Child rearing – What spiritual practice helps?

Children and grandchildren can provide your child rearing with wonderful moments. Their spontaneity and sense of fun can brighten your day. But almost out of the blue all hell can break loose and they can be a real pain testing your limits and boundaries. child rearingWhat they want can be different from what you want. They seem to be noisier, more untidy and more demanding than ever you expected. A spiritual practice is needed for difficult child rearing.

Responding as a good carer can be a real struggle, particularly when you feel stressed and tired. What psycho-spiritual ideas can help? The professionals talk about empathy, consistency, and unconditional love in child rearing. But how do you find these within yourself when you are feeling challenged?

Deeper aspects of child rearing

I would like to suggest the answer is that understanding and acceptance come from focusing the mind on deeper aspects of the interaction with the child; more than on just how you are feeling at the time and more than what you are immediately aware of that is going on.

This deeper watchfulness is a form of spiritual discipline: staying in the moment, and being alert to deeper issues, rather than mindlessly jumping to judgment or being attached to what you hope for. Experience shows illuminating insights can emerge as one stills the mind.

Some challenges of child rearing

When the baby is crying non-stop it might be caused by a wet nappy, or hunger, or perhaps due to an uncomfortable position, or teething pain or maybe it is a sign of illness.  If whatever you do doesn’t seem to work and the problem keeps recurring most days you might be feeling fraught and think something like ‘This is a wilful attempt to control me’ or ‘It’s an emotional cry for help’ or ‘This baby has too low a level of tolerance of discomfort’.

Whatever you happen to think colours your feelings and actions. The danger is you become unduly upset and this will affect the trust the infant has in you.

Jumping to conclusions during child rearing

It will probably take an effort to reserve judgment, to remember that the cause of the crying might be different on separate occasions. To become alert to such possibilities often means staying in the moment and focusing on the problem rather than jumping to conclusions.

Likewise how do we see it when a school age child is having a tantrum of shouting, hitting, and spitting at you? As a sign of a psychiatric condition? An evil disposition? A spoilt brat who requires harsh punishment? When caught up in the feelings of the situation it can be hard to see other possibilities.

Not rushing to judgment would mean you calmly dealing with the immediate crisis and only later trying to explore whatever had been going on. The child is not in thinking mode just yet. Filled up with anger he or she isn’t ready to be reasoned with. That can come later.

Reflection during child rearing

I hear you thinking ‘It’s all very well saying don’t jump to conclusions, but how do I do that?’ One suggestion is that you try to consciously reflect on what you are saying to yourself.  Question what it is you are assuming, what you are expecting to happen and what belief is being aroused by the situation?

Admittedly this requires some effort but once thoughtful consideration becomes something you are used to doing then it becomes easier to put one’s emotions on one side and instead gain some insights into what might be going on. This accords with the old idea of counting to ten and taking a step back before reacting. Like all spiritual practice this requires self-discipline.

Unfair expectations during child rearing

One common assumption is that the child will conform to one’s hopes and aspirations: for example be sensitive, hardworking, or athletic. Such beliefs are unfair as children come with their own characteristics and dispositions and cannot be molded against their will to fit in with adult expectations. By being attached to certain future outcomes there is a danger of mindlessly denying the child a sense of individual uniqueness.

Acceptance in child rearing

One thing that can enhance a relationship is when adults make room for children accepting each of them as they are, for example being prepared to negotiate and compromise.

Accepting a child’s warts and all as a person in his or her own right doesn’t mean encouraging any socially unacceptable behaviour but rather acknowledging that, like the rest of us, he or she has certain negative as well as positive tendencies. I would suggest it means looking for opportunities to encourage and support new behaviours.

Giving care to children is one of the most important and challenging of all jobs yet people often expect to be able to do it without any help. For those people, who have the time and resources, help can be gained from a mindfulness meditation retreat coupled with daily practice. Alternatively, no money is needed to set aside a little time by yourself each day to deeply reflect on the challenges of a child’s behaviour.

You may think that it is only natural to feel unconditional love and selfless concern for children but no one has limitless amounts of patience and self-restraint. We all need some rest to restore our inner resources and find the concentration and forbearance required to focus our attention on somebody else’s needs.

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

An Heritage of the Lord

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, October 18, 2009

          Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is His reward Psalm 127:3.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that every human being, every one of us, has been created with an innate belief that there is a God and that He is one. We see evidence of this when we are with little children. They readily acknowledge heavenly truths such as that the Lord is their Heavenly Father, that they are under the protection of angels, that everything in the universe is living and good because it was created by Him. It’s as they get older, and more experienced in the ways of the world that they become more callous, questioning, cynical – more like adults. But we all do begin with this basic premise:  that there is a God, and that He is one. This is the primitive doctrine or religious point of view of every man.

It is also true that from the moment of birth our environment, hereditary inclinations, our educational experience, and the results of our own free choices begin to add to the basic doctrinal view. We experience the delights of good behaviour, and the pain that comes from bad behaviour – and we adjust and add to our doctrine to account for the ways other people react to us. People whom we trust and love tell us that certain things are true, and we believe what they say because we love them, whether we fully understand what they say or not. We become aware of the kinds of things the people in our home community do and think, and we consciously and subconsciously either adjust our own view to fit, or we begin to associate more and more with others outside our home group. Over the years each of us builds up a doctrine as unique as our own personality, and depending on what our life’s experience has been, it may bear little resemblance to the primitive idea placed there by God at birth.

Such is the nature and completeness of our spiritual freedom that we may take what God has freely given us, and make of it whatever we wish, make it totally and uniquely our own. However, the fact remains that the Writings teach that all humans begin with the same doctrinal basis. Since this is the case, we should be able to see some evidence of that common religious background in all peoples.

For example, we note that in almost every known form of society, whether pagan or God-fearing, whether ancient or modern, there is some form of practice or ritual in which people may thank God for His gifts. The Ancient Canaanites ritually sacrificed their first-born children. Ancient farmers would place the first produce of their fields at the foot of the statue of their local god. The children of Israel brought a sacrifice to the temple as a symbol of their willingness to give their children to Jehovah, a practice that was commanded by God to replace human sacrifice with them, and which continued for thousands of years. Recall that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple with the sacrifice of the first-born son. Even in our day, in many countries throughout the world, a day is set aside for national thanksgiving at about the time of harvest.

Why is it, in a world that seems to be increasingly materialistic and godless, do these ancient practices survive? Why do people continue to feel a need to thank God when important milestones in their life are reached? Why is it that in a world where marriage is increasingly viewed as a purely natural contract that can be broken the moment it ceases to be convenient, that people still want to be married in a church? Why is it that people who haven’t prayed in years suddenly find themselves fervently praying to God that a loved one will survive a time of severe trouble or illness. Could it be that, for all our sophisticated veneer and technological advances, most people still have the voice of God within them, whispering that He is there and that He wants to bring reassurance and peace into our lives? And people instinctively want to respond to that knowledge by turning to Him at the important milestones of life, at those times in our lives when our attention is turned away for just a moment from those natural material things that occupy most of our time and attention. When we come to church to witness a baptism, a wedding, or a funeral, we are prepared to consider some eternal truths that we might not be willing to consider at any other time.

The 127th Psalm speaks about the part the Lord plays in life’s events, and beautifully phrases the Psalmist’s thanks to Him for His help. The Psalm begins with the words, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it,” and as the opening idea it sets the tone for all the rest of the psalm. Through much of our life we work very hard, we put a lot of thought and effort into the things we do, and to a great extent we want to take credit for them to ourselves. The farmer clears the field, plows it, plants it, cultivates the new plants, waters it during drought, and harvests it in its season. He works from dawn to dusk through the whole season – and yet he gives thanks to God for the good harvest. And it is very important for him that he do so, for the knowledge and acknowledgement that God alone lives is the “celestial confession” – but through His gift we have the joy and the pleasure of performing uses in the world as-if-of-ourselves.

