A mother complained to a priest about the sudden and radical change in her teenage girl. “Father, she was fine, sweet and happy, and then all of a sudden she changed. Her appearance, her language, her attitudes all suddenly became gross.”
Is it possible that a child can suddenly change? Is she possessed? Has she been corrupted by some so-called friends? Did something happen to her to disturb her purity and peace? How can a person, even a young one, so suddenly change? Or is it possible that the changes were happening ever-so-slowly, and subtle seeds were planted and growing without parental notice?
Each day seeds are landing in the ground of the senses, the mind and the heart. This is true for all of us but especially critical for children. If we look to the Gospel parable about the sowing and growing of seeds, we will perhaps find some answers:
And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29 (NKJV)
How do these seeds come?
Seeds are carried by the wind, on the fur of animals and on clothing; floating on the water, falling in the ground, rooting in fertile or inhospitable areas. In other words, they come in all ways through sensorial impressions and into the heart, mind and soul. They come through conversations, books and especially movies and music.
St. Siloan relates that when he was a young boy a bookseller came and spoke of atheistic ideas—seeds that landed in his impressionable soul and troubled him for years. A college student who was a strong believer had to read Nietzsche for a course and was troubled by his thoughts and ideas.
St. Mary of Egypt, while in the desert, had to fight the blasphemous jingles that she was used to hearing and reciting when she lived an impious life in the world before her conversion. They would come back to her and she had to fight the desire to sing them again.
Seeds come in many ways and they are designed to adhere and germinate, grow and take root. Without attention and vigilance we don’t notice these seeds in ourselves or their manifestation. If this is true in us—and it is—how will we see what is happening with our children?
The mother might have been right in saying about her daughter’s changes: Where was I that I didn’t see it coming?
We need to attend to and take care of the weeds while they are still small, and to do so in the right way. We also need to know the right way to respond both to newly formed seeds and to old habits not conquered earlier. Here we would benefit from the wisdom of the Lord.
The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares: Matthew 13:24-53 (NKJV)
Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
We cannot and should not always try to rip out bad behavior or ideas. We need to take care of the wheat as well as the tares. Should we oppose the evil, or encourage the good, or both? And at what time and with how much force? These are not physics questions or medical or surgical questions. They are practical questions that parents face. Our attitude to our children can’t be all NO! We have to have a culture and family life that is alive, cultured, spiritual and filled with YES!
“My son is selfish,” one mother admitted, “always justifying himself and blaming others. Lectures although they are profoundly truthful don’t seem to change anything.”
What does he look like? He looks like a boy who is served as if an equal or superior to everyone else because he has been treated that way. It was unintentional, but who else is given food on demand, taken everywhere for his benefit, cared for physically and brought to Church? He has no responsibility, and therefore is in a higher category than his slave parents.
Upon further investigation, it appears that the boy is living in an unreal existence where he has no responsibilities, where there is nothing he is needed to do, and nothing he is required to do to help the family life. He is driven everywhere and is cared for with tender care, but the end result is self-centeredness and a weak sense of compassion or awareness of others. Will lectures and berating help? I don’t think so. We need to get to some of the root causes and change them and possible do some remedial Christian therapy. The boy needs responsibility for his wellbeing.
We hear in the news about osteoporosis, mostly as a female problem. But according to one doctor men can also have osteoporosis. As a matter of fact, astronauts living in outer space begin to lose bone mass because they do not have exercises which are weight bearing. Perhaps there is an analogy here with children who don’t have responsibility, or weight-bearing labors. They become weaker and more sarcastic. Some family responsibility and sharing of the load just might help!
Sweeping, setting the table, clearing the table, washing pots, folding laundry, carrying laundry baskets, cleaning rooms, caring for the pets, shoveling the sidewalk … There are many things to do and children should be trained in being useful and helpful. If a child is working hard, the child might have more respect for all the other people who are working hard for his or her benefit.
Attention to the character and attitudes of our children is really a labor of love and absolutely necessary. It is better and easier by far to do-it-as–you-go rather than wait for big problems– tares and wheat bound and rooted together.
Perhaps then we won’t be caught by surprise by “sudden” changes because we will be tending the tares and wheat each day with them.