Category Archives: Faith

Gleanings from a Book: “Time and Despondency” by Dr. Nicole Roccas

As soon as this book arrived in the mail, I resolved to read it and share some gleanings from it with this community. My thought process was somewhere along the lines of: “It will be great for parents and teachers to read this book so they can help their despondent kids.” In my mind’s eye, this book had the makings of an excellent tool for young people or for adults with teens in their life.

I was right.

And I was wrong.

Nicole Roccas’ “Time and Despondency” takes the reader on a journey through time and thought as it addresses the relationship between time and despondency, which is “no less than a perpetual attempt by the mind to flee from the present moment, to disregard the gift of God’s presence at each juncture of time and space.” (p. 15) The book offers much to ponder, including quotes from church fathers and other noted Christian authors, all pointing to the fact that despondency is a real problem for Christians. Not just teens and young adults encounter despondency. It is a struggle for Christians of all ages. Parents and teachers, too. Myself included.

But this book does not merely shake a finger in the face of its readers, scolding them for not caring or for abandoning the present or God, Who meets us in the present. Rather, the book extends grace to the reader. It encourages them to do the same to themselves and to others. Then it walks the reader through a host of ideas of ways to begin to heal and step away from despondency; whether with counter statements from scripture or with stepping stones built on virtues and disciplines.

As it turns out, I needed to read this book. Perhaps someday it will be helpful to me as I relate to the teens and young adults in my life. But right now, I needed to read this for my own salvation. Maybe once I have “removed the log from my own eye” I can begin to help others. I encourage you to read it, as well, so that we can journey together out of despondency and back to the present, where we find – and connect with – God.

You can purchase a copy of “Time and Despondency” here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/time-and-despondency/

Listen to Dr. Nicole Rocca’s podcast here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/timeeternal

Find her blog here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/timeeternal/

Note: when I read a book so that I can write a “Gleanings” blog post, I mark potential quotes to share by adhering sticky notes beside the quote. When I take a photo of the book to use for the blog’s illustration, I usually remove those sticky notes. This book, however, is so highly quotable that it garnered many, many sticky notes. I left them in the book for this illustration photo so that you can see for yourself that the gleanings I am sharing are not nearly all of the ones I’d have liked to share! There is so much to ponder in this book. Here are some gleanings from it:

***
“‘Despondency is the impossibility to see anything good or positive; it is the reduction of everything to negativism and pessimism. […] Despondency is the suicide of the soul because when man is possessed by it, he is absolutely unable to see the light and desire it.’” (Dr. Nicole Roccas quoting Alexander Schmemann, “Time and Despondency”, p. 23)
***
“Despondency has an infinite array of disguises and symptoms. Among the most universal signs is inner restlessness, yet this can present itself in countless ways, depending on the person. For some, the restlessness makes it problematic to sit alone, to read a book to completion, to pray for any length or intensity, or to finish a task at work. Others can perform all of these activities but find themselves hounded by a stubborn anger or boredom while doing so. For still others, despondency begins as an inclination towards sleep, eating, distraction, or worry.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p.26)
***
“Just as the poison of spiritual sickness begins in the soul, so too does healing. Even after despondency has affected the body or those around us, restoration starts within us and unfolds a new directions to revive all aspects of a person’s self and life…. In other words the restoration of a single human soul has almost limitless transformative effects that ripple throughout the rest of the world.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp.34-35 )
***
“Time is the dimensional fabric that allows relationship and action to happen. Without it, there would be little prospect of communion, forgiveness, or change of heart—all life-giving possibilities hinge on the interaction of time and eternity in the here and now of our existence. When we begin to look at these two realms from the vantage point of Christ and human relationship, it seems that eternity is not as far off as we often assume. In fact, eternal life—and with it, healing from despondency—begins when we start to exercise that capacity to ‘realize’ life while we live it every, every minute…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 44)
***
“…time affords us: the opportunity to turn toward (or away from) God, life, love, and goodness. Like a lover or a friend, God left space for a path back to relationship. In the fullness of time, Christ entered our world to pave this path for our sake. His Incarnation and Resurrection open the door for us, as God’s creatures, to ‘redeem time’…” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 48)
***
“Viktor Frankl wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.’ Lest these words be dismissed as cliche, it’s worth mentioning that Frankl honed his thinking on human psychology while a prisoner in Auschwitz. Whenever I make excuses for my attitude, this quotation offers a suitable reality check.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 61)
***
“The opposite of this despondent condition is not happiness nor jubilation, but rather love—a turning outward from the self to one’s neighbor, God, and Eternity. The latter is crucial; in the view of the Church Fathers, the “every, every minute” we fail to realize in this life consists not merely of love or beauty but of eternity itself. Time then, becomes not only the vehicle of relationship and eternity, but the path of transformation we can travel to get there.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 65)
***
“Every day, every moment is accounted for in the church, and not just on an abstract levels but physically and concretely through the fasts, feasts, and seasons, all of which seek to manifest Christ in and through time. The Church calls not just our minds but our whole being and all our wandering loose ends back into existence, back into presence… Every juncture of sacred time links us to the Incarnation, the reaching of Eternity into this world, and in doing so, unites us not only to Christ but to the realization of are very selves as icons of Him. (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 88)
***
“Prayer is like a coin with two sides, doing and being. The ‘doing’ of prayer includes all the externalities—the words we articulate (audibly or not), the candles we light, the prostrations we make, the spaces we designate for prayer. In Orthodox Christianity, we have an abundance of highly developed rituals and practices to help us cultivate the journey inward. We sometimes burn incense, or use prayer ropes, or set certain corners of our homes apart for prayer. These rituals are not meant to be rote or mindless, but to nourish reverence and to remind us that we are incarnational beings—our bodies must learn to pray as well as our minds.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 98)
***
“We may not have chosen our disease, we may have no control over its remedy, but we can still choose to remain rather than to resist. ‘Abide in Me,’ Christ beckons us (John 15:4)—Stay. Endure. Surrender. Anyone in the midst of great pain knows it is a thousand times harder to accept this invitation than to give our hearts over to bitterness or despair. To stay with Christ where we are (rather than to seek Him where we are not) requires surrender and longsuffering, both of which move us to choose between him or hardness of heart.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 122)
***
“I’m of the opinion that the inverse of thanksgiving is not ingratitude but rumination, a relentless mental preoccupation with resolving the unfavorable aspects of our circumstances… Among other things, it suggests we may be living too much in our minds—that our mind is not dwelling in our heart, but oppressing it.”(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 141)
***
“Work that is good for the soul is hard enough that the mind must focus on it, but easy enough that the work can be sustained for long periods of time… There is a humble creativity in performing ordinary tasks like making the bed or folding clothes… When we can manage such tasks with even a hint of grace and care, they are transfigured into something holy.”
(Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 151-152.)
***
“…one of the most beautiful things about sacredness is that it’s not all or nothing—it comes to us in small, ordinary things and times, and asks us to see the holy in finite moments. For whatever reason, we humans can only understand or encounter holiness in small morsels at a time—in a chalice, a piece of bread, a sip of wine. Any encounter with the sacred reminds us that it is enough to start somewhere, anywhere—it is enough to put one foot forward, to turn to Christ for one real moment. Wherever we begin, Real Life will seep out into the other areas of our existence.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, pp. 166-167)
***
“The liturgies of the Orthodox Church are punctuated countless ties by a simple supplication: ‘Lord, have mercy.’ To modern ears, such a prayer may sound stifling and self-diminishing: is God really so vengeful we must beg His forbearance at every turn? But in Orthodox conceptions, mercy is the balm of salvation, and to ask it of God affirms that He is merciful and loving in the first place.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)
***
“Redundant as it seems, worship in the liturgy turns time into a pilgrimage back—not back to our shame and feebleness, but through our feebleness and back to engagement, back to communion, back to Christ, one Kyrie eleison at a time.” (Dr. Nicole Roccas, “Time and Despondency”, p. 175)

