How good a parent am I?


Spiritual Questions & Answers

ParentMany a parent wonders how good they are at the job. According to the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, many parents fail to impose proper discipline in the home and simply put children in front of the television rather than talk and play with them.

Many studies have described a bad parent as being neglectful or over-controlling. For example, professor Dieter Wolke at the University of Warwick found that such negative parenting is linked to a moderate increase in the risk of being a bully and a small increase in the risk of being a victim of bullying.

None of this may be true for your children. Nevertheless, perhaps as a parent with a conscience you fear you are not giving them enough of your time, or haven’t found the right way to balance being both warm and firm with them in a consistent way. Here are some questions that can help you assess just how good you are in the role of mother or father.

Are you too scared to let them do their own thing?

There is probably a natural urge for any parent to want to jump in to protect the  child at the slightest hint of danger. Pamela Druckerman, an American mother living in Paris, said that her heart would regularly jump when walking around her neighbourhood because a French parent often lets small kids race ahead of them on the pavement. They trust their children will stop at the corner and wait for them. “ Watching this is particularly terrifying when the kids are on scooters.”

It is hard to get right when to allow children to learn from their mistakes. Too lax, and you might have a serious injury or worse on your hands. But too protective and your child never experiences sufficient sense of autonomy and does not learn to be street-wise with the self-confidence that goes along with this. The key I feel is self-reflection. What is your inner attitude? Do you construct worst-case parent scenarios or are you able to calmly assess the realistic risks?

Do you get too angry about their failures?

It is surely only natural to feel disappointed from time to time with children’s conduct and performance. Feeling cross for any parent is understandable when we see them being naughty. However, does this anger last? Are we furious when they do poorly on the playing field, or at school tests? For example the aggression and foul-mouthed behaviour of some fathers watching their sons play football. I would argue that such anger expresses an attitude that the children are there to fulfil the parents own frustrated ambitions.  Something similar can be heard in the conversation between mothers who politely vie with each other to boast about their own children’s accomplishments.

Do you resent the inconveniences they cause you?

Baby’s cry loudly if uncomfortable and hungry and mothers quickly respond with selfless affection making things better. However, as they get older children also make their demands. And often for their own good they will need you to drop what you are doing to talk with them. How willing are you to spend time with your child doing an activity he or she enjoys even when you are tired or want some time to yourself? It is often personally inconvenient to have to attend to someone else rather than what had been occupying you.

Have you the patience to try to understand how they feel

Focusing on what children are saying and doing is necessary if a parent is to show empathy whilst firmly defining boundaries around right and wrong. If you treat your children with understanding then they will likely treat others the same way. Only your patient communication can help them gain appreciation of what is deeply important and learn to deal with their negative emotions in the context of your loving concern. But trying to talk with kids along such lines may mean a great mental effort and can be emotionally taxing.

Is it too painful for you to let them fly the nest?

A parent who clings to older offspring, failing to provide the slight nudge when it is needed for them to start to live away from the parental home, is doing them no favours. Such a parent seems not to realise that it isn’t about releasing kids into the wild and abandoning them. It is just recognising that a young person is someone in his or her own right, — a separate being with their own life style choices, need for privacy and individual ambition and thus the need to live their own life.

Do you envy them?

Carol Ryff, a psychologist at University of Winsconin found that parents, who thought their kids were better-adjusted than they themselves had been in their twenties, weren’t all that pleased. In fact, thinking their kids were faring better than they had made them downright grumpy. Grown children may evoke envy in some parents and the sense of missed opportunities.