Our text focuses on the idea that children are an inheritance of the Lord, that they are a reward from God for a good life. But at the same time we must know that having and raising children is not always rewarding – it can be expensive, frustrating, and difficult, so we must ask ourselves how to understand this promise. The Heavenly Doctrines speak specifically to this point when they say, “Since there is no other offspring born of spiritual marriage, and a male offspring is truth and good in the understanding and consequent thought and a female offspring is truth and good in the will and consequent affection, therefore by ‘a son’ in the Word truth is signified” (AR 543:2).

The Doctrines further explain who the heirs of God are:  “All who are in the heavens – are heirs of the Lord’s kingdom; for they all make one heaven. It is that which is internal that causes any one to be an heir. That which is internal is love to the Lord and charity toward the neighbour; in proportion therefore to the love and the charity which they have, in the same proportion they are sons and heirs, for in the same proportion are they partakers of the Lord’s life” (AC 1802).

Wherever the Word speaks about children, it is telling us about the good that we can have when we live according to the truth that the Lord has given us from heaven. And the more we live the life of charity, the more we will be prepared to receive our inheritance and our reward from God. “The heavenly kingdom should be given as an inheritance to those who from charity have faith in Him” (AC 1865).

In the church we often speak of the marriage of good and truth, and how when this occurs, uses are the result, but how can we get a feeling for what this really means? When God created the universe, He did so by uniting His Divine Love – His desire to have a human race to care for – with His Divine Wisdom – His plan for an orderly development on all planes to eternity. The result was the spiritual world, the natural universe, and all the living things therein.

By correspondence the same thing happens in marriage. The love of creating and nurturing new life – (the wife) is united to the intelligence and wisdom to teach new life (the husband) in the marriage, and on the natural plane this expresses itself as a new human being, an eternal life that is loved unconditionally by its parents. We should not be surprised that the conjugial delights of marriage are so wonderful when we see that they represent nothing less than the joy that God felt when He created the human race. God’s purpose in creating the universe was so that there would be a heaven from the human race that He could care for, and that would be free to return His love. Children are meant to be angels of heaven, and we have been given the marvellous privilege of sharing with God in the process of creating a heaven from the human race! No wonder children are the cause of such wonder and joy, for they give us a taste of God’s own delights.

But our children grow up so fast and move away from home. They too soon begin their own lives and families, and the parents who centred their whole lives on them are soon left alone. This cannot be the order God intended. If children are our heritage and our reward, why do they leave us when they are grown?

We have both natural and spiritual children. Both can give us great pleasure. Both are serious responsibilities. Natural children are a great deal of work, and considerable worry, and yet they are our prime source of joy and satisfaction in this world. How much more, then will be the joy and satisfaction we experience when we produce spiritual offspring and when we can spend eternity watching them grow.

The Lord loans us children for a time to teach us some important lessons about Himself and His universe. He wants us to have some small knowledge of why and how He created the universe when He shares with us the delight of the miracle of creation of new life, He wants to give us a taste of heaven when He gives us the celestial spheres of little children, and He wants us to know what an eternal life of use will be like when He gives us the opportunity to take part in the education and upbringing of a child.

Raising children in this world teaches us how to raise spiritual children, that is, how to do be genuinely useful to others. When after practice and conscious effort we form a good habit, when some truth from the Word is so ingrained in our hearts that we do it without thinking and from delight, it is called a marriage of good and truth. And when good and truth are married, there are spiritual offspring, that is, uses. When you form good habits from the Word, the things that you do are useful to others and express your charity and love to the neighbour. These actions are your spiritual children. They will be with you to eternity. They will bring you continual pleasure. Your sons will be the charitable thoughts you have, and your daughters will be the delights you feel. Eternal life is our inheritance, freely given by God to each of us His children. But the reward, the delight of heaven comes only to those who themselves produce children, that is, who produces spiritual offspring – goods and truths, for children are an heritage of the Lord. The fruit of the womb is His reward. AMEN.

First Lesson:  PSA 127

(PSA 127) Unless the LORD builds the house, They labour in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain. {2} It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep. {3} Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward. {4} Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. {5} Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. Amen.

Second Lesson:  TCR 685

…The three uses of baptism cohere as a unit, like first cause, mediate cause, and effect, for the sake of which the former exist; for the first use is that the man may be called a Christian; the second, following from this, is that he may know and acknowledge the Lord the Redeemer, Regenerator and Saviour; and the third that be may be regenerated by Him; and when this is done man is redeemed and saved. As these three uses follow in order, and are conjoined in the last, and consequently in the conception of the angels cohere as a unit, so when baptism is performed, read of in the Word, or mentioned, the angels who are present do not understand baptism, but regeneration. Therefore, by these words of the Lord:  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark xvi. 16), the angels in heaven understand that he who acknowledges the Lord and is regenerated will be saved. And for this reason baptism is called by the Christian churches on earth the laver of regeneration. Let every Christian know, then, that he who does not believe in the Lord even though he has been baptized, cannot be regenerated. Also that baptism without faith in the Lord has no effect whatever. Every Christian is well aware that baptism involves purification from evils, and thus regeneration, for when he is baptized in infancy, the priest with his finger makes the sign of the cross, as a memorial of the Lord, on his forehead and breast, and afterwards turns to his sponsors and asks whether he renounces the devil and all his works, and accepts the faith; to which the sponsors, in the place of the infant, answer, “Yes.” The renunciation of the devil, that is, of the evils that are from hell, and faith in the Lord, are what effect regeneration.

The Transition

4. The Transition

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.”Psalm 27:10

The lesson of obedience has been learned. The next step in development is for the child to assume the guidance of his own life, which up to this time has been in his parents’ care. The Lord, therefore, gives in opening manhood and womanhood the rational faculty, the power not only to know and remember, but to understand, to rise above facts to principles, and to see the application of principles to various conditions. The new faculty does not give us power to invent truth,- no human mind has that power, – but it does enable us to make for ourselves the applications of truth which before our parents have made for us, and so to look directly to the Lord as our standard of truth and our Teacher. The rational faculty is not given that a young man may turn from dependence upon his parents to dependence upon himself, but to dependence upon the Lord ; that he may advance from indirect obedience to Him to direct obedience. ” When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.”

When circumstances remove children from their parents’ care; when parents die, when children leave home for college or for work ; when, though they still live with their parents, they outgrow the dependence of childhood, then they should be prepared to transfer their dependence to the Lord. It is to enable them to do this that rationality is given them. This is the essence of the change from boy- and girlhood to man- and womanhood.

To see clearly what the change is, is a help in knowing our duty to children at this transition period of life. If we have the change in mind as something that is coming, we can do much to prepare the children for it, so that at the right time they can make the change safely and happily.

From the first we can cultivate the thought that the children are the Lord’s children. We shall not selfishly wish to keep them in ignorance of their Heavenly Father, and claim all their affection for ourselves. We shall teach them about the Lord, and shall be glad to see their thoughts and affections turn to Him in childlike ways. If little children look up to us and think us very wise and good, we shall in our own hearts transfer their reverence to the Lord, knowing that whatever goodness or wisdom they find in us is from Him; and as the children grow older we shall not hide it from them that we are but giving them what the Lord gives us. It may be a trial to our natural feelings to think in this way of the children, as the Lord’s, and gradually to lead their thoughts and affections beyond ourselves to Him. It is a process of weaning ; it is a taking the child to the tabernacle and lending him to the Lord forever. But we must remember that we cannot always nurse and lead the children ; they will outgrow us. If we love them we must teach them about the Lord as the only One who is good and wise, so that when the change comes they will be able to turn promptly to Him.

We can also help to prepare the children for the responsibility which is coming to them, when they must be trusted to take into their own hands the choice of their course of life and their eternal destiny, by giving them even as children little responsibilities and gradually greater ones, and by helping them as children to be trustworthy. Suppose parents in their anxious carefulness for a child never let him go out of their sight; they go always with him to prevent his doing wrong and to shield him from every danger. The child grows up with the feeling that nothing depends upon him ; parents do everything for him, or if he must do some things himself, they carry the whole responsibility for him, they continually remind him of what he is to do and when to do it, and stand over him to see that it is done. When the child becomes a man and such care is no longer possible, is he well prepared to take up the responsibility of guiding his own life? He would be better prepared if he had become accustomed little by little to meeting the difficulties of life himself; if his parents in little things and for short times had trusted him to do right without their presence to check him or remind him. This mistaken kindness does not make a manly boy, nor prepare him for the time when he must assume the responsibilities of a man.

