The Voice of the Natural Will

handofgodNow the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (2Co 3:17)

Though many speak of the “free will” of human beings, this is largely a misnomer, or misapplication of the phrase. The choosing that we experience is not the same thing as the will. It is the product of a fracturing of the will and a manifestation of a fundamental loss of our integrity. The will, in its proper sense, is a function of our nature, the inner core of any human being. This will, the natural will, is not fallen (nor is our nature itself). Our nature infallibly wills what is proper to itself. Our nature is directed towards communion with God, the purpose for which it was created.

At a very deep level in our experience there is a rupture. We experience, in our choosing, a separation between the natural will, and the choosing will. Our inner integrity as human beings has been disrupted by sin and corruption. We do not see, or know the natural will (or our nature itself) in a proper manner. It seems opaque. And so we deliberate with a kind of ignorance, doing the best we can (sometimes) to find what is good, often finding that we were completely mistaken.

The free will that our culture celebrates, is primarily the simple freedom to choose – including the freedom to make the wrong choice. And, of course, in a consumer culture, the freedom to choose mostly means the freedom to shop. It is this consumer freedom that is most carefully guarded – for fear that our economic house of cards might otherwise collapse.

But this freedom is a hollow mockery of the true freedom of our natural will.

Imagine a situation in which you are a slave. You live on a very large plantation that has many and varied tasks. Your owner tells you that you may choose any job on the plantation that you desire. And, he therefore tells you that you are free. But the one thing you cannot do, is follow the true freedom of your nature, for you cannot leave the plantation. Worse still, the fact that there is a world outside of the plantation has been hidden from you.

This is an image of our own situation. We may choose countless numbers of ways to remain in bondage. But unless and until we can see the proper goal of our life and existence, we cannot freely choose it. We live our lives in an illusion created by free-choice, but always with a vague, haunting sense that something is missing – this is the echo of the natural will.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” (St. Augustine)

Our culture has given us the mistaken notion that our Christian life, rightly lived, consists in a series of right choices. And thus we agonize with each major decision, or lament terribly over possible wrong decisions in our past. We must understand, however, that we will not arrive at the Kingdom of God through a series of right decisions. Something more fundamental is necessary.

That fundamental requirement is found in the depths of our being, within our very nature itself. It is acting in union with the will of our nature that is, in the end, the true expression of freedom and the entrance into the Kingdom of God.

A very simple action on our part (though difficult) constitutes just such a proper expression of freedom. It is the giving of thanks to God always and for all things. Giving thanks is not an obligation we have to God, but something that is freely given. Giving thanks is what a right relationship with God sounds like.

It is important to understand that giving thanks to God is not something that can be done under obligation. What we have received from God, is itself a free gift. If the gift is free, there can be no obligation. The free offering of thanks to God resembles God’s action in its free and voluntary character. I do not put God under obligation by giving Him thanks.

In practice, this is quite difficult. The chances and circumstances of our daily lives drive us down into despair and anger and we wonder, “Who could give thanks for this and why?” But the giving of thanks is not driven by what we owe. Were that the case, we would need only give thanks for the things we like. But true gratitude is the voice of our nature and our nature’s will. It sings the praise of its Creator and sees behind and beyond every circumstance. The giving of thanks, Eucharist in the Greek, is the proper mode of our existence.

And that song is returned as God Himself “rejoices” over us “with singing” (Zeph. 3:17). The blending of our voices, Divine and human are met with the voice of all creation in the Great Song.

We fail to understand this most fundamental aspect of our existence for we think that our feeble choices, fumbling in the dark after the next path of consumption are the stuff of our decisions and our freedom. We certainly should choose the good and refuse the evil – but apart from and above all things we should give thanks (with our whole heart). It is the cry of the very depths of our being. Every other sound is a discordant note that is bound to drift into the void. But the eucharistic song of the grateful heart slowly begins to heal everything. It heals the soul and quiets our bodies. It drives away demons and pacifies storms. It gathers all things into itself and unites them to God. This is the essential priestly act of humanity. I will give thanks.

48 comments:

  1. Absolutely beautiful and poignant. I am surrounded by consumerism, in my family and friends. Consumerism is all too consuming and deceitful. At times, I feel it impossible to withstand. I appreciate these words of encouragement. Thank you Father.

