My wife and I are reading Saint Theophan the Recluse’s small book Raising Them Right, subtitled, A Saint’s Advice on Raising Children. Theophan’s work has been recommended to me in the past, so I finally decided to buy a copy since I have a nine-month-old son.
We recently read this passage which hit me like a ton of bricks. Quick context: in this section, Theophan explains how parents influence the spiritual life of their infant child.
When a child’s powers begin to awaken, one after another, parents and those who are raising children should double their attention. For when, under the influence of the means which have been indicated, the longing for God will grow and increase in them and draw the powers of the child after it, at this same time the sin which dwells in them also does not sleep, but strives to take possession of these same powers.
The inevitable consequence of this is inward warfare. Since children are incapable of conducting it themselves, their place is understandably taken by the parents. But since this warfare must be conducted through the powers of the children, the parents must strictly watch over the first beginnings of their awakening, so that from the first minute they may give these powers a direction in harmony with the chief aim towards which they must be directed.
Thus begins the warfare of the parents with the sin that dwells in the child. Although this sin is deprived of points of support, still it acts, and so as to find a good resting place for itself it tries to take possession of the powers of the body and soul. One must not allow it to do this, but must, as it were, uproot these powers from the hand of sin and give them over to God. (31)
*All italics are my emphasis*
The idea that I am responsible for fighting the powers of sin that would attempt to settle in the heart of my child overwhelms me. Of course, I alone am not sufficient to beat back the powers of sin; it is the power of Christ in me. Theophan is always careful to emphasize that the most important aspect of raising a child is to ensure that they regularly attend church and partake of the grace God extends to the world through the holy mysteries (i.e., sacraments).
Nevertheless, I have a part to play in the spiritual growth and trajectory of my son. I had never understood my role in the way Theophan describes it here, but it helps explain the indefinable dread that sometimes accompanies my experience in the day-to-day of parenting. That I should be entrusted with such a task is more than I deserve and only possible through the grace of God.