Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Confessions of a Worrying Mother: Don't Get Hung Up on Anxiety-Try Prayer Instead

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Confessions of a Worrying Mother: Don't Get Hung Up on Anxiety-Try Prayer Instead

Article excerpt

As a Catholic parent, I used to worry a little about my children's faith. And for good reason. The magisterium couldn't have known what kind of stress they were laying on me when they decided that I was the "primary religious teacher" of my own children. The implication was huge: It's my job to keep the kids Catholic.

What was the thinking here? I can't make them keep their bedrooms clean, and I'm supposed to make them keep their souls spotless?

Still, out of obedience and a nagging worry, I tried. For years my husband and I prayed the rosary with our two daughters, paid the Catholic school tuition, doled out the straw for the creche one strand at a time, and shook their sullen teenage hands during the kiss of peace. Would all of that save their faith? I doubted it was enough, so I put in some worry to push the scales over the tipping point. I scowled at the vampire novels and talked up the church youth group. This worked about as well as one would expect.

When our oldest first left home I tried not to panic that college life would bring about the end of Sunday Mass attendance. She still went to church with us on Christmas and Easter. That's pretty good, I told myself, but I fretted that it wasn't a passing grade.

I compared notes with a friend whose kids were also in college.

"Do you worry about Mark's faith?" I asked.

"Yes," she answered with furrowed brow. "He might not go into the monastery after all. He met a girl at the World Youth Day last summer. It looks like they may get married."

I did not see the issue--marriage is a sacrament, right? What did my friend have to worry about? But if she was stressed, it was a huge affirmation of my own unrest.

Meanwhile, I was dealing with real faith issues. Will my 20-something hate the church forever because I made her wear plaid skirts to school? Why did she think it was hilarious when the choir at church sang "Sing a New Song" each month? And what could it mean that her Miraculous Medal was left hanging from the closet doorknob in her childhood bedroom?

It seemed that all my worry over the years had been justified, and yet--what good did it do?

Freshly graduated from college in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, she found work as a junior high English teacher in Japan. She moved to the least populated prefecture of the country. Our fashionista, globe-trotting daughter who majored in international studies relocated to the Catholic equivalent of the wilderness.

Yet a mere move to a non-Christian country was no reason to panic. St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits, traveled to Japan, and even though he didn't survive the trip, the faith did. In fact, he made so many converts among the Japanese population that it annoyed the establishment--a sure sign of zeal if there ever was one. There had to be vestiges of Catholicism floating around somewhere in that country. Maybe our daughter would pick up on some of that.

"Are you very far from a church?" I casually inquired during our first weekly Skype session.

"The closest one is two hours by bullet train--once I get to a bullet train, which is an hour car ride from here." She spoke without a trace of wistfulness in her voice.

This, at last, was the moment when I realized that worry wasn't cutting it anymore. Could it be that it was not possible to worry a child back into the faith? Especially if that child was three hours from a Catholic church and 14 hours by jet plane away from my frustrated and overheated face.

Jesus said, "Ask and it will be given to you." He didn't say, "Bite your nails and lie awake at night." So in place of that I folded a holy card inside my next letter.

She wrote back (e-mail, of course) about climbing mountains to visit Shinto shrines and staying up all night to honor the dead in Buddhist cemeteries. Everyone in Japan, it seemed, was both Shinto, an ancient animist religion, and Buddhist. …

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