a much larger number of people just left notes saying, “Following – I wouldn’t know how to handle either.”
It seems that my generation in particular (I’m a mom of three boys, in my mid-30s) is struggling with not just questions of faith, but faith itself. We’re struggling with the belief that there’s something more to life than our experiences here on Earth. And we’ve lost sight of the activities, reflections, and instructions that guided previous generations — that helps them come to grips with that fact.
Maybe it’s just a defense mechanism. We don’t want to believe that we’re going to die one day, too. It’s so much more pleasant to stick our head in the sand and impulse-buy anti-wrinkle creams while announcing things like “30 is the new 20, people!”
What we’re lacking, in my view, is something to believe in. And not just a general something to believe in, like an inspirational Instagram meme. We’re lacking a faith that is there whether we “like” it ourselves. Something that offers real answers, one that has guided the people who came before us. The people who walked this same earth, struggled with the same issues, and established tried and tested ways to find the kind of peace we still seek today.
I know the words “organized religion” can be scary to a lot of us. For some people, it’s because of negative experiences with a particular faith. Other people just don’t like the “old school” feel. Some people just want to pick and choose their beliefs as they go. Or maybe we’re so accustomed to instant gratification, immediate answers, and calculating our return on investment that putting the time into literally a life-long effort doesn’t feel worth it.
But when difficult questions come into our lives, we may find we’ve been winging it so long that we no longer have a solid foundation of certainty — nowhere to turn for answers. “Why did Pop Pop get sick?” “Where do we go when we die?” “Mommy, what happened to the baby that was in your belly?”
When our little ones ask these kinds of heartbreaking questions, we can turn to faith for answers that give them — and us —security and certainty. They won’t be the answers, of course, because nobody on Earth can know “the big picture.” Nobody knows for sure why we’re here, and what exactly happens to us after our time on Earth comes to an end.
But what people of faith do know is this: there’s a higher power out there that is bigger than all of us, the original source of love and of everything that is good. I believe that higher power is God.
In each faith, God manifests in different forms. But God’s goodness and love lives in each of us. If we can recognize this goodness and love in ourselves and in each other, we can nurture it and help it to grow. And if we gather together to meet in contemplation, to share ideas and questions the way our ancestors have, we can create a more meaningful experience here on Earth, and reach the answers we all seek.
Yes, it takes time. It takes effort. Faith requires that we pick our heads up from the comings and goings of our day-to-day lives, to seriously consider what we’re doing and why. So by sharing faith with our kids, we’re giving them more than beliefs; we’re giving them the tools they need to think through and deal with big issues.
For me personally, Roman Catholicism as a faith has given me the tools I need to navigate this sometimes difficult world. I find comfort in my Catholic faith, because my parents and other close family members have modeled for me “the way” through Catholicism. I’ve also found, time and time again, that the messages of the Gospels still ring true today. The struggles and doubts we experience now are the same ones Jesus addressed two thousand years ago. And going to Mass every Sunday gives me a quiet time to seek solace, reflect on “the big picture,” and find inspiration to address my own issues and serve as a channel of God’s goodness for others.
Of course, that’s not true of Roman Catholicism for everyone. After 12 years of Catholic education, my older brother decided that Buddhism gave him the tools he needed to develop focus and find the answers he was seeking. But having something to believe in, a groundwork and foundation for understanding the love of God and sharing it, especially with children — that is the value of being a person of faith.
Personal, spiritual development is why my husband and I choose to send our children to our local Archdiocese of Philadelphia elementary school. Every day, I am so thankful for the school’s teachers and staff, who are helping us to instill in our children the building blocks of faith, and reinforcing the values we try so hard to model at home.
I love that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia Schools, as an institution, is willing to serve as our partner in guiding our kids to be the best people they can be – academically, socially, and spiritually. AOPS teachers do so much to foster constructive thought about who we are, and what our relationships should be with God, our planet, and each other. They share Gospel stories and reinforce Jesus’ teachings. Everyone goes to Mass as a school community. They learn thoughtfulness and thankfulness, praying multiple times a day. My kids remind me to stop and pray before dinner, and before tucking them into bed!
I think it’s all perfectly summed up by a piece of artwork featured on a wall near the Our Lady of Good Counsel school gym. It warms my heart every time I see it:
“Let it be known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever present Teacher in its classes, the model for its children, the inspiration for its staff.”
This statement means so much to me as a mom because I know that, just like all of us, my three boys will be challenged with heartaches of all kinds — disappointments, setbacks, accidents, mistakes that can’t be undone, and the loss of loved ones. But if they have a strong foundation of faith, if they trust in God and in themselves, and if they have their priorities straight—I know they’ll be OK.
Karen Murphy lives in Southampton, PA with her husband Dennis and their three children. Their two eldest sons attend Our Lady of Good Counsel School in Southampton, PA.