Work can be prayer
And that brings us to work as a form of prayer, and helping children understand that work done for the love of God is as tangible an act of love as if they were to run to Him with an embrace.
In the beginning, learning to make our bed, dry the dishes, and polish shoes is fun and a kind of play at being grown up, but soon the novelty wears off, and the chores that started out being fun can lose their glamour and become unpleasant drudgery.
If they are prayer, however, it can be different. Not that tasks we hate doing are suddenly transformed into occasions of great spiritual joy; but there’s a great difference between doing them because you’re told you must, and doing them because they can be applied to the sufferings of some other child somewhere, who has no bed to make, who must spend his nights curled up in a hole, shivering, starved, unhappy, and with no one to care for him.
Then there’s a good reason to try to make our bed with care instead of pulling up the covers to hide the rumples underneath. Then smoothing the sheets, and squaring the corners, and plumping the pillows can be small ceremonies of love from a small girl who does them because Christ can use them as balm for one of His suffering members.
And one of the loveliest things about teaching children that work is prayer is that mothers can’t help having it rub off on them.
These diapers that are changed daily, these meals that are cooked again and again, these floors that are scrubbed today only to get dirty tomorrow — these are as truly prayer in a mother’s vocation as the watches and prayers of the religious are in theirs.
Encourage your child to offer up his sufferings
There is suffering, too, in the lives of children, and it is eloquent prayer. Mere stoicism has no part in the training of a Christian. Too often it’s the death knell to humility.
But suffering embraced and offered to the suffering Christ, even with howls and tears, is a mighty weapon.
The road to Calvary was one long, unending bruise, and it helps a child to remember when he’s hurt that Jesus was hurt like this, and much more, and this pain in a mysterious way can be poured on His wounds and will help make up for the pain He had to bear. Every mother in the world kisses the bumps and bruises of her young to “make them well.”
We can give them something much more tangible to do with their hurts than merely bring them to be kissed. We can comfort and calm and then direct them in the use of the pain, and it’s surprising how willingly they will learn the lesson of pain and its value.
“Offer it up, dear; give it to Jesus to help comfort Him for the pain of the nails in His poor hands and feet.”
Faced as he is with a lifetime of recurring suffering (in one way or another), we give a child the only wholesome weapon to be used when we teach him to take his own pain in his own two hands and apply it freely, as he does work and play and prayer, to the comforting of Christ and His work in His Church.
Many times, parents will turn to scolding the “naughty chair” or the “bad table” in an effort to ease the pain and insult of a child who comes to grief through his own carelessness.
In the process, they feed little desires for vengeance; they give him no recourse but senseless, continuing rebellion against anything and everything that crosses him.
One time, a man who lives in our town was working on his car with no success, growing more and more angry because the cursed (and I do mean cursed) car would not start.
In a rage, finally, he threw his wrench at it, broke a part, and instead of a tricky repair job, he had added to his woes the problem of thumbing a ride to a service station to buy a new part, thumbing a ride back, and starting from scratch to install the new part.
Perhaps his explosion was only the fault of an ungovernable temper, but perhaps — who knows? — it had its beginning long ago in childhood when the only solace for a barked shin was, “Naughty chair to hurt the baby. Kick it back, sonny, kick it back.”
Living in a fallen world, our children are bound to be hurt, both physically and spiritually. We will save them years of wasted opportunities if we teach them that, along with everything else, pain is part of their prayer.
“It is astonishing what undreamed-of qualities a sense of responsibility awakens in a young soul; how the very idea that something depends on her, that she is being trusted, puts our little maid upon her mettle. Therefore it is a good plan to leave to a young daughter some particular duty or duties for which she is entirely responsible. This may of course be a very slight thing to begin with—the dusting of a room, or the arrangement of flowers or books, or the superintendence of the tea-table; but whatever it is, the mother should insist that it be done regularly and at the appointed time. Thus will she teach her child punctuality and a primary lesson in a method, which is the key to all perfect housekeeping. Of course it is a little trouble to the mother to superintend the performance of such little duties, but she will have her reward in the daily increasing helpfulness of the daughter in the home.” – Annie S. Swan, Courtship and Marriage And the Gentle Art of Home-Making, 1894