With any adoption comes a list of things the adoptive parents need. Parents adopting infants need a crib, diapers, and fuzzy-footed sleepers. Parents adopting from overseas need a passport and plane tickets. And what do Bill and I need, adopting the 10-year-old we have known as our daughter since she first came to us at 14 months?
We need a sacrament.
A sacrament is “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace,” according to the words of the old Baltimore Catechism that our parents and grandparents learned. As our family approached Teenasia’s adoption day, I looked back on the past eight years and saw Christ’s presence in so many of the events that brought Teenasia back to us. I saw God’s grace embodied in Teenasia, making her way back to her true self after enduring profound trauma.
And that’s why I wanted a sacrament for the adoption itself—fire, water, holy oil, vestments, a ring—some outward sign that what is going on here is sacred, has always been sacred. If adoption as we know it today were happening back in the early centuries of the church, we would probably have a sacrament for it.
Our adoption of Teenasia felt closer to the sacrament of marriage than to an infant baptism. Bill and I understood the commitment we were undertaking, and we chose to go forward. Teenasia, too, needed to commit. She knew that her new life would be one of learning to trust—halfway through her childhood—that from now on she has a forever family.
On Teenasia’s adoption day the courtroom was packed with friends and family. Bill and I made promises to our daughter, and our other children read statements of love as witnesses. Teenasia made promises to us. We gave her a gift—a necklace with the stone of her adoption month—as an outward sign of our love and fidelity. And God’s grace, which carried us through, was palpable in that room. It was a sacramental moment.
Many secular rites of passage in our children’s lives have tremendous significance. While childhood may be punctuated by the sacraments of baptism, Eucharist, reconciliation, and confirmation, there are a host of other important moments when the presence of God, family, grace, and meaning combine powerfully. We do well for our children when we recognize the presence of God in these secular milestones as well as religious ones.
Decisions. A talented athlete chooses to specialize in one sport over another; a child is torn about going away to camp for the first time; a grade school graduate needs to decide which high school to attend. When a child is faced with a difficult decision, honor the process of discernment as a holy one. Pray for wisdom for the child before dinner or bed; light a candle with the child after church; take that child out, alone, with both parents, to discuss the decision. When the decision is made, go to God again, this time to give thanks for help in deciding.
Accomplishments. Parents give their children a great gift if they are able to teach them that their accomplishments are not theirs alone. To celebrate major accomplishments, make your next Mass a “Mass of thanksgiving.” Whether Sunday Mass or a daily Mass, help your child to connect God’s gifts with their own success: “Today when we go to Mass, let’s remember to give thanks for the musical ability that God gave Sara—it’s that gift from God that helped her get a part in the play.”
Sorrow. For all of us—children included—some of the most significant events in our lives center around sorrow and loss. While parents naturally want to protect children from pain, a greater call is to help children move through a life-changing sorrowful period with recognition of God’s presence. Parents can best do this by talking about the event and the sadness openly, not trying to make light of it or deny it. Instead parents can help children see what of value they may take from the situation and to search out God’s presence within the difficulty.
—by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the 2012 Best in Class award from the Associated Church Press, as well as a First Place General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association for the past three years running. Here’s a sample issue.
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