Thursday, February 2, 2012

Developing a Child's Conscience

Key to the Orthodox way of Life is an active conscience.  But for many, this sense we are given in our Baptism is lost or dulled by our separation from God.  At a young age it is important to nurture a child's use of their conscience.  How do you do this?


I knew a school principle who was very effective in maintaining discipline in an inner city school.  There was an incident where boys were cutting up on the bus  and in their zeal to be "smart" they mutilated one of the bus seats. The boys were identified by the supervising teacher, but she did not see them actually mutilate the seat.  She sent them to the principal. Faced by the principal, the boys of course denied doing anything.  What did the principal do? He began by explaining to them that they have a conscience.  He told them that this is a quiet voice inside their heart that tells them right from wrong.  And, if they had done anything wrong, later in the day or that night they would have a feeling coming from inside that they had done something wrong.  He explained to them that once you get this feeling you want to get rid of it.  He did not accuse, threaten or punish them, but told them to go home and that he would be there in the morning before the school bell rang to talk with them if they wanted to meet with him.  That next morning the boys showed up in his office early and explained to him that their conscience was bothering them and that they could not even sleep very well that night. They then told him what they had done and asked for his to help to get rid of this bad feeling they had. He then led them in a discussion about how they could make up for the bad deed that had done.


He was teaching them about conscience and how to use it.  This is the same task we all face with our children to help them develop a good Christian moral sense.
The biggest task for parents is to instruct their children in such a way that they do not force them to go against what they know is best for them out of rebellion.  Like the principal, parents need to guide children in using their conscience so they develop a God oriented will and learn to recognize the work of God within themselves. When they learn to recognize their own sinfulness, then they can be introduced to the concept of repentance and eventually the sacrament of confession.  A parent who is successful in this regard while become an open conduit for their repentance.  A child will see their parents as the loving father of the story of the Prodigal son.  Children will know that when they are honest with their conscience, their parents will always welcome them with gladness.


Paul points out that Christians have more than the law of the Jews. They have a law in the heart. He tells us that those "who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them" will be justified when that final judgment come. (Romans 2:12-16)


Saint Greogry of Nyssa tells us the following;
What then must we do, we who have been found worthy of the name of Christ? Each of us must examine his thoughts, words and deeds, to see whether they are directed toward Christ or are turned away from him. This examination is carried out in various ways. Our deeds or our thoughts or our words are not in harmony with Christ if they issue from passion. They then bear the mark of the enemy who smears the pearl of the heart with the slime of passion, dimming and even destroying the lustre of the precious stone.
On the other hand, if they are free from and untainted by every passionate inclination, they are directed toward Christ, the author and source of peace. He is like a pure, untainted stream. If you draw from him the thoughts in your mind and the inclinations of your heart, you will show a likeness to Christ, your source and origin, as the gleaming water in a jar resembles the flowing water from which it was obtained.

For the purity of Christ and the purity that is manifest in our hearts are identical. Christ’s purity, however, is the fountainhead; ours has its source in him and flows out of him. Our life is stamped with the beauty of his thought. The inner and the outer man are harmonized in a kind of music. The mind of Christ is the controlling influence that inspires us to moderation and goodness in our behavior. As I see it, Christian perfection consists in this: sharing the titles which express the meaning of Christ’s name, we bring out this meaning in our minds, our prayers and our way of life. 
Its essential to lay a sound foundation in our children so they learn to trust in their conscience knowing that i's impulses come from God.

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