  2. A few more thoughts. Can we give thanks when we are poor or sick? Isn’t it easier to give thanks when we have abundance? This is the trap of consumerism. We need to give thanks for life and love and do it humbly but so much distracts us from doing so.

  3. Father, thank you for these words. I so often forget how much delight Our Father takes in us just because.

    He gets delighted by the frolic of whales in the sea, the clapping leaves on a tree, the songs of a bird. How much more does He love us and take delight when we play and receive His gifts with delight and a simple heart that’s thankful. Mental calculations of any kind just ruin it. This isn’t easy but it is simple. We can thank Him for all things.

  4. Thank you Father for this reminder.
    Being a cradle Orthodox, I never appreciated the richness of my heritage and “chose” to go to a Baptist Church for some time… Then, a series of circumstances led us back, as a family, to the Orthodox Church, which we came to love and appreciate a lot.
    Then, I felt something was lacking, and decided to go to confession. Having heard of a hieromonk who is a true spiritual father, I went to see him.
    Before I started confessing, I shared with him what my life has been until that day. The first thing he told me was that “the virtues we do not give thanks for, are those we tend to lose”. He needed not say more. That was what brought me to tears and to true repentance.
    Your words bring back, so vividly, that first true Eucharist. From that day on, it was always the giving of thanks that opened the door to God’s abundant blessings.
    Thanks again Father, and sorry for the lengthy comment.

  5. This is fantastic, may we keep these words alive in us.

    Paul,

    the best way to start to disengage our thankfulness from our consumerist self-preoccupation and make it genuine is to thank God for allowing us to thank Him. In other words, the fact that I still have the privilege to be alive and to stand in His presence, whether, I am healthy or sick, poor or rich, stressed or calm (this last one is trickier), must make me unable to even tear myself away from this honoured “standing in His presence” and from glorifying Him for simply allowing me to do this.

  6. Father bless!!!

    What a beautiful synergy exists as we meditate on this post, the title of your blog, and your recent message of what is ‘hidden’ in Christ.

    1 Peter 3:4King James Version (KJV)

    4 But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.

  7. This reminds me of Fr. Hopko’s post about the 3 Youths in the Fire – dancing in the fire in praise and gratitude, whether God saved them or not – and this brought the Angel of God/Christ figure to praise with them! May we always dance in the fire of our lives in praise and gratitude! Thank you, Father for this wonderful reminder.

  8. Father and/or other people reading this,

    Does anyone know any good general prayers of thanksgiving? Perhaps to add to a prayer rule?

  9. Paul,
    Indeed. Giving thanks in abundance falls too far short. Anyone can be grateful for such things (and for the wrong reasons). The truth of thanksgiving is probably only revealed when it is in the face of adversity.

    It is interesting, incidentally, that the poor are often far more grateful and generous than the rich. That has been my experience of life.

  10. Yes, Fr. Stephen, the poor tend to be more generous. When we lived in Mexico we were visiting with a very poor Mexican family. The husband was blind and the wife supported the family with a small store in front of the house. The floor was dirt. As we were getting ready to leave she wanted us to take a portion of the pozole soup she had just made. She asked what favorite part of the pig I would like included. I said just any would be fine. Imagine our surprise when we arrived home and opened the container. She had included what was her favorite piece….the sows ear bristles and all! May we learn to give freely out of our abundance as she did out of her extreme poverty.

  11. Patrick,

    The Akathist prayer, Glory to God for All Things, is a wonderful prayer to add. I think Fr. Stephen has this prayer on this site somewhere. Also, Mother Alexandra, Princess Ileana of Romania wrote Meditations on The Lord’s Prayer that are set up as morning and evening prayers throughout the week. They are filled with thankfulness. Adding these two prayers to my rule, little parts each day, has helped me so much! Here is an excerpt from one of my favourites from Thursday evening….

