God is always ready to hear our prayers, listening to our deepest fears and greatest hopes. This doesn’t mean that He will always give us what we ask for exactly as we ask for it, but He is always ready to listen. He cares about whatever we are interested in, not because He cares about that but because He cares about us and that is what has our attention at the moment. When we are ready, He is ready to give advice and guidance to help us on our way.
This is what the Catholic Church teaches us. She teaches all of her children that they should never be afraid to approach their Father because He loves them. She encourages them to spend time alone with him each and every day, to transform their lives into a prayer by offering everything they do, think, and say to God as a gift of love. Every sacrifice, every heart ache, every heart break, every moment when we stumble, every tear, can be a gift to God if we offer it to Him out of love.
This is one of the most powerful things we can do for our children, to be interested in every aspect of their lives and to take seriously every heartache, heartbreak, sorrow, joy, stumble, and tear. We will not always have a solution for them. Their problems are small compared to our own, but then so are our problems small compared to the challenges faced by God, who must juggle the needs of an entire universe and provide for every living creature.
Listening Early and OftenWhen my son was in kindergarten, he fell head over heels in love with a little girl in his class. He adored this young lady with every fiber of his tiny five year old body. He talked about her all the time, and I listened. I knew that although this young lady was not likely to be a part of his grown-up future, if I did not take his feelings seriously that day when he was older and the love was more serious he would not be coming to talk to me then.
So I listened and gave him advice on how to handle his relationship with her. I advised him to ignore the taunts of other boys and to stand firm in his relationship. His young pride couldn’t handle the teasing, and one day he denied that she was his girlfriend. Unfortunately, she overheard him and broke up with him for real. He was devastated by that loss, and wanted to make amends but before he could school was over and the little girl moved away. At 14 he still thought of her and hoped to be able to apologize for hurting her someday.
I didn’t throw out an “I told you so”, he was in enough pain. However, he did remember that my advice to him had been right later on. So, when he was 13 and had a new young lady he was interested in, he came to me for advice. He talked and I listened. I told him that if he truly cared for this girl, it was going to require him to put into practice the three P’s: Prayer, Patience, and Persistence. He shouldn’t give up, but it might take a long time. I reassured him that if she was truly the one God would bring her back into his life at the right time and in the right way, and while they were apart He would use my son’s prayers to heal the girl of her wounds so that their relationship would be even better at the beginning.
He took my advice this time, and began to pray for her. He watched as her attitude toward him changed for the better. They live far apart now and both of them are seeing other people, but the prayers he offered were not wasted. They changed him for the better and prepared his heart for better things in the future.
The benefit of listening to them when they are younger and offering solid advice without throwing out an “I told you so” when they return to you broken hearted is that they are willing to listen to your advice when they get older.
Taking the Good with the BadThere were several years in my life when I did not make my son a priority. I didn’t make time for him. He was penciled in somewhere between everything else I was doing, and he felt that lack of commitment from me. As a result, he stopped talking to me. He clammed up and wouldn’t share. I didn’t know what to do to get him talking again.
One night, we had a pretty serious disagreement. I left him at home, taught a class, and came back home. When I did, I told him to put his shoes on. Then we went on a walk. I told him that I was not going to say anything, I was just going to listen. I wasn’t going to get mad at him for speaking, I was just going to listen. It was the right call.
At first he was nervous, and he told me that. He wasn’t sure this would work, wasn’t sure I meant it, but he gave it a try. For the next hour I heard more out of him than I had in years. He spewed out all of the anger and hurt that he’d been keeping inside, letting out the pain with it. And I listened, not interrupting, not replying. When he was done, I thanked him for sharing. I apologized for those things I had done that had hurt him. I promised him I would try to do better. Since that day, I rarely have trouble getting my son to talk. He is almost 17 and will talk to me about anything.
Listening to our kids means not only listening when they have something good to share, but it also means being willing to listen when they are angry or upset with us. It means being that same rock that God is for us when we are angry with Him, or hurt at something that He’s allowed into our lives. It means loving them no matter how they feel, and that’s quite often a tough thing to do because their pain is so personal to us.
Listening Doesn't Mean SolvingListening to our kids does not mean that we are going to, or that we should try to, solve all of their problems. In fact, that’s not what they need us to do. Many times they need to figure it out on their own and find their own solutions. We can offer advice, but we can’t take it personally when that advice is discarded and they try it their own way. God does not solve all of our problems. Many times He lets us resolve the issue on our own. He offers us guidance, but He doesn’t stand in the way when we try to do things our own way.
If your child feels that you are going to insist he or she handle problems your way, they won’t bring you their problems. They don’t want you to fix everything. Quite often, what our children want is for us to be their sounding board, to bounce ideas off of and think through their problem to find a solution that works for them. We can show our respect for them by listening and allowing them to pick our brains without insisting that they adopt our solutions.
I hope you enjoyed today's chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you are just joining us, you can follow the link above to find the introduction and earlier chapters. I hope you will join us later for chapter 20: Spending Time With Your Children.