Today I want to share with you one of the *best* resources I’ve used and read as a parent.
Here we are at the start new school year, busy juggling academics, sports, social activities, and so on. In the midst of all this I try to keep our ultimate goal in mind — something I’ve thought about, prayed about, written about, and prayed about again and again. The ultimate goal in raising and educating our kids is sanctity — our kids’ and our own. And so a question I am often pondering is this: how can I help my kids encounter Our Lord in deep and meaningful ways so they grow in their faith and love for God?
You see, my kids know their faith. They know their catechism, they know the stories from the Bible and the lives of many saints. They know right from wrong.
But knowing isn’t enough. That’s just the starting point.
I like to think of life on earth as a journey up a broad river with a strong current and countless tributaries. Heaven is the magnificent destination at the river’s source. Knowledge is like the map that shows us how to get to our final destination.
In a recent publication by my sons’ school, I read that will power is like the strength in our arms to paddle up a river. Knowledge alone can’t get us to our destination. Because we have to move against the current (think temptations, personal weaknesses, and our culture at large) we need a robust share of will power and perseverance.
The discipline required for study, sports, and mastery of a musical instrument develops will power. So does learning to do and consume all things in moderation. Will power in turn aids in the practice and acquisition of virtues. The stronger our will power and the more habitual our virtues, the easier it is to paddle our little boat against the current.
But even will power is not enough.
Just as important is forming the heart and nurturing the soul. To get to the river’s source, our children have to want it. What good is a map or strong arms if the voyager does not care to get to the final destination, if he heeds the countless voices that tell him it’s far easier and more pleasurable just to float down stream or get lost in a tributary?
Our children need to yearn for what’s right and love what is true, good, and beautiful. When they have that yearning, almost nothing, neither storms nor broken oars can stop them from paddling up stream on the true course to Heaven. Moreover, when they have that love and longing, then they open their souls to God’s grace. And with God’s grace, they can sail fleetly forward, because God’s grace is like tall strong sails with the wind pushing from behind.
But forming the heart and nurturing the soul can be the most challenging.
You see, we can make our kids practice the multiplication tables until they’re mastered (intellect). And we can get them to pull the weeds when they’d rather sit and read a book (will). Instilling knowledge and getting our kids to exercise will power are so tangible.
But ennobling the heart — inspiring them to love and long for that which is good, beautiful, and true — that is much more elusive. As for nurturing their souls, we can pray together as a family and bring our kids to the sacraments, but their interior disposition and openness to grace is something we can only hope, sacrifice, and pray for. Or is there more we can do?
Here’s where The One Best Thing comes in. For years my family has benefitted from the work and ministry of our dear friend Kristen Fisher. She has dedicated her career to youth ministry, and has done an amazing job of stoking the fires of faith in many of the youth she has worked with. The One Best Thing is a culmination of 20+ years of evangelizing youth and families.
Best of all, it addresses these vital questions: How do we inspire our kids to love and yearn for the things that will truly help them encounter Our Lord in deep and meaningful ways? How do we nurture their souls so they have the right interior dispositions? For example, the Holy Mass is an incredible outpouring of graces, but we only receive those graces to the extent that we open our souls to receiving them. How do we help our kids grow from simply going through the motions of their faith to really loving and embracing it?
The One Best Thing has helped me and my family, and it’s a resource I will turn to time and again. I truly believe it will help many parents educate their children’s hearts and souls. So I’m thankful that Kristen has agreed to do a little interview for this blog…
Kristen, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about yourself and your family?
Thank you, Mary! I’m a wife, mom of 4 kids on earth and 3 in heaven, and a life-long Catholic (though there were some teen years that looked a little dicey). I encountered Jesus in a way that was personal and powerful when I was in middle school, and that changed everything for me. I knew that I wanted to help others come to know Jesus personally, too, so I pursued a degree in theology and anthropology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and have been working in and serving the Church since I graduated. I spent 16 years as a full-time youth and family minister in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and now serve youth and families as the director of Ablaze Family Ministries.
