As part of the grieving process, I registered for an online program to learn how to cope, but I found it too generic. My child’s walking away from the faith wasn’t one issue; it was many, all mixed together. I couldn’t argue or engage; I could only endure.
Guilt struck me hard. Had we failed? Where? When?
Combing through the years, I sought to find the moment, the failure point upon which it all hinged. I found all of them and none. There wasn’t an “Aha!” moment, but I came to the simple realization that free will is a vexing reality in all God’s children. Theoretically, we had done everything we were supposed to — going to church on Sundays, praying, explaining what needed explaining when the occasion arose, sending them to Catholic schools — and, yet, here my own were, walking away.
Because I’m an enthusiastic person, I sought to “do something,” so I read articles and looked for groups addressing this issue, but I found none that fit the bill. There are support groups for weathering all sorts of sufferings, but there isn’t (as far as I could find) a ministry for those who are hoping one day to find their children within their Father’s house.
Part of the reason for this lack is that the world doesn’t acknowledge the problem of a fallen-away child as something one should ache or weep over. Questioning one’s faith and testing it remains part of growing up and a necessary part of becoming a spiritually mature adult.
The world celebrates the abandonment of faith, however, and any parent or family member who grieves the loss of faith is painted as someone who is repressed, trying to impose values and to control the estranged person’s life choices. At best, the world considers every religion equal to another or, more often, inferior to the nuanced decision to embrace no religion. Ergo, the world puzzles, “Why grieve if a child or adult rejects his Faith? Isn’t that merely proof of his being independent?” The world would tell us we’re upset over nothing. As long as our kids remain healthy physically and self-sufficient economically, this faith business is an add-on, a bonus, not a necessity.
The world does not love our children, however, not as we love and certainly not as God loves. The fallen nature of the world would tell us not to worry about our children’s loss of faith, but anyone who loves knows that indifference is the exact opposite of love. We do not want our children merely to exist but to live, and not merely live but to thrive in love. We need salt and light, or the world remains tasteless and dark. We want our children to be that salt and light to others, to be disciples of Christ. The reality that they’re not, that they’re not even seeking Him, hurts.
Sitting at the Feet of Jesus Is Doing Something
Everyone who loves someone else wills that person’s good. If we love anyone, we will that person’s permanent happiness, and the only place permanent, divine happiness can be found is with God. Everyone hopes and strives for their beloved ones to discover the ultimate source of happiness, joy, and peace, whether or not they know it’s God.
To quote Saint Monica’s son, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” It’s true for our prodigals and for us also. Our own hearts are restless because we know that our loved ones’ hearts are not resting in the Lord. But that’s our hope and thus our prayer. That’s the whole reason we ache. That’s the whole reason we are members of this club. We are praying; we are hoping for our children to find themselves deeply in love with the One who is Love.
We are the Church; therefore, we are the Club. We are the support group for each other in this pilgrimage to our true home. We’ve got the friendship of our Lord and of all His angels and saints, including Saint Monica, who, as our patroness, will teach us how to be both relentless in prayer and patient with our prodigals.
Still want to “do something”? Sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament or with Scripture. Sit at the feet of Jesus. When you feel yourself growing anxious about the matter, about your prodigal, run to the tabernacle. Why? Because Jesus tells us what He tells His friend Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” And He points to her sister Mary, who has chosen the better portion by sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him (Luke 10:38–42). Choosing the better portion is doing something. It is the best thing we can do, bringing all our woes to the feet of Jesus and listening to His Sacred Heart.
What we hear whispered from the tabernacle we can repeat in the everyday, ordinary part of life to the ears of those we hope will truly hear. Our hearts will be restless until our hearts (our prodigal children) rest in Thee.
This article is adapted from a chapter in The Saint Monica Club: How to Hope, Wait, and Pray for Your Fallen-Away Loved Ones. It is available from your local Catholic bookstore and online at Sophia Institute Press.
Also check out Maggie Green’s previous article, “I Still Have Hope That Christ Will Bring My Kids Back to the Faith,” here on Catholic Exchange.