Worrying that I wasn’t working hard enough to shape my kids’ souls left me exhausted and discouraged . . . until God showed me that he’s got my back.
by Becky Arganbright
I am a worrier.
I always have been a worrier. Even as a kid, when we would take our family walks and let our dog off his leash to give him a little freedom, I would worry that he would run off and not come back. Or worse yet, run out into the street and get hit by a car. (Although I had good reason to worry, since I witnessed one of our dogs getting killed in this way.) My mom would sigh and say, “Becky, if you worry this much over a dog, what are you going to do when you have children??”
Well, I am still a worrier. And twenty years later, even more so now that I have kids, just like my mom predicted!
I worry about their well-being, I worry about their friendships. I worry about pushing them too hard. I worry that I’ve spoiled them, I worry that I haven’t loved them enough.
But more than anything, I worry about their souls.
My children know of God, but I don’t know that they know Him personally. I am always talking about Him, promoting Him, pointing to Him, reminding them of Him. Every fight they have, every time they hurt one another’s feelings, I ask them, “How do you think Jesus is looking at you right now?”
Every time a prayer is answered I try to remember to point out the obvious: “Hey! Jesus answered your prayer!” as though it’s a surprise to all of us.
During Mass at the time of Consecration, I do my usual lean-back-and-scan to make sure all the kids aren’t doing the lazy half-sitting/half-kneeling thing. If they are, it’s not uncommon for fellow parishioners to hear me whisper, “Butts up!”
I watch suspiciously out of the corner of my eye as we say grace for children who are “swatting flies” instead of making the Sign of the Cross respectfully. If they don’t do it respectfully, I make them do it again.
I ask them if they remembered “the Loneliest Man in the world” by saying a prayer to Him throughout the day. More often than not, they tell me they forgot. Well, at least they are honest.
My worry drove me to work really, really hard to form my kids’ souls. But as I fell into bed each night, thinking over the day’s events, I would find myself exhausted and discouraged. So little improvement seemed to come from all my efforts! But instead of taking it to God, I figured I would just have to work harder.
But instead of taking it to God, I figured I would just have to work harder.
On and on this went, day after day.
But then I read a book called Trusting God with St. Therese by Colleen Rossini. It was in this book that I began to discover the source of my lifetime battle with anxiety, the worry I have over everything and especially the worry over my children. I discovered that it was not that I wasn’t working hard enough on my children’s souls, it was that I didn’t trust God enough to take care of them for me.
God never asked for me to worry. He never asked me to stress. He didn’t ask or even want me to become discouraged and exhausted, to cry over something that I have no control over. I had promised to bring my children up to the faith “to the best of my ability,” and that is all.
God never asked for me to worry.
As a parent, this is hard for me to accept. It means that I have to let go of my worries. Even worse, it means that I have to let go of my kids. It means that I must take the lower place, the humbler place, the “sidelines of the court” while I allow God to take over the game. However, being “benched” means that I finally get to have some rest while I watch God take over the work that I thought was mine.
This morning at Mass, after we received Communion and my kids knelt to say their Thanksgiving, I did my usual scan to see if my kids were actually praying or if their eyes were glazed over in daydreaming, which is often the case. After giving reminders and nudges where they needed to be given, I glanced over at Max, my almost 11-year-old, who was slumped over in his usual half-kneeling/half-sitting position on the pew, eyes closed, seemingly falling asleep. (I do not make them do the “butts off the pew” rule during Thanksgiving, as this is their time to be relaxed and talking to Jesus.) I leaned over and whispered a reminder: “Don’t forget to talk to Jesus.”
He whispered back, “I’m imagining me and Jesus in a field, listening to the music together.”
He whispered back, “I am. I can’t ever pray during this time because of all the people and all the music, so instead, I imagine me and Jesus sitting in a field, and we listen to the music together.”
Subdued and humbled, I took my seat back on the sidelines, back on the “bench.” God had made it clear. Sometimes when it seems like my children are sleeping, it is then that God is speaking to their souls.
I am not going to say that I no longer worry. This is a lifelong habit that will have to be overcome with the practice of trust in God. But at night, I no longer pray and cry for my children’s souls. Now I just hand them over to God.
I still take the promises I’ve made at my children’s baptism very seriously. I believe that I will be held accountable for their souls if I am lax or lazy in their spiritual upbringing. However, I am reminded that it is my job only to guide them and nourish them with both spiritual love and knowledge of our God. It is not my job to judge their souls.
It is not my job to judge their souls. I have found freedom in these words.
Only God can judge. Only He knows what work is being accomplished every day in their souls. And if I am working every day to point my children toward God, how can I assume that God is doing any less? How could I ever think that I had to do it all?
I find joy in saying, “I give You my children.”
Stepping back, taking a seat at the sidelines, “decreasing while He increases,” has given me the respite that I have been needing. Letting go and trusting, and watching what God teaches my children “while they are sleeping,” shocks me into silent awe. I am more relaxed, I am getting more sleep, and I find joy in saying, “I give You my children,” as I let go of the stress and tension I feel in my worries. I am teaching my children to trust as I learn also to trust. I am becoming a better parent for it.
Best of all, I do not have to do a thing but just stand back and watch what God can do.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:19
Becky Arganbright is a mother of five children and the author of the forthcoming children’s book The Little Flower: A Parable of St. Therese of Lisieux.