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:
- Praying in Color by Sybil Macbeth: Write names of people you are praying for and then circle them. Decorate the circles simply with small shapes. Color in the shapes. It is not necessary to create an elaborate work of art. The idea is that the process is more meditative. We sat by our fireplace and worked on this. I hope that it got my daughter into a wider prayer space.
- Saying one decade of the rosary after lighting the Advent wreath: This was tougher for us for some reason although my daughter has said the rosary many times in the past. I like the idea of doing one decade.
- Baking cookies and sharing them with others: My daughter loved this, especially because her school had set up a Cookie Share event for teachers. I signed up to donate cookies for teachers, and my daughter eagerly wanted to help since she loves her school and her teachers.
- Giving Tree: We did the Giving Tree at our church, but this was tough for my daughter since at our old parish she used to help cut the ornaments and had a way to be much more involved. However, she saw a Giving Tree at a local animal shelter and got very excited. She picked an ornament there and got some cat toys.
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:
- "You must let go." (Even at the young age of 13?) "Yes!!"
- "This is her journey."
- "God will never stop calling her. You must let God call her."
- "Keep the guideposts there. Take her to Mass, of course. But the rest is up to her and God."
- "Let go. Find your smile. Don't be so hard on yourself."
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:
- Playing with a black kitten and a brown kitten
- Crushing graham crackers for cookies for her teachers
- Talking joyfully about her school that she loves
- Buying cat toys for a Giving Tree
- Wrapping every gift for her grandparents, aunt and uncle, and her cousin
- Appreciating the Simbang Gabi Mass (I think unexpectedly): more below
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.