Monday, May 2, 2011

The two most important words my son needs to remember

Yesterday, my oldest son, my firstborn, was confirmed in the Lutheran Church.

Having been raised Catholic, it was kind of a big day for me – even moreso than my own Confirmation way back in 1979. I was on board – completely immersed in the Catholic religion – following without questioning, eager to experience yet another of the seven Sacraments. It was a rite of passage - it was “what we Catholics do”.

For my son I think it was a different story. In the Lutheran Church, the Confirmation process is two years in the making. So my son, who does not have the daily religious upbringing that I had, has been “plugging away”, if you will, at weekly Confirmation classes and Sunday Schools since the beginning of 7th grade.

Now to me, this is no great sacrifice. But I was brought up a bit differently. As I’ve said in previous blogs, I was raised in a fairly strict Catholic household, and left the Church in my early 20’s. After I had children, I yearned for a place for them to go where they could feel comfortable and accepted, worship God, and be a contributing, willing member of a Church family.

I did find that church, but often think I failed in our involvement. I really wanted to be one of those people that everyone knew – that headed up a Sunday School class, volunteered for Vacation Bible School, and jumped on any and every committee that there was. You know who I’m talking about, right? Yeah, that wasn’t me. Life, single parenting, work, lack of work – I had all the excuses. Plus I wasn’t a Lutheran “lifer” – so I think I always felt a bit “out of the loop”. So in that, I feel as if I somewhat failed my son.

So, back to him. He’s smart, talented, thoughtful, helpful, good-hearted and humorous. He’s also challenging, stubborn, opinionated, argumentative and exasperating. That whole, “I’m going to raise my kids to love going to church” fell on deaf ears with him. Although I think he actually enjoyed the Confirmation classes, I think he felt a little like me – an outsider.

Although I understood my own insecurities, I wasn’t entirely sure why he felt that way until I attended the Confirmation banquet, where each Confirmand stood on a small stage with his parent(s) and Confirmation mentor, and the pastor and youth director would say something nice about the Confirmand and read the Bible verse they had selected especially for him or her. As I saw all the moms and dads stand up there with their coiffed, nicely dressed (shirt tucked in) upstanding children and heard the Pastor and youth director say things like, “You are truly a gift from God,” or, “You light up the room every time you walk into it,” or, “We are so blessed that you came into our lives,” I wondered what they would say when my mop-headed, concert t-shirt-wearing kid with an attitude took the stage. And I wondered what they’d think of me, standing there without a sidekick parent.

Really, they did the best they could with this kid that kind of broke their mold. They commented on how “cool” he was, with his long hair and his “musical” (heavy metal guitar and bass) abilities. Then they made note of the fact that he had experienced “challenges” in his life. This gave me pause – I suppose he has had challenges, but I really never thought they were any more significant than most 13-year olds. And they noted the changes he was going to experience soon (move, blending families, new school). Agreed – he’s going to be hit pretty hard in the next year, so I appreciated the shoutout of prayers to his future.

What I appreciated the most, though, was how they acknowledged the fact that, as I was back in my 20’s, he wasn’t completely on board - not as sure as his Lutheran-raised peers. He had questions and doubts, and for all intents and purposes was just “going with the flow” as far as this whole Confirmation thing was concerned. But these folks GOT that, and I’ll never forget what Pastor told him, and that was to BELIEVE that God is there. TRUST that God is there. Believe enough to fall back into His arms and trust that He will catch you.

As much as what people say to any 13-year old goes in one ear and out the other, I think that hearing those words, coupled with standing in front of 22 of his peers and their families who (seemed to) wholeheartedly believe and trust already, maybe made him think, “Hmmmm. Maybe there is something to this.”

A part of me was sad. A part of me wanted him to “get it” right now, to be like those other kids who knew all the words to the hymns and volunteered in the nursery and loved Jesus so very much. Then a man in the congregation that I’ve known since I was pregnant with my son came up to me and said, “Look up Corinthians 3:11. He’s going to be OK.” To which I burst into tears.

And the props don’t stop there. My son’s Confirmation mentor, selected for him to guide him through the Confirmation process, had to have been assigned to him by the Big Man himself. Not only did he accept my son for who he was, he listened to him, acknowledged his sometimes “know-it-all” approach to theology, and somehow managed to teach and inspire him while still maintaining that ultimate “coolness” factor. This man, who already has a full plate and a family of his own, took the time to not only mentor my child, but to befriend him, understand him, and respect him for the person that he is. And he mentored me as well, as he did yesterday morning when he said to me, “He’s a good kid. You may roll your eyes, but what he does in front of you, he does for effect. He’s a good kid with a good heart.”

I feel bad that I need others to remind me how amazing my son is. Deep down, I know he is. I think I just want him to realize that he’s not always going to be able to do it on his own. As I’ve told him countless times before, “You need God because someday, you’re not going to know where to turn. And when that happens, you’ll know to turn to Him.” He’s going to need to put his faith in a higher power to get him through his life. He’s going to need to BELIEVE. He’s going to need to TRUST. Not only in God, but in himself. And that’s HARD – and at 13, he just doesn’t want to do it. But I hope someday he will. And if I can continue to strive to surround him with amazing people like his Pastor and his mentor, I think that belief and trust will come, with time.

Congratulations on your Confirmation, son. I love you so very much. I know you BELIEVE that, and I know you TRUST me. Please do the same with yourself, and with God. Believe it or not, He loves you even more than I do.

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