“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:4)
I was reminded of this proverb recently when our son, David, told the story of something that three year old Lauren said when she spilled her juice. It spilled, and she cursed, repeating, of course, exactly what she had heard from time to time at home.
I recall a time in Minnesota when my daughter was very young. My grandmother was also with us … someone cut me off or did something else and I angrily let go a few epithets. Suddenly my grandmother is chuckling in the back seat, for Tracey said exactly the same thing.
These things do happen. We can all remember similar stories, and they do bring a smile to the face. But they also remind us that what we say and what we do are picked up by our children. Much of what they learn comes from imitating what they see in others, especially their parents.
That is a sobering thought, and one worth pondering. The Holy Spirit would have us live what the Proverb says, taking it seriously.
I’ve heard parents and others sometimes literally curse and other times demean or belittle those who are to be respected. Our children pick up those things. They learn that respect and decency are not all that important. Or they learn through our casual speech that words don’t matter. They learn that there is a double standard that it is OK to say and act one way in one situation, while ignoring all such things in another.
You can tell a child that it is important to be on time, but erase that teaching by always being late. You can teach a child not to smoke or drink to excess, but negate what you’ve said by what you do and live.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
As Orthodox, we live in the fullness of faith. Words, faith, life are all of a fabric. As I’ve said in other places, prayer is spoken and lived. We pray for forgiveness, and we forgive! We pray for daily bread, and rejoice in that bread at table and in the Divine Liturgy. We pray that we would be delivered from the Evil One and we shun his ways in our lives! We understand the danger of temptation and pray unceasingly, watching tongues and actions, always seeking to live the Lord’s will.
But as “ancient Christians,” we also realize that “church” isn’t just a Sunday morning thing, that prayer isn’t just for the priest, and that calling for decent behavior is not just limited to children.
Do we train up our children by words and deeds?
Do they see us hungering and thirsting for the Holy Communion, joining them in receiving Them?
Do they see us teaching them how to confess and encouraging them to regularly confess to the priest?
Do they see us “seeking first the kingdom” by our regular worship, our punctual attendance?
Or do they learn from us that all of these things and more are topics for “religious discussion,” but learning that they aren’t so important by our tardiness, our casual attitude toward them, and our unwillingness to make confession? Those actions teach much.
Indeed, as we ponder what Wisdom teaches, we pray, “Father, forgive me for I have sinned! Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me the sinner!”
Thanks be to God that He give new hearts and renews right spirits. Right now, attitudes and behaviors can change, as we consider just what we are really teaching those who follow us! Right now, we can by the power of the Spirit, clean up the language, repent of the sins, taking up the cross to follow Jesus! Right now we can live and pray the faith, passing it on to the generations that follow! Let us consider what others see and hear from us, and pray that from this point they would see Jesus and their salvation in people who take their faith and their future seriously.
Glory to God for all things!