Children love to stand out so long as it is on their own terms with temper tantrums, or the child who makes himself the center of attention when there are guests, or the baby who toddles out of the house stark naked! Despite this desire to be the star of their own show at other times they can often be reluctant to being singled out. It is not only children who want life on their own terms! Think of the adult indulging in road rage, screaming at a cashier or stomping their way out of a store due to some imagined offense on the part of a clerk! We live in a culture that both extols achievement and yet provides an environment of ease and convenience… think fast food, drive-through pharmacies and dry-cleaning establishments! I’ve even heard of a drive-through wedding chapel, drive-through divorces and to the wildest extreme a drive-through funeral home!
At the end of our Sunday Divine Liturgy we have something known as the “Post Communion prayers” which are said in the midst of the congregation. These are generally chanted aloud by two individuals who alternate sections with each other. As our children grow around the age of ten we pair them with an adult to help in chanting the prayers. I sit with them beforehand and explain how important it is that we pray aloud and that we all pray together. In the beginning they all want to not “have to” do it and eventually some of them make a big fuss with their parents about getting out of it. The parents know that I insist on the child coming to me to explain why they don’t want to do the chanting. There have been an occasional few children who I have excused from the task as it became clear that they were not yet ready to stand out on any terms other than their own, in which case I have them help the parish in some other way.
We ordinarily think that convenience is a good thing but when an all-pervasive culture stresses “at no cost to you!” then we begin to view anything that requires effort as being wrong simply because it is not easy! When we keep pulling back from what is hard to what is easier then eventually everything becomes too hard! As the kids get older I have had many of them come back and thank me for making them face something which originally terrified them! They have often made the comment the experience taught them that just because something seemed too hard didn’t mean that they couldn’t do it and because they dealt with it they felt happy about themselves! Just because something is terrifyingly hard does not mean that we shouldn’t deal with it. Despite our culture’s nonsense-gospel of “at no cost to you” we need to be willing to pay the cost required for our own happiness!