For me and my daughter, Advent had always been a time of adventure, looking at calendars, doing activities on many days to find the joyful light of the season. Of course, we never achieved everything outlined, but we learned about saints, or did crafts, or read Bible passages together. Hopefully these were gentle adventures, and I didn't put too much of my admittedly Type A personality into it!
But this year, my daughter has turned 13. And as I brought out our Advent wreath, I reflected on the fact that we had moved from California to Oregon, and I also felt that I had not shown the best values of faith, hope, and love as I could have. The stress and pain of leaving my old home had broken me apart. Our new parish, while wonderful, is different in many ways from the one that we had left.
My daughter, who loves our new state and her school, nonetheless feels that God does not hear her. She prays but she feels that he does not help. Why is there still suffering? I answer that God suffers with us. That suffering is a challenge for us to confront with kindness. I tell her that God always helps but that we cannot always know the ways that he works—that we must wait for his story to write itself, to change, and to end. But she is not satisfied with these answers.
Please, EDGE programs in parishes, and I so appreciate the volunteers who feel called and gifted to work with age group…address the tough questions with preteens and teens. They need more than pizza and games. They are questioning their faith at the very core. This article, "Why are 10-year-olds leaving the church?", by Julianne Stanz resonated with me.
So in the beautifully creative Advent activity calendars and resources I found, I pulled out the ideas that could be appropriate for teens. I listed them in a spreadsheet, and here are some we tried, which might help in your family:
It was in the midst of finding the Giving Tree at the local animal shelter that I began to realize something about Advent with a teenager. But I had to have one other Advent experience to understand fully.
I spoke with my friends who participate with me in Centering Prayer (based on the work of Fr. Thomas Keating) as part of Contemplative Outreach of Portland. They have so much more wisdom than I do. I shared my daughter's questions about her faith, and this is what they said:
I put away my spreadsheet of Advent activities. When I looked at my daughter surrounded by cats and kittens at the animal shelter and let the wisdom I'd heard reach me finally, I realized with teenagers that we have to follow their lead. Their Advent is like finding stepping stones through a stream.
This is Laura's Advent:
The Simbang Gabi Mass was the last stepping stone of our Advent. A Filipino Christmas Novena tradition, the 8th night we attended was held at Holy Trinity Church in Beaverton, OR. I was so happy to find this event, since I became Catholic after living in the Philippines for one year when I was in my 20s. In many ways the Philippines is my Catholic home. In California, it was a little easier to find Simbang Gabi Masses. Laura has become used to attending these.
The theme of the Mass, and this is how I know (since it was what we needed) God does hear us: God never lets us down. He always hears us. He always forgives us. Hope is found in someone who simply smiles. Fr. Rodel de Mesa was an amazing homilist, and I looked over, and my daughter was crying.
Four nights ago, I had a dream that I was walking in a beautiful deep green meadow. I had found the Oregon trail. I joyfully called out to Laura. "I've found it: the right path! Come here. I'll show you."
But she didn't hear me. She should have. She wasn't far away. She turned and smiled at me. I suppose that she has to find the right path on her own.
I'm Sherry Weaver Smith, author of The Wolf and the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick. I like to have adventures in getting outside in nature, crafting, and cooking as I explore our Catholic faith with my daughter. We want to be inspired by the saints!