Every October, a day is set aside to celebrate the gift the children are to society. This year, on 7 Oct, children in Singapore will have a day of rest and play to commemorate the occasion. For those who have children in our lives – parents, grandparents and teachers – it’s an ideal moment to consider how special they are. Perhaps a gift may even be appropriate to show them our love.
I would like to think that an ideal gift is one that is useful and life-giving, one that can be brought to school, to the playground and even on overseas trips; a gift that is applicable in marriage and career, sickness and health, riches and poverty. One that fits all the criteria is the gift of Jesus Himself. But how do we make this a realistic gift, rather than an impossible ideal?
As a teacher, my experiences with children tell me they are easy to influence because they lack life experiences. No matter how we shelter them, they are persistently exposed to negative influences. Good values are easily diluted and distorted; many children grow up with little principles that hold them righteous in the face of temptations and negative influences. In reality, teenage suicide, pregnancy and abortion are increasingly rampant. Children as young as eight-years-old watch pornography and talk about it at school.
Even pupils in top tertiary institutions are engaging in pre-marital sex freely, while theft and gangsterism begin as early as nine-years-old. There is a common misconception that children facing these issues are poor academic performers and who belong to the underprivileged and broken families. But this is inaccurate. Many of these children actually excel in their studies and belonging to seemingly functional families.
The need and urgency to guide these children to discover God in their lives must not be brushed aside. All of us who come into contact with children should take pains to teach them about God, as a vital part of their upbringing. It seems to me that most children do not open up to their parents anymore during the adolescent years, and parents have to accept the reality that we cannot be there to protect and restrain our children all the time – only God can and will. When we have accepted this limitation of our human finiteness, we can then begin to perceive more clearly the essentiality of helping our children develop their faith and of teaching them the values and faith that Christ gave to the Church.
With secularism, consumerism and materialism shaping our lives, it is now tougher to uphold our Christian values of humility, obedience, compassion, selflessness and the like. Many are willing to spend thousands of dollars to enrol their children in “branded” schools and enrichment classes, buffing them up to meet expectations. There seems to be a “competition” over whose child is given more and better enrichment classes. However, do academic achievements guarantee happiness? All parents want their children to be successful, but is “success” only measured by the number of A’s they have on their report card, or only in the number of zeros in they pay cheques in future? Success is important, but too many have defined the word according to the way the world sees it. How about eternal life? What about faithfulness and love for your neighbour? Jesus Himself warned us, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk 8:36)
Jesus showed us that the way to live life to the fullest is to live in His ways, upholding His values. These values contradict those of the secular world but it is these values that hold the key to the joy and peace that precisely, many who are absorbed in the world do not have. The “best gift” we can give our children is not necessarily those that are on their wish-list, things that give but a temporary spark of excitement. We would be short-changing them greatly. What do our children really need to tide them through life’s many ups and downs? Do we prepare them sufficiently to be people of good values so that they may reflect the goodness of God to others they meet, or are we thoughtlessly putting them on a treadmill, on which they run without end to prove that they and us are special and more worthy than another human person?
Living the Catholic faith starts with building a personal relationship with God. Through this, we find strength in our difficulties, comfort for our pains, and hope in our disappointment, courage to withstand peer pressure; wisdom to choose our friends and activities, and it puts on us the armour to resist temptations. This is the best gift that anyone can give to children. There will be many times that friends and even family cannot be there to support. But God is always there, at all times, in all places and situations.
There was a teenage girl, Carol (not her real name). She was rejected by her schoolmates, who jeered at her and passed unpleasant remarks, calling her “spastic”, which made her feel so inferior about herself. For three years, Carol lived in fear, despair and helplessness. She bore these pains in silence, alone and without any emotional support from family and friends. In addition, she had to face frequent arguments among family members, threatening the security of her family life. When emotions swelled and all Carol saw was pain and hopelessness, she looked down from her window and contemplated suicide, the easiest way to put an end to all the torture she was experiencing. Only one person stopped her from taking that irreversible step – God. In the depths of her heart, Carol knew that God loved her; she had encountered this God in a personal way, and knew that taking her life would upset Him greatly. Because of this, Carol pulled herself back and hung on to life despite her lack of understanding of why God had brought her into this world to suffer. Her only confidants in all her pains and sufferings were Jesus and Mary. She would tell them about her feelings, pour out her sorrows in daily prayer and after which, obtained the much needed peace and healing that only God can give.
And this gift of faith can be practical and not just idealistic daydream. It would be a good start if we ourselves put in effort to build a personal relationship with God through prayer and through faithfulness to God’s ways. We can begin by examining our attitudes towards our faith. For example, do we find ourselves attending Mass each week because “we have to”, or are we attentive and harbouring the desire to seek Christ more earnestly? When we take Holy Mass more seriously, we will begin to make every effort to guide our children through the different segments of the Mass, explaining to them the prayers and teaching them reverence before our God.
Secondly, we can evaluate our prayer life; its regularity and quality. Do we go to Him with authenticity and with the desire to deepen our relationship with Him or are we rattling off a complaint or a list of prayer intentions? When we discover our personal God through prayer, we can then include our children in family prayers, showing them by example the commitment that they too need to have in their own discovering and deepening of their relationship with God.
Also, we can reflect more thoroughly on our value system and list out our priorities in life. How do we relate to others, be they colleagues, family or even our domestic helpers? Do we treat them with equal respect, care and consideration? How much of Christ’s values do we want to emulate? When we have centred all our words and deeds on Christ, we can then correct and guide our children to follow suit. Children pick up their mannerisms primarily from parents, their closest references of the “right” behaviour.
A relationship with God grounds our children in the goodness that comes only from God. Let us therefore open the eyes of our hearts to recognise the need to nourish our children with the one Source of Life and to lead them closer to Jesus with the help of Mary’s intercession. May this Children’s Day be a meaningful celebration for us all!
by Jacinta Teo
The contributor is a Primary School educator and serves in the RCIA team in her parish.