“Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of God.”
These words that Our Lord spoke were so important that they are actually recorded in three of the gospels; Matthew, Mark, and Luke. While they were originally aimed at disciples who were just trying to make life easier for Jesus at the time, they are also applicable to us as Orthodox Christian parents today. How so? Well, while it may feel easier for us as parents (“and,” some might argue, “for the rest of the parish, too!”) to keep our children out of Divine Liturgy and the other services of our church, removing them actually prevents the children (and the rest of the parish!) from fully entering the Kingdom of God as experienced here on earth through the services!
Let us not forbid them. It is our job as parents (and godparents; and fellow church members) to help the children learn how to do the liturgy, “the work of the people.” They are, after all, members of the same body of Christ as we older ones! There are many parallels between the challenges of embracing children’s presence in the church and our own personal shortcomings. Many times children’s actions are to some degree a manifestation of adults’ interior struggles. Rather than giving up on the children or brushing them off and out of our services, let us pay attention to these parallels. Let us allow God to help us to both embrace our children’s involvement in church and humbly learn from these parallels, that we all may be better Christians and do liturgy more perfectly.
- It is no easy task to “manage” a child during a church service. Let this remind us that it is not easy to manage our own thoughts and attitudes during that same service; and breathe a prayer that God will manage us as we manage our children (actually, better than we manage them: after all, He is God!).
- It is not fun to constantly need to point a child’s focus back to the service. Let this remind us that our grownup minds also need to be constantly pointed back to the service; and let us be be patient with our children’s inexperience.
- It is a challenge to keep our children quiet during a service. Let this remind us that the noise generated by our own thoughts and attitudes must be silenced, as well; and hush them while we hush our children.
- It is difficult to convince children to stand and pay attention for such a long time. Let us allow this to remind us to pay attention and be still before God, in our heart of hearts; and then stand attentively together with our children.
- It is tempting to distract our children with things that they like to play with during church. Let us remember how difficult it is to focus on worshiping God when we are distracted; and work towards mutually redirecting our focus onto some aspect of the service, instead of onto toys or other distractions.
- It is irritating when our child whines and complains; especially during church. Let this call to mind all the whining and complaining that God (and our spouse/best friend/neighbor) hears from us; and work on reacting patiently without engaging the negative behavior.
- It is easy to become angry when our children misbehave during a service. Let us allow those misbehaviors to remind us of how often we fall short, and instead of reacting in anger, ask for God’s grace to help our children in spite of our own failings.
It is work to have our children with us in church. That makes sense, given the literal definition of liturgy, and the fact that we should all be working to fully worship God. We may not be able to perfectly incorporate all of the suggestions above, immediately, but we can begin taking steps toward that end. Our children have been given to us for our salvation, and thus, in humility, we must allow God to work through them, even when it seems that they are being difficult, to help us become more like Him. It is our task as parents/godparents/fellow parishioners to help the children in our midst to learn how to “do liturgy.” Let us rise to the challenge and perform this work that God has given us to the best of our ability.