Parents, what's in your kids' spiritual backpacks?

August 2, 2011 

Walmart is a constant source of anxiety. It's not the aisles of things like Pajama Jeans, generic Cheese Doodles or planters with plastic houseplants -- the things you don't need that you have to trip over to get to the toothpaste -- that causes this anxiousness. No, it's the store's stubborn insistence on promoting holidays a solid six months in advance that feeds my neurosis.

You know this feeling. You're on your way to pick up paper towels and batteries and you get poked by an artificial tree. You think, "Oh my gosh, is it Christmas?" Then you regain your composure and realize that, no, it's July.

While picking up bug spray and sunscreen in early June, I turned the corner and was greeted by a wall of school supplies. True to form, Walmart was weeks ahead of the calendar when it comes to products we'll need. It's been years since I was a student, but it reminded me of one of my favorite parts of going back to school: shopping for school supplies.

I absolutely loved getting new binders, pencils, pens and highlighters. I remember spreading it all out on the kitchen table and, with the help of my mom and dad, diligently putting them in my backpack. As I got older, the supplies got more complicated -- requiring that Dad explain how to use the compass, protractor and graphing calculator that middle school required (don't ask me what those do now). I remember feeling really bad for the kids who showed up unprepared, wondering why their parents hadn't helped them pack their bags.

As fall begins, there are lots of things that vie for the attention of families. Extracurricular activities, sports teams, jobs, you name it, but it's important to keep spirituality as the forefront.

Consider this: My dad couldn't go take my math class for me, but he could explain how to use the complicated tools and ensure that they were in my backpack for the first day. Parents can't live life for their kids, but they can be sure they have the necessary tools.

I didn't always like math class -- actually I really never did -- but learning how to add and subtract have proven to be useful skills. I'm a happier adult because I can budget (in theory, if not in practice) and understand that 75 percent off is a really good sale on shoes. Similarly, kids aren't always enthused about attending church or Sunday school and in this busy world, it requires heroic effort on the part of parents to be sure it stays a priority. However, a relationship with God is as necessary a foundation -- if not even more important -- than writing and arithmetic.

Just like kids wouldn't be expected to attend school without pencils and paper, be sure to give them the spiritual supplies they need to succeed both in this world and eternity.

Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz. Read her blog at

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