 

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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 6: Teach the Joy of Repentance

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

Principle #6: Teach the joy of repentance

Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is filled with wisdom and encourages godly parenting. The sixth and final principle, “Teach the joy of repentance,” is yet another challenge towards godliness, and is as invaluable to the souls of the parents who follow it as it is to those of their children. He begins with a chapter on repentance, then discusses the joy of repentance, and closes with the encouragement that Orthodox Christian homes nurture repentance and confession.

The chapter on repentance begins by encouraging parents not to focus on “doing” parenting, but rather to focus on loving God while responding to our children. He emphasizes that only a saint would parent perfectly, and that we should not expect ourselves to be able to do so. Rather, we should expect ourselves to learn and grow, just as we expect our children to learn and grow. The Holy Spirit will raise in us the fruits necessary to be the parents we must be. If we want to best reach our long-term parenting goals, we need to labor to acquire the Holy Spirit. As we work towards living a Godly life, it is important that we not cover over our mistakes; but rather that we use those mistakes to teach our children the joy that is found in repentance. Since repentance is at the heart of our Christian life, it follows that teaching repentance should be at the heart of our parenting.

Dr. Mamalakis begins the chapter on the joy of repentance by stating that joy and repentance are not usually associated with each other. However, he continues, it becomes apparent that learning to repent brings about healing in our lives, and that healing in turn, brings joy. When we make mistakes, it is important that we reflect on what we’ve done wrong, repent, and have a plan for how to learn from that mistake. When we do so, our children learn that Kingdom values/virtues are real as we are teaching them how to attain those values and virtues.

The final chapter of the book encourages us to nurture repentance and confession in our home. He suggests that including forgiveness with our other parenting interventions is an appropriate way to nurture such an atmosphere. He encourages the reader to be quick to forgive and to only keep track of our children’s misbehaviors so that we can better figure out how to help our children work through them, not in order to use those misbehaviors against our children. He recommends that families regularly ask each other for forgiveness as part of their Saturday evening preparation for communion. This sets the stage for a natural affinity for confession, wherein we restore our relationship with God by asking His forgiveness for our sins. He encourages the reader to nurture a culture of prayer in the home. Prayer helps us to better parent while also allowing our children to personally experience God’s grace. He reminds the reader once more that the ultimate goal of Orthodox parenting is that when our children are grown and leave home, they carry with them Christ and His Church. Repentance, confession, and prayer along the way will help us achieve that goal.

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #6:  

***

“Ultimately, children need to be loved. If we are more focused on parenting the right way than loving our kids, that’s not good for our kids.” (p. 281; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The truth is, we don’t have the patience, kindness, gentleness, wisdom, and self-control to be the types of parents we might want to be, but God helps us acquire these virtues as fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we focus on trying to do everything perfectly, we will fail. If we focus on acquiring the Holy Spirit, the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will fill our hearts and our homes.” (p. 284; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The ascetic self-denial required of parenting is an act of love directed at our children and, we believe, toward Christ. We, as parents, are invited by Christ in every parenting interaction to turn away from our own impulses and desires and draw close to Him… As we respond to God’s invitation, we teach our children how God is inviting them, in every interaction, to love.” (p. 287 ; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Our children don’t need us to be perfect to teach them the right way to live, but they do need us to admit when we’ve fallen off the path. The very act of admitting we made a mistake teaches our children that there is a right way, and we blew it. When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“When we embrace repentance and forgiveness, our mistakes and failures are no longer fatal. Repentance, confession, and forgiveness are the antidotes to sin, hurt, and our human failings Sin and failures are a fact of our human condition and of family life… We can either give our children a legacy of our sins or a legacy of repentance. We don’t need to be perfect families, but if we want to grow, learn, and  be perfected as families, we need to be repentant.” (pp. 292-293; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“As we understand the true nature of repentance and confession, we can see that it is more about love, joy, and freedom than sin, criticism, or blame. It only makes sense to learn to do this as often as possible.” (pp. 296-297; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“…the goal of parenting is to have children internalize the joy of repentance as one of the greatest gifts we have to thrive in marriage and in life. Children don’t need consequences as much as they need repentance in their hearts. .. When our children experience the joy of reconciliation that follows the pain of sin and repenting, they learn that our sins are temporary, but God’s love and mercy are eternal.” (p. 298; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“It can be difficult for our kids to see that we are human Our mistakes hurt and confuse them. But if they see that we are repentant humans, they learn that we really love them and that repentance is real. Consider how you want your children to respond when they misbehave, and model that for them when you misbehave… Even in our failures—particularly in our failures—we can teach our children how to thrive in life.” (pp. 302-303; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Teaching children to ask for forgiveness allows us a pathway to address misbehaviors when there are no consequences or when consequences don’t make sense. If we hand out consequences for every misdeed, family life becomes nothing but a series of consequences for mistakes. Rather, if we require our children to ask for forgiveness, family life becomes filled with constantly getting back on the right path.” (p. 305; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“When our children misbehave, we need to be quick to forgive them as we take the side of their feelings and set limits to their behaviors. Forgiving our children means letting go of our feelings of fear, hurt, shame, frustration, anger, or resentment when they misbehave… Forgiving our children is about healing our hearts as our children learn and grow. It is an inner disposition in our hearts that says, ‘I will not hold your misbehaviors against you. I love you no matter how long it takes you to learn how to behave. And you have to learn how to behave.’” (pp. 307-308; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“When our children see that we are trying to live out the Gospel in our homes and going to regular confession as part of that journey, they make the connection between the Gospel they hear in church and the struggles and learning that happen in the home. In this way, our children learn that God and His Kingdom are real. Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors but about shaping children’s hearts and minds according to the Gospel and God’s Kingdom.” (p. 314; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“We don’t always know how to respond to our children, where to set the limits, and what the consequence should be, but we can always pray. As we learn to turn to Christ in prayer and to parent with prayer, we will discover the endless love of God, which enables us to parent in peace and raise our children in peace, joy, and love.” (p.316; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church… That doesn’t solve their problem or make their lives easy, but it does allow them to internalize the reality of God and the values and the virtues of His Kingdom deep within their hearts. That way, when they leave our home, they carry within their hearts Christ and His Church to guide them toward the Kingdom.” (p. 319; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

