The Sloppy Child
This is indeed an important part of a children’s education: teaching them not only to do what they are asked, but to do it well. What are our human lives composed of? Of a series of small events. Like the millions of grains of sand that make up a beach, they seem insignificant. But all together, they make up the fabric of our life.
Your childrens’ small actions at every moment, their little reactions of joy or anger, are full of an unsuspected power. The ruin of many souls begins with small missteps: a lie to cover up one’s laziness, an hour spent with bad friends…It is not that big of a deal, one might say. But habits are quickly formed, and though the conscience cries out a bit the first time, it is soon muzzled.
For most children, there is no single opportunity for shining heroism in their lives. But they can be heroic every day, by doing the same little things over and over, after the example of Our Lord who “hath done all things well” (Mk. 7:). How?
Just contemplate God’s masterpiece that we call Creation. Take a look through the microscope at this crystal with its sparkling shades of green. An emerald? No, a sugar crystal! God does all things perfectly. And He wishes us to imitate Him: “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” To be perfect in that which He has given us: the moments of our life.
Act out of Charity
Some examples: Cleaning your room because mom said to is a good deed; “cleaning it well to make her happy” is an act of charity. Learning your lesson because you have to is a good deed; learning it “to the best of your ability” is an act of charity. With this magic wand called “doing your very best because it will make Jesus happy,” your daily actions are transformed from grains of sand into precious stones. Reading a book carefully, sitting properly at the table, answering politely when questioned…Obeying promptly, not chatting during class, volunteering to help out, not answering back…, these can all be acts of charity.
We mustn’t forget however, that not all children have the same talents. So the goal is not necessarily the material perfection of the work or action. We should suggest a goal adapted to each child, without ever comparing a less gifted child to a more naturally talented comrade who obtains the same results without any effort.
The Cathedral of Milan
Doing all things well also means working without seeking a reward. Our modern world has other standards: “cost-effectiveness,” “salary,” “getting it done quickly,” and not just “getting it done.” One day someone asked the sculptor of the magnificent statues on the balcony of the Cathedral of Milan why he was going to such great pains. Who would ever see the statues from the ground? He answered, “From the ground, no one; but God will see them.” That is true love, love that seeks no other reward than that of pleasing God. Before they reach the point of habitually acting “to make Jesus happy,” children need their actions to be rewarded once in a while, but without this turning into a due, which would be the case if every good action gave them the right to a “salary.”
We mustn’t blindfold ourselves: children are not naturally drawn to effort, they prefer immediate pleasure. How can we instill in them a sense of duty? Prayer obtains all things. Pray, and teach your children to pray.
It is also important for them to finish what they start, be it work, a game, a drawing…Finish in every sense of the word, complete it and do it well. Do not accept a half-done or poorly done job, and do not finish what your child started for him because he gave up at the first hint of difficulty. Help him finish the job if he needs help. Little by little, he will learn to ask advice and persevere: it takes patience and humility. Encourage him to return to the same occupations every day, and joyfully. The goal needs to be clear: it is for God, who loves beautiful things! You can count on the treasure of generosity that lies in the hearts of your little ones.
There is a legitimate and beneficial joy at seeing our work done and well done, and this is an excellent encouragement to continue to “do our best”. A sloppy job, however, after the relief of being rid of a chore, leaves an unpleasant feeling of dissatisfaction, of an unfinished work. The soul never finds fulfillment in the “approximate.”
Give your children small responsibilities in your family life, like feeding the fish, setting the table, or sweeping a staircase. Of course, you will have to check, and they need to be corrected if they fail in their duty; but as soon as they have done their best, their mother’s smile and a few kind words of encouragement can work wonders. Children need to learn at a young age that when dad and mom are happy, Jesus is happy too.
And lastly, remember well this proverb that is a key to Heaven: “Being a saint does not mean doing extraordinary things, but doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”