To take one practical example. We want the children, when they are grown up, to be honest and careful in the use of money. Shall we prepare them for the responsibility by always taking care of the money ourselves, always buying for them, and deciding for them what to buy? Or will it be better for them gradually to learn the value of money by earning a little themselves, and to learn to use it carefully by giving and spending of their own with some guiding advice from us? It is no doubt easier to do it all ourselves, but there can be no question which course better prepares a child for the responsibility of earning his own living, or of caring for a fortune by and by. Moreover, trustiness in temporal things is the basis of trustiness in eternal things.

There is nothing more destructive of manliness of character than for a child to feel that he is never trusted, especially to feel that he is not trusted to do right without watching. Treated so, he very soon depends upon the watching and is not safe without it. But a child responds readily to trust reposed in him. He is upon his honor to do well, and the manliness in him is awakened not to disappoint the expectation. It is of course necessary to adapt the responsibility to the strength, and not to expect a child to know what he has never been taught, nor to exercise the judgment of a man. We must be sure that what he is asked to do is within his ability; then to trust him, and to let him know that we trust him, begins to make a man of him. Faithfulness in a few things prepares him to make good use of many things. Trustworthiness cultivated in the years of boy- and girlhood prepares the children to take up the responsibilities of man- and womanhood.

If the earlier stages of development have done their work we need not fear the transition period, which is commonly recognized as a trying season in life, and a critical one. Infancy has laid up a store of innocence which has given heaven a hold upon the soul. Childhood has given a store of knowledge of what is good and right, and has disciplined the powers to obedience; the child has learned in small dangers and small duties not to disappoint the trust reposed in him by his parents; he is prepared for the greater responsibility with which the Lord now entrusts him. Still, the transition period needs our tenderest and wisest help. It is called a disagreeable age, and often it does not receive the sympathy and consideration which it needs. It is a trying and disagreeable age for reasons which we shall consider, but it is most of all trying and disagreeable to the one who is passing through it. He finds himself growing hard and critical; he finds himself questioning the decisions of his parents; he is rebellious and irritable; even the kindness of friends is an annoyance to him and he returns it with rudeness. This new state is distressing to one who inwardly loves his parents and friends as tenderly as he ever did. He is ashamed of himself, and sorry, when he has been rude to them. Even at the time he treats them so it hurts his better feelings, and yet he seems hardly able to do otherwise. He does not understand the meaning of this change. He does not know why it has come, and whether it is temporary or must last for the rest of his life. He certainly deserves not blame but kindly sympathy.

The cause of the change is that the faculty of rationality is developing. When fully formed it will give strength and grace to the manly character, but in the process of development it shows an unlovely side. The faculty first develops on the natural side, and in a hard and intellectual way. Afterwards it may open upward and become spiritual, and its hard intellectualness may be softened by a regard for use.

In the panorama of life presented in the Bible story, this faculty of rationality is represented by Abraham’s sons Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael is the first, natural reason, critical and hard; the son of the Egyptian hand-maid, a man of the deserts, described as “a wild-ass man, his hand against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” (Genesis 16: 12) In explaining these words about Ishmael, Swedenborg describes the character of one whose rationality is developed only in a natural way, and is not yet softened by regard for use. ” He is morose,” he says, ” impatient, in opposition to all others, regarding every one as in the wrong, instantly rebuking, chastening, punishing; he is without pity, and does not try to bend the minds of others; for he regards everything from truth, and not from good.” (AC 5949) Again, the natural rationality likened to the wild ass is described as ” morose, contentious, having a dry, hard life.” (AC 1964)

When one who has been a good and affectionate child comes into this critical, contentious state, it may be hard for his friends, but it is harder still for himself; he is not to be blamed, but helped with the utmost kindness and patience to come through the Ishmaelite stage to a more lovely and wiser rationality. And how shall we help ? by disputing and ridiculing the first efforts of a young man to reason for himself? To be sure his conclusions are very crude; he sees only the natural side of the question that he undertakes to solve; he thinks little of the opinion of any one in comparison with his own. But it may be an honest effort to use the faculty of reason. Shall we ridicule it? Do we treat so a child’s first efforts to walk? Does a bird treat so the efforts of her young to fly? This comparison is a good one, for the wings of a bird are emblems of the power of thought. ” He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings : so the LORD alone did lead him.” (Deuteronomy 32: 10-12) The patience of the parent-bird in teaching the young to fly is a suggestion of the Lord’s patience with our first efforts to use the faculty of reason. It is a lesson of patience to human parents.

Remember also that it is application to use which softens the hard intellectualness of the natural reason. We can be helpful, then, by leading a young man’s thoughts to usefulness, by encouraging the doing of useful work, turning his active mind from speculation and theory to good use, in which the truth will find the softening influence of good. There is nothing so wholesome for a young man or woman as work, good work, useful work; nothing is a surer help to bring them safely through to substantial manhood and womanhood.

What a help and safeguard it is if we have kept the children’s confidence from their babyhood till now, by sharing their interests with them, by meeting always kindly and patiently their confessions of weakness and failure! New dangers and temptations meet the children in these transition years; they need our instruction and warning, yet if we have not their fullest confidence, if we are not their tried and faithful friends, we cannot reach them with the help they need.

It may be with an agony of fear that parents see their children pass from their control. But if they have learned to be trustworthy children, trust them still, and let them know that you trust them. If we would have influence with a man and strengthen his manhood, we must treat him like a mean. Coercion is not useful at this stage. If it succeeds at all it does so by forcing the young man to remain a child. There is far more power in trust. It recognizes the developing manhood, and appeals to it to show itself worthy of confidence. We must respect a young man’s right to think for himself; if he is crude in his conclusions, not contradicting him, but comparing his view with ours, as man with man. Such treatment disarms his opposition, the self-assertion melts away, and often, with almost his old childlike docility, he voluntarily seeks advice and follows it.

Much of our ability to help the children in the new relation of opening manhood and womanhood depends upon our recognizing that it is a new relation. We must not treat them now as children, subject wholly to our will and judgment. The subjection they now owe is to the Lord, and we are their companions in the service. We help them with loving advice and sympathy and by doing our part to keep alive the tender things which give heaven its hold upon the soul. We help still more by expecting a young man to do right and trusting him to do it.

. The Transition

4. The Transition

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.”Psalm 27:10

The lesson of obedience has been learned. The next step in development is for the child to assume the guidance of his own life, which up to this time has been in his parents’ care. The Lord, therefore, gives in opening manhood and womanhood the rational faculty, the power not only to know and remember, but to understand, to rise above facts to principles, and to see the application of principles to various conditions. The new faculty does not give us power to invent truth,- no human mind has that power, – but it does enable us to make for ourselves the applications of truth which before our parents have made for us, and so to look directly to the Lord as our standard of truth and our Teacher. The rational faculty is not given that a young man may turn from dependence upon his parents to dependence upon himself, but to dependence upon the Lord ; that he may advance from indirect obedience to Him to direct obedience. ” When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.”

When circumstances remove children from their parents’ care; when parents die, when children leave home for college or for work ; when, though they still live with their parents, they outgrow the dependence of childhood, then they should be prepared to transfer their dependence to the Lord. It is to enable them to do this that rationality is given them. This is the essence of the change from boy- and girlhood to man- and womanhood.

To see clearly what the change is, is a help in knowing our duty to children at this transition period of life. If we have the change in mind as something that is coming, we can do much to prepare the children for it, so that at the right time they can make the change safely and happily.

From the first we can cultivate the thought that the children are the Lord’s children. We shall not selfishly wish to keep them in ignorance of their Heavenly Father, and claim all their affection for ourselves. We shall teach them about the Lord, and shall be glad to see their thoughts and affections turn to Him in childlike ways. If little children look up to us and think us very wise and good, we shall in our own hearts transfer their reverence to the Lord, knowing that whatever goodness or wisdom they find in us is from Him; and as the children grow older we shall not hide it from them that we are but giving them what the Lord gives us. It may be a trial to our natural feelings to think in this way of the children, as the Lord’s, and gradually to lead their thoughts and affections beyond ourselves to Him. It is a process of weaning ; it is a taking the child to the tabernacle and lending him to the Lord forever. But we must remember that we cannot always nurse and lead the children ; they will outgrow us. If we love them we must teach them about the Lord as the only One who is good and wise, so that when the change comes they will be able to turn promptly to Him.

