Tag Archives: Focus

On Creating (and Using) a “Godfulness Jar”

Mindfulness is a buzzword in current culture. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for mindfulness is this: “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” Many mindfulness practices encourage focusing your mind on positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the thoughts being promoted are not necessarily compatible with our Orthodox Christian faith.

The practice of focusing our minds should not be a foreign concept to us as Orthodox Christians. We hear often in the Divine Liturgy a reminder to focus: “Let us attend!” It depends upon what we focus that causes that focus to be for our growth or our downfall. If we are focusing our mind on God and on words that point our mind to Him, that focus is helpful – even essential – to our spiritual growth. But focusing on ourselves and/or what we can do cuts us off from growing closer to God. So, instead of the self-focused affirmations encouraged by many mindfulness practices, we need to choose to fill our minds with Godly thoughts including those found in the scriptures, in prayers, and words spoken by the Church fathers.

If you (or anyone in your family) struggles to focus on God or to keep your mind on Him in the face of discouraging or distracting thoughts, you need to find a way out of that downward spiral! Here is an idea of one easy-to-make tool which may be helpful to that end. Create a “Godfulness” jar. “What in the world is that?” you may ask? Well, it’s a jar that contains arrow prayers, scriptures, and quotes from Church fathers all aimed at calming and soothing your thoughts by pointing them to God.

Godfulness Jar Illustration

To make your own “Godfulness” jar, fill a clean, empty jar with quotes that can be drawn out and pondered, whenever one’s mind needs to be calmed, soothed, focused, or quieted. However, instead of loading the jar with slips of paper containing personal affirmations (as is encouraged in some mindfulness circles), include arrow prayers, verses, and quotes from saints. Label the jar “Our Godfulness Jar”, since each item inside points its reader’s mind to focus on God.

Godfulness Jar pictoral version

Families with young children may wish to create a slightly different “Godfulness Jar”. Instead of slips of paper with a quote, prayer, or verse to be read, collect small icon cards, photos of peaceful places you have visited together, and pictures from church – such as the candle table, smoke rising from the censor, photos of parts of the iconostasis, etc. These cards and pictures can be pulled out of the jar and “read” as needed by a young person needing to adjust their focus. Place these “pre-reading” items in a plastic “Godfulness Jar”.

After you create a “Godfulness Jar”, store it where everyone in your family can reach it. Encourage your family members to pull out one slip (or picture) whenever they feel that they’re anxious, afraid, overloaded, angry, etc. They can read and re-read it until their mind is focused on God instead of the disturbing thought(s). After they’ve read and focused on the quote, they can keep it with them as a reminder, or return it to the jar to be used again by someone else. (Remember to visit the jar yourself, when you need it!)

Keep your “Godfulness Jar” in mind as you pray, read scriptures, and read the Church Fathers. As time passes, you will collect more and more quotes to add to it, to replace any that have gone missing. With use, your jar will help to fill your mind with thoughts of God and with His peace.

Find a “starter set” of quotes that you can cut apart to put in your jar here.

Here are a few samples of the “Godfulness Jar” quotes in the starter set:

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On Resolve for the New (Church and School) Year

As we draw nearer to the start of another Church (and for many of us, another school) year, we should prepare accordingly. This new year offers us the opportunity to begin afresh and look for ways to improve ourselves. With this in mind, let us approach this new year(s) with resolve.

Resolve is an appropriate word for the beginning of a year. Two of its definitions are especially appropriate. One way that Google defines resolve as a verb is, to “decide firmly on a course of action”. The start of a new Church/school year is a great time to do that! What action should we firmly decide to take?

We do well to consider that question, perhaps in the context of a few others! Let us take this chance to sit quietly alone, or with a spouse/family member/friend, and ponder the following:

  1. Evaluate. Think back over this season we’ve just come through. How did we do in that season? How have we changed for the good?
  2. Prioritize. Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” habits. Also, make a list of what lies ahead in our schedule. Of everything on that list, what is most important?

Once we’ve looked at where we’ve been, how we’ve grown, and where we’re headed, we are ready for the noun form of resolve. One of Google’s definitions of resolve as a noun defines it as the “firm determination to do something”. There are many things we should firmly resolve to do. We will look specifically at these two:

  1. Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything. Some of our busyness is necessary, but if we are honest with ourselves, some of it is fluff. We need to grant ourselves permission to cut the fluff and not feel bad about it. So, what makes the cut in our schedule this year?
  2. Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life. Once we’ve established that, we must plan ways to show them that they have priority over the other people and things (for example, technology) which demand our attention. When we genuinely talk with those around us – truly giving them focused attention – they know that they are really a priority in our life. How will we build face-to-face talk this year? And how will we minimize the distractions such as technology?