The spiritually-minded or materially-minded parent

According to one point of view, parents who are inwardly self-centred and materialistically minded are more likely to be negative parents. Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that these parents — who he termed ‘naturally-minded’ — feel affection for their small children “kissing and embracing them, carrying them and hugging them to their breasts and make a quite excessive fuss of them.” However, with the growth into adolescence these same parents :

“Pay little or hardly any attention to their inward affections, …but only to the outward features which they find attractive. It is to these their love is attached, fixed and clings. This makes them also close their eyes to their faults, making excuses for these and favouring them. The reason is that in their case the love of their offspring is also a love of themselves” (Emanuel Swedenborg CL 4645)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on15th May 2013CategoriesEthics, Ethics & ChildrenTags, ,, , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , ,, , , ,  Leave a comment

Stella English

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Stella with Alan Sugar

Stella is known as a winner of BBC tv’s The Apprentice

Her childhood was a painful one. “It was quite a lonely hard time for me.” Her father had abandoned her at a young age, leaving her mother Drusilla unable to care for her due to psychological ill-health. It wasn’t deliberate neglect. Her mother couldn’t look after herself let alone a daughter.

Stella was able to do more or less what she wanted and she didn’t know right from wrong. She says she didn’t go to school much because of being bullied there due to her appearance.

She also spent time in children’s care homes and was taken in by her great aunt, Mrs Brockman, (also called Stella) who raised her in loco parentis. However she missed her real mother and moved back with her when aged 14 – only to find her lifestyle was more chaotic. At 15 she was living alone in a run-down bedsit.

Thamesmead a place Stella once called home. It is a social housing development built in the 1960s on former marshland with a population of some 50,000 people. It has graffiti-lined avenues known for their high crime levels and grey concrete buildings.

It  has had the worst record for credit card fraud of any postal address in the country. In the 1990’s teenage gangs intimitated people on the streets. The area was then known to be associated with poverty, gang violence and race wars. There were racially motivated murders although these days there is better racial co-existence in sharp contrast with the not so distant past.

Stella mixed with some hard people, is street-wise and knows how to look after herself. She drank in one of London’s roughest pubs, The Wildflower, in the heart of Thamesmead where gangs with knives and clubs would fight after hours.

Stella however has made something of her life. She studied a one-year business course before adding City firms such as Merrill Lynch, Nomura and Daiwa Securities to her CV.
She won the prestigious BBC business Apprentice contest.  She lives in St Albans with her partner and 2 sons.

Stella has bettered herself. If she can do it, anyone can. As she says ‘You are in charge of your own destiny’. She has shown a lot of determination.

Stella was cared for by great-aunt then aged 72. Stella says ‘Her fostering me was life-changing.   “She was very strict. I went from having no rules – or if there were any, ignoring them – to having lots of rules”. “She made me do 3 hours of homework a night.”

Stella now wants to help find foster homes for the thousands of youngsters in the care
system. A report to mark the start of Barnardo’s  Fostering and Adoption week now reveals at least 8,750 new foster families are urgently needed.

Posted on11th January 2012CategoriesEthics & Children, Meaning and inspirationTags, , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Father – is he uniquely important?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

fatherTraditionally, the father has been the bread-winner for the family. These days, however, many women have well-paid jobs in the professions and business. The two sexes are said to be equal, and the ‘new man’ as a father is supposed to reduce his time at work so as to be as actively involved as the mother – not just in domestic chores – but also in time spent with the children, and in thinking about their health and schooling.

Does the gender of the parents matter?

However in doing more of what mothers have traditionally done, some men are beginning to wonder if there is any unique role for a father that can be valued. As the mother goes out to work, the father is no longer the sole or sometimes even main family bread-winner.

A lead article in the Journal of Marriage and Family concludes “The gender of parents only matters in ways that don’t matter.” This assumes there is nothing that a father brings to the table of parenting that is not easily replicated by the mother. Is a father then not distinctly needed other than as an additional parent?

The father in animal studies

In fish, reptiles and in many species of mammals, there is seen little or no paternal role in caring for offspring. It is the females who must do all the work of caring for the young. For example a male bear leaves the female shortly after mating and will kill and sometimes eat any bear cub he comes across, even if the cub is his. Bear mothers spend much of their cubs’ early life protecting them from males. Domesticated dogs are not monogamous with their mates and show little interest in their pups.

On the other hand there are some animals where the fathers take a paternal caring role with their young. A male wolf helps feed, protect, and play with his pups and is the one who does most of the hunting for the young when the mother is securing the newborn pups. Most male waterfowl are very protective in raising their offspring, sharing scout duties with the female. Examples are geese, swans and gulls and a few species of duck. When the families of most of these waterfowls travel, they usually go in a line and the fathers are usually the ones guarding the offspring at the end of the line while the mothers lead the way.