We can also help to prepare the children for the responsibility which is coming to them, when they must be trusted to take into their own hands the choice of their course of life and their eternal destiny, by giving them even as children little responsibilities and gradually greater ones, and by helping them as children to be trustworthy. Suppose parents in their anxious carefulness for a child never let him go out of their sight; they go always with him to prevent his doing wrong and to shield him from every danger. The child grows up with the feeling that nothing depends upon him ; parents do everything for him, or if he must do some things himself, they carry the whole responsibility for him, they continually remind him of what he is to do and when to do it, and stand over him to see that it is done. When the child becomes a man and such care is no longer possible, is he well prepared to take up the responsibility of guiding his own life? He would be better prepared if he had become accustomed little by little to meeting the difficulties of life himself; if his parents in little things and for short times had trusted him to do right without their presence to check him or remind him. This mistaken kindness does not make a manly boy, nor prepare him for the time when he must assume the responsibilities of a man.

To take one practical example. We want the children, when they are grown up, to be honest and careful in the use of money. Shall we prepare them for the responsibility by always taking care of the money ourselves, always buying for them, and deciding for them what to buy? Or will it be better for them gradually to learn the value of money by earning a little themselves, and to learn to use it carefully by giving and spending of their own with some guiding advice from us? It is no doubt easier to do it all ourselves, but there can be no question which course better prepares a child for the responsibility of earning his own living, or of caring for a fortune by and by. Moreover, trustiness in temporal things is the basis of trustiness in eternal things.

There is nothing more destructive of manliness of character than for a child to feel that he is never trusted, especially to feel that he is not trusted to do right without watching. Treated so, he very soon depends upon the watching and is not safe without it. But a child responds readily to trust reposed in him. He is upon his honor to do well, and the manliness in him is awakened not to disappoint the expectation. It is of course necessary to adapt the responsibility to the strength, and not to expect a child to know what he has never been taught, nor to exercise the judgment of a man. We must be sure that what he is asked to do is within his ability; then to trust him, and to let him know that we trust him, begins to make a man of him. Faithfulness in a few things prepares him to make good use of many things. Trustworthiness cultivated in the years of boy- and girlhood prepares the children to take up the responsibilities of man- and womanhood.

If the earlier stages of development have done their work we need not fear the transition period, which is commonly recognized as a trying season in life, and a critical one. Infancy has laid up a store of innocence which has given heaven a hold upon the soul. Childhood has given a store of knowledge of what is good and right, and has disciplined the powers to obedience; the child has learned in small dangers and small duties not to disappoint the trust reposed in him by his parents; he is prepared for the greater responsibility with which the Lord now entrusts him. Still, the transition period needs our tenderest and wisest help. It is called a disagreeable age, and often it does not receive the sympathy and consideration which it needs. It is a trying and disagreeable age for reasons which we shall consider, but it is most of all trying and disagreeable to the one who is passing through it. He finds himself growing hard and critical; he finds himself questioning the decisions of his parents; he is rebellious and irritable; even the kindness of friends is an annoyance to him and he returns it with rudeness. This new state is distressing to one who inwardly loves his parents and friends as tenderly as he ever did. He is ashamed of himself, and sorry, when he has been rude to them. Even at the time he treats them so it hurts his better feelings, and yet he seems hardly able to do otherwise. He does not understand the meaning of this change. He does not know why it has come, and whether it is temporary or must last for the rest of his life. He certainly deserves not blame but kindly sympathy.

The cause of the change is that the faculty of rationality is developing. When fully formed it will give strength and grace to the manly character, but in the process of development it shows an unlovely side. The faculty first develops on the natural side, and in a hard and intellectual way. Afterwards it may open upward and become spiritual, and its hard intellectualness may be softened by a regard for use.

In the panorama of life presented in the Bible story, this faculty of rationality is represented by Abraham’s sons Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael is the first, natural reason, critical and hard; the son of the Egyptian hand-maid, a man of the deserts, described as “a wild-ass man, his hand against every man, and every man’s hand against him.” (Genesis 16: 12) In explaining these words about Ishmael, Swedenborg describes the character of one whose rationality is developed only in a natural way, and is not yet softened by regard for use. ” He is morose,” he says, ” impatient, in opposition to all others, regarding every one as in the wrong, instantly rebuking, chastening, punishing; he is without pity, and does not try to bend the minds of others; for he regards everything from truth, and not from good.” (AC 5949) Again, the natural rationality likened to the wild ass is described as ” morose, contentious, having a dry, hard life.” (AC 1964)

When one who has been a good and affectionate child comes into this critical, contentious state, it may be hard for his friends, but it is harder still for himself; he is not to be blamed, but helped with the utmost kindness and patience to come through the Ishmaelite stage to a more lovely and wiser rationality. And how shall we help ? by disputing and ridiculing the first efforts of a young man to reason for himself? To be sure his conclusions are very crude; he sees only the natural side of the question that he undertakes to solve; he thinks little of the opinion of any one in comparison with his own. But it may be an honest effort to use the faculty of reason. Shall we ridicule it? Do we treat so a child’s first efforts to walk? Does a bird treat so the efforts of her young to fly? This comparison is a good one, for the wings of a bird are emblems of the power of thought. ” He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings : so the LORD alone did lead him.” (Deuteronomy 32: 10-12) The patience of the parent-bird in teaching the young to fly is a suggestion of the Lord’s patience with our first efforts to use the faculty of reason. It is a lesson of patience to human parents.

Remember also that it is application to use which softens the hard intellectualness of the natural reason. We can be helpful, then, by leading a young man’s thoughts to usefulness, by encouraging the doing of useful work, turning his active mind from speculation and theory to good use, in which the truth will find the softening influence of good. There is nothing so wholesome for a young man or woman as work, good work, useful work; nothing is a surer help to bring them safely through to substantial manhood and womanhood.

What a help and safeguard it is if we have kept the children’s confidence from their babyhood till now, by sharing their interests with them, by meeting always kindly and patiently their confessions of weakness and failure! New dangers and temptations meet the children in these transition years; they need our instruction and warning, yet if we have not their fullest confidence, if we are not their tried and faithful friends, we cannot reach them with the help they need.

It may be with an agony of fear that parents see their children pass from their control. But if they have learned to be trustworthy children, trust them still, and let them know that you trust them. If we would have influence with a man and strengthen his manhood, we must treat him like a mean. Coercion is not useful at this stage. If it succeeds at all it does so by forcing the young man to remain a child. There is far more power in trust. It recognizes the developing manhood, and appeals to it to show itself worthy of confidence. We must respect a young man’s right to think for himself; if he is crude in his conclusions, not contradicting him, but comparing his view with ours, as man with man. Such treatment disarms his opposition, the self-assertion melts away, and often, with almost his old childlike docility, he voluntarily seeks advice and follows it.

Much of our ability to help the children in the new relation of opening manhood and womanhood depends upon our recognizing that it is a new relation. We must not treat them now as children, subject wholly to our will and judgment. The subjection they now owe is to the Lord, and we are their companions in the service. We help them with loving advice and sympathy and by doing our part to keep alive the tender things which give heaven its hold upon the soul. We help still more by expecting a young man to do right and trusting him to do it.

Obedience

3. Obedience

“And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business .

And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them.