    ‘I Thank Thee also for the hours of pain and stress that have widened my understanding. I thank Thee for the darkness that has made me see the light more clearly. I thank Thee for the enmity that has taught me to forgive. How rich I am! How much hast Thou given me! Each day is added to all I already have. How generously hast Thou dealt with me! From the hour of my birth to this evening hour so much has Thou given me I cannot count it, I can but humbly thank thee for Thyself: my daily bread. Glory be to Thee, Christ our God. ‘

    Here is a link to the whole prayer.

    http://www.tkinter.smig.net/princessileana/OurFather/index.htm

  12. I also recommend, when you are suffering a trial, not to avoid thinking about it (we often try this strategy to avoid anxiety). But this presumes that the trial is not being given to us by God. Instead, allow the trial to be very present to you, and yourself to the trial. And standing in its flames (as it were), begin to give thanks. The grace that eventually begins to accompany such a practice can sometimes be quite intense.

  13. Dear Fr. Stephen,

    You mentioned that human nature and the natural will are not “fallen”. I wonder if Orthodox regard anything else as “fallen” (i.e., do you use this type of theological language at all)? What is your alternative way of seeing human nature and how does this differ from “fallen”? The Protestant view is so common but I would like to understand this in a more Orthodox way.

    Many thanks for this wonderful article and your blog.
    Blessings!

  14. Kimberly Barbara…wonderful prayers! Just sent prayers to an evangelical friend whose daughter is suffering with stage 4 cancer. And fr. Freeman thank you for the counsel of embracing and standing in the flame of our trials. I heard an Orthodox teacher once say that two great temptations of seniors is to complain about finances and health. In the last two years my wife and I have been faced with lymphoma and heart attack. My wife, through her lymphoma, taught me exactly of what you wrote, as she embraced what God had allowed and prayed, “God, I accept whatever you send my way, be it healing or my death. I only ask that you be glorified through my life.”

  15. KC,
    Often the Protestant view of the “Fall” is far to grand and not carefully thought through or stated. But Protestants often are not thinking with the kind of care with which the Fathers approached serious topics.

    The primary thing to consider in the “Fall” is that it is only descriptive of human beings. I’ll say something about the rest of creation in a moment. Only human beings sinned, and, to a degree, only human beings sin. Trees, rocks, monkeys, lizards do not sin.

    Sin is a movement away from God (i.e. “missing the mark” and God Himself is the mark). That movement away from God is also a movement away from the direction of our nature. Our nature is both what we are, and what our very being wants to be and is intended to be. Thus, what is broken or fallen about us is the ability to live in accordance with our nature. We do not do or live in the manner for which we were created. We are not only alienated from God, but from our nature. We most especially experience this on the level of the Person, or the particular way that our nature is displayed in the world (it actually is not yet reached a true level of Personhood).

    But with creation, the Scripture never considers it to be fallen. St. Paul instead describes it as “made subject to futility” (Romans 8). That is, it has been made subject to decay and corruption (rot, etc.) – and he says God has done this in view of man’s situation. The creation is sharing in our decay and brokenness. It becomes the arena of our salvation. In the incorrupt environment of Paradise, we could not be saved. Only outside of Paradise, in the struggle of our many-consequences existence, is our salvation properly worked out. Sending us out of Paradise was God’s good will for our salvation.

    But, with animals, for example, a dog always acts in accordance with its nature. It cannot act otherwise. We play with these instincts and “train” dogs by directing their nature, but you cannot train a dog to do something “undoglike.” You have to find a “dog-like” trait and bend it in the direction you want. Dogs have an instinct not to soil their den. To housetrain a dog, you simply use techniques to help them think of the entire interior of the home as their den. It is why they can be house-trained.

    Here is a blog article on that topic.

    So, creation is “frustrated” rather than “fallen.” But a frustrated creation is not a sinful creation. But it is a creation that, as St. Paul says, “groans like a woman in childbirth,” and longs for its freedom. It will find that freedom he says when humanity at last is set free at the resurrection. Then creation will be manifest as Paradise – a sort of “resurrected creation.”

  16. A good prayer of thanksgiving that I have begun to use is Glory to Thee Oh God, glory to Thee.

  17. Is it normal to be unable to give thanks except in view of Pascha? Would it be correct to say it is Christ in His Pascha who makes it possible to give thanks in all things? Otherwise, I’m afraid I would be like Job, wishing I had never been born into a world of such profound suffering. I wouldn’t even be able to agree with the poet who said it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I think I would much rather never have loved a world and people destined only for destruction. This world strikes me as a truly tragic and meaningless place, but for Christ’s conquering of hell.

  18. Karen,
    I agree. And it is the case that Pascha is everything and everywhere. If Christ (who is our Pascha) is everywhere present and filling all things, how is Pascha not in all things?

