You are in a season of extreme parenting.
I know it’s exhausting.
I see you.
I sent this text to a friend a few days ago. He’s a single dad and like so many of us, he is suddenly so much more. Not just parent but teacher and therapist, helping his little boy navigate the change, fear, isolation, and anxiety we’re all feeling in this time of COVID-19.
I didn’t know anything about Saint Monnica, mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo, before I was asked to write about her for Grow Christians. I hadn’t given much thought to the moms who raised our saints. But in researching, I’ve become quite a fan of Monnica. And not because she was extremely pious—although she was. Not even because she raised one of the great Christian thinkers and writers of our tradition —although she did. Not even, precisely, because she finally converted her younger son to Christianity after 17-years of him rejecting her religion—which, again, she did.
No, it’s her failures and tenacity as a parent that turned me to fangirl—did you know Saint Monnica* has not one but two pages on Instagram? Monnica was unhappily married to a Roman pagan who did not support raising their three children in Christianity. And while two of the three seemed to have followed her nonetheless, and are described as living religious lives, it is Augustine who is remembered. And it is Augustine with whom she struggled.
Monnica’s promising younger son showed from an early age a sharp intelligence and natural ability to lead, but scorned his mother’s faith. Augustine’s Confessions tell clearly that he wanted to play, to party, to live a secular life of excess and shallow joy. He found success as an orator and teacher of rhetoric, but denied his mother’s example of a life guided by love of Christ. When he moved to Rome and then Milan, she followed him, unwilling to give up! (Note: when our young adult children are allowed to return to their lives outside our homes, I do not advocate following them!)
Eventually, after many years, Monnica’s efforts were successful and Augustine became one of the great Christian writers and thinkers, and a Saint. But along the way, I can imagine the angst and grief, the pain of dashed hopes and the tension of how far to push an adult child cost Monnica.
Her strength and power as a mother? She kept showing up, year after year, to offer what she believed her son needed most.
My younger son, now 13, stopped me in my tracks a couple of years ago when he announced, “I’m not sure I even believe in God anymore.” This was my irreverent yet always faithful boy. This was the boy who stopped in the street to pray over a lost dog. Who told me as a preschooler that before we are born, and after we die, our souls live “in God’s heart.”
As a christian educator and former youth minister, I know my feral church child’s need to question his faith is developmentally normal and appropriate.† That does not stop me from grieving his lost confidence in a God who loves him unconditionally and at all times.
There is so much to grieve right now as we shelter at home, trying to supervise our kids’ education while simultaneously attending yet another virtual meeting. Or worry because there are no meetings for those who are out of work, and nothing virtual about the days of the heroes who are essential workers. Our seniors are sad and angry. Our little ones don’t want to engage with their friends online; they cry for the loss of their friends’ actual and physical presence. We celebrate birthdays with car parades and happy hour by Zoom. Nothing is normal right now.
So yes, reading about Monnica reminds me of the hope that my boy still loves youth group and church camp (cancelled, of course, this year – we both cried over that). That because his life is immersed in faith he will come back, and deep down knows that the God he isn’t even sure about still loves and strengthens him. But Monnica also gives me strength to just keep showing up for my kids.
Parenting through this time is sometimes brutal. But there is grace, and there is hope, and there is strength in community. And whether my boy prays with me or not, my prayers for him matter and are heard. We can’t give our kids back what they’re losing, but like Monnica, we can give them our presence. Hear their grief and anxiety, help them learn to sit with hard feelings, and rejoice in moments of peace and grace.
And in this season of extreme parenting, God sees us.
*Both use the more common spelling Monica, but her tomb in Ostia, Italy is marked Monnica.
†God bless Lisa Brown for coining this term for our church immersed kids: Feral Church Children