 

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #4: Separate Feelings from Behaviors

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

Principle 4: Separate Feelings from Behaviors

 

Dr. Mamalakis encourages parents to separate feelings from behaviors in principle 4 of Parenting Toward the Kingdom. This is a very important principle, as demonstrated by the fact that it takes almost one-third of the book to speak to it. He addresses this principle across seven chapters: Take the Side of Feelings, Set Limits to Behaviors, Strategies for Setting Limits, Setting Limits With Your Child, Responding to Pushback, Understanding Consequences, and Giving Consequences.

Dr. Mamalakis begins by encouraging parents to take the side of feelings. Our children’s feelings and behaviors require different responses, and as always, our children are learning by how we respond to them. It is thus important that we stand with our children and help them learn to manage their feelings, so that they are not controlled by them. When we help our children learn to manage their feelings, they learn to behave correctly even when they don’t feel like doing so. When we name our children’s feelings, we can nurture connection by also empathizing; but all the while holding steadfast to our expectation for right behavior. Sticking firmly to limits while helping our children learn to manage their emotions nurtures a respectful culture in our home.

Dr. Mamalakis continues by commending parents to set limits to behaviors. He says that children learn best when their parents have done well at setting limits. The limits that parents set will be good ones if they are clear and non-negotiable, shaped by God and His Own limits for His Church. These limits must be respectful and effective, and should work towards the family’s long-term goals. While the limits are being established and enforced, parents need to be careful to connect with their children.

Dr. Mamalakis next offers strategies for setting limits. He acknowledges that there are many ways to set limits, the best limits are clear and consistent, and steadfastly enforced. While “no” is simple and firm, it can often lead to a power struggle, so it is not necessarily the best way to begin to set a limit: instead, Dr. Mamalakis recommends “not yet.” Another option is to offer the child a pathway to getting a “yes!” (ie: “Yes, after you have done x [thing that needs to be done] you may do y [that thing you just asked if you could do].”) Giving directions and instructions is another way to set limits, but we must be careful not to misuse or overuse it. Along the way, sharing information with our children, directing them to the kind of behavior we want to see, breaking tasks into smaller ones, and incorporating fun into the directions/instructions makes easier for our children to understand and complete them. Giving directions straight up (not disguised as questions) and giving five-minute warnings for transitions are among other effective strategies. Above all, parents need to allow their children to struggle with the limits, not rescuing them or getting angry when they struggle; but lovingly supporting them in the struggle.

Dr. Mamalakis goes on to discuss setting limits with your child. Because a parent’s goal is for their children to grow up to make their own decisions and live within the limitations of the Faith, it makes sense for the children to gradually help to set their limits; to make choices and be responsible as is appropriate for their age. As parents set limits together with their children, Dr. Mamalakis suggests the following strategies: give choices, collaborate, brainstorm solutions, prepare your children beforehand, and follow up with them later.

Dr. Mamalakis gives ideas of ways that parents can respond to pushback. He tells his readers that it is normal for children to resist/argue/protest limits; and it is how they test to see if the rules really are firm. He suggests that, in response to pushback, we check in with our children; stand firmly by our rules; describe the process; walk away to give our children time to pull it together; apply the parenting strategies we know; reinforce any positive effort we notice; only explain our reasoning behind the rules once; give a “pull yourself together” time out (not as a punishment); and set limits to the pushback. If our children push beyond the limits that we have set, we will need to respond with consequences; but consequences are not the first response to pushback.

Dr. Mamalakis writes that consequences should be the last resort when our children do not behave. They should help our children learn that our limits are firm, and teach our children about how life works. While we give consequences to our children for their behaviors, we need to be mindful of how we do so, in order to continue communicating that we love them unconditionally. We need to allow our children to experience natural consequences, demonstrate limiting behavior by limiting our own, and be prepared to give logical consequences when needed.

The final piece of principle 4 is that Dr. Mamalakis talks parents through giving consequences. He writes that logical consequences range from tightening the limits to asking forgiveness to removing privileges. He warns parents against using vague or empty threats, and encourages his readers to be willing to sometimes “lose the battle to win the war,” so to speak.

May God help us all to learn to separate feelings from behaviors!
Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #4:

***

“Children typically know the right thing to do but misbehave because they can’t control their desires, impulses, or emotions. To help our children learn to manage their emotions and control their desires, we need to learn to respond to their emotions, not just their misbehaviors.” (p. 129; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Naming feelings, when done respectfully, communicates respect for our children. By taking an interest in their feelings, we communicate that we are interested in them. If we respect our children as equal to us as persons, as icons of Christ, we need to respect their emotional world. We name their feelings with statements like:

‘You seem overwhelmed.’

‘Are you mad?’

‘Are you sad the day is over?’

‘Do you miss your mother?’

‘Are you mad at me?’

Are you frustrated with your brother?’”

