We’ve all been there: That moment when you watch in horror as your child begins to scream at the top of his lungs, “No! No more church!”
Or, when your daughter sees her father in the procession and makes a beeline for him–nearly tripping the priest in the process.
Or, when your toddler decides that you are a lovely Maypole around which he must dance and dance.
I very clearly remember saying to myself as I was in the narthex watching my incredibly active two-year-old run around, “I will never get to pray in Liturgy again.” And, I believed it.
At that point, all that I wanted in the world was for my child to behave for ten minutes so that I could pray in peace, or listen to the Gospel, or even light a candle without fear that a small person would burn the place down in the one moment that my back was to him.
I just wanted my child to behave.
How Do I Get My Kids to Behave in Church?
One of the most common questions that I get from readers is, “How can I get my child to behave in Church?”
When I get these e-mails, part of me feels like laughing and saying, “Boy, you must not have ever been to my church or seen my children!”
But another part of me, the part of me that is slowly learning to listen to God, wonders if we’re even asking the right question.
Do we really want our children to “behave” in Church? Is that the ultimate goal? Do we want little people with glazed over eyes who robotically stand or kneel at the appropriate times?
Is there a better question that we can ask ourselves?
“I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For perfect love casts out fear.” St. Anthony the Great
After years of trying (in vain) to get my children to “behave” in Church, I am starting to ask a different question:
How can I help my children love God and his Church?
After all, isn’t that what we REALLY want? A child who wants to pray, wants to sing, wants to receive the Eucharist?
And, that is a very different question with a very different answer. All of a sudden we’re not talking about behavior management, we’re talking about the heart of a child.
Helping Our Children Love the Beauty of His House
I want my children to love God and the beauty of His House. However, they cannot love what they do not know.
If we want our children to love God, we must talk with them about Him. We must pray together, we must read Scripture together, we must help them realize that God is part of our everyday lives. That He is, in fact, Life itself.
“When your children are still small, you have to help them understand what is good. That is the deepest meaning of life.” St. Paisios
If we want our children to love the beauty of His House, we must bring them there. Often. With joy. We must bring our children to the Divine Liturgy, to Vespers, and to all of the services that we possibly can. We must point out and explain what is going on. We help them to realize that this House is our home, it is the place where our family is, it is where we meet our Heavenly Father.
And, it will be hard. Oh, mothers, it will be hard. Because our children will still be children. Babies will cry, toddlers will run, and grade schoolers will say they are bored.
Bring them anyway.
A Joyful Obedience
A friend of mine recently said something that struck me. She mentioned the “obedience” of bringing her children to Church.
Monastics often use the language of obedience to describe their duties; however, it is not as as commonly used by the lay people to describe our daily lives.
What if we began to think about bringing our children to church as an act of obedience?
Biblically, obedience requires two things: faith and love. Jesus told his disciples, “If you love me, you will obey all that I have commanded you.” (John 14:15) We obey Christ because we love Him.
Obedience also requires faith. Abraham obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son because he had faith that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11).
Can I love Christ so much that I will obey him by bringing my children to Church, even when it is hard? Can I have faith that God is working in them even when I cannot see it?
Oh, my sisters, I hope so. May God grant us all such love and faith.
How do we get our children to behave in Church?
We help our children to love God and love the beauty of His House when we joyfully obey in faith and love and bring them to Church.