Besides being a book and video series, what exactly is The One Best Thing? A program? A curriculum? A way of life?
The One Best Thing is a guide to living the abundant life that Jesus offered. It is rooted in a Catholic understanding of how God created each of us, and offers a practical process that parents can use to grow ever closer to the Lord. It’s not a program – it’s a guide for living!
The One Best Thing was born from a very difficult time in your life. Can you tell us about the experience and how it led to the creation of the book and videos?
You know, the Lord speaks in parables and sometimes He is at work in a parable-type situation in our own lives, too!
Our son, Seamus, abruptly stopped eating when he was about 6 weeks old. After many doctor visits and a hospital stay, he was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies. He was breastfed and wouldn’t tolerate any formulas, so I had to slash my diet (down to 5 foods… it wasn’t fun), and pump and bottle feed him in his sleep, since he absolutely would NOT willingly eat.
When he was about 14 months old and not much had changed in a year, we were sent to feeding therapy. It was there that we learned that some people, like Seamus, experience a disconnect between their physical experience of hunger, and any motivation or desire to actually eat food.
And this was the parable, this was what God was helping us to see: each of us was created with a built-in hunger for the Lord because we need Him in order to survive, grow, and thrive. But because of Original Sin, that hunger is disoriented – it’s still there, making us feel “restless,” as St. Augustine described it. But like Seamus’ hunger, that restlessness and discomfort was now disconnected from a desire for the only thing that satisfies: a relationship with the Lord Himself.
The One Best Thing is based on the premise that our children are spiritually hungry, yet often they do now know how to satiate this hunger. How does The One Best Thing guide parents in helping their children to encounter that which will spiritually satisfy them?
The process offered in The One Best Thing is based on the process of feeding therapy, which helps people reconnect their physical hunger to an actual desire for food. We call our process Spiritual Feeding Therapy (so catchy, I know), because it works to accomplish the same goal in a spiritual way: helping people to connect their spiritual hunger and restlessness with the only One Who satisfies.
Interestingly enough, we can see that the Lord Himself used these same methods with saints like Peter and Augustine and so many others. It is truly the method of the Master, described in a feeding metaphor to help everyone understand and be able to apply it!
In The One Best Thing, there is the Instrument — sort of like a personality test — which helps parents to identify their children’s spiritual taste preference. Once they have completed that, what’s next?
Identifying our children’s spiritual flavor preferences is probably the most exciting part of the whole process – when we see how each of us manifests our hunger for God, we are convinced more than ever that God truly did make us for Himself, on purpose with a purpose!
Once we know what our kids are most craving, spiritually, we can guide them to encounter the Lord in that way. An encounter is when we go from knowing about Him, to knowing Him personally, to meeting Him personally. And once we encounter Him in a way that satisfies our hunger, in a way that we recognize because it was exactly what we were craving, everything changes – we experience in ourselves just how wonderful He is! And then we’re more motivated, we actively desire to pursue Him, to encounter Him again and again.
To that end, The One Best Thing has many helpful sections about how to continue to guide your child to a whole life of satisfying encounters, and opportunities to respond to those encounters with their own personal “fiat.”
But I will say, the other aspects of the process are important, too – particularly that of cultivating a Cloud of Witnesses. These are people who stand with parents and families in demonstrating the joy of encountering the Lord, and share in the goal of pursuing Him as the One Best Thing. This community will ultimately walk with us as we raise holy families.
I love the idea of catering to each child’s taste preference. I have found that many of my kids are really drawn by beauty, and so am I. Being in nature or in beautiful churches naturally draws our souls to prayer. This is wonderful because it is easy and natural to for me give my kids experiences of beauty. But what do I do with a child who is more or less unaffected by beauty (gasp!) but very much drawn by truth? What do we do when our spiritual taste preferences differ a lot?
I can almost guarantee that each family has people with different spiritual flavor preferences! When we live in families or communities, we need to learn how to all share one “meal,” one experience, in a way that allows each person to be satisfied by it, even if they each prefer a different aspect of it.