(p. 135; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Paying a little attention to our child’s inner world is far more effective at helping our children navigate the disappointments of life than saying something like, ‘Why are you in such a foul mood?’ or ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or making statements of fact, like ‘Life’s not fair.’ ‘Not everyone can make the team.’ Or worse yet, ‘Did you upset the coach?’ Nothing hurts more than when your parents seem to turn against you when you’re in pain… Parenting is not about always voicing the right answer but about communicating care and respect.” (p. 142; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“When children misbehave, the temptation is to look for a consequence to stop the behavior… Parents need to use consequences, but that should not be the first or only thing we do when children misbehave. Consequences may stop their misbehaviors in the short term but undermine our long-term goals. Our goal is to raise kids who know how to set limits to their own behaviors and live their lives within God’s limits for salvation. We need to learn how to give consequences in ways that work toward these long-term goals for our children.” (pp. 152-153; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Rather than giving our children love and limits, we need to think in terms of love as limits. Setting appropriate limits communicates love to our children. Kids should be left neither alone nor in charge. They do best when they experience our love as unconditional and our limits as non-negotiable.” (p. 154; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Vague commands, instructions, and limits, inconsistently enforced or based on our mood at the time, are ineffective at helping children learn. Imagine playing tennis or volleyball and not being able to see the lines on the court… Imagine how confusing it would be if the rules of a game changed during the game, or if the referee was lazy on the rules when he was in a good mood but added rules arbitrarily when he was upset. In order to learn how to lay a sport, children need clear lines and rules, consistently enforced.” (p. 157; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“If we correct, command, direct, or react to our children before connecting with them, it communicates that we are more concerned about where cleats and balls go than we are about who they are.” (p. 165; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The best way to teach our children to listen to our words is to accompany then with action. When I say something, I need to be prepared to act. The more my kids know that my words will be followed by action, the more quickly they will learn to listen when I speak.” (p. 174; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Setting limits with our children helps them learn to set limits to themselves as they grow. Working with our children around our limits helps them understand that we are on their side, that we care about them as we set and enforce the limits. The better you get at setting limits with your kids, the less you’ll have to tell them what to do.” (p. 180; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Before you tell your child what to do, you might want to ask yourself if he already knows what to do. It’s common for parents to fall into the trap of constantly telling their children things they already know… By the time your child is old enough to think through limits with you he’s probably heard the limits many times before… There are hundreds of examples of things we say to our children that they already know. They know what they have to do but just don’t want to do it or don’t want to think about it. Asking them instead of telling them sends the message that we expect them to think and to already know.” (p. 184; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Patiently allowing children room to fail or misbehave while calmly setting limits communicates our expectations for good decision-making and respectful behavior. If we’re too afraid to give them autonomy or too critical of then when they fail, how can we expect em to learn? Of course, all parents make mistakes, being either too strict or too lenient or sometimes both, but we can adjust. Children will make mistakes, and they will adjust. The goal is to do this together.” (p. 193; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Parents are tempted to think they must give a child a consequence when he pushes back or the child won’t learn. ‘He can’t just get away with that!’ I hear. Actually, your child can still learn even if we don’t give a consequence for every pushback. Or we might believe that it is wrong for children to push back. Kids should just do what we say, the first time, without complaining, arguing, or getting upset, right? While that’s true, what’s more accurate is that our children are learning to live within our limits. In order to learn, they are going to push back. We need to resist the temptation to react and be prepared to respond in a variety of ways that work toward our long-term goals.” (p. 198; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“I have found that the best response to… painful statements [from our children] is to ignore them in the moment and bring them up later when things are calm. We should take our kids’ frustrations seriously, but if we allow ourselves to react to these childish, angry statements, we give them more credence than they deserve. It is not okay for children to talk to parents like this, but reacting in the moment is not the best way to teach.

It’s also not okay to let this statement go without following up later. But we want to keep our focus on the person of our child rather than her crazy actions and words.” (p. 217; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Consequences work best when they are used to reinforce the limits rather than to stop kids from misbehaving. We want our children to develop good judgement and learn to live the path of life in Christ. Consequences alone cannot do this.

Speeding tickets do not teach people how to drive, and consequences are not enough to teach our children how to succeed. Because it’s so easy to focus on stopping bad behavior instead of teaching life skills, it is easy to misuse or overuse them…” (pp. 219 – 220; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

(with regard to natural consequences:) “Never make decisions for your children or tell them what to do when they can figure things out by themselves. Letting children experience the effects of their decisions respects their intelligence, their ability to learn, and their developing judgment and autonomy. Kids learn better from first-hand experience than from our telling them what to do, anyway.” (p. 227; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“It’s tempting to look for more intense consequences when our children repeat the same misbehaviors so that ‘he never does that again!’ Parents need to resist the temptation of adding onto these consequences with a lecture, a lesson, or emotional intensity. Logical consequences work well when we implement them consistently as often as needed…. Children learn best from logical and natural consequences when we issue them the same way each time. They will learn, over time, that it is not worth it to disobey. More importantly, they will learn that we love and respect them. If we respect our children and want to teach them that their choices have effects, we simply issue the consequence patiently and consistently each time. Or, actually, as patiently and consistently as we can.” (p. 238; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and the Virtues of the Kingdom of God

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.
Principle #3: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and the Virtues of the Kingdom of God.
Dr. Mamalakis’ third principle of parenting encourages parents to understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. This principle is covered by two chapters in his book “Parenting Toward the Kingdom.” The chapters encourage parents to name their child’s struggle and to separate their own struggle from their child’s.

Dr. Mamalakis begins addressing this third principle by reminding the reader that if we are truly parenting toward the kingdom, we need to name our children’s struggles and frame every struggle that they encounter in the context of the kingdom. That is, we must look at each struggle in terms of the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God. Every struggle our children experience is an opportunity to help them learn those values and virtues. God has placed each of us into our family to struggle and learn together about His kingdom: that is what family life is all about. We parents need to watch our words, and choose carefully what messages we engrave on our children’s souls with the way in which we speak to them. Dr. Mamalakis offers real-life examples from his family, as well as suggestions of wording choices that point our children toward the Kingdom instead of cutting them down. Naming our children’s struggles and having them brainstorm ideas of ways to accomplish whatever is causing the struggle teaches our children how to do what is right on their own, instead of forcing them to comply to our own will. Along the way, we also are teaching our children the following: to connect Church life and home life; how to rightly view (and treat) their siblings; while demonstrating our delight to be struggling together with each of our children. It is important that we note their effort in their struggles, especially when they are making good choices in the face of those struggles. In order to be able to step back and name our children’s struggles, we first need to take a look at our own struggles as parents.

Dr. Mamalakis continues to address the third principle with a chapter encouraging parents to see our own struggles and to separate our struggles from those of our children. He helps the reader to understand that the way that we go about struggling to help our children with their struggles teaches them much about the Kingdom of God. He notes that children need their parents to stand lovingly beside them while they struggle and as they learn to pick themselves up. Children do not benefit from parents who just jump in and rescue them from their struggle. But neither should we abandon them in their struggle: we need to learn how to join them, to be with them and support them while they struggle and get back on track. It is not our job as parents to take away our children’s struggles: it is our job to help them learn to succeed in their struggles. As we do so, we must be continually mindful of our own struggles and how God is standing beside us in our struggle. Our own struggles help us to grow closer to Him and His Church.

