We’ve reached the point in our family where dinner time looks a little different every evening. One day, it might be only five of us sitting down to dinner. The next night, we have a full house and then some because the grandkids are visiting.
I’m not complaining; that’s the way that the cookie crumbles when you have young adult children. They’ve got jobs and social lives of their own, and many times their schedules don’t align with ours.
But one recent evening, I knew that my young-adult son had arrived home from work and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. So when he didn’t appear at the dinner table, I knocked on his bedroom door to let him know we were sitting down to eat. His response took me by surprise. “I’m not going to be eating dinner tonight,” he said in subdued voice through the closed door.
Immediately, the alarm bells went off — I am part Italian, after all, and skipping meals is not something we take lightly. But I didn’t press the issue, and dinner proceeded without him.
A few days later, however, my son revealed the real reason why he skipped supper that night. He and his coworkers had been traveling back and forth to a job site in Cañon City, and that particular day they decided to stop for breakfast at a place where they were holding — I kid you not — a pancake-eating contest! Not only did my son join in the contest, he won, thereby earning himself a free breakfast, a sugar coma and stomach ache to boot.
For me, this incident illustrates the conundrum in which parents of young adults often find themselves: just when you think they’ve got it all together and are ready to fly the coop, they do something that makes you second-guess everything you’ve done in the past two decades. You start to realize that the road to adulthood is not smooth and straight; it’s filled with twists and turns, potholes and the occasional detour. And things happen that can only make you shake your head.
Of course, I don’t have to think too long and hard to come up with a list of ill-advised decisions I made at that age. But even more to the point, if I’m being totally honest with myself, I know that there are many times that God must look at me and wonder when I’ll grow up and stop doing things that make absolutely no sense. Whether it’s putting off important tasks that must be done, wasting time on things that won’t bring me a single step closer to accomplishing my goals, or finding other ways to self-sabotage, I know that God must often shake his head in amusement.
Especially if I start to neglect my prayer life and the sacraments, it becomes more and more frequent that I’ll end the day wondering why I spent time on just about everything except the one item on the agenda that was the most critical.
It’s not a good feeling, and not something I expected to struggle with at this age. But it is comforting to know that other Christians — even some saints — have found themselves feeling like an immature, helpless child in front of God. There’s St. Paul, for instance, who writes in his Letter to the Romans:
“I have the desire to do what is fine but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good that I wish, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice.”
What we learn from the saints is that these struggles can be fruitful if they help us to grow in spiritual childhood — in other words, if we become more docile and eager to do God’s will. And on the occasions when we find that we haven’t strayed from the path we’ve set for ourselves and have followed through on one of our good resolutions, we give credit to the proper person — God — and not to ourselves. We learn to rely, not on our own strength and judgement, but on his. It’s at these times that the fatherhood of God becomes the most real and tangible to me.
So, although it initially threw me for a loop, I’ve decided I won’t embarrass my son by bringing up the pancake-eating incident anymore. In fact, we’ve coined a new phrase at my house — “What happens in Cañon City, stays in Cañon City.”
(Ambuul is editor-in-chief of The Colorado Catholic Herald.)