At a recent school Mass at Lumen Christi Parish, Fr. Mike Barrett asked the children, “What do you love?”

My favorite response from one youngster was, “I love Pickles, my fish.” These innocent bundles of energy responded with names of all the people they love in their lives.

In a nutshell, they said you! If you are reading this, chances are you are a parent, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, a sibling, or a teacher or volunteer who influences the life of a child. Maybe you already know it, but if you don’t hear it enough, know that this sampling of enthusiastic children loves you!

I watched curiously as these little arms popped up across the church eagerly awaiting the chance to tell Fr. Mike who they loved. They didn’t need a Hallmark holiday to exclaim who they loved. They just needed to be asked.

They needed to be invited. I have always been fascinated by the spirit of invitation. It never ceases to amaze me that all it takes is an offering of a hand or a question that invites someone to participate in an effort or dialogue.

For some reason we sometimes become complacent and need holidays or unfortunate events to share with others that we love them.

Although the deeper message of what Fr. Mike was getting at had to do with the love between God and us, I pulled something quite simple from the exchange. Do we invite our children to regularly share their loves and joys? Not only who they love, but what they love?
What brings our children joy?

Of course this may change quite often with fads and fashions, but through the process of inviting our children into a dialogue about their joys, we can get to the “heart” of their joys … the really good stuff.

In November I shared with you that the dinner table is where our family intentionally asks each other about the best part of their day and for what they are thankful.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, “As This Dad Sees It” the question around the table, or in the car, is “What brings you joy?” Not what object brings you joy, but an invitation to share what really interests you.

After working with adolescents for years, I believe that inviting a young person into a dialogue about their deep joys will open a door to an amazing journey. They will see that you care, that you love them enough to understand them.

The ever so virtuous media (sense the sarcasm?) tells them what should bring them joy. Adults push grades and coaches push competition. But how often do we, as parents, take a step back and, without agenda, ask our children what truly brings them joy?

What if we find they struggle with the answer? Aha! That’s a new starting point. That tells us they may need new experiences, a new variety.

Take service and volunteering as an example. Youth who are involved in varieties of service often discover what they like and do not like, what they may have an aptitude for and what they need to develop. Service can be a brilliant tool to uncover our children’s vocational call.

As Jesuit Fr. Michael Himes, a theology professor at Boston College believes, the secret to a successful life and the vocational call is to discover: What brings you joy? What are you good at? And what contributes to a need in the world? If these three things are operational in your life, at any stage, you are living your vocational call.  

It’s not easy to always set aside my aspirations for my children, but I trust that if I am living my vocational call, my children will recognize that, model that and learn to uncover their God-given joys.

“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Jesuit Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

These are my views as “this dad sees it,” and I welcome you to share your thoughts by posting a reply online or sending an email to:

(Jeff and Jennifer Wenzler are running a zone defense with their three wonderfully active children! Jeff is the founder and executive director of Pivotal Directions, a servant-leadership program for youth. Jennifer works for a biotech company that provides Multiple Sclerosis therapies. They are parishioners at Lumen Christi Parish, Mequon.)