My wife Kathi and I had the breathtaking lack of foresight and basic math skills to discover one day, much to our horror, that we were living with four teenagers. Simultaneously.

Add to that our four younger ones, waiting in the wings with smirks on their faces. Divine payback is rough.

Influencing teenagers is also rough. Part of the difficulty is that the process seems to take a long time. Well – seven years, but sometimes it feels much longer. During that time, we pray, plead, encourage, debate, and cajole our kids in the direction of God.

It doesn’t always work. After several years of ambivalence, one of our sons left the Church, and he hasn’t come back yet. We’re heartbroken, and pray for him a ton. Because we love him.

As enthusiastic converts, Kathi and I both understand that evangelizing our children is first and foremost about sanctifying our own lives. We do our best, but often fail in this regard. What’s a parent to do next? Well, talk a good game. And if that doesn’t work, repeat. Sometimes until their eyes glaze over. And pray like crazy.

Of course, we understand that the goal is to transmit the faith to our children in a way that resonates within them, eventually ceasing to be our faith and instead being their own.

But how does this work in real life, characterized by the normal succession of joys, troubles, uncertainties, insecurities, distractions, and the entire spectrum of human emotion?

Here’s the challenge: we need to be patient.

Conversion isn’t spontaneous, and prayer isn’t meant to work like a vending machine: insert your prayers here, and out pops a candy bar. So while we want our son to hurry up with his conversion process, and come back to the Church now, it doesn’t work like that. We need to be patient and persevere in our prayers, allowing time for the Holy Spirit to work.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s the point. What if our children are just as important to our conversion as we are to theirs? That would explain why all children (including teens) are a source of tremendous grace for parents, even through the inevitable difficulties. I just hope they can be patient with us!