And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.- but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

Luke 2: 49-52

We must now follow the development of the child from infancy through boy- and girlhood, the period say from seven to seventeen years, reserving for a future study the transition period which leads to man- and womanhood. The familiar passage from the Gospel taken as our text presents simply and beautifully the Lord’s example in childhood and youth, the consciousness of higher work before Him, and the preparation for it by faithful subjection to natural parents, and to the circumstances of humble life in this world. It will help us to see and to do our duty to the children at this stage of their development to know what the essential quality of this period of life is; what kind of goodness ought to be expected at this age, and what its special place is in the life-history of each one. If we express in one word the essential quality of this period of life, and the element which it should contribute to heavenly character, the word is obedience. By and by will come the time to choose our course of life, but first the Lord gives opportunity for our faculties to be developed and trained to obedience, so that when we reach the age of choice we shall have well-disciplined minds and bodies which can be trusted to carry our choice into effect. As in any trade or art, one first learns the use of his tools, and trains his hand to follow the models set by others, before he undertakes original work. One thing at a time. In childhood to develop the faculties and bring them into willing obedience; afterwards the responsibility of guiding them.

The physical powers must learn obedience; they must be developed and disciplined to quick and skilful action. The hands and feet must become strong and willing servants. The senses, too, must learn obedience, to see and hear accurately, and to report truly what they receive. All the members and faculties of the body must learn obedience, till their efforts, at first weak and blundering, grow strong and perfect. The mental powers at the same time need similar training. The thought must gain the ability to apply and concentrate itself, and, like the senses and the hands, to do accurately what it is set to do. The same lesson must reach to the highest plane of faculties, and the affections must learn obedience. Children must gain the power to turn from what is pleasant, if it is forbidden, and to yield their will to their parents and to others who are in place of parents. To do this and to do it bravely, to do it promptly and even cheerfully, is the crown of childhood’s work. For skilful hands and brain are useless and perhaps worse than useless if the will is ungoverned. If the will has learned obedience, all the discipline of thought and hand is turned to good account.

We appreciate the value of the first innocence of childhood only when we know its use in after life, and so with this lesson of obedience. If it were a mere question of the child’s present happiness and our own, we might often not have the patience to teach his desires to obey; we might often with mistaken kindness yield. But consider the injury, the loss to the child. He fails to gain the mastery over his will, which of all forms of obedience is the most essential. By and by he will outgrow our care and he will have, of his own accord, to give obedience to the Lord’s commandments. How easy this will be if he has learned to yield his will promptly and cheerfully to his parents! How hard it will be if he has not learned obedience, but is led by his passions and appetites and his own pleasure! Childhood was the time to learn the lesson, and to learn it easily. It is hard to teach skill to the old hand which has been untrained in youth. It is hard to discipline the powers of thought late in life. It is harder still, far harder, to teach obedience to the will which has grown up to have its own way.

Yet obedience must be learned. God’s laws are as unchanging as His love. We cannot disobey them, we cannot evade them, and escape unharmed. They have the fixity of the rock. If we run against it, it is not the rock that suffers, but we. We see the fixity of Divine laws in nature. We do not try to stop the sunrise or to delay the tides. There is no physical safety but in conforming to the laws of God in nature. Just so in the realm of spiritual life. We may defy the commandments, we speak of breaking them, but it is we that are broken and suffer till we learn to obey. How much of such suffering is saved if we learn obedience as children, first to our parents, and then to the Lord!

Our duty to the children in the years of boy- and girlhood is to help them to learn the lesson of obedience; to help them to develop and discipline their physical powers, and their powers of mind and heart. It is to help them to gain mastery over themselves, so that when presently, in the exercise of manly freedom, they make the Lord their Master, they can bring to His service faculties trained to obey and to be obeyed. They can look up to Him as did the centurion at Capernaum, saying, “Speak the word only… . For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” (Matthew 8: 8,9) The Lord feels the same pleasure to-day in one who has learned this childhood’s lesson of obedience as He found in the centurion when He marveled at his faith and granted his prayer for help.

When we understand obedience in its broad and true sense, as self-mastery and discipline, we see that it is not something to be taught by contention between us and the child. We are not to conquer him, but to help him to conquer himself. Nothing will aid us more in this great work than sympathy, unfeigned interest and sympathy in each step of his progress. We can share his pleasure in his developing physical powers, and can enjoy his successes in trials of physical strength, helping him to feel that it is himself rather than his rivals in the game that he is learning to conquer. We can also raise the child’s thought from mere strength to quickness and skill. We can awaken his interest in these finer kinds of excellence, and can show him the pleasure of teaching his hands to obey accurately and to work with neatness, exactness, and grace. In encouraging a child to such excellence with his hands, we are also training the powers of thought and purpose which are behind the manual action to similar exactness and honesty. In this lies the real benefit of manual training as an element of education, and experience has shown its power as a means of awakening and strengthening essential elements of character. We must encourage and teach the child to use his hands and all his physical powers, and to use them accurately and well.

Without our suggestion and help the children do not know how much their senses may be awakened and developed. Some children who have been thought to be entirely deaf have, by careful training, been taught to hear. This is of course in cases where the difficulty is not wholly in the organs of hearing, but in the ability to use them. It is a delight to all children to learn to use their eyes and ears; and in this development what a help we have in nature, which is so good a friend to the children in many ways. We can go with them into the country and teach them to look and listen, teach them to watch the plants and insects and the birds, to learn to recognize their faces and their voices and to know what they are doing at different seasons of the year. Children miss a rare delight who do not know the pleasure of searching for nature’s secrets, always finding something curious and new. In this they need a companion who knows a little more than they, and yet who is always learning with them with the enthusiasm of a child; one who can rejoice with them in the finding of a crystal, who can show them how the violet hides its summer blossoms, what the bumble-bee is doing in the clover, for himself and for the plant; who can show them how one butterfly has learned to imitate his neighbor for his greater safety, and how the humming-bird trims her nest. We must be the guides and the companions of the children in this delightful lesson of learning to use their senses; for we all are children together on the threshold of a world of wonders. Such nature-study assists development in many ways. It leads to much wholesome exercise in the air and sunshine. It tempts to long walks and to rough climbs. Its benefit is felt through all the physical plane of life. We have seen its use in developing the senses and training them in accurate observation. It also gives opportunity for close and careful thought in following the changes of a flower or insect, in studying the relation of plant and insect to each other; in comparing one kind with another, noting their likenesses and differences; in trying to learn the reason for what we see. There is no better discipline for the mental faculties, to give the power of application and concentration and the ability to make accurate decisions. We must lead the children’s interest in these thoughtful ways, and must show them the pleasure of close and accurate exercise of thought and memory.

The mental discipline which begins so naturally in the’ woods and fields can be carried further in the school-room. The amount that is learned is far less important than the way in which it is learned. It should be learned in a way to call out and develop the mental powers and deeper elements of character. To accurate observation and careful thought children may add the ability for true expression, learning the use of words and of that wonderful and sadly neglected instrument, the voice. Mathematics or history or language may give the same pleasure as games and exercises of physical strength and quickness. There is the same pleasant sense that the faculties are learning to obey. During this period of childhood the memory is especially strong and active, and with the awakened powers of observation the memory may gain a store of knowledge which will be of after-use. Both from the book of nature and from the book of the Lord’s Holy Word it gathers precious treasures and holds them faithfully.

But obedience must, as we have seen, reach higher; it must extend to the affections. This is the hardest lesson and the most important. It needs our closest sympathy and constant help. We, have spoken of a child’s intercourse with nature as a means of training the senses and the powers of thought. It also appeals to the affections. Under wise guidance it awakens in the children a kindly sympathy with living things, a friendliness for the insects and the flowers, a fellow-feeling for the animals. It is wholesome to have the affections drawn outward and away from one’s self. A child is also very sensitive to the influence of what is beautiful and grand in nature. He feels his smallness and the power of Him who made the mountains and the sea and calls the stars by name, and yet who remembers each bird and flower. Very little help is needed to turn the affections of one who loves nature to the Lord.

We have spoken also of children’s sports and games as means of developing and disciplining their powers. In these relations of children among themselves there is constant appeal to the affections, and our help is constantly needed to bring home to these activities of the will the lesson of self-control and obedience We must help the children to gain mastery, not only over the foot and hand, not only over the power of thought, but over the affections. The will must learn to obey, to yield promptly to what is right. We must help the children to see the beauty of a spirit which can yield and let others have their way. We see the contest going on in a child’s heart, and we watch it with more interest than any test of physical or intellectual skill. We give the encouragement of our sympathy by a touch or a look, and when he conquers and the selfish will yields, we let him know that we admire the victory.