  19. Father,
    How does a person give thanks to God for their child’s suffering? How do you thank God while watching a beautiful person destroy their life with drugs, alcohol, rebellion against God,etc etc?
    The only possibly thankful thing I can think of is there is the future
    possibility for their salvation, but honestly in the meantime pain takes over thankfulness.
    One of the morning Psalms I read is Psalm 89. Verse 10 says that most of our days are labor and pain. This is how I feel most days. But later in the Psalm it talks about greatly rejoicing and being glad.
    So the question is how do you get from pain and sadness, fear that you have for someone you love dearly to rejoicing. Evangelicals just claim a “victory” over the devil …and God’s got a wonderful plan.
    I know there are many things to be thankful for and do give thanks, but this situation daily just gnaws away. I could give thanks is for my own suffering, that it drives me to pray, that pride gets stripped away,that I am changed by this mess, but I don’t know how to be thankful that someone I love is such a mess.

  20. Aj,
    That is tremendously challenging. Only God’s consolation, His voice assuring us at such tribulations that He is ultimately behind the wheel, seems to produce any solace, albeit, heard (subjectively) intermittently. However, the assiduous cultivation of our faith in His saving providence, our trust in His patient provision for the eventual salvation of those for whom we beseech Him, can remind us intensely that the Paschal Light emanating from Him has the power (after our boundless and “God-obliging” patient trust through this tribulation) to expand back into the past and remedy all that darkness…
    It has happened to many, many others before and they have eventually glorified God’s ‘cunning’ plan, Who has exploited even the devil’s deception on our children’s’ souls to eventually save them.
    Our time-bound perception rebels against this joy though. It makes the pain attempt to swallow the trust. But (like the Israelites in the desert) we are called to and even expected to trust despite our severe tribulations, our thirst, the apparently imminent victory of our adversaries, may God please strengthen us all in this.
    But, this kind of ‘eschatological’ orientation, helps our belief in God’s providential strategy (despite what things look like now), it helps us believe in the eventual change for the better of those who currently serve the passions (without distastefully intervening in their will), it helps us retain a spiritual joy and hope that is indispensible for us to be able to give thanks, it allows a healthy distance from things and people that assists the most crucial element : true closeness to God. This last thing is the key of course! The reawakening of that single-minded vigilance guarding such a strange ‘joy’ that inebriates our mind with our hope against all hopelessness, actually has the power to overcome all.
    Is that really possible? It is a complete reorientation of all our priorities.
    May the Mother of God who experienced the most challenging version of all this help us.

    As Elder Aimilianos used to teach: Our problems might never even get solved, since others cause them and they are fashioned by exogenous circumstances. However, our real problem is not the others, but my relationship with God: myself and God. Once this is settled, there is no longer a problem!

    When it’s dark, we stumble and fall as we see nothing; yet the instant that light enters, we start moving with ease and without tripping over things; so it becomes when this relationship with God is re-established like this. Our human condition remains exactly the same, we’re still plagued by the same problems as or those around us, yet the solution has somehow now clearly transpired.
    We see things differently. From the vantage point of the omnipotent One.
    It is a new vision that reveals the meaning of what is coming to pass in everything…

  21. AJ,
    In such circumstances, I often step back and see such suffering as an action of our adversary, and I rightly hate it. It is not wrong to hate cancer and other terrible things (it is utterly right!). But like Nebuchadnezer’s furnace was an evil thing too. I so I stand with my child (figuratively) in such a fire and give God thanks for all things, because all the enemy cares about is not my child’s suffering (or mine). All he cares about is that I not give thanks to God. If he can silence my tongue and heart, then he wins. And I will not let him win. I see thanksgiving in such circumstances as full-fledged battle mode! It is spiritual warfare of the most Godly type. It is the sound of parents singing God’s praise even as the wicked emperor slays their children. The words of St. Salome over her sons (the Seven Maccabees) as she encouraged them to suffer bravely for God’s sake:

    “Filled with a noble spirit that stirred her womanly reason with manly emotion, she exhorted each of them in the language of their ancestors with these words: “I do not know how you came to be in my womb; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor was it I who arranged the elements you are made of. Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shaped the beginning of humankind and brought about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.”