 

May God help us all to learn to understand our family’s struggles (both our children’s and our own) in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

 

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #3:

***

“Children learn important skills of life as they struggle to wait until after dinner for dessert. God gives us the struggles of dinner before dessert, and all the struggles of childhood, to help us acquire the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God. (p. 89; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“In the home, in the struggles, is where we are learning patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, sharing, taking turns, helping others, and, essentially, selfless love. It is in the home that we are working out our salvation, being perfected in Christ, and being made holy.” (p. 89; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“What does sibling fighting or a child’s misbehavior have to do with the Kingdom of God? …These struggles catch me offguard all the time. In fact, I never have time for [my children’s] fights. However, I have to remind myself that this is what my time is really for.” (p. 91; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Consider what comes out of your mouth when you react to your children’s misbehaviors. Most of us end up saying the very things our parents used to say to us, no matter how much we swore we would never do that. It’s instinctive. Our parents’ statements are written on our souls, and what we say to our children in these moments will be engraved on their souls. We can choose the messages we want our children to carry with them their whole lives. Choose wisely. It is an act of love toward our children to engrave godly, biblical messages of truth on their souls.” (pp. 93-94; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Mistakes are understood to be part of the learning process—at school, at least. Why not at home? …If we say ‘You don’t listen,’ or ‘Why do you always lie around?’ or ‘You’re mean to your sister!’ these messages will end up etched on the souls of our children. We don’t want that. We want to engrave things on their hearts that will be useful for them the rest of their lives. ‘Listen to each other’s words.’ ‘First we clean up, then we rest.’ ‘Be kind to your sister.'” (p. 95; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“We want the language of the home to be filled with the virtues of God, even in the midst of the struggles. When children are distressed, they are not able to listen, and short statements go a long way toward communicating what is true. Remember, these struggles will happen all the time, and we have a long time to form our children by what we say. In the struggle is when they learn the most, and what we say in those moments is what they will remember the most.” (pp. 96-97; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The art of parenting: Name their struggle. Keep the limits firm. Brainstorm. Repeat.” (p.101; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Naming their struggle, when done with compassion, communicates empathy and respect and allows us to join our children in their struggle without rescuing them. Parenting is not about getting children to do the right thing or making their life easy, but trying to walk close to them as they learn how to struggle to do the right thing.” (p. 103; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Allow each child to struggle in his or her unique way and delight in them, even though they struggle. One of the most powerful messages we can communicate to our children is that we are glad that we get to be their parents—and the best time to teach that is when they make a mistake or misbehave. We communicate that love and respect as we respond by naming their struggle, keeping limits firm, and giving consequences. Help everyone in the home recognize that we are all on the same journey, each of us struggles with different things along the way, and we’re glad we get to struggle with them.” (p.;107 “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Children don’t need to be praised or told that they are great, because those are empty words. What they do need is to have their efforts and good decisions recognized. This keeps the focus on the path we want them to keep walking on.” (p.109; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Our kids’ behaviors affect us in all sorts of ways. Our struggle as parents is to resist the temptation to react to misbehaviors and to respond at all times in the best interest of our children Our struggle is to focus on our long-term goals in every interaction with our children, no matter how we’re feeling… Their misbehavior might disturb our peace and our plans when they misbehave at home, or disappoint and embarrass us when they misbehave in public. That is our struggle, not theirs. It is not their fault they are children, and it is not their fault we struggle with their behaviors. Parenting is the intersection of our struggle as a parent and their struggle as a child.” (pp112-113; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“…to succeed as parents, we need to keep our struggle separate from our child’s struggle, and respond based on our child’s struggle, not our own. As we struggle to respond to our children, we model for them how to struggle and to respond to their challenges. As we cultivate the virtues of the Kingdom of God in our parenting, we teach our children how to live according to the virtues of the Kingdom of God.” (p.113; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Children need us to be close to them when they struggle, not to rescue them from the struggle. If we love our kids, we want to prepare them to succeed in life, which means helping them develop the capacity to get back up when they fall, dust themselves off, and ask for help if they need it.” (p. 115; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Just as the only way to strengthen our muscles is by stressing them, the only way for children to become strong is through struggling. This is where growth happens. However, we don’t need to abandon our kids in their trials or create trials for them. Life provides ample opportunities for children to struggle, learn, and grow. We need to learn how to join them in these struggles.” (p. 117; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Being alone in the struggle is what leaves lasting painful memories. If we want to raise disciplined and motivated children, we need to allow them to experience the normal hardships and struggles of life. If we love our children, we join them in those struggles. Children need struggles in order to thrive. They just don’t need to go through them alone.” (p. 121; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Taking time out to learn about parenting, giving yourself a time-out when you are about to react, and going to talk to someone about your struggles are great steps toward attending to your struggles. Once we recognize that the parenting problems we face are invitations for us as parents to grow, it opens up a whole pathway for our own healing… As we learn to attend to our struggles, resist the temptation to react, and learn to respond, we walk the path of healing and salvation. In fact, it is through the struggles of parenting that we can acquire the Holy Spirit and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.” (p. 124; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

In the chapters that address Orthodox Christian parenting principle #2, “Respond, don’t react,” Dr. Philip Mamalakis encourages parents to think about “Responding to Our Children” and “Why Children Misbehave.” He begins in chapter 3 by talking about how easy it is to react to our children’s misbehaviors: and how little good results when parents react instead of responding. He compares our children’s misbehaviors to weeds: reacting to them is mowing them off – a temporary fix. Responding to the misbehaviors, however, is akin to pulling weeds with their roots and then fertilizing where the weeds had been to encourage proper growth. Responding requires intentional thought from parents and helps children towards the long-term goal of godliness by addressing the reasons that they were misbehaving. The chapter continues with a discussion of these parenting truths: discipline is more effective long-term than punishment; reacting while angry does not teach our children what we want them to learn, so we must always exercise patience; leniency/permissiveness are not in our children’s best interest; micromanaging/criticizing our children strains the parent-child relationship; and commending positive behaviors should happen with words that reinforce effort or virtues rather than statements that reflect back on us parents (ie: “I noticed your patience with your sister” vs. “I am so proud of you”). He goes on to acknowledge that reacting is much easier than responding, but suggests that responding is actually our vocation as parents, for it raises our children in godliness, while also shaping us. He suggests that if we consider the reasons behind our children’s misbehavior, we will better be able to figure out how to respond.

Chapter 4 focuses on why children misbehave. There are many reasons why a child may behave wrongly. We parents need to respond to our children’s behavior based on the reasons behind that behavior. He addresses a few reasons for misbehaviors in this chapter. When it seems that children are seeking attention, most likely they are just wishing to connect with us, as is their innate desire. Connecting with our children and teaching them how to connect with others is essential to parenting because we humans are wired for connection. Dr. Mamalakis addresses negative interpretations of our children’s behavior, showing that such interpretations are really judgments and criticisms which will result in negative parenting behavior. We need to be careful not to overreact or under-respond. He states that although we should expect poor behavior, we should not accept it. And, although it is very difficult, regardless of how long it takes our children to learn, we must be consistent, firm, and patient. We also must live in the way we expect our children to live: modeling with our own interactions and responses how we want them to interact and respond. Responding instead of reacting focuses on our long-term goals for our children, and gives us the opportunity to focus on each child and their personhood, not just react to their behavior.

