We enjoy the sport of rock climbing as a family. Because granite cliffs are a bit hard to come by where we live on Cape Cod in Massachusetts, we most often climb at a world-class, indoor climbing gym about 40 minutes from the house. Upon first glance, the gym is an intimidating place. A towering seven stories high, it is formed by expansive gray walls draped with 112 climbing ropes and speckled with colorful handholds. Even more intimidating are the rock climbers themselves. Every bulging muscle flexed, they give the impression that scaling a 65-foot wall by fingertips and toes is no big deal. After a few climbs, however, one learns the ropes, the intimidation factor fades, and it is actually pretty easy to forget the potential life-and-death risk of each individual climb.
Parenting is not unlike rock climbing in that initially we can be intimidated by the expansiveness of it all, and by more the experienced “super parents” whose juggling skills are already honed, making the complexities of family life look like no big deal. After a few short years, however, we grow confident in our roles, the intimidation factor fades, and it is actually pretty easy to forget the eternal, life-and-death responsibility God has place in our hands with the delivery of each individual child.
To help rock climbers keep from getting complacent about the risks of climbing, there is one firm rule at the gym. That rule is a type of buddy system that mandates that before each climb, both climber and belayer (the person working the safety ropes) must get duplicate safety checks of all their climbing equipment from another belayer. At first, this rule drove me crazy. Often there is not another belayer anywhere around when I am belaying the kids by myself. This means that for an hour’s worth of climbing, I have to shout across the gym requesting multiple safety checks from multiple complete strangers.
Now the last thing I want to do is draw any more attention to myself by shouting, because nowadays I have our 15-month-old baby in a backpack babbling away and pulling my hair while I belay the older children. I can’t even pretend to look like the serious rock climber I was in my 20s, and so, at first, the buddy rule really chafed at my ego. Thankfully, I didn’t give in to my pride, and soon discovered that requesting and giving safety checks actually helps to create a protective community of climbers out of complete strangers. Best of all, the rule kept me craning my neck up those 65-foot, man-made climbing cliffs and remembering the life-and-death responsibility of being properly connected to my Spiderman-like children, while safely working the ropes down on the floor.
To help every Catholic parent remain aware of the eternal responsibilities of parenting, Jesus has given us one firm rule. That rule is found in John 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Viewed properly, this rule is a buddy check with Jesus. It’s a call to know the Bible and Catholic teaching in order to know how Jesus loved. It’s a call to know other Catholics with whom we can double check our parenting, family style, and individual children to be sure that as a unit we are properly connected to each other, and to the one true faith which will safely lead us to eternal life. I’m certain Jesus knew that we’d need buddy checks when he sent his disciples out two-by-two instead of all alone (Luke 10:1).
Few of us want to draw attention to ourselves by shouting out for a spiritual buddy check, especially if we are divorced, have troubled teens, or for some reason just feel outside the norm of the parish community, like I felt at the gym when belaying with a baby on my back. As it turns out, buddy checks create a protective community within the church, just like they do in the climbing gym. Best of all, they remind us to cast our eyes up to heaven and remember the eternal responsibility of parenting faithfully down here on earth. It may chafe at our egos, but shouting out to the Lord and to fellow Catholics for spiritual buddy checks will make us better parents and will increase the chances of our kids making it safely to heaven, even if there are a few slips along the way.