By: Jack Rigert, Director of John Paul II Renewal Center
One of my favorite roles is speaking with parents of young children. There is something about the challenge of raising children in a world seemingly gone mad that motivates parents, even the ones who haven’t thought about the meaning and purpose of life in a while. They have an interest in discussing issues beyond the latest Social Media Fad. Parents are aware that many kids are not all right. Depression, anxiety, self-harm as in cutting, anorexia and even suicide are sky rocketing among teens and taking their toll on families across the country.
And parents aren’t the only ones that have a sense that the kids are not all right. As we were wrapping up a recent presentation with a group of teens, I asked if they had anything particular that they would like us to address when we came back in a few weeks. The topic they requested…”mental illness”. They have heard the culture’s message, or lack of coherent message, loud and clear…there is no truth beyond your truth or my truth. There is no meaning and purpose for your life beyond the one you invent for yourself. They are sensing, in their pain, that which mankind has known since the dawn of history. The human heart was made for more and it does not function well in a world void of meaning and purpose.
I believe that the pendulum of moral relativism pervasive in our culture, the religion of mere opinions and the absence of objective truth, may be reaching its outer limit. Unfortunately it is our children and grandchildren, as they have throughout history, who pay the highest price for the folly of the generations that have come before them.
The CDC, the Center for Disease Control, reports that since 1999 suicide rates across the nation have gone up 30%. But what has the social scientists particularly baffled is the much larger spike in suicide rates among our children. For instance, they report that the suicide rate among girls ages ten to fourteen has tripled. Why then are so many more Americans getting to this level of emotional despair than in the past?
Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, a UC Irvine Psychiatrist who explored the general issue of suicide in a recent article, diagnosed the causes of this crisis as coming from a loss of hope and the decline of religious practice. This is not entirely new. If you happened to take Psychology 101 in college, you might remember Carl Jung, one of the fathers of psychoanalysis along with Freud. He wrote in his book “Modern Man in Search of a Soul” published back in 1933, “However far-fetched it may sound, experience shows that many neuroses are caused by the fact that people blind themselves to their own religious promptings because of a childish passion for rational enlightenment. The psychologist of today ought to realize once and for all that we are no longer dealing with questions of dogma and creed. A religious attitude is an element in psychic life whose importance can hardly be overrated.” He goes on to say that, “Among all of my patients in the second half of life, that is to say over thirty-five, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers and not one of them has really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.”
So what can we do to bring hope to an oftentimes dark and hungry world? First realize that we all have this hunger; we are all looking for something more. God put that hunger in us and as my good friend Saint Augustine expressed it so well, “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless till we rest in you.” I believe it was Christopher West who said, “Jesus calls each of us to bring light to the world. He calls us to go out to dispel the darkness and lead the lost and hungry to the banquet. Said another way Evangelization is one hungry person showing another hungry person where to find food.”
Remember what Saint John Paul ll said, ”The future of humanity passes by way of the family.” Start in your family, the domestic church. If you still have young children or teens at home, begin with a simple strategy that I have been sharing with parents and grandparents with great success for almost fifteen years. It is titled “Tuesday Night in the Smith Home” and it is reprinted below. It will bring fruit to your family that will last for generations and into eternity!
If you are an empty nester, try it with your spouse or invite your grandchildren over for dinner once a week! You will soon find that this goes beyond sharing more information! This invites the person of Jesus Christ into your home. Then buckle up… and watch Him go to work.
Finally, let me know what’s on your mind. I’ll try and address it in an upcoming Newsletter. Also I am collecting specific ways that parents are tuning out screen time and spending quality time with their families and sharing their faith. Please send me your best practices to share! My cousin shared that they have put the video games away and are having a gas playing board games after dinner as a family. Start one night a week and work it up from there!!
(Psalm 42) “As a deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and see the face of God?”