May God help us all to learn to respond, not to react.

 

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #2:

***

“Reacting is usually about stopping behavior we don’t want to see in the short term rather than teaching skills, behaviors, or virtues we do want to see in the long term. Reacting to our children’s misbehaviors short-circuits or co-opts their good learning process. They will still learn; they just won’t learn anything good.” (p. 45; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The most damaging thing about reacting to misbehaviors is that it communicates to a child that he is bad and that we do not love him because of a choice he made. That teaches a child that there is something wrong with him and our love is conditional, that he needs to earn our love by behaving well. Children learn to comply so they can receive our ‘love,’ but they can grow up confused about their real worth and identity and become really good at pretending to act a certain way so they will be loved by others.” (pp. 45-46; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Only by responding to misbehaviors can we communicate to our children that we are interested more in loving them as persons than in controlling their behaviors… Reacting to children ignores the reasons for the misbehaviors and, as a result, communicates a lack of respect for the person of the child.” (pp. 46-47; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Parenting is about guiding the souls of our children rather than just correcting behavior. To teach proper behavior, we must respond to our children rather than reacting to their behavior.” (pp. 47-48; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Responding gives children the freedom to learn free of criticism, shame, judgment, anger, and blame. Responding does not mean being lenient. It means being calm when we are strict. Responding communicates to our children the truth about the gospel that they are deeply loved in the midst of their failures and struggles. It communicates our respect for our children as persons in the midst of their learning and mistakes. In this way, we model God’s love, which becomes embedded in their hearts.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Responding requires us to be intentional, patient, kind, gentle, self-controlled, long-suffering, meek, faithful, wise, and loving when our children misbehave. Responding is the way we model all the virtues we want our children to learn. Responding to our children is the way we venerate them as icons of Christ and requires a certain amount of trust that Gdd is working in our children through the struggles over time… Reacting reflects a lack of faith that God is working in our child’s soul.” (p. 60; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“We can’t respond effectively until we understand what exactly our child is struggling with.” (p. 64; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention. Children desire to connect with us all the time by being physically close, spending time with us, getting to know us, and letting us know them. Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it. Connection is food for our children’s souls. We are created as relational beings in the image and likeness of a relational God who is three Persons in one communion of love. Its through our relationships with each other and with God that we experience intimacy and develop as human beings.” (p. 66; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Children will model our behaviors and mannerisms and adopt our values more thoroughly the more connected they feel to us… Learning how to parent is about learning how to connect with our children all the time, as we get our tasks done throughout the day.” (p. 68; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“No matter why they are misbehaving, connecting with our children needs to be central to how we respond to any misbehavior… Nurturing connection with our children strengthens our relationship with them and empowers them to make good decisions.” (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Your child is not supposed to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. He is supposed to be learning how to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. If our children are learning, we should expect struggles and mistakes, and we should interpret our kids misbehaviors in a way that reflects these long-term goals. (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Instead of an attitude of ‘I don’t care what you’re feeling; you can’t behave like that,’ we can take the attitude of ‘I care about how you’re feeling, and you can’t behave like that.’” (p. 78; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

Gleanings From a Book: “Sasha and the Dragon” by Laura E. Wolfe

Author’s note: I would have loved to have read (and re-read) this book with my children when they were younger! “Sasha and the Dragon” is a powerful story of a boy who conquers his fears with the help of St. Michael the Archangel. Although it is a picture book, “Sasha and the Dragon” is appropriate for Orthodox Christians of many ages because of all that it addresses. This story opens the door for conversations about how strange a new country feels to an immigrant; what to do when you are alone and afraid at night; the reality of the saints’ readiness to come to our aid if we ask them to; and how the light of Christ illumines our world when we invite Him to do so!

Sasha has just moved to New York City from Russia. He misses the familiarity of his old village near the river: its sights, smells, and sounds. He felt safe there, and close to God. His new home, however,  is filled with shadows and seemingly uncaring people. It is grey and cold, and no one seems to know or love God or His saints. Other boys his age seem to mock Sasha at every turn instead of befriending him. Even his new house is not a very comforting place: his Baba who used to sing to him lies still in a scary room at the end of the hall. Sasha is afraid of everything in New York City.

Night time is the scariest for Sasha. Even though he signs himself with the cross before going to bed, he always feels the grey, unfamiliar shadows of the city lurking. One night, as Sasha lies in bed trying to go to sleep, he hears sounds under his bed, which he discovers to be a huge dragon. To his dismay, the dragon comes out from beneath his bed. Sasha is terrified and just wants to hide under the covers. Instead, he finds the courage to do all the right things: he kisses the cross he is wearing and then prays for help! An icon of the Archangel Michael hangs on the wall by Sasha’s bed, and Sasha is confident of the Archangel’s help. He asks St. Michael to kill the dragon with his sword.

As the dragon approaches, St. Michael’s icon begins to radiate heavenly light into the dark room. He races out of the icon on his great red steed and kills the dragon with his sword. As he does so, the room is filled with peace and hope. Sasha drifts happily to sleep. The next morning he wakes to find a slash from the dragon’s claw still remaining in the floor of his room, covered with a golden feather from St. Michael’s wings.

That very morning Sasha begins to notice and enjoy New York’s colors and good smells. A scarlet feather drifts into his hand as he walks. When he meets up with two of the mocking boys, instead of cowering or retreating, he surprises them by offering the feather to them. Sasha even braves the spooky hallway to take the golden feather to his Baba. Her delighted smile encourages Sasha, and he begins to sing to her, for he is no longer afraid!

This story is a delight, and Nicholas Malara’s drawings fit it perfectly. The art in this book is part “normal” picture book, part superhero story. The figures that are the most realistic are the accurately styled icons found on some of the pages. The tone of the illustrations changes from gloomy greys and muted colors at the beginning of the story to cheery bright colors at the end. This change is clearly intentional, and it greatly strengthens the story.

“Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent addition to an Orthodox family’s library. It has a great story which also presents multiple possibilities for family discussion. Chances are, this book will be read again and again, offering many opportunities to discuss its contents.

