“What if we took all the money and time we put into tutors and coaches and private lessons, and invested instead in making our children holy? Not well-known and praised and celebrated for what they do, but humble and meek and truly holy in who they are?”
The other day, after volunteering in our son’s kindergarten classroom, my husband came home more anxious than when he’d left.
I expected to hear about the challenging craft he’d been directed to help with, or about the stress of leading five kindergarteners at once, or even about scissors or glue mishaps. But, no. My husband’s unease stemmed from none of this. It was, rather, the result of reading.
As a high school English teacher, leading a reading center should have been in my husband’s wheelhouse. And it was. What left him perturbed was what he witnessed.
“Did you know how well some of the kids in that class can read?” he asked.
“No,” I responded.
“Well, they can, some of them,” he answered.
I saw where this was going. It was headed down the road of concern about the fact that other kids were succeeding at something and our son was lagging slightly behind. It was aiming in the direction of talks we’d had about the successes our son’s peers had enjoyed in a variety of sports while we’d not yet signed our child up for even a single organized activity (because he didn’t want to).
The worry my husband was experiencing wasn’t unique to him. It is, I fear, an anxiety most parents today share: the need to have our kids succeed. And not just to succeed but to stand out in even the most successful crowds. To be stars.
We see it in the flourishing tutoring industry, with education centers popping up on nearly every street corner. We see it in the need for more sports centers, recreational teams, and travel leagues, increasingly sought out when our kids are still at remarkably young ages. We see it in the popularity of reality entertainment shows like American Idol and The Voice, where contestants give up nearly everything in their lives for a chance at fame and financial freedom.
But, while we see and hear a lot about encouraging our kids’ academic, athletic and artistic prowess, we hardly hear much about their spiritual growth. While we hear a lot of concern for our children’s bodily wellness and financial security, we hear very little about the wellness and security of their souls.
Oh, sure, we say, of course I want that, too. But, it comes as an afterthought. As a runner-up desire to the first place hope of forming our kids in the way of fame and fortune.
And that’s what worries me. I am deeply concerned about the tremendous importance we, as a society, place on our children’s earthly glory and what little importance we place on their eternal glory. The priorities we have for our children couldn’t be more backwards, and for me this came to light as I participated in the Halloween weekend.
For the past two years, my parish has hosted a Back from the Dead cemetery walk. Along the graveyard path, attendees “meet” saints like Edith Stein, St. Gianna and St. Therese of Lisieux. They also “meet” souls who are in Purgatory. This single walk brings together Halloween (graveyards, the dead), All Saints’ Day (the saints we meet on the walk), and All Souls’ Day (the stories of the souls in Purgatory). And this year, on the walk, I met the faults of my own soul and began to think deeply (or more deeply than usual) about the souls of my children.
Because I’d been slowly starting to veer from the narrow way. The start of my son’s elementary school years saw me stepping out on the popular path of worrying about earthly gain and successes. (My husband wasn’t the only one sizing our son’s skills up to those of his peers). We were in danger, I realized as I listened to the stories of saints and sinners, of taking our kids along for this ride.
As I meandered through the graveyard, I pondered more deeply on a question my pastor had just posed in the day’s homily: what would happen if we sacrificed and suffered for our children’s eternal glory instead of their earthly glory? If we took all the money and time we put into tutors and coaches and private lessons, and invested instead in making our children holy? Not well-known and praised and celebrated for what they do, but humble and meek and truly holy in who they are?
I left the walk grateful that we have a time of year such as Halloween, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day to remind us of our mortality and the afterlife. To call us to meditate not on the things of this world but to meditate on those of another, more permanent world. For by thinking of the next world, we can better live in this one.