by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky -
“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1)
We hear so often, “She’s just like her mother,” or “He’s the spitting image of his father.” Even the old Russian proverb repeats the cliche: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It can mean so much or be inconsequential. Eye color, the stride, the way they deal with traumas, or the faint trace of a smile stamp the child as carrier of the parent’s DNA.
The characteristic with eternal significance is—does the child take pleasure in praying in the temple of the Lord? Watch a child and notice how it’s instantly apparent. Either he enjoys being in God’s house, or he cannot wait until he can defy the parent and stay away. For a time, the believing mother or father will bring the child to church even if it’s against his will. “We are family, you are part of our family, and families pray together.” Good advice, even when imposed against the kid’s will. What to do when the child resists, rebels, and refuses to go to church?
A. Some families live by law. In these days of independence and freethinking, weak-willed parents often give in to the whines of the kids. Fathers will say it is a problem for the mother to solve and the mother feels imposed upon, unwilling to be the “heavy,” hearing the same plea: “I don’t wanna.” And, “I don’t hafta.” If the child can get away with this rebellion, score one for the child, and expect him to make many more points in his lifetime. It won’t be the last time that the parents lose.
B. Some parents try to bribe their children. “Please, just go to church and ______ [fill in the blank yourself]. This ploy works especially well with children of parents from different communions. They will hear: “I like your church, Daddy [or Mommy]. I don’t want to go to Mommy’s [or Daddy’s] church anymore.” The shrewd manipulator has learned how to play one parent against the other.
C. Just surrender. It’s so simple. Usually it comes in the formula: “Oh, we don’t believe in forcing a child to go to church if he doesn’t want to go. We feel when he grows up, he can make up his own mind.” Wrong. He’s already decided that Church means so little to both parents that it’s not worth being part of it. If he should ever need it—a wedding, perhaps, or a funeral—he’ll worry about it then. In the meanwhile, he’ll opt out.
On the other hand, if each child—or at least many of them—are to be able to feel in their hearts “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord,” then all of us have challenges to meet if we are to make it happen.
Yes, we pastors who represent and even epitomize the Church are most responsible. If we are not kind, warm, affectionate, grace-filled and interesting, kids will be bored and worse. Their experience will not be positive.
Adults must never ignore, demean or belittle the children. They too are priests, members of the royal priesthood of the Lord. They were commissioned at their baptisms to “Go forth, preach, teach, and baptize….” Each of us preaches a homily by our actions. Every one of us teaches the perceptive child something about the effects of the Holy Spirit upon the people of God. We are all giving some example of Christ to others. Either the children will want to become like us, or else they will wonder whatever happened to the grace, love, peace and joy that is supposed to be poured forth from Christ’s disciples. The icons are not all on our walls. They are reflected from the faces of the community of believers gathered in prayer.
About happiness, kids grasp instantly the emotions of adults. Are we having fun praising the Lord, or do we do it as a duty? Are we glad to be in our Father’s house, or is it a boring, even a painful experience? Are we here because we have followed our hearts to Church, or do we act as if it’s a celestial insurance policy we’re paying in order to have a place in heaven after this lifetime is over?