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Betsy Kneepkens: Some of life’s big tests await college-bound son

It seems my third oldest son has spent the past year taking tests as he prepares to go off to college. He had his regular school tests, ACT/SAT testing, tests for scholarships and AP exams.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

One would think that he is all tested out, but truth be told, the real exam is just around the corner. In a few short weeks he will be headed off to college. This experience will undoubtedly test him more than he has ever been tested before, in ways he has never been tried before.

As I reflect on my son’s impending life examination, I found myself reflecting on Matthew 7:24-29:

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”

My husband and I are left wondering: Is the “house” of character and virtue that we encourage our son to build placed upon rock, or was is built on sand? Can it sustain the storms he will inevitably encounter, or will his foundation deteriorate under pressure?

Temptations are great

As my son stresses over future coursework and class examinations, I believe the challenges in the classroom will pale in comparison to the challenges he will encounter in the environment of higher education.

I am optimistic that his roots are deep and his foundation is strong. However, I am realistic. I know that temptations accompanying the college experience are great and will call him to make virtuous choices that are often countercultural.

I hope he is realistic about the level of courage needed to live a faith-filled Catholic lifestyle on a college campus which is often directing emerging adults away from the good and the holy.

I am also hopeful that he is aware that the new freedoms he will have can, if not properly managed, come with a hefty price tag. Sometimes that price is financial, but the worse cost can be emotional and spiritual.

If my husband and I helped him build a strong foundation, he will know that freedom without discipline leads to slavery, that freedom without the context of others creates selfishness, and that freedom lived outside of the divine order is disordered and leads to ungodliness.

Freedom has been a gift given by God from the very beginning of time, but like any gift it needs to be respected and appreciated or it turns into sinfulness. We hope our son knows this.

Reason to be optimistic

I am also hopeful that he sees that a firm foundation is based on the reality that there is an absolute truth. Unfortunately he will encounter those who claim otherwise. Hopefully his foundation is firm enough to know that they are intentionally or unintentionally misleading him.

I am hopeful my son knows that people certainly can believe different things or have a different perspective, but that does not negate the fact that an absolute truth does indeed exist and needs to be sought out. We are optimistic that he will seek truth in honesty and not allow contemporary social or political pressure to persuade him.

I am also hopeful that his foundation is centered on the dignity and respect for all others and for creation. We know there is a great amount of attention given to “-isms” while in college. We are hopeful that he knows that over emphasizing “-ism” sorts of issues is not necessary if one is living out an authentic Catholic life.

As a follower of Christ my son has been called to a sincere respect for all peoples and to hold those differences in reverence and appreciation. Living in accord with Christ does not categorize people, nor does it leave others without the dignity they deserve.

We are optimistic that he understands reverence is separate from tolerating everything about everyone, and real charity is calling others to become all the greatness they were created for even at the sacrifice of being different or not being tolerated.

Search, but with discretion

I also hope that his foundation encourages him to search out the world that is currently unknown to him all while being keenly aware of the trappings of intellectual adoration. In an environment where the intellect is frequently praised, it is not difficult for a young adult to hold that intellect up higher than any other sort of good, including God.

I am hopeful that his foundation has informed him to understand that real adoration is reserved for the Blessed Sacrament and all that flows from there. The further he steps away from this ideal, the more likely he is to fall into praising and worshiping those things that the secular world values.

When what he knows gets challenged and even persecuted at times, I am hopeful he turns to Mass and his faith, where the source of all truth flows. If he is disciplined toward this grounding, he will be given the best opportunity to discern with the most clarity and be most in touch with what is good and deserving of being glorified.

It was 19 short years ago that God entrusted my husband and me with my third son. I can hardly believe this phase of parenting is coming to an end, and I relish every moment of those 19 years.

I am optimistic he knows what an absolute joy it has been for his parents to raise him so far. I am additionally hopeful he knows how very proud we are of all of his accomplishments, but more importantly of the character he displays on a daily basis.

Although I will pray that his foundation can weather the worst of storms, I know now that the other real test becomes my own. As a very good friend of mine shared, parenting is one of those jobs where, if done well, you work your way toward unemployment.

My test: working toward being unemployed.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of marriage and family life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.