How do you let kids be a part of the world but not of the world?

by Father Jayson Miller

Father Jayson Miller

One questioner writes: “I want to raise my kids in the faith and help them navigate the world to make good decisions. Obviously, I cannot shelter them from everything or they will grow up being naïve. However, I cannot just let them be completely influenced by the world either. Any thoughts on how to let kids be a part of the world but not of the world?”

In Romans 12:2, St. Paul writes, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” While all of us want to live this for ourselves and help our children do so, how does that happen? How can we do it in a joyful way in our families, rejecting fear and a mentality of separation from the world we live in? I suggest three ways.

First, prayer is essential. If we want to help our children stand fast as Christians in a fallen world, so often hostile to faith, we must help them to discover themselves as beloved children of the Father. God is not an abstract grandpa-figure, who only gives us an occasional pat on the back. He enters our lives as a Father, and wants to be at the center of every aspect of our lives. If the home becomes an environment of prayer, where faith rests at the very center of the warmth that children experience in the home, then we help our children know themselves in God.

Young people face great pressure to “fit in” with those around them. Prayer helps them realize that they belong to God, that they “have been purchased at a price” (1 Cor. 6:20), by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Only through a relationship with God in prayer will they discover their identity as children of God and not children of the world. Parents also need to exemplify this in their lives, by seeking communion with God in prayer for themselves, and talking with their children about what God is doing in their own prayer. Dads especially have a profound impact in this way. This helps the Father become “real” in the lived experience of children. Discovering our identity in God is the great adventure of our lives!

Secondly, communication. Parents should have a real interest in what their children are up to. This does not have to become detective work that oppresses the child or instills a lack of both trust and independence, but parents should feel no guilt in asking their children where they go, who they hang out with, and what they did. My mother would often tell me before I left home for a sports trip, “Remember who you are and whose you are.” I would often roll my eyes at this, but I remembered her voice when I had to make moral choices with my friends.

Part of communication is laying consistent ground rules and boundaries such as curfews and what kinds of activities are and are not allowed with friends. It means consistent punishment when a child fails to keep the standards, all with the goal of forming virtue. God parents us all in this way. It also means letting children know that they are immensely loved, even if they fall into sin, and that reconciliation with the family and with God always remains a possibility. A parent who consistently experiences God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation will have a greater ability to respond well to a child who fails to live God’s commandments.

Finally, teach children the importance of evangelization. We often look at the sinfulness of the world as a threat, rather than as an opportunity to bring the light of Christ into it. I recently heard a good explanation of this. Two kinds of people exist in the world, thermometers and thermostats. A thermometer reacts to the temperature of the environment; a thermostat changes it. As Catholics, we must aim at becoming thermostats. We have the gifts necessary to change our environment.

So, it could become a useful practice to speak with our children about ways in which they can bring the love they experience from God to their friends. Parents can pray with their children for their friends who don’t yet know Christ, and talk about ways they can bear witness to those around them. This makes it imperative that parents model evangelization for their children. Do our children see us spreading the Gospel through word and example? Does our family look for ways to become an evangelizing community?

While no method will work infallibly, I believe these three suggestions (prayer, communication, and evangelization) will help our children become fully alive as Catholics in a world so in need of the light of faith. If parents can model these for their children (for none of us can give what we ourselves lack), children will breathe the faith in at home, and breathe it out onto the world. The world waits for us to live like this.

Father Miller serves as the parochial vicar of Sts. Anne and Joachim Church in Fargo.

Editor’s Note: If you have a question about the Catholic faith and would like to submit a question for consideration in a future column, please send to news@fargodiocese.org with “Ask a Priest” in the subject line or mail to New Earth, 5201 Bishops Blvd. S, Suite. A, Fargo, ND 58104, Attn: Ask a Priest.