Through prayer and study, I’ve created a list of the elements of an education that I think best starts children on this road. Divine union comes through living a life of prayer and virtue. So, generally speaking, we want to teach about prayer and virtue, model them, and practice them with our children. But we also want a home and a school environment that is conducive to prayer and virtuous living.
Prayer requires leisure
The Greek work schole, from which “school” comes, means “not-at-work time.” In classical society, school was a leisure activity, a pursuit of wisdom that had little to do with the workaday world. The truest education is free or liberal. It is not “useful” in a utilitarian sense. It is not servile. It is learning about things that are valuable in themselves, rather than means to obtain what we desire.
I wrote about leisure’s importance several months ago. Besides the suggestions you can read in my previous post, teach your kids to have an attitude of openness to learning and to God. Humility is one of the most important virtues to cultivate. Teach them to ask, seek, and knock. Show them that learning is a lifetime venture. Only God has all the answers. Continue learning yourself, especially about the faith. Model awe. Teach your children proper respect.
Try to bring these fundamental questions to each subject: What is man? What is my purpose in life? Discuss them in math, science, literature, art–even physical education. Orient everything towards our highest good.
Contrary to the notion popular in our culture, leisure is not the same thing as entertainment. True leisure never leaves us as spectators. It requires us to participate with our minds, hearts, or bodies. True leisure is time to think, to imagine, and to love. For kids especially, that also means time to play.
Too much sensory stimulation inhibits prayer
Last week I wrote about limiting kids’ access to digital media. (Some people, such as children with autism, rely on digital media to function at their best; I am directing this towards the rest of us.) Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper wrote in Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, “[T]he average person of our time loses the ability to see because there is too much to see!” He first said those words in a speech in 1952. How much truer they are today! We are overwhelmed with visual stimuli to the point that we’re becoming blind towards God.
A photo takes much more computer memory than text. A video takes much more than a photo. So too, movies and video games take more of our memory and mental energy. That energy, just like our physical energy, is limited. If we use it all up on worldly things, how can we meditate on Sacred Scripture? How can we ponder in our heart what God has done, as Mary did? How can we still our minds, so that we can hear God speak?
Is prayer useful?
We can never be too busy to pray. (Read this, if it is difficult for you to find time to pray.) Prayer should be the primary activity of our lives. We work so that we may have time for natural and supernatural contemplation.
Listening is paramount in prayer. It is not just a matter of thinking or imagining, but primarily a matter of loving God. Still less is prayer utilitarian. We don’t pray because of what we can get out of prayer or out of God. We don’t pray to make ourselves feel good. Nor do we pray just so we can have our wishes come true. God is not a fairy godmother. He is our Father, Creator, Redeemer, and Counselor (among other titles). We pray because He loves us and we desire to reciprocate that love.
Even young children can begin to be taught that prayer is not just about asking for what we want.
Virtue requires knowledge and will
Finally, it’s not enough to teach children about virtue. We must practice it in our homes. Tell them what virtues you are working on. Choose virtues to work on as a family.
Reading great books, especially stories of saints, heroes, and ordinary people who overcame their faults, moves children’s hearts towards virtue. Fill your homes with such books. Then they can fill their leisure time with reading them.
Cover your walls with great art, both explicitly Christian and otherwise. Let their eyes feast on beauty so that they desire the Beatific Vision.
A life of prayer and virtue does not happen by accident. Saints don’t stumble into sanctity. We must train our children to be the godly men and women they were created to be.
Just a reminder: my ebook, Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life, is now free in most digital formats. Read more about it here.