School has begun and along with that, homework, after school activities, fall sports, music lessons, and the list goes on. We want our children to get a good education because good grades mean getting into a good college with scholarships, which means getting a good job, which means making a lot of money, which means a happy life. We also want our children to be healthy because being healthy also means that they will be happy. We want our children to participate in a number of different activities in order that they be well-rounded so that they will have a diverse group of friends, marry someone great, and all this to be, you guessed it, happy.
Education, money, friends, social status, etc. are not bad or evil in and of themselves, however we must pay great attention that they do not interfere in our (and especially our children’s) salvation. There is a direct correlation between the loss of God in our schools and nation as a whole, and the morals, contentment, and overall success in our society. What is better, to have a lot of money and material things and want more, or to live in modesty and be content? Our Lord said, “What will it profit if someone gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Mark 8:36). The evil one has convinced us that we need certain things to be happy. He did this so that we focus our attention on obtaining those things and lose focus on what is really important: a life of faith in God. The devil does this because he hates us and knows that this will eventually lead to our misery.
Most people are not opposed to having their children exposed to God or even raised in the Church, but it does not rank very high in priority, at least not as high as school and sports. This is a mistake. The first four Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai focused on our relationship with God, teaching us that nothing should be greater in our lives than God. We may accept this as a teaching of our Church, but not really internalize it. What does it mean that God should come above all else? It means that before doing any action, we ask ourselves, “Would this be pleasing to God?” It means that if we have an event at our church that conflicts with an event outside of Church, that the one at Church always trumps it. It means that even if there is a service during the school or workday, that we make the proper arrangements to miss school or work to be at Church. It means repenting when we fall into sin. It means that during family vacation we find the local Orthodox Church on Sunday morning and attend. It means having an open dialogue with our priest concerning all of the aspects of our life and asking for a blessing to make sure that we are walking in a path according to God’s will.
Only when our children observe this kind of seriousness of faith from us will they too realize the importance of their faith in God and follow their parents’ example. When they see the men and women, old and young, worshiping God with all [their] soul and with all their might and with all their heart, they will live as Christians in the world and not as worldly people coming to Church on Sundays.
As a priest, I am often told that I do not understand the struggles and pressures of the world. I very much understand world we live in, but more importantly, understand the Kingdom we are trying to attain. I see children growing into teenagers and then young adults, trying to excel in the things of this world, only to find themselves depressed, anxious, and unfulfilled. On the other hand, seeing those who grew up in the faith strong and joyful regardless of whatever struggles they encounter.
If we are really trying to provide the best of everything for our children, doesn’t that mean providing them with the purest picture of God? We may not think that the Church currently has much to offer in terms of quality programs for our youth (outside of the divine services), and we would be correct, but if we all shared the mentality that God comes first in all things, our communities would race to open Orthodox schools, have daily activities for our youth and adults in the Church, and ask the priest to have daily services. If we truly had the mentality of “God first,” we would see people moving closer to the Churches (as we used to see a century ago). Every decision in our lives would be focused around God and the Church. This is the only way that we can raise our children in godliness; that we ourselves become stronger examples of Christians by burning in zeal for the Lord, and not “lukewarm” Christians, as our Lord warned us about (cf. Revelation 3:15-16).
We are living in a community where the congregation asks the priest to schedule services and activities around our other commitments as opposed to changing our lifestyle to fit that of a Christian. Until we rearrange our priorities and teach our children what things come first, second, third, etc. we can’t expect that our children are going to grow up balanced. We were made in the image and likeness of God, so not being in constant contact with God disturbs our inner peace. Let us reclaim peace and joy through faith, and stop seeking happiness and success through worldly means, which only leave us and our children empty and searching for more where there is nothing. This change within us will not happen overnight, but it has to begin immediately with a decision that this is what we want. We are never too old accept Christ as our highest priority, but we have to start right away before it is too late and we leave this life without God as the center of our universe.