In animal studies, whether the parents are monogamous seems to be a crucial factor in the involvement of the adult male in the young.

The love of a mother

In humans, from the child’s conception, the mother is the parent who nourishes the baby and forms the primary attachment which is continued as the infant grows and experiences her affectionate nurturing care. And so she is likely to be the major caregiver of the children, even if she herself is employed to a larger or smaller extent in the labour force. According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, the love of children directly affects women because of the linkage of a deeper monogamous affection he called conjugial love with the female sex.

In recent years social science studies have been showing the benefits on children of healthy father-child relationships for example higher self-esteem, increased curiosity, greater empathy.

Why should this be the case? Is it because two parents are better than one? Or is it because each sex has something special to offer to child raising?

The mother is usually more affectionate and closer to children whereas the father tends to be more emotionally distant. Some men will drift and muddle through their home life, others make every effort to be a thoughtful and loving parent giving time for play, and keeping an eye on the child’s well being.

Swedenborgian view of gender

For Swedenborg the male mind is more prone to understanding and the female to feeling and thus a father  has a tendency to see things from a broader perspective. If there is something in this, then in so far as a father is interested in his children’s welfare, can he not offer a distinctive good sense? For example as a result of his male approach to life children may be more interested about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills.

A father’s influence on the children may be indirect as often the mother has more contact with them. Nevertheless her loving care and way of dealing with the child may possibly be influenced after discussing common concerns with her partner and getting his views on wider issues.

Does a good father not also combine with his partner to contribute to the caring and moral atmosphere in the home? If so he is likely to want to explore and share good ideas of relevance to the child’s developing understanding. Arguably, in the fatherly role, a man can be instrumental in fostering ethical principles and ideas about the meaning of life that remain unconscious within the child as he or she developments into adulthood.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on8th October 2014CategoriesMeaning of life, Other aspects of meaningTags, , , ,  Leave a comment

Parenting in Imitation of God

Swedenborg Foundation

By Coleman Glenn

Our early impressions of God are strongly intertwined with our early impressions of our parents. After all, when we are young children, our parents are the ones who clothe us, feed us, teach us, and sustain us—they act in some ways as surrogates for God. It’s no surprise that so many religious traditions, including Christianity, refer to God as a divine parent.


If it’s true that our ideas about parenthood shape our ideas about God, it’s also true that our understanding of God shapes how we raise our children. If we think of God as stern and dictatorial, we’re likely to be stern and dictatorial as parents. If we think of God as gentle and warm, we’re likely to act gently and warmly as parents (or at least try to!).

The Swedenborgian understanding of God comes from reading the Bible with the firm conviction that God is love and that Jesus is God. The picture of God that emerges in this reading is one of a God who loves each and every person in creation, who protects human freedom as the apple of his eye, and who always acts for the eternal welfare of all. Looking at those attributes, we can draw insights into how we might better imitate God in our parenting.

Here are three ideas that have been particularly valuable to me as a father of two young kids:

1.  Loving your child means loving everyone else’s children, too.

There are passages in the Bible that explicitly suggest acting in imitation of God. Several of them have to do with loving as God loves. This means loving not only ourselves, our own families, or people who agree with us, but loving even our enemies:

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44–45)

What does this mean for parenting? Because we know our children’s hearts, we can be tempted to assume that in any conflict, they are in the right. But if we’re called to love as God loves, then we’re called to extend love to other people as much as we extend love to our own kids. Obviously, we will feel a stronger affection for our own children, but we are called to act as lovingly even toward strangers and those who seem to be our enemies.

This doesn’t mean we have to choose between loving our children with all our hearts and loving everyone else. One of my favorite Swedenborgian concepts is that in the long run, caring for an individual and caring for the good of all make for one and the same thing. For example, if we teach a child to care for the less privileged, we’re serving the less privileged and our child by creating the foundation for a life—an eternal life!—of joyful service. It’s not an either/or situation, so it’s a useful exercise to ask in any situation whether there is a course of action that will be best both for our children and for everyone with whom they are interacting.