The One Best Thing offers specific guidance for doing a single thing together (taking a hike, praying a rosary, serving in the community, etc.) in a way that allows each person to experience it in a way that satisfies.
What if a parent has identified a spiritual taste preference and has provided plenty of opportunities for a child/teen to encounter Our Lord, but it still seems he/she has not taken ownership of his/her faith? What then?
Ah, free will. It’s such a gift… and can be hard, too.
The reason that Spiritual Feeding Therapy can be fruitful is because it helps individuals to desire the Lord for themselves. But desire is a personal thing – we can’t do it for our kids.
The truth is that we can and must guide our children, but the choice to be open to an encounter with the Lord is their own. There are moments that might be incredibly discouraging for us, as parents, but the very good news is that the work of encounter, of changing hearts by letting them receive Love, is the work of the Lord Himself. He desires our children to encounter Him even more than we do, and He pursues them relentlessly.
We must do our part to guide, encourage, surround them with a Cloud of Witnesses and model for them the joy of a relationship with the Lord! And we must simultaneously trust that the Holy Spirit is at work, that He will be powerful in the way that only He can be, and that our children are the Lord’s even more than they are our own.
The One Best Thing references a similar situation, that of St. Monica and her wayward son, Augustine. She did everything that she could think of to help Augustine know and love the Lord, but the most powerful thing she did was to pray for him without ceasing.
All of our efforts are nothing compared to our prayer for our children. But prayer combined with our efforts… now that can be an incredibly fruitful thing.
I know some parishes are using The One Best Thing as part of their religious ed or youth ministry programs. How does this differ from most of the programs that are currently in use?
I like to say that most programs for faith formation and youth ministry are like good seeds – great content that can yield great fruit!… but only if it’s planted in good soil, soil that is well-tended and cared for.
That’s what The One Best Thing does: it helps parents and parishes to cultivate good soil in the hearts of their children, ready to receive the seeds of faith. And it helps parents and parishes know how to tend the soil and the seeds so that the souls entrusted to our care can grow.
Most parishes use The One Best Thing as a foundational tool to help parents and parish ministers feel equipped to help children and youth desire the Lord, so that the faith formation content they use has the ability to actually take root and bear fruit.
So The One Best Thing helps parents cultivate the soil of their children’s hearts, so these young hearts can be more receptive to the seeds of catechesis. I love that metaphor!
Now, given that most of the readers in this blog are homeschoolers, how can The One Best Thing be used in a homeschool setting?
We’ve gotten feedback from quite a few homeschooling families! One way that seems to be quite fruitful is when homeschooling parents journey through The One Best Thing together, book club style. They discuss ideas and inspirations, learning how to guide each of their children in the particular way that each person needs. This often results in practical plans to offer shared experiences: group hikes, pilgrimages, literature selections, etc.
A happy side effect that seems to happen is that these parents now feel more intentionally bonded to one another and to each other’s families, helping to form that Cloud of Witnesses that I mentioned earlier and is the topic of one of the book chapters.
That’s beautiful! Thank you so much! Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share?
I would just say this – as someone who worked with youth in a parish setting for 16 years, I wish I had had a resource like this. God has so much to say about food and meals and hunger – scripture is full of it! And while I knew that the youth and families I served needed spiritual food, I can’t imagine how much more fruitful ministry could have been if I had also realized how much they need help recognizing and re-orienting their desire for spiritual food.
Desire drives us, hunger motivates us and keeps us in pursuit of the thing that satisfies. We need to feed our kids, of course we do! But we also need to help them know that they want to be fed, that they’re hungry! And to know what it is that satisfies, and how to find Him.
Thank you again, Kristen, not only for this interview but also for all the tremendous work you do ministering to young people and their families!!!
Learn more about Ablaze Family Ministries here: https://ablazefamily.org/. They have a fantastic collection of videos, podcasts, and resources for families.
Watch The One Best Thing Trailer here:
And read more about The One Best Thing here.
The One Best Thing is available on Amazon.