The year is 1984. My 4 brothers and sisters and I pile into mum and dads 929 station wagon. We are going to church at 9 am. We are 6,7,8 years of age. We sit in the first row at church like good abiding Catholics. My brother and I start poking each other. We start whispering into each other’s ears. The giggles start. We are bored. Then all of a sudden dad leans over and says, “if you boys don’t stop it, you are going to get it when you get home”. The antics continue. Dad seems to be very unhappy.
On the car ride home, there is deadly silence in the back of the 929 station wagon. Dad looks like a volcano ready to explode. As we pull up at home, suddenly the back doors fly open, and the boy’s race around into the backyard and climb the tallest tree. We stay there for about 2 hours until dad has calmed down.
Faster forward to 2023. On Saturday afternoon my wife and I take our 3 kids to 5 pm Sunday mass. During the class, my older two kids poke each other, start to play footsie’s and start to comment by whispering. Giggles set in. I decide to sit between them by physically moving them apart. But the larrikin business continues. Making noise with the paper newsletter on the pew. Soon 50 Rocky punches appear in mid-air. My blood is beginning to boil, whilst laughter becomes a quiet background noise. Either this is karma, or I am missing something. Christians don’t believe in Karma. When we get home I give my kids a heated lecture about respect and the sacredness of the space we were just in. I think to myself no wonder so many parents stop taking their teenage children to church. This was stressful.
Waking up this morning, I began to reflect and ponder on the little mass monsters. I thought to myself, for my kids going to church was a “macro” event. Or events, meanings and beliefs which were outside of their circle of importance. But this raises the question, “how can going to church become a “micro” meaning, where we integrate what is outside to what is inside?
At dinner my daughter asked me the question “why do we need to go to church?” I said to her “that mummy and daddy we go married made a promise to raise our children as Catholics. But when you move out, maybe at 21, you might choose not go to church anymore”. But as I said this, my heart sank with these words. So true for many many parents and their teenage and young adult kids.
We are missing something as parents. I see going to church as a “micro” event. It holds meaning for me personally. But for my kids, they see it as a “macro” event. Going to church is outside their circle of meaning and importance. As a parent we have a small window of influence where we can step into the worlds of our children. As they become teenagers and young adults, these windows begin to close and shorten. We need to learn to enter the “micro” worlds of our children. Where they read, do we read with them, when they watch a Netflix series, do we watch it with them, when they play games, do we play with them, when they draw, do we draw? Most especially when they talk about life, or maybe, when they don' talk about life, do we enter into deep and meaning filled conversations which they may term a D&M each day. As a father, I must admit that I struggle at times to let go of my own agenda and enter the world, their “micro” world where my kids find meaning. The conversation does not start with church or spirituality. This is a “macro” concern to them. Rather, the conversation starts with care and presence I can show in who they are becoming. Only when we spend quality time, when they feel cared by us, can we make meaning what is “macro”. Otherwise, we appear to be a big scary father or monster who wants to bring them to a boring event. To go to church might become meaning filled on a “micro” level when they have encounters which bridge the gap between the “macro” world and their “micro” reality of who they are. Maybe this will be our doing as parents, but maybe not. Maybe the bridge comes in other ways like a youth group, or liminal moment which causes them to consider something more. But then again, maybe it won’t. But that is okay, because we are first called to love them. All of them. Even if they do not go to church.