2.  Protect your child’s freedom and sense of self—even if it’s easier not to.

My personality is such that I find it much easier to just do things myself than to try to help others do them. In some situations, this is a useful trait; in many others, though, it’s a failing. This is particularly true in parenting: it is much easier to pick up after my kids than it is to coax them to pick up after themselves. It is much easier to wrangle over my son’s head whatever shirt I choose than it is to patiently wait while he tries to choose between dinosaurs and robots.

It is significantly harder to offer a child freedom and a sense of self than it is to do everything for them. It takes much more work, but I remind myself often that the work is worth it. We do have to set limits, of course. But within those limits, it is vital that children be free to make choices and to have a sense that they are acting from themselves.

The book Divine Providence expresses just how much the Lord cares about human freedom. One of the Lord’s greatest gifts to us is heavenly freedom: the sense that we act from ourselves and that from this we have the ability to act with free will. According to Swedenborg:

The Lord protects our freedom the way we protect the pupil of our eye. The Lord . . . is constantly using our freedom to lead us away from our evils, and to the extent that he can do so through our freedom, he uses that freedom to plant good things within us. In this way, step by step he gives us heavenly freedom in place of hellish freedom. (Divine Providence §97)

It’s not easy to watch my kids make choices I don’t want them to make. But I remember that it’s not easy for the Lord to watch me make choices he’d rather didn’t make—and yet, he keeps giving me the freedom to make those choices. I think it’s important that I offer the same gift to my kids.

3.  Discipline with a purpose.

I firmly believe that there is no inherent value in punishment—it must always be for a purpose and never simply for payback. The prophet Ezekiel records God as saying, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live” (Ezekiel 33:11). If God allows punishment, it is never for its own sake; it is always so that the person may “turn and live”:

People have charity and mercy . . . when they exercise justice and judgment, punishing the evil and rewarding the good. Charity is present in the punishment they inflict, because zeal moves them to reform the wrongdoer and to protect others from the harm such a person might do. In the process they are looking out for the best interests of the wrongdoer, their enemy, and are wishing that person well. At the same time they are looking out for and wishing well to others, and to their country itself. (Secrets of Heaven §2417)

As parents, we are required to instill discipline in our kids. While discipline is much broader than consequences or punishments—involving other such things as establishing routines—it does still have to include these kinds of corrective actions. With all our choices in this area, we need to be asking ourselves the following questions:

  • How will this disciplinary action help my child make a better choice next time?
  • How will it help protect the child herself and the people around her?

So we should keep some things in mind:

  • Encourage our children to think about what they might have done wrong and what other choices they could have made.
  • Help them come to those conclusions themselves; but if they are unable to do so, always be very clear with them.
  • Demonstrate, when possible, a clear connection between consequence and behavior (e.g., “I am going to take away the baseball bat for a week because you had trouble stopping yourself from hitting the walls with it, and that hurts the walls.”)
  • Let them know they are still loved, and let them know you believe they can make a better choice next time.

There are thousands of different perspectives on exactly the right way to set up discipline. Find what works best for you and your family, but make sure it follows these guidelines: it will work to help the child in the long run, and it will work to keep the child and others safe. Remember the first principle mentioned above: from the eternal perspective, loving our children well and loving our neighbor well make for one and the same thing. This is the perspective of God, who desires what is best for all of his children.

Coleman Glenn is an author and a New Church minister currently working with General Church Outreach in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.

Religious education – What should children learn?

religious educationAsk parents what is deeply important for their children to learn in life and they will often say things like being a decent human being, having meaningful relationships, leaving the world a better place, and being freed from personal hang-ups. How can children be helped to form their own personal and spiritual goals? Religious education is seen as an opportunity to provoke challenging questions about the ultimate meaning and purpose of life, beliefs about God, the self and the nature of reality, issues of right and wrong, and what it means to be human.

