From the time we knew we had a baby in the womb, my husband, John, and I would place our hands over the spot each evening and commend that little one to our heavenly Father. Bedtime blessings continued until each of our six children decided he or she had outgrown them—but we still present their needs to God every evening.
Praying for young children is easy. We ask God to heal their diseases, protect them from injury, oversee their spiritual growth, and give the help they themselves ask for, whether it’s passing a test, making a team, or adjusting to a new school. But it’s not so clear how to pray when children become young adults.
What about the one who wants nothing to do with God or the Church? The one whose career isn’t getting off the ground? The one whose lifestyle choices look like a straight path to bankruptcy? The one whose significant other doesn’t seem to us like a suitable life partner?
With questions like these, I eagerly picked up John and Therese Boucher’s new book, Praying for Our Adult Sons and Daughters. Its subtitle especially resonated with me: Placing Them in the Heart of God. That’s what we need to do! The book is full of inspiring examples, solid principles, and practical suggestions. There are many, many stories of parents like us who have found effective ways to pray for children like ours.
Heavy Lifting. When children grow into adulthood, parents face the challenge of letting go and finding new ways to cherish them, pray for them, and give them attention. I like the idea of having our Savior do the heavy lifting as we entrust them to him. “The most important strategy of all is to lift up our adult children in prayer and place them in God’s heart,” the Bouchers believe, because they are “God’s children first… . When we lift up our adult sons and daughters and let go, God can move mountains of worry and discouragement.”
Furthermore, God’s life was poured into each of our children at baptism. No matter how covered over and clogged the baptismal wellspring may have become, we can call on God’s life at work in them. And since we ourselves expressed our intentions and renewed our faith when our children were baptized, the same wellspring is available to us as believing parents.
The book also celebrates the great resource we have in the intercession and example of the community of saints, including those whose names our children bear, and those on whose feast days they were born. Some of these saints were parents who prayed for their children and now join us in praying for ours.
The Road to Conversion. It’s distressing when adult children stop attending church, and we often respond by praying tirelessly for their “conversion.” As we do, it helps to realize that there are many forms of conversion and many avenues back to God. Not all of them begin at the church door.
For example, some young people’s desire to make a difference in the world may lead them to work for justice among the poor. They may not even realize that “this God-given desire brings them to the threshold of the mission of Jesus.” This is a starting point on which we can build, as we pray for our children to return to a more explicit relationship with Jesus and his church.
The Bouchers suggest taking advantage of occasions like birthdays and Christmas to enter into what our children desire for themselves, to pray with them for these things, and then to take it a step further— to “go shopping” by asking God for a new awareness of the “spiritual, emotional, and intellectual dreams” that often underlie their desires.
This doesn’t mean settling for less! In prayer, you “begin with your young person’s idea of happiness, acknowledge your definition of happiness, and then end with God’s point of view.” Weighing all these dreams in the light of God’s love, you “watch for the gifts that only God can give.”
Helps and Helpers. In each chapter, the Bouchers suggest a different way to pray, such as journaling, writing a lament, or meditating with a diagram or photo. I was especially struck by their steps for seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. These include: Ask the Father to intervene in your child’s life and to show you how he is already at work there. Let go of wanting to know God’s whole plan, and choose one detail to pray about. Speak in ways that affirm and respect the person, promote mutual understanding, and invite reflection (for example, “Could you tell me more about … ?” and “Have you thought about … ?”).
Also, we might occasionally ask adult children’s advice about decisions we ourselves face. This acknowledges that we are now relating as adults, not as parents in authority over little ones. From my own experience, I’ve found it fruitful to talk about a book we’ve both read, especially one that unsettled me a bit.
Praying for Our Adult Sons and Daughters ends with a chapter that calls us to open our hearts to the spiritual needs of adult children in other families. Friends can commit to intercede for each other’s children; so can members of prayer groups and other small faith-sharing communities. We can reach out to young adults in our parishes, just as we pray that others will reach out to our children who live far from us or who can’t “hear” what we long to tell them just now. God is inviting each of us to enter into his presence often and to be set ablaze with the transforming love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, calling out to those who come after us.
As a parent who wants the very best for my children, I can hardly wait to approach the Father of every family in heaven and on earth with these new insights, attitudes, and tools.
Jill Boughton and her husband, John, have six adult children. Her latest book, with Julie Walters, is God’s Icebreaker: The Life and Adventures of Father Ted Hesburgh of Notre Dame (Corby Books).
Praying for Our Adult Sons and Daughters, by John and Therese Boucher (softcover, 184 pp.), is available from The Word Among Us at 1-800-775-9673 or online at www.wau.org. To read an excerpt, visit our website.