The Story of My Conversion
Part II: The Age of Reason
Subtitled: “Smoking, Stealing and Sins against the Sixth Commandment”
You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. (St. Augustine)
You would think that a little girl growing up in a little North Dakotan town would behave, for the most part. Were you to think this, you’d be wrong. I got into no end of mischief, starting right around the age of 7.
That’s the thing about sinfulness. It has a way of finding you and claiming you, provided that you’re open. Our youth does not exclude us from the snarls and the snares of Satan—on the contrary, I think the young are even more susceptible…
…though “vulnerable” might be a better word.
I mentioned in my last post that the war upon my innocence began at a very early age. My parents—God bless them—did their best to give me the best they could: Catholic school, Catholic summer camp, all sorts of lessons to keep me busy.
They did not, however, keep a close enough eye on all my friendships. They did not know, for example, that my neighbor (a girl from school two years my senior) was a shoplifter and a smoker (among other things). The theme of this post, then, could well be the damage done on a child by his/her bad friendships.
Take this neighbor of mine as an example. I knew, from the first time that I went to her house for a visit, that she stole things. She had a shelf full of those big Bonne Bell lip smackers which for us middle school girls were the epitome of cool. They were expensive, though—$2.50 a pop—and most of us could only afford one. (The little six-packs were a better deal and oh my goodness! All those flavors!)
Anyway. Was my friend’s mother none the wiser for all her daughter’s acquisitions? Did she not have a clue about all those lip smackers on the shelf in her daughter’s bedroom?
So yeah. My friend was a great big stealer and she taught me all the tricks of her illicit trade. Candy and make-up are tempting to a child—so much so that we are often willing to overlook what we know about the 7th commandment in order to have what we want, when we want.
And that’s the nature of sinfulness, isn’t it? We choose a lesser good thinking that it’s the path to happiness and end up that much further from the God who loves us. We don’t know what it means to love Him back with all our heart.
I need to pause at this point to make my peace with the way my parents raised me. It was a different day and age—a different generation. My parents were hardworking, middle class and older. Their method of parenting was to provide for my physical needs to the best of their ability and they just assumed (wrongly) that my spiritual needs were being met at the Catholic school I attended from grades one through six. (Ironically, one of the reasons they worked so hard was to pay for this education.) They were not of a temperament to talk things through with me and I don’t fault them for that, though I know now how important it is to be upfront with our children as much as possible.
Back to the neighbor girl. The second way in which this grade school friend of mine did damage was to introduce me to smoking. (I have long since quit so don’t you worry.) We were hanging out in an house that was being built on our block—didn’t you just love playing in those houses under construction?—and she said that she had something that began with the letter “C.”
“Candy?” I said, feeling miserable. I knew what she was talking about and I knew that it was wrong. Again, I was younger and weaker and alone with her cajoling. I gave in to the pressure she imposed.
Moral platitude here: We need to be aware of what our children and their friends are up to, obviously. I am very reluctant to send my kids to play at the neighbors’ houses because you just don’t know. I would rather have them here where I can watch them. Because of my past I am not all that trustful, I’m afraid. I am aware of the “games” that kids will play.
Which brings me to the third and final way in which this “friend” of mine did damage. You know without my having to be explicit, I think, and really it’s not that surprising. Once we open to the door to the devil—in our consistent breaking of one or two of the commandments—we make ourselves vulnerable to breaking more and more of them. The sins against the Sixth Commandment are by far some of his favorites.
Yuck and yuck and yuck, I know. Yet, this is out there and it has been since the beginning. This is such a tender subject and one that I address from time to time with my children. The older kids and I talk in vague terms about “tricky” people who make you feel uncomfortable, (like the priest at the Catholic summer camp I attended who gargled with Listerine and then kissed all the girls goodnight), and we talk in specific terms about the beauty and the dignity of the human body.
We talk a lot about modesty, and we pray. Does this sound like the ending of my last post? I’ve repeated it almost verbatim because I am convinced that prayer is the very best way to safeguard the innocence of our children. The St. Michael prayer is very powerful, as well as devotion to Our Blessed Mother and our guardian angel. They will protect us but we must ask…
Next up: Early Adolescence (Ages 11-14)
Ad Jesum per Mariam,