Let us resolve to grow together this year. It will be messy. That’s okay. Messy growth is still growth. In the process, let us embrace our imperfections and the imperfections of those growing with us. We need each other. How can we help each other to grow this year?

Here are some related links. Check them out to be further challenged in each of the ways mentioned above! May God bless our resolve in this new Church (and school) year!

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Evaluate this past season: How have we changed for the good?

“Be the Bee” episode #43 points out some of the beautiful things about Orthodox Christian Summer Camp. Perhaps a member of our family (or more) was blessed with this opportunity this summer. How did camp change them for the good? What aspect(s) of camp can/should we continue on in the upcoming year? “With Christ at the center, every aspect of our days is blessed, lifted up and transformed into an opportunity to draw closer to God and neighbor.” (Watch the episode here: https://youtu.be/9Tw4XQa4QrA)

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Parents, this is a great time to consider what we have learned from our children during this season of our life. If you missed it before, perhaps this blog post will inspire your thoughts! https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/29/on-learning-from-our-children/

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Prioritize.  Sort our habits, identifying the good “keepers” and bad “time to change this” ones.

“Be the Bee” episode #79 encourages us to pluck out the bad habits and plant good ones, instead! http://bethebee.goarch.org/-/-79-habits

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Slow down. Choose NOT to do everything.

In case you missed it before, this post encourages us to “save time.” Believe it or not, it is a post about slowing down. Check it out for yourself here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/11/05/on-saving-time/

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“People’s lives are sheer misery because they do not simplify things” ~ St. Paisios
Read more of what St. Paisios has to say on the subject, here: https://orthodoxword.wordpress.com/2010/06/12/simplify-your-lives-with-elder-paisios-of-the-holy-mountain/

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“…Telos.  A Greek noun, it means ‘an end, purpose, or goal; an ultimate aim…’ Our telos affects everything, even if it’s not what we think it is.  What do we really aim at? What do we really love?” Read one mom’s take on the culture of busyness here: https://thelivescript.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/for-which-generation-on-telos-and-techne/

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What mental and physical impact does our culture’s desperate busyness have on our children? Is that really what we want for our kids? Read about it in this blog post: https://raisedgood.com/childrens-busyness-not-badge-honour-need-change/

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Focus and talk. We need to decide who takes priority in our life.

Electronic devices have become an addiction in our culture, even among those of us who want to focus on Christ and teach our children to do the same. We’ve shared a few of these challenging links before, but are sharing them again in case you missed them the first time. It will take some time, but we strongly recommend that you read/listen to each of these:

“It’s easy to think of weekends as simply another opportunity to get more things done. But downtime is crucial, and there’s more evidence than ever it’s essential to our productivity and wellbeing.” Deacon Michael Hyatt challenges his readers to take breaks and close their laptops for their own good and for the sake of their family, in this article: https://michaelhyatt.com/close-your-laptop.html

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This conference speech points out some rather frightening ways in which technology is affecting even Orthodox Christians: http://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/2017_family_ministry_conference/technology_that_unites_and_divides

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This secular article divulges the psychology behind social media, and its intentionally addictive lure: https://medium.com/@richardnfreed/the-tech-industrys-psychological-war-on-kids-c452870464ce

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“…Focusing on the relationship with your child, rather than all of the tasks she must complete, will not only make your mornings easier, but it will also promote your child’s optimal brain development in the long run…” Read more of this fantastic article at: https://www.parent.co/one-thing-parents-can-make-mornings-smoother-according-science/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SocialWarfare

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Ideas of things to talk about:

As you eat together, consider playing one of these (age-leveled) games to encourage family interaction: https://thefamilydinnerproject.org/fun/dinner-games/

Here are 45 questions that will help you get to better know your children! https://www.nestedblissfully.com/funny-questions/

Find some sample questions here which will help to get children chatting. (If you want more, there is a link to where you can purchase the printable cards, too.) http://www.truelifeimateacher.com/2017/05/how-to-have-meaningful-classroom.html

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Let us resolve to grow together this year. It will be messy. That’s okay.
“The outcome of a growth mindset is a love of learning and a resilience, to accept and use constructive criticism.” This article reminds us that we’re not perfect, and that’s okay. We all have room to grow. Others will help us. We need to embrace the imperfections, acknowledge our need for growth, and accept the help. https://angelinasgarden.wordpress.com/2018/04/16/my-kids-arent-perfect-and-im-okay-with-that/comment-page-1/#comment-295

On Pursuing Virtue: Chastity

This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain. We will be focusing on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to grow in theosis, we must not only resist and repent from the sins in our life, but we must also desire and labor to attain the virtues. Our goal is for each of these articles to be a beginning, a place to help us start learning more about each virtue as we pursue it. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we pursue these virtues!

