Unless You Become Like Little Children
As a youngster, I thought going to church was a mystical adventure filled with a strange language, bells and incense. We knew we were in a sacred place because it was so mysterious and reverent. I always felt safe and peaceful there. Then, suddenly, it all changed. It became somehow familiar: I understood the words spoken, and there was singing and holding hands and the sacredness seemed to vanish. As a cradle Catholic, I was sacramentalized but hardly catechized. Both my parents were devout and of the mindset that confession and Mass were part of the routine of life. I believed it—there was no reason for me to doubt. I just never understood it.
I struggled at home, witnessing the confrontations between my parents and praying to God to end it, believing wholeheartedly that he would intervene and make them stop. I didn’t doubt for a minute that he would answer my prayers. Then, when I was 13, their very volatile relationship ended. Although my prayers had been answered, it never occurred to me that divorce might be the outcome. I was disillusioned. God wasn’t listening to me at all, it seemed. By the time I was 15, I decided my religion was a sham and announced to my mother that I would no longer be going to church.
I Do It My Way
For the next several decades, I was in charge of my life. I lived it according to my rules. Although a product of the 70s, I was conflicted, torn between a strong sense of ethics—in which I desperately wanted to believe—and current social mores. Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll was the mantra for all young people. Since I was convinced that I was in charge of my life, I needed to justify my actions to no one because I was accountable to no one. I was in control; no one could convince me otherwise. My life plan was set; nothing would change it.
At college I met my future husband, Garth, although I had no idea at the time. Neither of us was looking for a long-term relationship. Marriage and especially children were not part of my vocabulary. According to my calculations, my life was headed in a very different route, and I knew exactly where it would take me. Even so, I was married before I graduated. I quickly found a job, and soon after we bought a house. Within four months of settling into our new home I was pregnant. My husband and I decided that since we were going to be parents, I would stay home with our child until he was old enough to start school and then I could go back to work. Eighteen months after our first son’s birth, our second son came along. So much for my plans—God definitely has a sense of humor!
Life was great and everything was right in the world. My life had gone in a very different direction, and my little family was now my entire focus. Every moment was devoted to giving my children the family that I never had. My children became my passion for living and I trusted in my ability to ensure a positive home environment completely.
A Field Trip to Remember
When my older son, Nathan, was about four years old, he started pointing to church steeples whenever we were out driving and asked me to take him inside. I questioned why, and he would always answer, “I just want to go inside.” I tried to ignore the requests, but for months he kept inquiring when I was going to take him to that place (he did not know it was called a church). Finally, when Nathan was nearly six, Garth and I decided we would take a “field trip” to the parish church in San Diego’s historic Old Town and have lunch there—a nice family day out. Hopefully this would satisfy Nathan’s inquisitiveness and put an end to his constant nagging to go to that place.
We entered the church. Nathan immediately knelt down in a pew with his little hands together and his head bowed ever so reverently. I asked what he was doing, and he announced, “Shush, Mommy, I’m praying.” He had never been taught this, and as far as I knew, had never seen anyone do it. My younger son, Devon, who was about four, and my husband waited outside. When Nathan was finished praying he got up, went to each of the Stations of the Cross, pointed at them, and said “yep” as if he was acknowledging that they were accurate and in their proper place. He then walked over to the baptismal font and announced, “That’s where they wash the baby’s head, mom.” I was flabbergasted—where had he gotten this information? Finally, he looked at the confessional, pointed to the door, and said, “That’s not right, mom, it’s supposed to be a curtain.” With that remark, the hairs on the back of my head stood up, and I was ready to leave—I remembered that when I was a child the confessional had dark velvet curtains in front of the entrance, not doors.
I convinced Nathan that we had to go because Daddy and Devon were waiting outside and were hungry. During the entire meal, Nathan insisted that he wanted to go back to that place, which I now told him was called a church. We started back, stopping for ice cream. Nathan promptly gave his ice cream to me, stating he didn’t want any—he just wanted to go back to the church. We arrived at the church a second time, only to discover that we could not get back in because of an incident that involved the police. Nathan was so disappointed that he was nearly inconsolable, but he finally agreed that we would have to wait to come back to the church until another day, and we headed home.
Some people might have taken this event as an intervention from God. I, however, insisted that it was just a fluke and tried to put it behind me. Although I believed that what Nathan was experiencing was real, I had no logical explanation for it. Over the next few months, we tried to appease him by going to different types of non-denominational services. They had all kinds of amusements set up for children, but he didn’t seem to be satisfied. He wanted to go back to the “church.”
Am I Floating?
It took two more years before another incident in my life turned me back to my faith. My husband and I were attending an Amway convention with several other couples. They were of various Christian backgrounds and wanted to go to the non-denominational service that Sunday morning. Since we were in charge of transportation, we had no choice but to take them. Once in the arena, I told Garth that I wanted to go to the most remote seats possible so that I could sleep unnoticed. I had just started to doze, when I suddenly felt a strange sensation on my head; almost as though the top of my scalp had been opened up and I was literally being pulled to the top of the arena. I was afraid to open my eyes so I whispered to my husband, “Am I still touching the ground?” He asked if I was kidding. I opened my eyes and couldn’t believe that I was still seated. I felt as if I were floating above everything.
About the same time, the pastor asked anyone who wanted to acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to come down to the “altar call.” I was so compelled to go that I could not stop my feet from walking down the multitude of steps to the crowd down below. Garth thought I had gone berserk and went with me only because I insisted that my legs would not hold me up, and I was afraid to fall. As I stood amongst the crowd, I saw a father with his little girl cradled over his shoulder. Her eyes seemed to tell me that she understood and all would be well. I had never seen so much wisdom in such young eyes—I instantly trusted her. Emotion suddenly overwhelmed me and tears began to stream down my cheeks. Our eyes locked; she reached out her tiny hand and waited for me to take it into my own. I did and began sobbing uncontrollably. I was unaware of anything or anyone else around me. She gently held on until “the call” was over and she and her dad returned to their seats. I had never felt such a sense of overwhelming love and acceptance as I had in those few minutes with that small hand in mine. I knew the Holy Spirit was present.
The Unquenchable Desire
I cried for a week. I kept asking, what am I supposed to be doing? , and I always got the same answer, “pray the rosary.” Well, I knew that only Catholics prayed the rosary, and the last thing I wanted was to start going back to the Catholic Church. The next week, emotionally and mentally exhausted, I mentioned to my mom that I thought I needed to attend a Mass at the local Catholic parish. She replied that she had started going about a month prior because she felt compelled. We attended the Mass together that Sunday: I was shaking.
But as soon as Mass started, I felt at home. It was as though a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt at peace for the first time in years. After attending Mass a few more times, I announced to my husband that I was going to check into having our marriage blessed so that I could receive Communion. I was overcome with a desire to come back fully into the Church. He agreed, and our children were thrilled. They were even more thrilled when they found out that they were going to be able to watch their mom and dad get “married in the church.”
Since then, I have embraced my faith in a way that I never thought possible. My thirst for understanding Catholicism is unquenchable, and I continue to learn daily more than I ever thought possible about my faith. I’m home. I can only thank God for his patience and willingness to wait for those of us who stubbornly attempt to prove that we don’t need him to accomplish our life’s purpose. Without him, what purpose is worth living for?
By: Kathy Stone