The children’s sympathy with suffering and need is easily aroused, and when children’s sympathy is touched no generosity is so self-forgetful as theirs. We can encourage this sympathy and the spirit of self-sacrifice, at the same time that we teach it a wise moderation. Again, it is not a long step from the children’s desire to be doing and their natural enjoyment in imitating the work of older people, it is not a long step to the enjoyment of doing something useful. Here we have a constant opportunity to bring the lesson of obedience to the affections of the children ; for usefulness requires self-sacrifice, the yielding of their natural will, to duty. We can show that we value their help, even when there is little valuable in it but the motive. We can assign them some regular work and encourage them to do it faithfully. As they become able to do small things faithfully, as their affections learn obedience, they are prepared to be trusted with great things.

What patience it requires to teach the lesson of obedience! What firmness and what kindness are needed! What intimate knowledge of the children’s interests! What real sympathy with their failures and successes! What exercise on our part of that self-control which we are helping them to gain! But much may be done, and easily done, if we begin from the very beginning to help the child to yield, from the first time that we lay the baby down and tell him that he must go to sleep, alone. He quickly learns that resistance and coaxing are useless, and is content. It is a great point gained. There will be other times with a growing child when the parents’ refusal of his wishes seems hard and arbitrary. He rebels against it, but he is inwardly ashamed, for he knows that his parents have his good at heart. He rebels but they are firm, for they know that obedience must be learned, and they are thinking of the time when the child is grown, and it becomes a question not of obedience to their will but to the Lord’s commandments. They are firm, and when he is a little older the child thanks them for it with all his heart. They have not conquered him ; they have helped him to conquer himself, to gain mastery over all his faculties of body, mind, and heart. They have prepared him to go safely into the world, and to obey the laws of God.

Heaven’s Hold Upon the Child

2. Heaven’s Hold Upon the Child

“Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.”

Isaiah 7: 15

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”

Psalm 8: 2

Our study of heredity has taught us that every one inherits a tendency to the evils which have been developed and confirmed in the lives of many generations of ancestors. There are also some good traits of inheritance, but these are a feeble ground of resistance to the evil tendencies, both because of their fewness, and still more because good of inheritance, until it becomes of principle, is superficial and has no strength of resistance in it. With such an inheritance the case of a child would be hopeless if the Lord did not provide some strong basis of good to offset the tendency to evil. Without such help there would be no ground to stand upon to resist the natural tendencies, and one would inevitably be carried away by them. The Lord makes the provision which is necessary in a most wonderful way, and He makes it for every one.

The Lord first provides that the natural inheritance of a child shall not be awakened immediately at his birth. It lies dormant, and the natural tendencies to evil only gradually manifest themselves as years go by, some of them not appearing till life is far advanced. We see the wisdom of this provision of the Lord, for if one came suddenly at birth into the full force of the evil tendencies of his inheritance, it would be impossible to withstand them. But delay alone is not protection enough. Even if the awakening of the evil is postponed and comes to our consciousness only gradually, we still are no better able to meet it unless in the mean time, while the natural disposition is sleeping, good gains a positive hold upon us. If in some way this can be brought about, then when the evil tendencies are allowed gradually to awaken, the child has something to compare them with, to judge of their real quality; he has some ground to stand upon to offer effective resistance.

And this help the Lord gives. He provides that in the first years of life, before the natural inheritance is aroused, holy influences shall be with every child. He accomplishes this in part by touching the hearts of parents and others in this world, to show a tenderness towards little children, which calls out their affection in return. Of this we must speak later. But this is not the only means of giving the foundation of goodness which is so necessary for after-life. This is too feeble a means and too uncertain to be trusted to alone. The strongest influences for good with every little child are influences direct from heaven and the Lord. Angels of heaven are near to every child, and they use the precious opportunities while his soul is open to them to implant impressions of innocence, of goodness and truth, on which the strength of after-years and eternal life in heaven depend. They are among the best and tenderest of the angels who are assigned to this holy duty. The Lord tells us this when He says of little children that their angels do always behold the face of the Father in heaven.

“Immediately after birth,” says Swedenborg, “angels from the heaven of innocence are with little children; afterwards angels from the heaven of the tranquility of peace, and afterwards angels from the societies of charity.” (AC 2303) Elsewhere the heavenly companions of children are described in other words. It is said that at first celestial angels, those characterized by the most tender love, are with little children, and later, as their state changes, spiritual angels are with them, those who impart more of the light of truth. Afterwards, when one begins to act from himself and his hereditary evils awaken, then the earlier innocent states are withdrawn by the Lord towards the interiors of the soul, and are there stored up. (AC 5342, 2280, 3183) The innocent states and impressions which are thus stored up by the Lord are often called in the Bible “the remnant” from which new life is to revive, and in our doctrines they are called ” remains.” To quote again a more explicit definition of ” remains.” “They are not only the goods and truths which a man has learned from his infancy out of the Lord’s Word, and which are thus impressed on his memory; but they are likewise all states thence derived, as states of innocence from infancy, states of love towards parents, brothers, teachers, and others, states of charity towards the neighbor and also of mercy towards the poor and needy. In a word, all states of good and truth. . . . These are stored up by the Lord in the internal man whilst he is altogether ignorant thereof, . . . and there is not the smallest of them lost.” (AC 561, 1906)

The use of this store of innocent states and impressions, so carefully laid away and guarded by the Lord, appears when the hereditary evil tendencies begin to awaken and to assert themselves. Heaven already has a hold upon the child. He knows something of the happiness of good and innocent states. The new attractions come into contrast with these. He has some means of judging the new states, and some ground of resistance to them. As the work of regeneration goes on, deeper and deeper stores of innocence are opened and brought to consciousness, so that as one grows in spiritual life, in a very real sense he is becoming again as a little child.

The taste of heavenly goodness and happiness which is given to every little child in infancy, and the purpose of it, are taught in the prophecy spoken directly of the Lord, but true in a degree of every one, “Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.” The value of these heavenly states as a ground of resistance to evil as it arises in the life, is taught in the words of the Psalm, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”

Do we not know practically something of the value of the pure and holy things of childhood stored away within us? Are not a man’s recollections of his early home, his memory of his father and mother and his love for them, among the strongest influences for good that he knows? It is not rare that the recollection of some tender scene of home, the face of one who was dear and now has gone, comes to mind in a moment of temptation, and is the means of calling a man to himself. How often some early lesson, some line of Scripture learned as a child, some tender word of counsel, returns in a critical moment and gives the help we need! And these are among the most external of the holy things stored up by the Lord. The influence of the angels who were with us in the beginning of life is more deeply laid away, hidden from distinct consciousness. Yet it is the strongest tie. We have breathed the air of heaven; we have felt its innocence and peace. It is our native land, our home, and though we may yield to the promptings of evil and come into other states; though we may wander far from the Lord and heaven, we are as exiles, as home-sick children. There are inner yearnings for our first home and our angel friends. These are the strongest ties. They give us warning as often as we go astray. Unless we wantonly destroy them, they whisper ever in our hearts of heaven, and give us no rest until we find it.

The knowledge of this store of innocent impressions which the Lord lays up in childhood as a basis of strength in later years, – as the foundation of all the happiness of heaven forever, has an important bearing upon our duty to the children. In the first place, it is a most blessed and encouraging thought that in the mercy of the Lord heaven is near to every little child, however degraded his natural surroundings. Have you not wondered to see a ragged child playing with a few sticks and a heap of earth with the same content and innocent enjoyment which another finds in costly toys? It is the angels who glorify all things to his eyes, and make the simplest possessions lovely. However hard the outward lot of children may be, however they may be neglected by natural parents, the Lord and angels do not forget them. By their ministry the basis of heaven is laid in every child; the ability is given to refuse evil and choose the good, and so to find a home in heaven.

