Between the snoring dad and the cell phone kid, Mass was pretty crazy . . . but they prompted me to look at the example I’m setting for my kids.
by Becky Arganbright
Last week during Mass, I couldn’t help noticing four teenage boys who sat with their father a couple pews up from us. They kept leaving their pews for one reason or another. The boys who stayed put looked bored and tired. They poked and nudged each other, whispered and laughed. I found it disturbing, but I couldn’t fault them for their behavior when I saw that their father, who was sitting next to them, was asleep! At first, I he’d fallen asleep by accident, but when his youngest son poked him awake and he fell back to sleep a mere ten seconds later, I couldn’t find any excuses for him. He slept through the entire homily.
To the right to us, a 12-year-old boy pulled out his cell phone to play games and scroll through Facebook. His mother frowned at him once, but when he still didn’t put the cell phone away, she ignored it, and he continued to play with his cell phone throughout Mass.
Between the cell phone boy, the snoring dad, and the rowdy teenagers, I found myself looking nervously at my kids, who also noticed these behaviors and couldn’t help being distracted by the games the boy was playing on his cell phone.
But I can’t fault the kids for following the example of their parents. A sleeping father exemplifies apathy of the soul; and a complacent mother communicates that there is nothing special about the Mass.
What do I look like to my kids?
Seeing these examples reminded me how susceptible I am to spiritual apathy in my own life. It made me look at my kids a little closer, because our kids are (at least partially) the mirror of our soul, copying everything we do and say and imitating our attitude. As St.Therese pointed out in her autobiography:
“…I listened carefully to all the preacher said, but I looked more frequently at Papa rather than the preacher, for his handsome face said so much to me! His eyes, at times, were filled with tears which in vain he tried to stop; he seemed no longer held by earth, so much did his soul love to lose itself in the eternal truths.”
St.Therese had a saint to imitate; in fact she had two saints for parents, as her mother was a saint as well, so it isn’t too hard to understand how she became a saint herself. But the rest of us have to compete with a world of technology and cell phones; being the model of someone “on fire for God” can deplete all your reserves.
Lord, set my heart on fire
I have found that this simple prayer gives me the desire to love passionately: “Lord, set my heart on fire.” I may not always “feel” the passion, but I want to be enthusiastic, excited and on fire for God. Sometimes I have to pray for the desire, as I am feeling so apathetic and “sleepy” in my own prayer life. And the more I pray for the passion, the more God gives it to me. The more I pray against apathy, the more he opens my eyes to all around me, helping me to be on guard. The more I ask him to “fan the fire,” the more he does! Because apathy may be all around us, but God is there too, warning us to “stay awake and pray, for the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
Being the example
If I take short cuts in my prayer life, it tells my kids that our prayer life is not the top priority. If my kids don’t see me genuflecting, praying, or folding my hands respectively during Mass, then they have nothing to imitate. If my kids see me falling asleep, then they will too. If I am apathetic, so are my kids.
At some point in their lives, as they grow older and more mature in their own prayer life, my kids will have their own passion for God. But for this time in their life, I am the kindling for their fire. As tiring as it can be, I have to keep throwing myself in there, fanning their flames, reminding them to pray, to genuflect, to listen, to love with passion! To be the example of enthusiasm. To nudge them awake, or make them put down that phone. To remind them that Jesus is now in their hearts and waiting for them to talk to him! To constantly be pointing out God’s great love for them.
Keeping up this enthusiasm is humanly impossible. It only works if we are passionate about God. And the only way to be passionate, enthusiastic and in love with God is to ask him to be the kindling of our hearts: “Set my heart on fire, Lord, fan the flames. Be the kindling for my love.”
The things that we love tell us what we are.
—Saint Thomas Aquinas