Parents must discern and nurture their children’s unique spirituality. We don’t all connect with God the same way, and that's a good thing.
My third child, Gabriel, received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time on Sunday. My husband and I went back and forth for weeks about whether or not the boy was ready to take this step – was he mature enough to grasp the enormity of what was going on?
This discernment process was all the more agonizing for us because we homeschool our children, and our parish priest and Director of Religious Education have graciously allowed us to prepare the kids for the sacraments at home, independent of the parish religious education program. I know not all parishes are so accommodating to homeschoolers, so I feel this ridiculous added pressure of not giving homeschoolers everywhere a bad name. My kids will be completely prepared for each sacrament they receive! They will know the theology and the biblical basis of each rite. They will be able to speak lucidly and articulately about the subject, and there will never be a moment of regret on the parish’s part for letting us prepare the kids at home.
What can I say? Sometimes I go overboard on things.
My first two children did nothing to make me question these criteria. They are both intellectual, extremely verbal people, and when their first confession and communion came about, they were able to articulate every aspect I felt they should to be deemed “ready”.
Then came Gabriel. Where the first two learn by reading and by intellectualizing experiences, the third one is a more holistic, intuitive learner. He learns by doing, and often whether or not the lesson stuck is kept to himself.
This drives me crazy, but the good sort of crazy where my own soul is being taught. It’s the crazy of having to shed the pride of knowing the best form that spirituality should take. It’s the crazy of being humbled and admitting that my way of interacting with and speaking about God is not the only way – in fact, it might not even the best way. And it only took me three kids to figure that out.
Day after day, I’d talk about outward, visible signs of inward, invisible, internal grace with the boy. I’d model for him how to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our sins to us, and to help inspire true sorrow for those sins. I’d read stories and build practice confessionals and make rhymes to help remember the prayers. I waited and waited for the signs that this was being internalized on a properly intellectual level. Instead, I got gentle smiles and the infuriating inability to remember that, “Dear Father, these are the bad things I did” is not the normal opening for the penitent.
I had the Holy Spirit on speed dial: “Please fill in all the obvious educational gaps I’ve created in this child. Please help him approach this sacrament.” What I didn’t say, though I wanted to, was, “Please help him love God in the way I think he should.”
And then, while my son and I were doing an examination of conscience in the quiet of my room, the Holy Spirit answered me loud and clear.
Gabriel had been staring out into the middle space while I read over a children’s version of the Ten Commandments, asking him if he’d broken any of them. He had been very quiet, shaking his head firmly as I listed each way a Commandment could be broken. For my part, I was biting my tongue, trying hard not to dictate what I thought his list of sins should be.
Suddenly, he looked at me. “Is there any sin so bad God won’t forgive you?”
And that’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? That’s the question we all have to wrestle with, because at the heart of that question is a snarl of pride and fear and disbelief in the promise of the Cross. That’s the question which, once you’ve answered for yourself, either with a “yes” or a “no”, will shape your relationship with God more than anything else. The question was a clear sign from the Holy Spirit that this boy – this sweet, gentle boy in front of me – was ready for his first Confession.