The third virtue listed in “The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians” is chastity. Chastity is the virtue which we must pursue in contrast to the sin of lust, which is the impure and unworthy desire for something evil. But how exactly do we define chastity? So often we think of chastity only in terms of sexual purity. That is an important part of it, but chastity is much more than that! Merriam-Webster.com defines it as “the quality or state of being chaste” (with sub-definitions which include abstention from sexual intercourse, purity in conduct, and even simplicity in design) as well as “personal integrity.”

St. Cyprian offered an even simpler definition: “For what is chastity but a virtuous mind added to watchfulness over the body?” In other words, to live a chaste lifestyle, we must have pure thoughts and carefully watch over what our body does. He understood that it is a constant process, offering the solution of how we can manage to live in that constant state of mindful purity: “chastity is ever to be cultivated by men and women; it is to be kept with all watchfulness within its bounds. The bodily nature is quickly endangered in the body, when the flesh, which is always falling, carries it away with itself… But in the midst of these things, nay, before these things, in opposition to disturbances and all vices, help must be sought for from the divine camp; for God alone, who has condescended to make men, is powerful also to afford sufficient help to men.” So we need to ask for help, and only God is able to help us to live in chastity!

St. John the Ascetic suggested that chastity, or purity of heart, should be the underlying goal for everything we do. “Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of purity of heart…” He also offered practical advice for how we can go about living in that way: “…we must practice the reading of the Scripture, together with all the other virtuous activities… to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love.” Some of those practices are easier than others to carry out! But God will help us to do so, if we ask Him for help.

Fr. Justin Popovich suggested the following ways to measure whether or not we are attaining purity: “The sign of purity is: to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep; to be in pain with the sick and in anguish with the sinners; to rejoice with the repentant and to participate in the agony of those who suffer; to criticize no man and, in the purity of one’s own mind, to see all men as good and holy.” That’s a tall order, and helps to explain our earlier statement that God alone can help us live a chaste life. But it will be worth it: the person who lives a chaste life will be blessed. How blessed, you may ask? Well, St. Ephrem the Syrian wrote, “Every man who loves purity and chastity becomes the temple of God.” There is no greater blessing than to have God Himself dwelling within you!

So, dear brothers and sisters, let us pursue chastity with all of our hearts! It will not be an easy task. But with God’s help, we can grow in purity and slowly become a temple where He will dwell!

“O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for
Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.”
(The Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian)

Here are additional quotes and resources that can help us as we pursue chastity:

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“Chastity is the dignity of the body, the ornament of morality, the sacredness of the sexes, the bond of modesty, the source of purity, the peacefulness of home, the crown of concord. Chastity is not careful whom it pleases but itself. Chastity is always modest, being the mother of innocency; chastity is ever adorned with modesty alone, then rightly conscious of its own beauty if it is displeasing to the wicked. Chastity seeks nothing in the way of adornments: it is its own glory. It is this which commends us to the Lord, unites us with Christ; it is this which drives out from our members all the illicit conflicts of desire, instills peace into our bodies: blessed itself, and making those blessed, whoever they are, in whom it condescends to dwell.” ~ St. Cyprian, “Of the Discipline and Advantage of Chastity” This epistle by St. Cyprian on chastity is a challenging but necessary read: http://orthodoxchurchfathers.com/fathers/anf05/anf05129.htm#P9762_3046993


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“Let us begin with an explanation of the word chastity. In Russian, the word is ‘tselomudrie,’ which means literally, “integrity of thought,” and consists not only in physical preservation (one can remain a virgin in body, but commit terrible acts of depravity in the mind; and to the contrary—one can live in a pious marriage and preserve his or her soul from sin), but also in a proper, wholesome, undisturbed view of the opposite sex, with purity of soul.” Read more about the role of chastity in relationships between men and women in this article by Priest Pavel (Gumerov): http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/46284.htm

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“Purity means that we put on the angelic nature. Purity is the longed-for house of Christ and the earthly heaven of the heart. Purity is a supernatural denial of nature, which means that a mortal and corruptible body is rivaling the celestial spirits in a truly marvellous way.” ~ St. John Climacus

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“Indeed, who was ever able to grasp Christ or His Spirit perfectly without first purifying himself? Chastity is the exercise which from childhood prepares the soul for glory by making it attractive and lovable, and with ease brings this adornment for her to the next world untried. It holds up great expectations as the reward for small toil and renders our bodies immortal. It is only fitting then that all should gladly praise and esteem chastity above all other things; some, because by practicing virginity they have been espoused to the Word: others, because by chastity they have been emancipated from that condemnation, `Earth thou art, and unto earth thou shalt return.’” ~St. Methodius, “The Symposium: A treatise on Chastity”

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“Offer to the Lord the weakness of your nature, fully acknowledging your own powerlessness, and imperceptibly you will receive the gift of chastity.” ~ St. John Climacus

