The Catholic Church is well versed in adversity, and like any good parent she recognizes that not only is adversity a part of living, but that it can even be beneficial to her children if they are taught to look at it in the correct light. Adversity serves several purposes: it strengthens us, reveals to us our true natures, builds compassion, and increases gratitude. Furthermore, adversity is a reminder to check our bearings and be sure we are headed in the right direction.
If we learn from the Catholic Church and change how we view adversity, we can show them that adversity is no cause for losing hope or giving up. Persevering in the face of adversity doesn’t mean that you ignore the difficulty or the challenges you face. It means that you accept those challenges and face those problems with hope for a better tomorrow. Adversity, like winter, may feel like it’s going to last forever when you go through it but inevitably gives way to growth and better things. I think if we, as parents, did a better job of preparing our children for adversity and for finding meaning in adversity we would not see so many suicides by young people.
Strengthening Us“Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” - Mark 8:34
The Catholic Church has long taught her children that the path to happiness lies in taking up the cross – in accepting the challenges of adversity and even embracing them. The crosses in life – the adversity we face – are often heavy and hard to carry. The very act of struggling to carry that cross strengthens our will, just as carrying heavy backpacks can strengthen the body.
Every parent has watched their child struggle to learn to walk. It all comes in stages. First the many times that they try to roll over and fail. Then the times that they try to crawl and fail, Next there are the times that they try to pull themselves up on furniture and fall. Finally, they take their first steps and then fall. Every day they persevere in the face of adversity and eventually they are triumphant and master walking. If we, as parents, were to rescue our child from these struggles and save them from their falls, their muscles would never have the chance to grow strong enough to support them without help. Overcoming adversity is one of the greatest boosts to the self-esteem that a parent can give their child because it shows the child that if they want something badly enough, they have what it takes to make that a reality.
Revealing Our True Selves“Jesus said to him: If you will beperfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. And when the young man had heard this word, he went away sad: for he had great possessions.” – Matthew 19:21-22
The Catholic Church teaches that when you are striving to attain something that is worth having, like heaven, adversity does not mean you need to give up. It means you need to fight harder. Adversity is like the fertilizer that prepares the heart for a richer and more fruitful harvest in the future. What we choose to do when we are confronted with adversity is the reality of who we are. As human beings, we are fully capable of deluding ourselves into thinking that we are stronger – or weaker – than we truly are. We tell ourselves that we believe in something strongly. However, it is not until the trial is on us, until we are facing adversity, that we find out how strong we really are and what we truly believe. The young man in the passage above says that he wants to attain heaven, but when faced with adversity to get there, he gives up.
As parents imitating the Catholic Church, we should teach our children that adversity is not to be avoided, it’s to be expected. It is not necessarily a sign that you should give up or even change directions, but it is a sign that you should re-evaluate what you are doing to be sure you are headed in the right direction. Adversity often shows itself when you are doing exactly the right thing and it also tends to show itself when you are doing the exact wrong thing. Thus, the appearance of adversity in your life doesn’t mean quit – it means it’s time to re-evaluate to be sure you’re on the right heading.
Building CompassionThe third main thing that adversity does is to build compassion for our fellow human beings. As human beings it is a natural tendency of ours to think more of ourselves than we truly deserve. Adversity confronts us with the reality of our limitations. In doing so, it enables us to see what it is like for people who struggle with similar limitations and thus to extend to them compassion and understanding.
I have struggled with poverty my entire life. I have spent time living out of vehicles. I know what that’s like. I know what it feels like to have nothing and to feel like nothing because of it. As a result of those struggles, I have more than just sympathy for what those who are homeless are going through. I have genuine empathy based on similar experiences. I truly do feel what they are experiencing, and as a result I do my best to help the homeless whenever and wherever I can. Someone who has never been homeless cannot begin to understand what that’s like. They can try to imagine it, but the imagination can’t begin to cover the reality.
Increasing GratitudeJust as the night time often helps us to better appreciate the day time, adversity helps to increase our gratitude. When you’ve been eating nothing but beans and rice for a while because that’s all you could afford, you are truly grateful for a pound of ground beef to add to it. When you’ve been without a home for months, you appreciate the tiny two bedroom apartment. Gratitude, as we discussed earlier, is a component of teaching our children how to live happier and healthier lives.
ConclusionAdversity is unpleasant, but the results are often beneficial to our lives. Encountering adversity doesn't necessarily mean it's time to quit - it just signals that it's time to reevaluate our direction to be sure we're headed the right way. The reality is that adversity occurs in every aspect of our lives - whether that's in learning, in loving, or in business. Teaching our children how to persevere in adversity, then, is about teaching them to see the good that will come out of all the struggles.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Catholic Parenting: What the Catholic Church Teaches Us About Parenting. If you would like to read the introduction and earlier chapters, you can find those by clicking the link above. I hope you will join us tomorrow night for Chapter 29: Handling Suffering.