Choices, we are all faced with them daily. Throughout our day, we make some choices unconsciously - choosing to stop at a red light or choosing to brush our teeth in the morning.
Other choices do not require a great deal of thought – what to eat for breakfast or whether we need gloves when it is 10 degrees outside.
However, there are choices that require much more consideration. To help us discern the right choices for our lives, even for less complex choices, we gather a variety of information.
As parents, part of our role is to help our children learn how to gather this needed information for making choices. We start small by laying out clothes then have the children choose or giving them a choice between hot dogs and hamburgers.
As they grow older and their knowledge increases, we give them more opportunities to practice making appropriate choices for their lives, hoping they will continue to do so throughout their lives.
One choice is often overlooked; one that our children are often unprepared to make: the choice to continue to live their lives in the Orthodox Church, the Church in which they have been raised.
This is no small choice! It requires a commitment to be active participants in the Church, the Body of Christ.
Let us look closer at what the Church has to say about making choices.
Adam and Eve were created in the Image and Likeness of God, spoke to and knew God, and were to learn to worship Him while in Paradise. They misused their Free Will, made the Wrong Choice and lost Paradise.
Centuries later, the Theotokos used her Free Will to make the Right Choice. She accepted to give birth to Jesus, the Son of God, so that humanity could return to Paradise. With what Christ did for us, and the Holy Spirit’s help, we can use our Free Will to strive for a life of Good Choices, know God and enter Paradise when we die.
Children are God’s Gift
Children are God’s gift to us, but they come attached with a Ribbon of Responsibility, that is, to bring them up in the Orthodox Christian Faith so they know God and worship Him, which can occur even when they are children.
They need to know God and worship Him before they begin their own homes and families, before they marry, before they date and seek a spouse, before college, before high school, before junior high, even before middle school.
Our responsibility began the moment they entered this world and we held them in our arms. If we think about it, it began
even earlier, when our children were in utero and we prayed for their health and safe delivery.
Since New Testament times, the family, along with the Church through her worship and teachings, has been the primary teacher of the Faith.
Where Do We Start?
When we travel by plane the Stewardess announces, “If the oxygen masks come down, place one on yourself FIRST, and then help those around you.” The same is true with our children’s salvation. Our first concern must be our salvation.
We need to be knowledgeable about the Faith, know how to worship, pray to be good examples for our children, and to know God.
If the Faith is not part of our lives, how can we expect it to become part of our children’s lives? Making these Choices requires us to make the best use of our Free Will. The Parish Priest or one’s Spiritual Father is here to help.
If or when our Children are put to the test, to make The Choice – whether to stay or leave the Orthodox Church - we can hope “staying” will be such a “norm,” so “ingrained,” that it will be the natural response.
The Choices that Follow
Our “Yes” to God
- Choice #1 – Choosing to encounter God, especially His Son Jesus Christ The Orthodox Church is a universal
- Faith, for all people, for all times. Since the Family is the Primary Teacher of the Faith, adults need to study and learn the Faith so it can be shared with the Children and others. As we learn more, Worship becomes more meaningful, and we come closer to Christ.
- Choice #2 – Choosing to Live an Orthodox Way of Life If we are just saying “Yes” to God now, then we need faith that God will give us the strength we need. The Parish Priest or Spiritual Father and other parishioners seeking to do the same are there to help.
Basic to an Orthodox lifestyle is “Praying” to communicate with God, “Fasting” for strength to do this, “Giving Alms,” i.e. sharing God’s abundance with the needy, and living by the Church Calendar (www.goarch.org has a wealth of information).
As we come closer to Christ and His Church, we begin to live an Orthodox Lifestyle. Eventually that Orthodox Lifestyle will become as natural as breathing.
- Choice # 3 – Choosing Regular Church School Attendance Although the Church School lessons are insufficient to pass the Orthodox Faith to the next generation, the Church School provides different kinds of Lessons for Life. Parents need to be involved, helping children to memorize prayers and hymns and to make up missed lessons. Our Children deserve these Lessons.
- Choice #4 – Choosing Family Worship Children learn from experience and Orthodox
Worship is experiential.
Learning occurs at each age, even as babies, and why would we want them to miss out?
Those who grew up attending Church School during Liturgy may have missed experiencing Christ in the Eucharist by not being in Liturgy to prepare. I believe we want more for our Children.
The long-term consequences of not teaching our Children the Orthodox Faith and how to Worship are lukewarm Christians and falling away from the Church altogether.
This article may help. Helping Our Children Grow In Faith: What They Can Do, When They Can Do It, And How Parents Can Help. (www.phyllisonest.com / Resources / Articles on Orthodox Family Life)
- Choice #5 - Choosing Extra-Curricular Activities Some choices are good in one context, but not in another. Let’s begin by defining sin as a choice to turn away from God. An activity that is done during the week is great, but when we chose to do the same activity on Sunday morning, we have a problem.
We know that this is the only time our family can worship God and our children can attend their Church School classes (in most parishes).
If we chose to participate in the activity on Sunday morning, we also turn away from worshipping God.
This needs serious thought. What does it teach our children?
In addition, choosing too many activities results in not enough time for (1) Church School, (2) JOY or GOYA functions, (3) Dance Group, (4) Metropolis Youth Events, (5) Church Basketball, (6) Jr. Choir, (7) Vacation Church School, (8) Summer Camp, (9) other parish activities.
Why are numbers 1-9 important?
They keep our children attached to the parish and to other Orthodox young people. They develop lifetime friendships at retreats and summer camp.
Our young people continue learning about the Faith and become more comfortable being Orthodox Christians when they participate in these activities.
Choose selectively. “Build in time” for Church and Church Activities; Family and Family Activities. These are worthwhile “investments” for the spiritual future of our children.
So many choices! Many are inconsequential but take the place of ones that are truly important. Someone once wrote, “That which is least important should never take the place of that which is not.”
This is precisely what our society does. It pulls us away from anything that is morally good and can or will sabotage what we are trying to do. I hope that we will consciously choose God over Society.
What are the best Choices we can make for ourselves? … the best Choices we can make for our children? … the best Choices we can help our children make?