In November, I enjoyed a girls' weekend away with friends from grammar school and high school. Yes, we sat around drinking wine in our PJs, swapping stories about our families. But something else was discussed in far greater detail than whose husband snored the loudest, and it dominated the weekend's chatter, and it was all about getting our kids into college.
My oldest child (Jack) is just 14, but I absorbed every word of this complex subject, fascinated by the lengths to which many parents would go to get their son or daughter into a “good” college.
Honestly? Some of what I learned was just downright crazy, but before I knew it, I had jumped right on that college crazy train.
It became my mission in life to get Jack's grades up, which you should know is about as easy as launching myself into space, since Jack is by no means a scholar and he Just. Doesn't. Care. About. School.
I should qualify that by saying Jack does just fine in the subjects he enjoys (theology and English), but he doesn't give a hoot about his other classes.
And the more I'd push Jack to pay attention in class, and focus on homework, and study for tests, the more frustrated I'd get, because my pushing wasn't paying off (I may have even completed a number of ninth-grade Biology assignments, because we don't need any more homework zeros now, do we?).
In between all the pushing, I allowed myself brief moments of daydreaming about the college sticker on my future car; the sticker from the prestigious university attended by Future Jack. Uppercase block letters in the center of the rear window. That sticker had become my Holy Grail.
My husband was not riding the college crazy train with me. He wasn't having any of the pushing, helping or college-daydreaming. To punish Jack for not trying hard enough in school or to let him fail were the two courses of action my husband would consider.
What, seriously, should a parent do with a kid like Jack? Punish? Accept bad behavior? Pray for divine intervention?
Last Fall I joined an Opening Your Heart Bible study group. Opening Your Heart is the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study, and often as I progress through the lessons, answers to questions like these emerge from the pages, to my great joy, and relief.
A few weeks ago, my small group was reviewing Opening Your Heart Lesson 8, “What is Grace and What Difference Does it Make?” I'll admit that I was a little fuzzy on this topic going in. How grace worked exactly, and the role it had in our lives was hard for me to grasp as a Catholic newbie. But Lesson 8 taught me two things:
Takeaway #1: I'm pretty sure that me writing Jack's biology labs isn't the “free and undeserved help” we're talking about here.
Takeaway #2: The grace I need to give to others, to my children? I think it is the infinite love, support and forgiveness that I give, even when they don't deserve it.
Something else from this lesson that jumped out at me:
“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God.” (3)
Merits - our abilities and achievements - are pure grace. I was really happy to come across that Catechism Clip when I did.
The artistic renderings that Jack sketches on his tablet in lieu of listening to a bio lecture? The piano songs he composes instead of finishing his math homework? Art and music are, for Jack, gifts from God that I was completely overlooking in my quest for a high overall GPA and a college bumper sticker.
Jack's merits don't stop there. Over the years I've watched this son of mine win home-run trophies, sing solos at baseball stadiums and earn cross-country medals as well.
That Opening Your Heart lesson on grace? For me it was a game-changer. It was God saying through the pages, Stop doing ninth-grade biology homework, forgive your son, and watch where his God-given talents take him.
When solutions to my personal problems reveal themselves from the pages of a book, it's a beautiful thing. But this Bible study offers so much more than practical parenting lessons. Opening Your Heart is an incredibly effective guide to lasting transformation of the heart, and to a deeper relationship with Christ. I look forward to meeting Future Jen when she has completed this 22-lesson study 🙂
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996
2 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 95
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2011