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A person can be raised up above the earth by two wings, one is simplicity and the other is purity of heart. You must be simple in your actions and pure in your thoughts and feelings. With a pure heart you’ll seek God and with simplicity you’ll find Him and be glad. A pure heart passes through Heaven’s gate with ease. Elder Amphilochios Makris – http://agrino.org/cyberdesert/makris.htm

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“In an age where sexual expression is seen as one’s right, and where the view that one can not be fulfilled if they are not sexually active, keeping oneself chaste can be a daunting task, indeed.” Read Abbot Tryphon’s blog post on the need to submit to a spiritual father when pursuing chastity, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2016/12/lust-6/

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“Chastity means being faithful to God first, in both soul and body.” Read this statement about chastity and purity from this SOYO document on Purity, Virginity, and Chastity: http://www.antiochian.org/sites/default/files/2011_pvc_packet.pdf

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Chastity is the virtue we struggle towards as we combat lusts of all sorts. We can learn so much from the lives of saints who have successfully fought against lust. Here are four whose success in this area we can emulate: http://www.ocf.net/four-saints-who-struggled-with-lust/

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Confession is an excellent beginning in our struggle toward chastity. Prayer is the reinforcement that we need to uphold that confession. Here are a collection of prayers that will help us: http://www.saintgregoryoutreach.org/2010/01/prayers-for-purity.html

Ideas for Keeping Our Focus on the Nativity of Christ

We are now well into/nearing the end of the Nativity Fast. Very soon we will be celebrating the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord. In the cultural “hustle and bustle” of Christmas, it is easy for us to be overcome by busyness and we can lose sight of what we are celebrating: the coming of Christ to earth, God incarnate! Let us find ways to focus on that, and prepare to celebrate it with great joy! Here are a few ideas that will help us to keep the Nativity of Christ at the forefront of our celebration.

 

Educational ideas:
This printable pdf (free for personal use) is full of Nativity-themed coloring pages and practice words for young children to read and write: http://www.mamaslearningcorner.com/nativity-coloring-pages/

For those who love to color, print these 24 coloring pictures with quotes from the gospels, that work together to tell the story of the Nativity: http://www.dltk-bible.com/advent/index.htm

Find other Nativity-themed coloring pages here: http://www.activityvillage.co.uk/nativity-colouring-pages

Find action rhymes and finger plays related to the Nativity (among others) here: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/action.html

Find a Nativity-themed word search geared at upper elementary students here: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/puzzles/The_First_Christmas.html

Older children and adults will enjoy reading and pondering the poems in this collection which are Nativity themed: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/christmas-poetry.html

Print this Nativity-themed word scramble: http://www.theholidayzone.com/christmas/puzzles/One_Night_In_Bethlehem.pdf

 

Play ideas:

Make these simple popsicle stick puppets for young children to use in their play: http://biblelovenotes.blogspot.com/2011/03/play-friendly-nativity.html

Print this charming Nativity set on cardstock for your children to color, cut, and play with: http://madebyjoel.com/2012/12/paper-city-nativity-scene.html. Or, if you prefer, this one: http://media.focusonthefamily.com/clubhouse/pdf/MyNativity.pdf

Going out to eat? Print and cut this tiny Nativity set, tuck it into an empty mints tin, grab a few crayons or colored pencils, and surprise your children with something to do that reminds them of Christ, while they wait for the meal to come: http://madebyjoel.com/2013/12/travel-size-paper-city-nativity-scene.html

Challenge your lego builders to make this basic Nativity set: a stable with star, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, manger, shepherd, and sheep:  http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/11/16/lego-nativity-set-instructions/

They could also make this tiny Nativity (“Project #4”) found here: http://frugalfun4boys.com/2014/12/05/lego-christmas-projects-instructions/

Create a basic wooden Nativity that will be played with and cherished for years to come: http://little-inspirations.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/wooden-doll-nativity.html

 

12 Days of Christmas Celebration Ideas:

Consider reading together the devotional book “Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas: a Family Devotional in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition”  by Wigglesworth. Read about it here: ”https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/gleanings-from-a-book-celebrating-the-twelve-days-of-christmas-a-family-devotional-in-the-eastern-orthodox-tradition-by-amandaeve-wigglesworth/

Older children and adults can study these sermons/quotes/writings, discuss, and learn from them together: http://www.antiochian.org/nativity/great-feast

Listen to Fr. Andrew George (Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Cranston, RI) as he talks about how Orthodox Christians should be preparing for Christmas and then celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas: http://myocn.net/12-days-christmas/ (about 25 minutes)

Find several brief articles offering great ideas and encouragement for Orthodox families and teachers on ways to prepare for the Nativity with children: http://www.goarch.org/special/advent/pfn_nativity_articles.pdf

Gather more ideas from this blog post: http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/family/articles/offering

 

“The Work of the People” Includes Children

“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.