“What do you want to instill most in your children?” my friend Jane asks me. She’s thinking about her 8th grade students who just graduated, leaving the religion class at the Catholic school where she teaches, perhaps never to return to the Church again.
“I want them to know that God is with them…always,” I answer.
I want this for my sons because my own teachers gave me this gift. Like Jane’s students, when I left my small Christian school, I saw concern and love in my teacher’s eyes. They wondered if we would leave the faith over the next few years. I am not even sure how they did it, but they cultivated a culture of noticing God’s real presence in our lives.
Maybe it was in the way they invited God into our daily lives, our meals, our classroom lectures. They prayed for His protection on field trips to Disneyland as we rolled our eyes, convinced that God had better things to do than make sure we had a good time on It’s a Small World. We even had a math teacher, Mrs. Peak, who had us write at the top of our math notes:
Lord willing, Math test this Friday.
What Mrs. Peak and the rest of the teachers impressed upon us was God’s omnipresence. Even over little things like math tests and Disneyland field trips, God was with us.
In the years that passed, many did stray from their faith. I went off to public school as did many of my friends. Church became an option for us. I saw old classmates at parties or other places where I was doing things I shouldn’t have. Seeing them reminded me of my roots. God had called me to much more than this.
Eventually, I did return to faith. As time passed, I experienced trials and heartbreak, as everyone does. I looked around for something to hold onto, and I realized God was there all along. I recalled scripture I had been required to memorize or practice my penmanship to:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
Trying to cultivate this awareness in my own young sons comes naturally now. We pray before our meals and at bedtime. We sing hymns as we clean the house. On our evening walk, we pass by a memorial for a police officer killed on that spot 10 years ago, and my oldest, who is 7, reads the plaque. Noticing it says the officer was a father and a husband he asks, “Can we pray a Hail Mary for him mommy?” Of course we can, I answer.
One day they might pull the covers over their head when I wake them for morning Mass. They might look away when they catch me making the sign of the cross at the deli counter before digging into my French dip. Or roll their eyes at me when I pray over their college dorm room. They also might find themselves in a frightening position and remember how, as children, I would recite the 23rd Psalm when they came to me afraid in the middle of the night. They will hear in their heart,
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
For You are with me;
Your rod and your staff
they comfort me.
And they will know that God is with them…always.