“Sasha and the Dragon”  is available from Ancient Faith Publishing here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/sasha-and-the-dragon/

Here are a few discussion ideas and suggestions of ways to learn together after reading “Sasha and the Dragon”:

***

Bedtime fears come to mind with the book “Sasha and the Dragon.” We recently wrote a blog post addressing them that may offer some helpful links. You can read it here. https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/bedtime-and-other-rituals-conclusion-and-facing-fears-at-bedtime/

***

“Sasha and the Dragon” features a little boy who has recently moved to New York. He may very well have been a refugee; at least his sudden change of environment hints at a similar experience. Help your children learn about what a refugee is (if the term is new to them), and how a refugee’s life changes radically when they arrive in their new place. This Jewish article suggests a few books that you may want to check out and read so see if they’d be helpful ones to share with your children, to better help them understand this topic: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/216190/explain-refugee-crisis-to-kids

***

What if your family were suddenly forced to be refugees? Think about that for a moment! How do you think a new world feels to those entering it? How did New York feel to Sasha when he moved there? Have you ever gone someplace completely different? Perhaps thinking back to that time can help you relate a tiny bit to a refugee’s experience, and give you an idea of what it would be like if you had to flee your own home and move someplace completely different, like Sasha did. When you were in that different place, did those around you speak your language? Did they do things the way that you are accustomed to doing them? Did you feel comfortable in the new place? Why or why not? Keep these thoughts in your mind as you meet new neighbors or classmates, refugee or not, and try to think from Sasha’s perspective: how does it feel to be that other person who finds themselves in a strange place? What can you do to welcome them and extend kindness?

***

Have you or anyone in your household ever felt afraid? “Sasha and the Dragon” is an excellent segue into a discussion on fears – especially fear of the dark – and how to best handle those fears. Talk together about what Sasha does when he feels afraid: He makes the sign of the cross, reverences the cross that he is wearing, and then expectantly prays for help! Find other ideas of ways to help your child who is afraid here: http://www.orthodoxmotherhood.com/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-scared/

***

Who is St. Michael? Together as a family, learn more about him on the page dedicated to him in the back of “Sasha and the Dragon.” Look up other icons of him and compare them to the one in Sasha’s room. Learn to sing the troparion to St. Michael, found here: http://antiochian.org/sites/default/files/Trop-Archangel.Michael-HTM-choir.pdf . Remember to ask him for help and protection when you need it!

***

Consider purchasing an icon of St. Michael to place in your child(ren)’s bedroom, to remind them that St. Michael is watching over them and ready to help them, as well. Or print an illustration of St. Michael for them to color and hang in their room.

***

With older children, discuss the story. Also talk about the meaning/symbolism behind the story and many of the illustrations. For example:

  1. In the beginning of the story, everything in Sasha’s world is dark, grey, hushed, shadowed, and Sasha’s baba’s room “smells like the dead crow he had found at the park”. Why do you suppose it is this way? Do the shadows reflect how Sasha feels in any way? How do the pictures in the beginning of the book make you feel?
  2. Sasha sees dragon shadows everywhere at the beginning of the story. They are not mentioned in the story, per se, but show up in the illustrations. How many dragon shadows can you find in the book? What do  you suppose is the reason that the illustrator included these shadows in these illustrations? What do you think they represent?
  3. How do the other children respond to Sasha at the beginning of the story? Why do you suppose they do that? Does Sasha like it? How do you know? Have you ever felt that way around other children?
  4. What does Sasha do to help calm his fears? What do you do when YOU feel afraid? Can you tell about a time when you did something just like Sasha does, and it helped you? Why do you think it helped?
  5. The dragon in Sasha’s room was very real to Sasha! Do dragons exist in the world? What do you think Sasha’s dragon was or represents? Do you have any “dragons” in your life?
  6. Why did Sasha turn to St. Michael for help with the dragon in his room? What do you know about St. Michael that makes him a good saint to ask for help with your own “dragons”?
  7. What other saints can help us with the “dragons” in our life? How can we get them to help us?
  8. The illustrations in the book make us look hard at the difference between God and His angels and saints and satan and his “helpers” (for example, in this book, the dragon). How do the illustrations help you to see the difference between the two? Does that difference appropriately illustrate the difference in real life?
  9. Sasha does something that shows his complete trust in St. Michael’s ability to save him. What does he do? When you are feeling afraid and attacked, to whom do you turn? Do you have the courage to trust God and His saints fully to help you in those times? Why or why not? Try to remember Sasha kneeling on his bed, pointing right at the dragon, and shouting, “Kill it with your sword!” every time you are feeling afraid!
  10. How does St. Michael enter Sasha’s bedroom? Why do you think the author included smells and sounds in her description of his entrance? How does it make you feel about St. Michael’s presence with Sasha?
  11. Describe St. Michael’s victory over the dragon. If you were there, what would you have thought? Did St. Michael accomplish what Sasha asked him to do, or did he accomplish even more? What makes you think that?
  12. Is Sasha’s life any different after St. Michael kills the dragon in his room? Just by looking at the picture, how can you tell?
  13. Sasha finds a feather on a gash in his floor. What is special about the feather? How would you feel if you found a feather like that in your room? What would you do with it if you found one?
  14. How does Sasha’s world change on the morning after St. Michael’s visit? Describe what Sasha sees as he goes out for a walk with his mother. Is anything different? What is missing?
  15. What does Sasha do with the two feathers he receives? Why do you suppose he does that? How do the others feel after they receive a feather from Sasha?
  16. Compare the first illustration in the book to the last page of Sasha’s story. Are these illustrations alike or different? How so? And how did it happen that they came to be that way? Then compare Sasha at the beginning of the book to himself at the end. Is he the same, or different? How can you tell?

Gleanings From a Book: “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre

Author’s note: The use of the word “practical” in the title of this book is no accident. This is the most doable guide to prayer that I have ever read. Every chapter has easily-applicable suggestions that any Orthodox Christian can take to step in the direction of effective prayer. I am so grateful to have read the wisdom in this book. It is the perfect fusion of theology and scripture, incorporating examples and stories that make its contents so accessible that even I can understand them. The book is concise enough for me to re-read it anytime I feel that my prayer life needs another boost. I know that at some point, it will. So I will.

We all know that we should pray. Just before Christ taught His disciples to pray what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer,” He said, “When you pray…” and went on to instruct them to not to be like the hypocrites, to go into their room and pray in secret, and to not use vain repetitions. With each instruction, He began by saying “When you pray..,” indicating that prayer is expected. And rightly so, for his disciples (and we Christians today) love Him a tiny bit as much as He loves us; and in any loving relationship there must be communication. We communicate with our Lord through prayer.

Unfortunately, it is not always easy for us to fulfill this expectation to pray. Even though we know we should pray, there are times when prayer seems daunting or difficult, and we fall short. Author L. Joseph Letendre’s new book “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” is a helpful companion for such a time as this. It also serves as a preventative measure against future shortcomings in prayer! The book itself is not long, only 72 pages, but every page is useful to Orthodox Christians desiring to grow in prayer.

