Our Neighbors – Part Two


Part One is here.

From Beginning at Home by Mary Perkins, 1950’s

There is, of course, no hard and fast line between the individual and social development of a child; for to develop oneself is to develop one’s possibilities of serving others; to develop skills in serving others is to develop oneself.

And, in general, it seems that most children find the idea of self-perfection a rather static and unappealing motive, whereas the idea of fitting oneself both by discipline and development to be someone’s fellow-worker, therefore to help Christ to win His victory, build up His Kingdom, help other people come to His happiness–all this makes good sense.

It would seem better, therefore, both for supernatural and obviously utilitarian reasons, to consider the child’s personal, individual development as only one aspect of the whole process of his growth as an interdependent member of the mystical Body of Christ.

But with regard to what is usually called “social adjustment” as such, we can begin, as soon as a child is becoming aware of other people as people, to show him that they are sacred because they are God’s, and related to himself in that sacredness because he is God’s also.

A small child is aware of himself as a maker–of block houses, mud pies, sand castles, peggy-toy guns, etc.–before he is explicitly aware of himself as a child in relation to his parents, and long before he is explicitly aware of himself as a person.

He can be taught very early, then, to realize that people are things that God made with special love and care for very special reasons, things that He wants us to learn to treat properly and to use as He meant them to be used.

“God gave Johnny a dark skin and you a lighter one…. Wasn’t He clever to think up such a lot of different ways of making people!” “You know you didn’t like it when Tommy knocked down the house you built; well, God doesn’t like it when you knock Tommy down, because He made Tommy….”

Soon the children can also begin to realize and act upon the implications of the fact that people are not only things that God specially made, but also His children that He specially loves. They can learn that all children are brothers and sisters of God’s Son who became a human childlike themselves. They can learn that some of us already have the great privilege of belonging to His special family, the Church.

“Bobby is so nice because God made him that way…. You look a little like Daddy, don’t you? Well, all God’s children look something like Him, and that’s one reason why we love them.”

“You wouldn’t let anybody hit little sister while you were around. Well, we all ought to feel the same way about everybody in the world, because God has made them all our Lord’s brothers and sisters and ours too.”

As the children begin to be aware of other people’s failings and weaknesses and failures, we can show them here also that mistakes and faults and sins are nothing to be surprised at, that only God is perfect and always to be counted on; that people are to be loved and cared for and served even though they are not perfect, since God made them and loves them and redeemed them and wants their company in heaven forever.

So we should help the children as they grow up not to become “disillusioned” by any fact that they learn about human nature or by any experience that they may have of other people’s weakness and sinfulness. We should help them to be properly on their guard against other people’s weaknesses as well as their own, while at the same time hoping for the best from other people as being redeemed in Christ together with themselves.

In the light of the full Christian truth, we can also show the children, as they become increasingly aware of their own reactions to other people and of theirs to them, that true affection, friendship and love are reflections of God’s own love, and that they mean wishing and working for the other’s true good, ultimately for his Christ-likeness on earth and his eternal happiness in heaven.

We can help them to see in the mystery of true human attractiveness and lovableness, a shadow and sign of the infinite attractiveness of God, a sign that is meant to lead us beyond itself to Him.

So we can help them to begin to watch their own motives in their loving and giving, to learn to love and give for the sake of the other person, and, ultimately for Christ, rather than for the sake of making themselves feel good or excited. We can help them to judge whether another person’s affection is real, and therefore leading them toward

God, or false and leading them away from Him; and so with their own feelings for others.

And with God’s help, we can give them some sort of real chart to guide them toward God and the Christlike service of others amidst all the surprise, pain, bewilderment, comfort and happiness involved in their future relations with other human beings.

Such a “sacramental” way of looking at our children and their development will, incidentally, make more endurable the inescapable drudgery involved in caring for small children, and even more, the almost sickening effort often required by the disciplining and training of children in the essential habits and basic skills of ordinary human life.

And such a “sacramental” way of looking at themselves and their neighbors should make it much more interesting to the children to take over the work of their own self-discipline, of keeping up and developing their own good habits, physical, mental and spiritual.

Such things as remembering to brush one’s teeth twice a day, to keep one’s clothes reasonably clean and neat, to make oneself reasonably attractive, to eat real food rather than candy and ice cream, etc., can be shown as jobs to be done for God, part of taking proper care of His instrument, His temple, one’s own body.

In the same way, we can show the children that learning how to choose their own reading or movies or television shows, to study lessons thoroughly, to control their daydreams, all such things, are part of their responsibility to God for taking proper care of the member of Christ, the instrument of the Holy Spirit that God wants each child to become.

And, again, we can teach them that learning how to sweep a floor or read a book thoroughly, how to cook, how to drive a nail, how to do arithmetic, are not simply tiresome necessities, but are part of their present or future service of Christ in others.

This does not mean, of course, that whenever mother tells Suzie to sit up straight, she must always add “because God’s child oughtn’t to slouch”; or that whenever father stops Tommy from beating up his little brother, Tommy should be reminded that “Johnny is God’s child too.”

Such a course would be likely to turn its victims away from all religion!

But it does mean that we parents should keep before our own eyes the sacramental vision of what people are and are meant to become, that we try to act upon it ourselves, and that we communicate it in words to the children as their interest, curiosity or special needs give us the opportunity.

In other words, we should try to think and act ourselves, to teach the children to think and to act, in such a way that the explicit doctrinal teaching about what human nature is and is meant to become, as the children learn it in formal religious instruction, will be merely the formulation of truths already to some degree realized and acted upon.

None of our training, of course, can substitute for the children’s own free wills. We cannot save them without their own consent–God Himself does not do that. We cannot force them to become saints, nor even passably good Christians. All this is, ultimately, up to God’s grace and their own freedom; our part here is that of prayer.

But God has entrusted the children’s training to us during the years of their growth. We cannot help training them somehow–if only in self-defense.

Let us, then, try to train them in accordance with His own plan, for His own plan, not stopping at any lesser plan or purpose.

And then surely He will supplement our feeble efforts and help our children to become by His grace, what He Himself wishes them to be.

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