Recently I spoke with two people, not connected with each other in any way, who — funny enough — used the same phrase to describe their plight: “No good deed goes unpunished.” I found them both inspiring and asked each to give me permission to share their stories and thoughts.
The first person I spoke with was a dad who shared with me the difficulty he has faced over the years with imposing discipline on his youngest son — who is now an adult — who always had a mind of his own. The greatest challenge he faced, though, was not from his son but from the parents of his sons’ friends who, he said, don’t share his commitment to imposing consequences for unacceptable behavior. He told me that one time when his son’s grades in two classes had dropped to failures, he told the boy’s baseball coach to sit his son out from the next game. It was an important game, and the boy was a key player. The coach wholeheartedly agreed. But during the game the parents attending the game, after discovering the reason for the boy’s being benched, reamed the father out and told him his priorities were “all screwed up.” One of the parents yelled into his face, “I don’t give a shit what he does in geometry or biology! What’s that got to do with this game?” He said, “I calmly said back, ‘It means I’m teaching him about real life priorities.'” He went on to tell me,
I try not to get angry and judge these folks, but it seems so many parents these days give their kids seriously screwed up messages about life’s priorities and make their kids believe life owes them something. I say, if you teach your kids now that you have to do your part in life, work hard and accept the consequences for your poor decisions, later they will be ready to contribute as good citizens and good Christians. I wanted my son to think real hard about the effect his bad decisions had on his team before he’d go and blow off his schoolwork again. … These parents become slaves to their kids’ whims, and are afraid to say “no” to them. I’m glad my mom and dad were tough on me, but I couldn’t see it when I was young. Now I can see the dark alleys I would have gone down without their iron resolve. The hardest thing to do as a parent, I think, is to make tough decisions to save your kids from bad influences or steer them away from bad choices. It’s hard to have your kid say they hate you. Rather have them hate me now than hate me later. Like with me, I hope my son will see I was helping him learn now the hard lessons life will throw at him one day. Sometimes love means your kids hate you for a while, but that’s okay because it’s not about me. I’m a dad for my son’s benefit, not mine. We reap what we sow, and one day we’re gonna find ourselves with a country full of outta control takers, not givers and sacrificers who put family, country and others first. Look, these kids know exactly what’s going on, that their parents’ll take their side on almost anything and let ’em get away with anything. They eat it up. They’ll play it up to the nth degree. Give ’em an inch and they’ll take a mile. I’ve had a lot of hard jobs over the years, but being a parent’s the toughest job there is. But the best.
The pain in his eyes burned into me.
The second person I spoke with was a young lady — in her late 20’s — who shared with me her commitment to chastity in dating. In particular, she shared how that commitment had led, over the last several years, to her losing several relationships with guys who had shown serious long-term interest in her (and she in them). But all of them, when they finally realized that she is not willing to have sex before marriage, excused themselves in one way or another from the relationship. “Even with the churchgoing guys,” she said, “it seems next to impossible to find a man who thinks waiting is the way to go.” She added, “I tell these guys: ‘Seriously? That’s all you’re in this for?’ I told one of them, if you can’t give that up for me now, what won’t you be able to give up later? … It’d be totally nice to have some chivalry make a comeback. Yeah, I know, dream on. But I haven’t given up.”
For both of them, faith played a large role in giving them strength to carry on. The father mentioned his parish priest’s powerful preaching that helped him get through every week. “He preaches from the heart. I can relate to him. It’s like God’s talking directly to me. Gives me hope to keep going. He totally gets what we go through. He knows we got it tough. And he’s not phony. Not like some other priests — no offence intended — who seem to preach only into the clouds. I think the difference is he gets to know us and listens to us. So he gets us.” The young woman said “clinging to prayer” was what kept her strong and hopeful. She said (as she shed tears), “I talk to Jesus all the time about this. I’m very honest. And He’s honest back. I don’t always like His answers, and I don’t think He always likes to hear what I have to say, either. But I always know He’s got my back. I always tell Him I’ve got a long list of questions for Him that I’ll ask when I see Him one day. I’m sure He’s got one for me, too.”
I want to kiss their feet. These people are the ones Jesus in Matthew 5:13 called the “salt of the earth.” Salt, in the ancient world, was not used principally for flavoring food but to keep it from rotting. So salty people keep culture from going rotten. That’s what Christians, clinging to Christ the Rock, are called to be.
It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty. These “signs of the times” should find us vigilant. Either tacitly or aloud — but always forcefully — we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? Our evangelizing zeal must spring from true holiness of life. — Blessed Paul VI