Sunday, November 10, 2013

The "Heart Work" in Parenting

There are more times than I'd like to admit where I've whispered something like this to my boys during liturgy, "if you keep quiet and sit still, I'll buy you some (fill in the blank with a candy/treat)". Of course, there's nothing entirely wrong with doing that considering they are young and the liturgy for them seems like an eternity. The problem comes when this kind of bargaining starts to become a way of life in our home, and oftentimes it does without us, as parents, even thinking of its implications. We make all kinds of sticker charts and reward systems for the boys adhering to certain rules and avoiding certain behaviors. Again, I don't think that's always a bad thing, especially when we are trying to instill habits like doing homework, chores, potty training, etc. However, it does become a problem when the outside behavior looks good (because our kids are motivated by some external reward) but the heart remains the same. Weren't the pharisees just like that? Their behavior was actually perfect but Christ rebukes them saying, "You brood of vipers! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart" (Matt. 12:34) Yikes! Without even realizing it, we can be turning our children into Pharisees. I'll admit, sometimes it is easier to just fix the behavior from the outside, especially when we are in front of people, in places where we need them to behave, or even when we are just so exhausted that we'll do whatever it takes to make them behave (There have definitely been some nights where I promised my kids they'll get a treat in the morning if they would just go to bed and not keep coming out of their rooms ;)). So how do we practically get to work on our children's hearts?
One thing our children (and ourselves) need to understand is that no matter how hard any of us try, we cannot change on our own. It is only the mighty power of Jesus Christ inside of our hearts that can make real and lasting change. That's why its important that we, as parents, pray in front of our children very honestly and openly. When I lose my patience with my kids, I first apologize and then either on the spot or during bedtime prayers, pray out loud to God and ask Him to uproot the impatience from my heart, and replace it with His love and His heart. It may sound silly, but after a while (even at a young age), the kids start to understand that we all need God, even mommy and daddy. Wasn't that God's biggest issue with the Pharisees? They didn't feel the need for God, because they felt that they could just fix themselves without His help.
As Orthodox Christians, we are constantly displaying our need for God. Why else would we drag ourselves and our children to liturgy every Sunday? Because we know the power we receive from the Eucharist. We know the cleansing we receive from repentance and confession. We understand our spiritual struggle here on earth which is why we call on the saints, who are part of the victorious church, to pray for us and help us. We do prostrations (meytanias)while saying "Lord have mercy", which is our way of telling God, we really need your help! These are all things we need to verbalize to our children. After a rough morning with the boys when everyone was not being kind to each other (myself included), we got into the car and I said, "Boys, we are on our way to Church to be close to God and take communion because we all need Him to change our hearts and give us power to be just as kind as He is." Of course they may not understand what this really means, but their spirit does, and over time as we keep verbalizing this, they will also see their need for Him, and the healing and true peace that He brings.
Another thing that has helped work on heart issues is helping the kids find the root cause of their behavior. For example, when fighting over toys, or when siblings constantly bicker, a lot of times the root cause is selfishness or thinking of one's own needs over the other's (pride). Even at a young age, its good to probe with your children to get them to see the root cause of their behavior. Once they find it with your help, you can both pray for it and put it before God and say something like, "Lord, it is hard for me not to be selfish, can you please help me to change?" Getting into this habit not only gets to the heart of the matter, but always points our children back to the grace and saving power of the Cross, which should be our goal as Christian parents. I hope this encourages all of us to work on our children's hearts and not just the outside behavior.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Family Altar- First Round!

I've been increasingly aware of the evils of the world lately, and how Satan truly is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He looks for any door that is kept even a tiny bit open to enter and destroy. He tries to creep into our minds, tries to lure our children, and tries to destroy the family. It is quite anxiety provoking even just to think about, and I must admit that there are days when the thoughts and the worries can almost be paralyzing. In those moments, I am reminded that Christ promises, "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." What an amazing promise! But how can we get this authority? We are blessed with a richness in our Church that gives us various means of receiving the grace of the Holy Spirit that can fill our hearts and our homes with this protection against evil and also bring us to the presence of God. The "Family Altar" is a designated area in the home where we as a family can come into the presence of God together. We made ours pretty simple for now (picture above) with an icon and a candle, since our boys are still little. We set up the ipad with the prayers from the Coptic book of hours (the Agbeya) and for today we just said the Our Father and the Thanksgiving Prayer that our six year old was able to read for us. We also tried to do some meytanias (prostrations) while saying "Lord Have Mercy". I say "tried" because our 1 1/2 year old was with us and thought we were all trying to play a game with him, but after a while he was really trying to get up and down like his older brothers :) Overall, it was a good first attempt. The boys of course were laughing at times, trying to play around and pretty distracted overall, but I know that just being in the presence of God together as a family is powerful. When we pray in His presence, we put ourselves in the posture to receive His Grace, His peace, His joy, His protection, His love. Regardless of what is happening around us (even when 3 monkeys are jumping all around us), He is there and ready to give to us. I pray that these moments would plant seeds in the hearts of my children, and build walls around their hearts and minds to protect them from the evil that is fighting all around them.