    Some martyrdoms are very long (life-long). Evangelical practice is to “rebuke the devil” as you say. I’m suggesting that we simply give thanks to God in spite of all things for He is good even when it is hidden from us.

  22. Fr. Stephen, thanks for your explanation of human nature and the link to “All Dogs Go to Heaven”. Having come from a Protestant background, I will need to read this several times, but all of it is very helpful.

  23. Aj: My own experience when my wife died at age 51 is an example. As was mentioned Pascha is in everything. She died late in Lent and that Pascha was amazing. Plus God’s goodness and mercy has abounded in my life since even though the grief still surfaces from time to time.

    As the Gospel said thus morning: take heart, your sins are forgiven.

    Somehow in my wife’s death many sins were forgiven including her own, hearts broken to receive Christ. So far at least 11 people have come to the Church in part because of her death.

    All of our lives are interconnected. Christ is in the midst of all of it. For that I can find someway to give thanks even in the midst of pain and grief.

    May the Lord bless and keep you.

  24. Michael, I was reading the Lectionary for today and yesterday this morning and two verses grabbed my attention: from today the one you mention and from yesterday the Lord’s words to the woman with the issue of blood, “Be of good cheer. Your faith has healed you.” These remind me of Christ’s words, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.”

  25. …and is thanksgiving in forgiveness that allows us to participate in that victory which is won for us on the Cross

  26. Father Stephen, in light of your response to Aj ‘s situation, I wonder if there is a time when we should leave a loved one to suffer the consequences of his drug addiction. I ask with a sense of urgency because two days from now, my much-loved nephew will hear from me, his mother, his siblings and extended family that we will no longer have any contact with him until he becomes sober and lives that way for more than a few weeks. He is a heroin addict in his thirties, unemployed and living with his mother. With three felonies and a prison stint, no one is willing to employ him. He has been in rehab facilities many times, but his times of sobriety have never lasted for more than a few months. He says he will never go to rehab again under any circumstances because it obviously doesn’t work for him.

    He suffered horrific abuse from his alcoholic father who died when my nephew was 13. In a way, I can’t “blame” my nephew for using heroin.

    We don’t want to cut him out of the life of our family as a means of punishment; it’s more an act of desperation because nothing else has worked. Do you see a refusal to have any further communication with him as abandoning him as he stands in the furnace?

    He has spent over half of his life using drugs, beginning right after his father died. We have stood in the furnace with him for many years. Is it time for us to stop hoping for his sobriety and just hope that this will all, somehow, be for his salvation? I feel a huge sense of responsibility because one of my nephew’s counselors told me that my nephew greatly respects me and looks up to me.

    I apologize for the long comment. I know that you work with addicts and I’d like to hear your opinion of using the “intervention” tactic with him or any addict.

    Aj: Be brave.

  27. Jamie,
    You’re describing “tough love.” It sometimes works and sometimes not. There are no guaranteed ways to help someone who will not help themselves.

    I’ve been reading a bit about possible medical therapies (with alcoholism). Rehab is an awfully big umbrella. Some programs are so shoestring and quasi-professional that they are of very questionable utility. May God help him!

  28. Father, I’m uncertain how else to share this video with you, but if you would rather not have such things linked to on your blog, please feel free to remove it. I have found Dr. Gabor Mate to be especially helpful when it comes to issues of addiction. This video was one of my first introduction’s to him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1h4Yea2dG8U

    His book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” helped me understand addiction better from a physical standpoint. It also helped me have a great deal more compassion and sympathy for the addicted. I feel like he is primarily touching on the ravaging effects of sin, though he isn’t a Christian and wouldn’t use that language.

    His work is not academic in nature. It is meant to reach a general populace. But you may still find it worthwhile.

    In Christ,
    Athanasios

  29. Fr. Stephen, your last few thoughts about giving thanks in all circumstances and gratitude as “the voice of our nature and our nature’s will” are really interesting and got my attention, not least because they resemble advice my wife often gives me. I have trouble understanding or even imagining what this might look like. When giving thanks “always and for all things”, particularly in difficult or unpleasant circumstances, what are you thanking God for? It it a matter of simply “counting your blessings”, as the saying goes? Or does the thanksgiving go even deeper, past individual blessings?