“When You Pray…” offers easily-understandable insights and encouragement for prayer. Each chapter covers a different way in which we should pray. Chapters include: “To Pray”; “Pray as You Can”; “Pray Attentively”; “Pray the Lord’s Prayer”; “Pray the Psalms”; “Pray the Gospel”; “Pray for Others”; ”Pray Frequently”; and “Pray Faithfully.”

This book is a must-read for Orthodox Christians who desire to strengthen their prayer life. We would encourage you to consider reading together as a family, in order to fortify the prayers of your entire “little church.” The book is written simply enough that upper-elementary or older children will be able to hear, understand, and begin to apply its wisdom. If you read the book together as a family, we recommend that you read one chapter at a time (even though each chapter consists of only a few pages, you may want to break some of them into even smaller parts, for maximum understanding), and discuss it together.

Regardless of how you read it, please read this book. It will help your prayers not to merely be “vain repetitions.” “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” will take you by the hand and help you learn how to pray effectively, from the heart.

Order your copy of “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/when-you-pray 

Here are a few gleanings from “When You Pray”:

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from Ch. 1: To Pray

“Prayer, like any relationship, involves sacrifice, which elevates prayer to a sacramental act… Underlying every sacramental deed is the certainty that only what is freely offered in and through Christ to the Father may be filled and transformed by the Spirit. Prayer is the way we place our day, our work, our relationships, our life, and our being on the altar, making them available to God to bless, sanctify, and, like the bread and wine of the Eucharist, transform into a means of communion with Him and with each other. Anyone who prays, or has tried to pray and given up in discouragement, knows praying—really praying—is not easy… The purpose of this book, then, is not to add to the burden but to ease it by distilling the advice and experience of those who pray.” (pp. 10-11, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 2: Pray as You Can

“The decision to do what one can, however seemingly small or inadequate, recurs throughout the Bible: a young shepherd hurls stones at a giant warrior; out of a crowd of famished thousands, a boy graciously offers what few loaves he has; Peter tells a lame beggar, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you” (Acts 3:6). The giant falls, the thousands are fed, and the beggar leaps to his feet. In prayer, all we need do is what we can.” (p. 15, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 3: Pray Attentively

“…from St. John of Kronstadt: ‘When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart than ten thousand words with your tongue only.’ It sounds fair. If I don’t pay attention to my prayers, why should God? Paying attention during prayer proved more difficult than I anticipated…

“Three highly recommended practices can help:

  1. Preparing for prayer
  2. Saying the words of our prayer slowly
  3. Praying aloud” (pp. 17-18, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 4: Pray the Lord’s Prayer

“Without the right script, prayer can degenerate into telling God what He already knows, and then telling Him what we think He should do about it. [quoting Fr. Alexander Schmemann, quoting his teacher Archimandrite Cyprian Kern.] When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, teach us to pray,’ He responded by giving them a script: ‘When you pray, say: “Our Father . . .”’ (Luke 11:1, 2).” (p. 24, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 5: Pray the Psalms

“How many psalms should we pray? Monks and nuns are the Church’s experts in psalmic prayer. In monasteries and sketes that are able to follow the monastic rule fully, the entire Psalter—all 150 psalms—is read every week… To facilitate this, centuries ago, the Psalms were divided into twenty sections (called kathismas) and further divided into three subsections (called stases): thus, sixty sections of roughly equal length. So, one possibility is to pray one or more of these stases each day… If praying a stasis attentively is not possible, do less. Do one psalm. Do a few verses from one psalm. We should pray as many—or as few—psalms as we realistically can in the time we have. But we should never do none.” (p. 30, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 6: Pray the Gospel

“First, choose a short passage from the Gospels. It can be one event in the life of Christ, a section from the teachings of Jesus, even a single verse… In St. Athanasius’s Life of St. Anthony, we read how hearing just one verse from the Gospel in Church led Anthony into the desert to pursue the monastic life. Second, read the passage or verse out loud… Read it slowly. Then read it again. For writers across the centuries, the governing image here is “ruminating.” A ruminant (cows are the handiest example) is an animal that chews its cud. After it has eaten, it regurgitates its food and spends its time in a leisurely rechewing of its meal. When the saints advise ruminating on a passage of Scripture, they mean slowly ‘chewing over’ what we’ve read in our minds and our imagination.” (pp. 33-34, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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from Ch. 7: Pray for Others

“When we have completed our list, we move on—in trust and confidence—to the rest of our prayer, the rest of our day, or simply to our rest. It is not our prayer or the intensity of feeling we bring to it that matters; what matters is God’s grace. Through our prayers we have joined in the work God is already doing; we have united God’s will for them to our own.” (p. 37)

“Praying for others can be risky. The risk is that we will become part of God’s answer to our prayer. We should be ready for that.” (p. 39, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

(note: Prayer for our children is a top priority for us as parents. If you missed it, you may want to read our blog about one prayer that we can pray for their children: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/prayerful-sighing/)

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from Ch. 8: Pray Frequently

“Few of us living ‘in the world’—meaning outside of monasteries—can pray without ceasing. Workday distractions and obligations, many of them part of our vocations, eat away at our time and attention. But even if we cannot pray ceaselessly, we can pray frequently. We can seize every opportunity the day affords us to pray briefly; we can pray on the run. Indeed, frequent prayer is essential if we are to grow in the Christian life and fulfill the commandments of Christ. Without frequent prayer, living the Christian life is all but impossible. As Jesus warned us, ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Therefore, besides praying at the set times of our rule, we should make every event, activity, and transition in our day an opportunity for a brief prayer.” (p. 42, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

(Sounds a little like this recent blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/)

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from Ch. 9: Pray Faithfully

“Sometimes prayer is like going to the dentist. When serious work is required, the dentist injects Novocain into our gums so we feel nothing during the procedure. When we feel nothing during prayer, it could be that the deep healing has begun. This is the point where the act of prayer becomes a work of faith. We come to our chosen time, place, and rule of prayer. We are reluctant, procrastinating, distracted, and restless. We feel nothing, if not a little foolish. Nonetheless, we pray. The Latin word for ‘faith’ is credo, the source of our word ‘credit.’ At heart, it means ‘trust.’ To pray during the dry times is to trust that the emptiness within and the absence without constitute, in fact, a presence. To pray a few words while frantically running from task to task is to trust that God hears us even if we can’t hear Him. To have faith also means to act as if—as if God is real, as if God is there.” (pp. 59-60, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre)

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Appendix: What Monasticism Teaches Us
“The two sources Orthodox Christians rely on most for instruction in prayer are, first, the Bible, and then the writings of the monastic Fathers. Their teachings can be broadly summarized in… seven principles…” (p. 63, “When You Pray: A Practical Guide to an Orthodox Life of Prayer” by L. Joseph Letendre) The principles follow on pages 63-65.