But this does not make it unnecessary for us on the natural side to do our part for the children in these first years of life. To know what angels and the Lord are doing should exalt our idea of the importance of these first years. It should stimulate us to do our part well, that we may not hinder but help the Lord and angels in their work. There is, perhaps, no grander, truer movement, in the world to-day than the new effort to learn the nature of the child, to approach his opening faculties in sympathetic ways, and to assist their orderly and beautiful development. We can let the founders of the kindergarten and its wise workers be our teachers in many things. It is a promise of great good, that so many young women are making those principles a study, and are finding their application in the school and the home. Knowing, as we do, how near heaven is to children, and that the Lord has provided these first years of innocence as a means of laying a basis of good on which regeneration and heaven for the child must rest, we can avail ourselves of the methods of wise teachers with a still deeper purpose than their discoverers knew. In all our efforts for the children we look beyond their natural development and their preparation for usefulness in this world, to the awakening and strengthening of their spiritual life. In what we do for children we know that we are not alone, but are co-operating with the Lord and angels in storing up during years of plenty the corn which shall preserve their life in the years of famine which must follow.

Knowing the purpose of the Lord for little children, a wise mother or teacher feels every smallest contact with a child to be a precious opportunity. Care of the child is not a hardship to be got rid of as easily as possible. A mother feels that she cannot do a nobler and more useful work than to cherish this beginning of immortal life. The opportunities to cooperate with the angels begin from the very beginning. Remember the description that was quoted of the treasures of innocence that are laid up in childhood. They are not only things learned from the Holy Word, but states of innocence from infancy, states of love towards parents, brothers, teachers, and friends, states of charity towards the neighbor, and of mercy towards the poor and needy; in a word, all states of good and truth.

From the very beginning there is opportunity to encourage these states of innocence. The love in a mother’s voice does something; her lullaby as she puts her child to sleep, her smile which awakens an answering smile of love. Who shall say that her own cheerful, useful, holy thoughts, as she sits by her sleeping child, or passes in and out where it is lying, have not an effect upon the opening life? As the child grows, the variety of the mother’s opportunities increases. She does not yield to every wish, in the thought that if the child is gratified angels have the best opportunity to do their blessed work. In some of the child’s wishes the mother sees a sign of selfishness, of greediness, of willfulness. To encourage that would be to hinder the angels in their work. So from the very first she checks these unholy things in wise, loving ways, and encourages instead states that are free from selfishness. The effort to bend the child to these most innocent states and most open to the influences of heaven cannot begin too soon. And who can see the opportunities so quickly as the wise mother? Where can the same tenderness and patience be found as in the mother’s love? How carefully for the child’s sake must parents and teachers avoid all anger or other unheavenly feelings in their relations with the children, which cannot fail to call out unheavenly feelings in return! They lead the awakening senses of the child to beautiful things in the world around him. They take advantage of his association with other children at home or in school to encourage a kind and generous spirit. They lead the child to find pleasure in being helpful in little ways. Every hour that the child is kept in a good and heavenly state, the hold of heaven upon him is strengthened. Does the nurse who tends the baby, does the mother herself, appreciate her opportunity?

And among the treasures which may be stored up in children’s hearts we must not forget the influence of sacred things, especially the influence of the Lord’s Word and His prayer. We know the peculiar charm which the Bible stories have for children when simply and reverently read to them. We are taught that the reverent reading of the Bible, and the repeating of the Lord’s prayer, brings heaven near to every soul, but that this is especially true of little children. (AC 1776, 1871) We must not deprive them of this precious help. We need not wait till they can fully understand the Bible. (Will that time ever come?) Choose the simple stories that they love, and find the time before they sleep at night, or some quiet Sunday hour, when they will listen reverently. As they can, let them learn the prayer and other simple words of Scripture. Learned now, they will bean eternal possession and a source of untold strength. And in all this seek to make the reading and the learning pleasant to the children; a duty, but a pleasant duty, that the moments with the Lord’s Word may be precious memories laid away among the most tender associations of family and church and home. The mother by the bedside of her child, the teacher with her class in Sunday-school, should know the value of every holy moment when the thoughts and the affections are turned to the Lord and heaven.

In many such ways which love and experience teach, those who are entrusted with the care of children on the earthly side may co-operate with the Lord and angels in laying up the store of innocence which will enable them to refuse the evil and choose the good; which will be a source of strength to them in the temptations which must come; which will give heaven an entrance to their souls, and a hold which – let us pray – will never be shaken off, but will resist all strains and bring them safely home.

1. Heredity

Our Duty to the Children


1. Heredity

“Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;” And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keel my commandments.

Exodus 20:5, 6

The attention of reformers and educators, and of all who have the good of the world at heart, is turning more and more to the children. It is a difficult task to re-form the character when it is confirmed and hardened with years. It is like trying to straighten an old tree, or to mould clay that has been hardened in the fire; but the same effort wisely directed to a child may do much to form a character that is noble and lovely; we are then bending a pliant twig, or molding plastic clay. The period of childhood, of growth and formation, gives us our best opportunity to exert an influence which will be effective. When we realize how great the results of our influence maybe for happiness or misery through all of life, and not in this world only but to eternity, we feel the sacredness of our duty to the children, and the importance of learning to do it wisely. To think that my association with a child, my words or my example, may influence his whole life in this world and forever!  It is a wonderful trust that the Lord has reposed in us in committing such great things to our care.

And where does our duty to the children begin? with helping them as young men and women to choose their course in life? But their ability to choose depends largely upon the instruction and training which they have previously received. And our responsibility begins before the age when children need the instruction of a teacher, from the time that they first become conscious of their surroundings. Mothers are learning that. the hours with their children when first impressions are received, and the first tender developments of affection and intelligence appear, are full of precious opportunities. It is even known that influences affect the child before his birth; yes, that the responsibility of parents goes back of this to the attitude towards good and evil which they have assumed in their own lives. Let us begin at the beginning and inquire how heredity bears upon our duty to the children.

By heredity we do not mean an arbitrary title to virtue or to sin, supposed to have descended to us from Adam. We mean nothing arbitrary nor exceptional, but simply the same kind of transmission of qualities and of traits of character from parent to child which we recognize as a law of all generation. The seeds of plants and trees bring forth after their kind. When we plant wheat we know that wheat will grow, and corn from corn, and not thorns and thistles. Not only are the general characteristics of a species perpetuated in successive generations, but special qualities. So we plant in our gardens the seeds of choice varieties of vegetables and fruits, expecting that the peculiar flavor and quality of the parent plants will reappear in their descendants. We also know that if we continue the conditions which have given rise to certain peculiar qualities, those qualities will be developed to greater perfection. The same law holds in the animal kingdom. The gentle animals and the fierce bring forth according to their kind; and special excellences of parents are perpetuated and increased in their descendants.

According to the same law of heredity in the human family, each race of men perpetuates its own peculiarities. Closer likenesses are noticeable among those of nearer kin. Children inherit from their parents and grandparents peculiarities of feature and of manner, liability to disease of special forms, or aptitude for one kind of work or another. (AC 2300) This likeness of children to parents extends to things deeper than physical form and manner, to mental traits and to the inmost tendencies of character. The general principle of heredity is stated thus by Swedenborg

“Everything which parents have contracted by frequent use and habit … until it has become familiar to them, so as to appear as if it were natural, is derived into their children and ,becomes hereditary. If parents have lived in the enjoyment of the love of good, and have perceived in this life their delight and blessedness … their offspring receive thence an inclination to a like good. In like manner they who receive hereditarily the enjoyment of the love of evil.” (AC 3469) “As to hereditary evil the case is this, that every one who commits actual sin induces a nature on himself thence, and the evil thence is implanted in the children and becomes’ hereditary, and that thus from each ancestor, from his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and other forefathers in order, it is multiplied and grows in his posterity and remains with each and is increased with each by actual sins. Nor is it dissipated so as not to be hurtful, except with those who are regenerated by the Lord.” (AC 313)