  30. David,
    We marvel at Job’s awesome endurance that made God and man glorify him for ever; however, at the time, his were far more than mere ‘difficult or unpleasant circumstances’… Considering the ‘honour’, the esteem, the glory and privilege of deeming us worthy of such temptations/tribulations as are ‘bestowed’ only on His chosen ones –as Job was- should make us grateful, no? It is not easy –very far from it- but we need this knowledge, this reorientation, and transcendence of our priorities, in order to be able to make it easy, to make such gratitude possible. Obviously, this is an otherworldly kind of thinking, it is what the Spiritual life is all about though. May God bestow this ‘phronema’ on us whether we have tribulations or not.

  31. So is it more a matter of learning to give thanks for all things and all circumstances, or to give thanks because it is the inclination of the natural will, independent of circumstances? Or both?

  32. DavidP
    Both. Do not search for objections (reading headlines and projecting yourself into them; theoreticals, etc.). Instead, in your own life (and circle), give thanks for all things. God will give grace and begin to reveal this mystery. Don’t force yourself too much, but if you cannot give thanks, then ask for grace to move past it.

    I fought against this for a lot of years. I learned it first from my father-in-law who lived this intentionally and fully in his life. As a young man I argued with him, something I later regretted. But he never moved an inch. He stood fast and showed me the truth of it – by his own life!

    It has since been confirmed many times within the spiritual tradition of Orthodoxy. It is the simplest path of salvation that I know.

  33. I believe there comes a time when a believer eventually joins Paul in his exclamation: ‘I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ Elder Sophrony somewhere in “We shall see Him as He is” explains that he reached a state where he was close to being more grateful for his ‘hell’ than for his ‘heaven’ -having grasped the depths of God’s providence and election in infirmities and tribulations. Elder Ephraim of Katounakia was even more explicit in saying that after his greatest temptation -an unendurable, desperate hell- and a consolation from above opening his eyes to the depths of the union with the Crucified and exalted One this experienced had bestowed, he was more grateful for that (!) than for the numerous visitations of the Uncreated Light which understandably made his heart overflow with unbearable gratitude…
    Of course there are so many gradations of difficulties and the more capable one is in being grateful, the greater difficulties might be permitted for his glorification. (Remember how ‘proud’ God is for his beloved one’s [Job’s] unwavering trust in Him when speaking to the devil at the opening chapters of that book, it is not just that Job believes in God, God believes in Job and it all entails tribulation/cross – every Christian is the same…)
    The first steps are the little things. As always, if we do it when it is within our capabilities, God helps when it becomes beyond our power. Of course some rare instances are truly insufferable. When it is almost not possible to not complain or when darkness envelopes us from all sides, we can at least ask for forgiveness for this ‘fall’ and request aid, that the flames of gratitude are ignited in us again. Right in the thick of it we might sometimes even just struggle for the most basic things, (even that might not be possible), barely managing to maybe philosophise on the futility of our priorities and the profundity of our weakness – as a “technique” to provide us with some calmness. But later this will help with acquiring a better perspective for the sake of maturing into gratitude.

  34. Hi Father Stephen,

    Can you speak at all to what this understanding of the natural will vs. the choosing will means for raising children? There is a large body of child-rearing advice that emphasizes giving children (parent-selected) choices as a means of gently guiding them in the desired direction. e.g. “Yes, you have to wear a shirt today. Would you like to wear blue or yellow?” I understand the rationale behind giving the child a sense of empowerment and training them to take on increasing responsibility for their decisions. It makes sense to me and it is something we have more or less integrated into our home. But thinking through what you have written above, I’m wondering if this may not subtly reinforce the message that each of us is the sum total of our choices–the identification of our true self with our choosing self. I do not wish to be a dictatorial father determining every decision my children make. On the other hand, I suspect that there has never been a culture in which children (and their parents) have been confronted with so many choices in daily life? Is there a way to guide my children through these choices without adopting a mindset of consumption? Or (more probably) am I simply over-thinking this?

  35. TimOfTheNorth,

    I think this is a process that evolves over time along with the child. I’ve seen God do it with me countless times and therefore have tried to replicate it with my children. It starts with you making the choice for your children. In the beginning most could really care less whether they wear the red or the blue shirt.

    But then at some point the topic of choice is broached either by child or parent. Frankly some kids will never care which shirt they put on, but inevitably choice will come into play over something.

