I’m talking to my students about our upcoming year of Sunday School as the room morphs into a well-trodden path along side of a field. I’m sowing seeds within the hearts of these young children as we talk about their patron saints and the upcoming feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross. Some of them are eager and ready to hear more, while others look confused or hope I don’t make eye contact with them.
Just as Christ, the Sower, spread seeds across all the earth – the wayside, the stones, the thorns, and the good ground – I am also called to sow seeds across my entire class, pointing all my students towards God. (Parable of the Sower Matt. 13:1-9) For Christ shows us that the wayside will always be trampled upon, the rocks will never provide that which is necessary for deep roots, and thorns will always choke – but with man, we have the ability to change. A seed can remain dormant within us for years until a moment when our hearts are able to receive that which was sown so long ago.
We need to remember that our Sunday School classrooms are only one avenue, of many, for how our children learn their faith. Our children travel this path for such a short amount of time each week in comparison to the amount of time they spend outside of our classroom. Their daily home life (praxis) and their attendance at services (worship) are imperative for preparing their hearts to receive the lessons we put together for them.
How do we, as parents and teachers, prepare ourselves to sow seeds within our children? How do parents prepare their children to receive the seeds sown within the lessons of the Sunday School classroom?
For parents and teachers, do our children see us living our faith or are we telling them to do as I say, not as I do? Are we fasting, praying, giving alms, reading the Bible, attending services, forgiving the person who has wronged us, and constantly learning more about our faith? We need to carefully prepare our own hearts to receive the seeds that Christ sows within us – through our priest, through our family…in whatever capacity God chooses to send them.
St. John Chrysostom tells us that children’s souls are soft and delicate like wax. If right teachings are impressed upon them from the beginning then, with time, these impressions harden as in the case of waxen seal. (On Vainglory and How to Bring Up Children) No one will be able to undo this good impression. Malleable things take the form of whatever they are impressed with because they have not yet taken a stable shape. If children are this impressionable, then how much more important is it that the adults around them have been educated in a Christian lifestyle as they teach, knowingly or unknowingly, through their example to all the children around them?
Saint John Chrysostom goes on to tell us, “This, then, is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness; otherwise what answer will we have before Christ’s judgment-seat?” (On Marriage and Family Life)
For our children, parents are the gardeners who prepare the soil of their children’s hearts. Will anything of substance grow in our garden if we have not properly prepared the ground? Can we possibly expect to work on our gardens for less than an hour, once a week, and find a bountiful harvest at the end of the season? Definitely not.
Without a doubt, parents play a major role in laying the foundations for their children, but inevitably others will also influence the hearts of our children as well – hopefully for the better. Are we establishing a strong foundation for our children by having talks with them about their actions, about current events, and about how God is a part of every aspect of our life? Are we taking them to a variety of services? Are we living what we preach?
When our children are listening to their teacher tell them about prayer in their classroom, will our children have a context for this information or is it a foreign language to them? Have our young children listened to us and their siblings say a prayer before every meal since infancy? Have they witnessed us coming together before our family altar to say prayers together? Have they stood before our family altar looking at their patron saint along with Christ and the Theotokos?
How does their weekly Sunday School lesson play a part in their daily life?! It is so vitally important that we work along side of our children’s Sunday School teachers, preparing our children’s hearts to be ready to receive each lesson.