Archpriest Viktor Gorbach, rector of the Church of St. Innocent of Moscow in the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, has talked on the spiritual benefit of children’s awkward years for their parents.
—Why does it often happen that the children of Christians—whether of priests or laypeople—to put it mildly, don’t always please their parents? At first a child is like an angel, and his parents dote up on him, but when the time comes for another awkward age, the child does things that would make your hair stand on end. Why does this happen?
—Because society and parents expect too much from the children from Orthodox families, whether from clergy children or from others. We have already “drawn” their halos with angelic wings, although it is too early. The holiness that we wish for our children is attained in spiritual warfare, but there has been almost no warfare yet, while we hurry to “hang medals” on them. But later, when the time comes for real spiritual warfare, we see that everything is so difficult and that we “hung medals” too early. In my experience and judgment, an honest look at our own “military merits” helps a great deal here—what can we boast of? A victory over our passions or the absolute and irrevocable “breach” of the “blockade” of our own judgmentalism, vanity, and love of money? Let’s not hurry—neither in assessing the depth of the fall of our children, nor in assessing our spiritual growth.
—We naively expect that our Orthodox children will definitely not have any problems and temptations. We have excessive expectations, and they are not always fulfilled. Why?
—Because, as it seems to me, we forget the meaning of the word “Savior” and take it lightly. After all, the Savior is needed by those who have something to be saved from, who sincerely feel and understand the need for salvation. No one can be saved without Christ, even a Christian child, and—I will tell you a terrible secret—even a Christian himself (whether a layman or a priest). Nobody! Absolutely everyone needs Christ. If there were at least one such perfect person, there would have been no need for Christ to come into the world. We put our hope in the child; more than that, we demand from him things we ourselves are unable to fulfil. We read in the Psalms: Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help (Ps. 145:3). You see, we must trust in God’s all-powerful help rather than in our feeble strength. Of course, our efforts are necessary: we have no right to be idle, thinking that God “will save us anyway”; but without Him we won’t be able to do anything, neither we nor our children.
—It seems that in some sense we should become like God in this case.
—Yes, it’s about respecting a person’s free will, which is so important for Christ that even He, no matter how He desires it, cannot save us without our consent. After all, we value our own freedom. Why do we deprive our children of it? Do you remember the proverb, “A mother’s prayer will reach the bottom of the sea”? I believe the same goes for a father’s prayer for his children. So the time inevitably comes when our main parental task will consist precisely of prayer for our children—not of reproaches and wailing, but of humble yet really strong prayers. “Let us commend our whole life to Christ our God” is a very comforting call at the Divine Liturgy. Christ knows how to deal with such challenges, believe me. He well understands our awkward years (and has everyone come out of their awkward stage?)—so let’s give freedom to Him and to our children.
Looking at the temptations that our grown–up children are faced with, let’s bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)—the result is known not only to the Galatians. I repeat: it is useful to remember ourselves at this age—how many gray hairs appeared on the heads of our parents and grandparents because of us! Perhaps even what our former angels are doing now is a mild version of our “exploits”. You have to agree, it’s a good reason for humility! So ,to some extent we should be grateful to our children who make us turn gray. Let’s not despair, alright? God knows how to help a person at any age.