Religious fundamentalism

The rise of prejudice, discrimination and violence associated with religious fundamentalism has led more people to question the certainties of any religion, and there is growing doubt concerning even the need for any kind of system of spiritual belief. Given the decline in belief of the traditional Christian version of God — particularly in north-west Europe — there is a tendency for thinking adults not to see ultimate reality as fixed into any certainty: it being likely to change with different experiences. Thus religious education tends to be sidelined.

The question is sometimes asked about the individual who knows love and does good works that grow out of that love and is content with the richness of the life that love brings. What need have they of any sacred writings or of any belief system?

Religious education and history of spiritual ideas

Clearly, some humanists and agnostics live a better life than some of those who are affiliated with a religion. Nevertheless, I would claim that religious education can reflect the historical source of spiritual concepts: not just concepts that can help one to see through the illusions of the natural world to a deeper reality within, but also that are essential to bring about the good life for all.

These days, the aim of teachers in religious education is to provide information about a range of faith traditions — especially now in multicultural Britain where pupils in one classroom often come from a range of ethnic backgrounds. In its latest report into religious education in British schools, the Government agency Offsted concludes

“There is uncertainty among many teachers of RE (religious education) about what they are trying to achieve in the subject.”

Need for religious education despite non-religious language

In our increasing secular society, there is a growing trend to use non-religious language. We use such terms as getting in touch with one’s higher self, becoming calm through meditation, gaining a better understanding of one’s attachments and cravings, recognising the life force all around. In other words spiritual ideas are seen as potentially useful and important even if they are usually not explicitly linked to traditional religious teachings.

I would say what we appreciate as the ‘Good’ in life is difficult to get a handle on and  communicate without ideas taught in religious education. Don’t you need an awareness of ethical ideas and spiritual teachings to guide your actions? For example the golden rule ‘Do unto others as you would wish them to do unto you’ is an idea in the mind about the `Truth’. This is something which puts into words your appreciation of the importance of where other people are coming from when you are dealing with them i.e. what can be ‘Good’ about your relationship with other people. Knowledge about what is ‘True’ tying in with awareness of what is ‘Good’.

Here are a few other spiritual ideas:

  • We should take care of the earth and protect the environment.
  • Rules defining right and wrong should not be based on enlightened self-interest but on the needs of all.
  • Learn from your mistakes and move on.
  • Something must have started the universe.
  • Your life does not cease at bodily death.

Don’t you need such worthy ideas to guide your thoughts and intentions? From such ideas come systems of belief that can give you hope especially when you get discouraged by the set-backs in life. In other words I feel it does matter what you think, as your understanding about things guides your actions — what you do, how you do it and how confident you can be you are on the right track.

According to Emanuel Swedenborg an awareness of deeper ideas concerning what is ‘Good’ and ‘True’ is essential. Without a religious education and thus knowledge about such things, how could there be a channel for deeper understanding: arguably without understanding, you cannot find a system of spiritual belief that will give you hope and confidence in the good life.

I would say unless they first learn about deeper ideas children are not protected from the illusions of life. Teachers in religious education however can only go so far in helping the young. They can impart information, but isn’t it up to the learner what to do with it?

Limits of religious education

According to Swedenborg’s theory, religious education has its limits: an awareness of ethical and spiritual ideas by itself is merely something in the head: personal choice and heart-felt desire are also important. So he asserts that an inner thirst for what is really ‘True’ and ‘Good’, based on a memory of ethical and spiritual ideas, when put into practice will result in enlightened understanding. In other words a heart of good intent coupled with a head full of good ideas will lead to an inspired system of belief that not only provides meaning, but can lead to the hope and confidence needed for personal transformation and commitment to some worthy goal in life.

“It’s what you choose to believe that makes you the person you are.” (Karen Marie Moning, Darkfever)

What should religious education teach

So what should religious education teach children?

Government has identified a difficulty in structuring and defining a clear process of learning in religious education. I believe this difficulty reflects an emphasis on religious diversity in practice and belief across different faith traditions, at the expense of offering clarity regarding beliefs that different faiths have in common. Are pupils being expected to work all this out for themselves without being offered spiritual ideas about what is universally “Good” and “True”?

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

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.