Prayer and invitation can help kids' faith more than pushing them

My mother thinks I look great in red. For years, I did not. We would go shopping, and she'd suggest different shirts or sweaters and if they were red, I'd give them an "ick" face and move on. As soon as I was old enough to start buying my own clothes, all colors were discarded in favor of khaki, denim and black. I thought it made me look sophisticated and intellectual.

Then I had a roommate named Anne who helped me see the light -- and the oranges, reds and greens -- that had been missing from my wardrobe. She wore color combinations I never would have considered, but she looked so great that I realized what I had thought was "sophisticated" was actually dull. You can imagine my mom's surprise when I came home sporting red. To her credit, she never pointed out that she had been right. She was just glad someone had talked some sense into me. So was I.

While Mom never spent hours agonizing over my wardrobe choices or praying for my change of taste, there are decisions young adults make that cause parents much more angst, especially when it comes to their religious beliefs and practices. It is painful when children who have been brought to church and sent to religious schools and camps leave home and reject the beliefs of their parents, choosing to live their lives differently. All the power in the world can't make someone believe, but for parents wanting to do something, prayer and invitations are the first steps.

The life of St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica, offers a great example for parents of children who have strayed from the faith of their childhood. Born in North Africa in the year 332, St. Monica was a devout Christian who was married to a pagan who converted shortly before his death. Her son, Augustine, was more reluctant to adopt his mother's faith. He was a brilliant scholar, but given to "carousing" and fathered a child with one of several mistresses he would have in his early days.

His mother prayed for him for years and when he finally accepted Christianity at the age of 33, he went on to become a bishop and one of the greatest teachers and writers in the history of the Catholic church. The example of Monica's perseverance in prayer can serve as a reminder that when there is a crisis of faith in the lives of those we love, prayer should be the first and constant recourse.

When my mother's suggestions were met by my "ick" face, she never nagged me. She never made me feel dumb and when I did show up with a red dress, it was met with a simple, "You look really nice."

While spirituality is far more serious than fashion, this illustrates the truth that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. For example, instead of constantly saying, "I wish you'd go to church on Sunday" -- or asking, "Did you go to church last week?" -- give specific invitations such as "your nephew is singing in the choir. Would you like to come with me on Sunday and hear him?" or "The church is giving a workshop on finances. I was going to go, would you like to come?"

It was Anne, not my mom, who convinced me to change my habits. In the same way, it may be a friend, someone they date or even their children that bring loved ones back to the church.

It's hard to wait to see the effects of grace, but in the meantime, pray and invite.

And then pray some more.

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