When my daughter was 13 and a half, she was faced with a great difficulty. She had a serious defect and needed brain surgery. It was a trial that brought her through a long and difficult faith journey.
Now, she is almost eighteen and one of the strongest Christians I know. She is unabashed about her faith. She will stand in the freezing cold at a pro-life march, argue points of faith with her peers and teachers, and loves to sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament just to adore her Lord and Savior.
When she went through her surgery, we all wished it would just go away. We were frightened, exhausted and (at the time) the struggle seemed unfair and pointless. Now, as we look back, we realize that she could not have grown as a person and in her faith without it. She faced her mortality, got angry with God and came back to Him. This was an important lesson for our family and for anyone who works with teens or young people.
Sometimes the greatest struggles, trials and yes, even mistakes, are necessary for us to come back to the glory of God. It is only when we fall that we can learn to appreciate God’s mercy.
Those of us who are parents, or work with young people, want to impress upon them our own mistakes in order to help these children to avoid those mistakes. That is an admirable goal, but perhaps we are a little misguided. Yes, we should protect them and educate them, but ultimately, they will not grow in their faith until they have had their own failings and struggles. Maybe, our job is not just to protect them….perhaps it is to help them learn and pick up the pieces when they do fall. Sharing our own faith journeys and the lessons we have learned could provide more spiritual growth than warnings alone.
Of course, we must be extremely careful when discussing our own issues. It is always better to speak generally and focus on what we’ve learned rather than specifics about what we did wrong. When in doubt about how to handle a sensitive issue, it may be best to consult your pastor or Director of Religious Education for guidance on how to proceed.
Another way to discuss overcoming difficulties and growing in faith is to look at examples of the saints' lives. St. Augustine provides us with a jumping point for discussion about bad choices and then, redemption.
Sacred Scripture gives us wonderful stories of those who face adversity or uncertainty and found a stronger faith. Can you just imagine being Samuel, wondering why his master kept calling him in the night?
Clearly, we should educate and try to protect our young people, but catching them when they fall can be equally important. God bless you.