Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? These are questions my teen is asking and will continue to ask in the coming years. These questions are grounded in the cross-cultural, cross-historical human search for meaning and identity.
As I Catholic Christian, I know that human identity is found in a fundamental truth: We are children of God, created in His image and likeness. God is pure love. His precious children, God called us into existence through love and for love.
Pope John Paul II wrote that “God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio.
Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. Stunning. Here, a gift before us: our identity and our mission. As Catholic parents, Philip and I have the duty in the next years to help our teen understand that his identity is grounded in his God-likeness, and that his mission is grounded in the call to love. Yes!
Too abstract? Perhaps. God also has an individual, personal plan for each of us, and part of maturing is identifying our unique vocation and mission. I’m grateful for the wonderful attachment parenting book Parenting with Grace, by Dr. Gregory Popcak (Catholic father and psychologist), which gives very practical advice for weathering the teen years. Popcak explains that one of the most important goals of the teen years is to find an identity, and that having a strong identity requires that:
1) You have a clear vision of the values, virtues, ideals, and goals you want to pursue between now and the day you die, and
2) Seeing that your daily choices reflect the pursuit of those values, virtues, ideals, and goals.
Popcak explains that when the adolescent has a clear vision of what they are all about, they can more easily avoid the sense of meaninglessness that plagues many young people. Having a sense of meaning can help them make resolved choices during difficult times. He suggests that we help our teens find something they really believe in (by fostering a deep spirituality) and activities to be passionate about (by finding hobbies they excel in or causes they believe in).
Very wise advice. And I will take it. I will also remember to help my darling boy understand that his identity precedes activity. I will focus on helping him nurture his personal relationship with God; I will urge him to seek God’s purpose for his life – for our true purpose is always God’s purpose, the greatest purpose.
I hope that in time he can appreciate that who we really are has nothing to do with any causes we commit ourselves to or sports teams we join. I pray that he embraces the great truth that any activity carried out in a life devoid of love is really meaningless.
John Paul II explains that , “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.” Familiaris Consortio. Without love, we cannot know our true identity.
And the love John Paul II is speaking out isn’t the selfish, shallow love of Hollywood. It is a self-donative, selfless love that always seeks the good of the other. I want to teach my teen that real self-discovery requires an emptying of self. It’s the greatest paradox of human existence: in emptying ourselves, we find our true selves, the selves God is waiting to reveal to us. Without this selfless kind of love we never really understand ourselves, we never find our true identity, and self-discovery remains an illusion.
We parents carry a grave and beautiful duty. Thank you Heavenly Father.