    It is at this point that I try to begin teaching them – not whether red or blue is better – but how to start making wise choices. I talk about what their end goal is and the best way to get there. Whether they in the end choose my preference is definitely not the end goal.

    And of course the other thing is how you ultimately teach them: the example of your life and the choices you make.

  36. Tim,
    It’s dangerous territory to ever advise on how to raise children. But you do well to think about nurturing little consumers. I remember (humorously) when my two oldest girls were little. If they were watching tv, and commercials came on, I would whisper to them, “All they want is your money!” They reacted in very different ways. One of them said, “Oooh, that’s bad!” The other one said, “How much?”

    That said, it’s obviously good for children to take some responsibility in their lives (which is different than “empowering their choices”). They should also be allowed to be children. They need more nurturing over time in the skills to deal with the passions. But I would not try to figure out some strict regime for this. I’ve overheard any number of parents endlessly “explaining” things to children when they correct them. They simply need correction most of the time.

    But teach by example. Do not overconsume or celebrate consumption. TV, etc., is primarily a device for delivering advertising – which is scientifically designed to stir the passions and make you consume. So limit it – or get rid of it. If you have children who use computers, be sure to have extremely effective security filters to prevent access to porn – it is soul destroying. One look can do more damage in a single minute than you can imagine. It is like turning your child over to a pedophile.

    Assume that their friends have already been exposed to porn and are the most likely culprits to lure them into it.

    The best weapon against consumption is not negative. The best weapon is generosity. Children should learn the joy of giving alms. Don’t be utilitarian about it, i.e. telling them how many poor people there are and how they must have our help. They cannot bear such information. It weighs too heavily on a young soul.

    But teach them in word and deed how to give graciously and generously in thanksgiving for what God has given them. Beware of the influence of wealthy people.

    Hmm. That’s all I can think of right now.

  37. @ kimberlybarbara, thank you so very much for posting that meditation on the Lord’s Prayer! That is beautiful!!

  38. Thank you for your response to TimoftheNorth Fr. Stephen, as mother of 22 year old and 15 year old and also a special education teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and recommendations. I just want to reinforce the idea of giving alms and part of that should be time given to the church or church community if at all possible, whether through teen group or cleaning up after a service. This is indeed lead by example. And while most people realize that many, many websites can be seen on telephones these days, I wonder if parents know that — as you say — their child’s friends or acquaintances will be the ones forwarding videos/music/etc. and this will happen at school. We must all guard our children and we really do not have to be helicopter parents to do so. Pray matters above all things, pray for our children. Thank you!

  39. I saw a note today…Someone said they despaired and said to God, “How will our children be saved?” And God answered, “Don’t worry. I’m sending persecution.”

    I saw this same post. Loved it; made me laugh!

  40. Thanks to all for the responses to my inquiry. These are good words. And thanks, too, Father, for your reticence in giving out child-rearing advice. There’s a profound wisdom in that.

    Our family does, I think, a decent job of avoiding the obvious consumption traps. We have no TV, and our children knew from an early age that advertising was intended to get their money. We’ve done less well on the positive aspects of generosity, etc. And, returning to the original theme of this particular post, modeling thanksgiving in every circumstance is so important (and hard to do.) May God in His mercy redeem all of our parenting mistakes!

  41. Athanasios,

    I just watched the video of Gabor Mate. I was extremely impressed. His answers to the problems of addiction pointed to God and the spiritual though he of course could not allow himself to go too far in that direction. Thank you very much for sharing that.

  42. Thank you Fr. Stephen,

    What a revelation!

    Could this Choosing will and Natural will in the fractured integrity of man through sin be what St. Paul was talking about in Romans 7?

    Paul speaks of “the good i will to do i do not do, but the evil i will not to do, that i practice” and Again “I delight in the law of God according to the inward man…..but the law of my members war against the law of my mind” and again “Through Jesus we are delivered from this body of death…With the mind i serve the law of God , but with the flesh the law of sin”.

    I dont think this “Law of God that we serve with our minds” is not the same law Paul refers to that brings death [v10] – it must be the Law of Liberty in Christ [Rom.8]

    Apologies im not a very good writer and might be presenting my question incorrect – either way it would be wonderful to hear your in site on Rom.7 and the topic your wrote about.

    Thank you
    JP

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