How real a factor heredity is in the problem of human development and regeneration may be seen from the fact that men in their state of early innocence were born into love for the Lord and to one another, and into the faculty for knowing, appropriate to those loves, as animals are born into the affections and perceptions appropriate to their life. Then as men grew from childhood to adult years, they needed only freely and intelligently to confirm the good that was natural to them. But hereditary evil has changed the inner structure of the mind and turned it away from heaven, so that children are born in absolute ignorance, and rationality must `be developed by slow degrees and by external means. A factor which has produced such effects is not one to be ignored nor lightly treated. (Lesser Diary 4635, AC 1902, 3318)  The seriousness of the question of heredity is still further seen when we learn that while some things of inheritance are comparatively external and may in time be cast off, other things are more interior and enduring. In general, the inheritance from the mother is more external in kind and may gradually be removed; that from the father is more interior and is never absolutely removed, even though we become angels of heaven; but it may be so thoroughly overcome and put to one side that it gives no more pain or annoyance. (AC 1414, 1444,1573,4546, DP 79)

Instruction like this invites us to very serious reflection. At first when we are told that this accumulated evil of generations is our inheritance, we are appalled; and when we learn that a part of the evil inheritance can never be absolutely removed, the case seems hopeless, especially when we see the conditions of evil in which so many children are born. It is well that we should be enough appalled to realize that there is no safety and no possibility of heaven for any one except through the mercy of the Lord. Trusting in His mercy, which is forever and over all His children, we may calmly study the principles of heredity and note their bearing upon our duty to the children. They compel us to feel kindly towards the children and their faults; they show us that the way of heaven is open to every child, but that the Lord’s providence needs our co-operation; they teach us that the first help we owe the children is to resist for their sakes the evil in ourselves.

If tendencies to evil come to children through no wrong of theirs, how tenderly we must feel towards them and their faults; especially towards those’ who are born in conditions which seem to make their burden heavy. We may hate the evil thoroughly, and use every means to correct it; but we can feel only pity for the children, and the tenderest desire to free them from the evil tendencies before they deliberately choose them and make them their own.

And if we look tenderly upon all children, most of all must parents regard tenderly their own children when they recognize the children’s faults as theirs. A child shows a disorderly appetite, a hasty temper, a natural deceitfulness, a complaining or critical spirit, and the parent recognizes it as a fault which his child has inherited from him; he perhaps feels that by his own indulgence of the wrong he has made the burden heavier for his child. Must he not have the deepest pity and the tenderest desire to help the child? He knows the wrong from experience, and the sorrows to which it leads. He recognizes it at its first appearance in the child, and is even prepared for it before it appears. With kindest sympathy he checks it promptly and patiently, and, as the child grows older, he lets him feel the encouragement of companionship in the conflict. One advantage which parents have above all others in helping their children is, that if they will they can understand them better, both their virtues and their faults, and can help them with a more tender sympathy and patience.

There is hope for every child. We should look upon even the most unpromising children as angels in possibility. For common sense teaches, and the doctrines of the New Church emphatically teach by general principles and by explicit statements, that every child whom the Lord allows to be born and to grow up in the world may, if he fights his battle bravely, find a home in heaven. (AC 828, DP 322, 329)

The Lord in judging takes all conditions and circumstances into account. He that knew not and committed things worthy of stripes is less guilty than he that knew and committed the same sins. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” (Luke 12: 47, 48) And among the conditions which the Lord takes into account are those of heredity and birth, which He only knows. The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there.” (Psalm 87: 6)

Moreover, sin is not inherited, nor goodness, but only tendencies to one or the other. As tendencies, they are not a part of character, and, however bad they may be, they do not make one guilty. Evil dispositions do not become actual and a part of our real selves until we knowingly choose them and encourage them, and, so far as we are free to do so, act from them. Then they become ours, and by continuing to act from them we confirm and strengthen them. If one thus chooses evil, he is guilty, not before. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” (Ezekiel 28: 20)

It is possible to overvalue a good natural disposition, and to exaggerate the disadvantage of one who has a conspicuously bad heredity. Just as evil of inheritance does not become of the character, and does not condemn, except so far as it is knowingly chosen and confirmed, so good of inheritance, even though it may appear outwardly lovely, does not make a heavenly character unless principles of truth are learned from the Lord, and the good is done religiously for His sake. We are taught that there is no depth to goodness that is merely of inheritance, which comes, as we say, by nature and not from principle, and there is no strength in it. It is compared to the goodness of animals, and when it is exposed to any real temptation it has no power of resistance, but is carried hither and thither into evil. (AC 4988, 5032, 6208) It is possible that natural good and pleasing ways may sometimes be a hindrance rather than a help in the formation of true, strong, heavenly character. One may move along easily and think himself good; hateful evils may never show themselves in his life and compel him to recognize their hideousness, and to condemn them and resist them, and to seek the Lord’s help against them. And so his character may never gain any real depth and strength. It may well be that such a life of easy natural goodness, which seems to us so lovely, has in the Lord’s sight less of strength and of real fitness for heaven than a life with far less natural goodness, which, by many temptations and even through many falls, has learned its own weakness and the hatefulness of evil, and with the Lord’s help has set itself resolutely against it. ” Many that are first shall be last,” the Lord says; “and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 29: 30)

It was otherwise when men were innocent, but in our day and generation it is permitted by the Lord that some awakening of our natural evil inheritance shall be for our good. It gives the opportunity to choose definitely between good and evil, to learn our own weakness and the Lord’s saving power. It never is useful to do evil : that confirms the evil in us; but if when we feel the tendency to it we resist it and turn to the Lord for help, we have gained in strength. We are even taught that those who go as little children to heaven, and grow up there in innocence, are at times allowed to feel something of what their natural disposition is, of what the Lord is saving them from, and the experience adds strength to their character, a deeper gratitude and trust, a more perfect safety and peace. (AC 2307, 2308) There is this same mercy over the permissions of evil inheritance and evil association which rest so heavily upon some children in this world. Where the conditions cannot be wholly changed we can cooperate with the Lord’s providence for the children by helping them to see the hatefulness of evil and to gain strength by resisting it. The evident evil tendencies of inheritance are the handles by which, with the Lord’s help, one may take hold of the work of repentance and regeneration. ” Master,” the disciples asked, “who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” ” Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents,” the Lord answered: “but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” (John 8: 2,3) Be the cause of one’s weak nature what it may, its very weakness may become its strength, by leading him to find the saving power of the Lord.

The providence of the Lord is with every human being, making possible to every one a home in heaven, and causing even the evil of inheritance to give unwilling help in regeneration. He labors always to restrain the effect of wrong within the narrowest possible bounds, and to multiply good to the widest possible. extent. So He teaches us when He speaks of visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments.

But because the Lord does His part, it does not follow that there is nothing for men to do. His providence always needs our co-operation. The very sentence which tells us of His care for future generations reminds us also of our own responsibility. “The iniquities of the fathers upon the children.” The son is not made guilty by his father’s sin; no one is condemned because of a bad heredity; and yet it still is true that careless and wicked parents make the way harder for their children. On the other hand, ought not a knowledge of the laws of heredity put it in the power of the well disposed to lessen the burden which is handed on from parent to child from generation to generation ? No doubt it ought. The words of the commandment distinctly imply it. But here we are on holy ground. One who would assume to predetermine and control the character of a child is surely touching with profane hands what belongs to the Lord alone. Human efforts in this direction must be rather negative than positive. They must be efforts to subdue self, and to put thoughts of self far away, that there may be no hindrance to the Lord in doing His blessed work. ” Except the LORD build the house…. except the LORD keep the city. . . . Lo, children area heritage of the LORD : and the fruit of the womb is his reward.” (Psalm 127)

Yet the thought of helping others should be a strong motive in resisting not only wrong acts, but wrong thoughts and feelings. Every resistance to evil lessens the power of evil in the world, for others as well as for ourselves. We resist evil for the sake of others when we put away some selfishness, that the Lord may work more fully through us and with us, and that the brightness of heaven may grow within us and shine around us. Especially must we think of this in our relations with the children. Parents -and the thought applies in a less degree to teachers and all who are with children-should faithfully resist every evil act and thought and feeling in their own hearts for the children’s sake, that they may bring to them a good and helpful influence and not a poisoned one; that they may not cut off from the children the blessed influence of the Lord, but in every way may suffer them to come to Him. Often one might grow careless or be led away by some sudden impulse, but the thought of the children who look to him for help reminds him to be faithful. “For their sakes I sanctify myself.” (John 17:19)  It is our first duty to the children.