I used to have this image of what I thought my children would look like during prayer. They’d be knelt down with their hands neatly folded, eyes closed with a tranquil look upon their faces as they conversed with our Heavenly Father. Something resembling a Precious Moment figurine or like the pictures I’d seen in children’s prayer books.
Reality, however, painted a somewhat different picture. One where they’re knelt down picking at the carpet, the eye closest to me squeezed shut with the other one wide open, as one child pinches the other causing him to scream and cry. I never imagined I’d have to bribe them into praying with us; if you say prayers with us like good boys, we’ll read an extra story tonight, etc. I also never realized that once I had children I would never hear all the words of the Divine Liturgy again. I would be too busy hushing them during the Gospel reading or fishing “quiet” toys out of my backpack during the petitions or pointing out every object inside the church to buy myself an extra 10 minutes of silence. And those are on the good days when I’m not stuck outside or in the narthex. Sometimes my most prayerful moments are when I’m praying for them to stay quiet.
I know that even though they’re not “participating” in the services, their little souls are partaking in the Divine Grace that permeates each and every service. I also understand that their attending church and partaking in the mysteries is pivotal in their upbringing but I still had the overwhelming feeling that I was somehow missing the boat. While I don’t wish these days away, knowing full well my boys will be grown and gone before I know it, I do wish I knew a way to get through it a little less, well, frenzied
What am I doing wrong? I ask myself as they sprawl out on the floor during Compline or after reminding them half a dozen times to venerate the icon before leaving the house. I couldn’t figure out what exactly I was doing wrong. I was making a serious effort to do all of the things I’d heard parents were supposed to do: Making sure they stood and prayed with us; Reading them the Gospel lessons; Coloring icon pages and reading the story of each saint; Continuously explaining to them the importance of our faith and traditions.
As I searched my mind to figure it out, I remembered that in the back of the book Wounded By Love by Elder Porphyrios, there was a fantastic section on the upbringing of children. I opened the book to that section and that is when I read this
“Pray and then speak. That’s what to do with your children. If you are constantly lecturing them, you’ll become tiresome and when they grow up they’ll feel a kind of oppression. Prefer prayer and speak to them through prayer. Speak to God and God will speak to their hearts. That is, you shouldn’t give guidance to your children with a voice that they hear with their ears. You may do this too, but above all you should speak to God about your children. Say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, give Your light to my children. I entrust them to You. You gave them to me, but I am weak and unable to guide them, so, please, illuminate them.’ And God will speak to them and they will say to themselves, ‘Oh dear, I shouldn’t have upset Mummy by doing that!’ And with the grace of God this will come from their heart.” He also said, “It is not sufficient for the parents to be devout. They mustn’t oppress the children to make them good by force. We may repel our children from Christ when we pursue the things of our religion with egotism.”
The above article is from the Spring 2009 issue of The Handmaiden, The Truth about Heaven and Hell.
(The last half of the article will be published next week)