Getting Real About Role Models

7 Feb

Recently I met with a group of other moms, the topic of Tebow Mania came up.  A few of the moms had teenaged sons and they expressed how pleased they were that there was at least one NFL player that they felt their kids could look up to.  Almost in the same breath however was the fear that like so many other figures who seemed promising, Tim would also disappoint.  One mom noted a magazine cover broadcasting Tebow’s new girlfriend, as if the editors were salivating over the next issue when they could either report a nasty breakup or an unplanned pregnancy.

The conversation then turned to all the role models who crashed and burned in the last few years.  Too many sports, entertainment and political figures have hit the papers with a sexual indiscretion, a nasty divorce or a brush with the law.  It is common enough that it has become the bread and butter of certain types of magazines.  It’s no wonder that the moms I was meeting with were a little hesitant to let their sons dive into Tebow Mania!

What is worse is when the fall is one who was supposed to be leading others to God.  How many church communities have lost their faith because a pastor has been caught doing something bad? We Catholics, whose dirty laundry seems magnetically attracted to headlines, are by no means alone in these rare but hurtful instances, but we can feel it more intensely than others.

So, famous people and even our local leaders can seem just poised and ready to disappoint us.  What do we do? Well, I suppose we could choose to live in fear of the next headline, but what kind of life would that be? The fact of the matter is that due to a pesky thing called human freedom, we are all capable of terrible things.  This is what I choose to think of when I these stories break.  It is important that we not get too comfortable in our own piety that we begin to believe that those people over there are big sinners, but I (with all my rosaries and daily Masses and devotionals) am immune.  This is a dangerous frame of mind that I think we can all fall into from time to time.  The fall of others should lead us not to judge a person’s intentions or character (obviously, we can judge the actions as wrong) but to reflect on what we are doing to keep ourselves far away from a similar slippery slope.

I think this is a good lesson for our kids, too.  When our children start looking up to public or even local mentors, it’s an opportunity for us to be involved.  We can ask why they like the person, what their lifestyle is like and whether that is how Jesus asks us to live.  Especially in the case of entertainers who tend to thrive on disposable relationships, we can probe into whether it seems like this person is really happy.  When people we know fall, we can help our kids understand the difference between excusing and forgiving.  We can help them to find healing in Christ for our own wounds and to trust that he can heal others when we wrong them as well.  Before a fall, we can talk to our kids about temptation and pray for those we know may be special targets for temptation because of their fame or position.

Finally, we can take great hope in the lives of those who persevered to the end: the saints! How amazing for us as Catholics that there are scores of people who cannot let us down because they have already achieved the glory God intended for them!  It is so good to read about the saints with our children as there are as many saint stories as there are humans.  The saints were rich, poor, smart, slow, young, old, from every country and color and pre-conversion moral background.  Their lives can speak volumes to our kids about facing up to everyday temptations and hardships.  The best part is… they don’t just speak through books!  It is good to help our kids to develop living relationships and devotions to saints, by celebrating their feast days, praying novenas and keeping reminders of them around the house.

So, I will pray that Tim Tebow can hold steadily to his Christian faith in through the difficult temptations of playing professional football.  But whether he succeeds or fails, the God we both believe in will not disappoint. Surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses, he stands beside me, giving me the grace I need to achieve greatness in the game of life.

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