A major challenge for Orthodox Christians today is to leverage the strengths of technology while understanding that our faith places a high value on external and personal relationships. Fulfilling Christ’s commandments to love God completely and to love and serve our neighbors typically takes personal interaction. It would be hard to worship properly online (even though streaming the Liturgy is a sometimes useful innovation) and participating in any sacrament through an app will never be an option. Similarly, it can be difficult to build rich and meaningful online experiences that serve those in need -- the hungry, the naked, the stranger, the sick and imprisoned. At some point, if we are going to live up to Christ’s commandments and stand on His right side at Judgment, we must put the tech down, go out and meet people where they are.
But who has the time to go out and help others? Life is busy – plain and simple. I’m the first to admit that my wife and I struggle to keep a balance among Church, work, school, Greek school, baseball, Greek dance, modern dance, Girl Scouts, family vacations, gymnastics, swim team, soccer, house chores, and homework. With all of these activities, it’s fair to say that there is no balance in life. Many of us suffer from the fleeting desire to give our children every material opportunity to prosper in life while we fail to give them the peace, calmness of home and dedicated time that is necessary to grow together as a family and to work together, family-as-church, towards our salvation.
Keeping Christ and His Church at the center of our families’ Lenten journey starts with parents leading by example -- allowing our children to see us actively praying, fasting, attending church regularly and participating in acts of service to others. As faithful parents a we must root our Faith deep into our homes and then take that faith back out into the world, building it into the routines and habits of our children through actions, not words.
A key component of Lent that can often be overlooked is acts of mercy and outreach to those in need. Whether it’s sponsoring a parish food or clothing drive, visiting the elderly or shut-ins, helping a neighbor take care of their home or working with homeless families and children we should all seek opportunities to engage in outreach activities and make service to others part of our weekly routine.
Working together as a family on outreach projects is not only a wonderful way to instill the teachings of Christ into our children, but it strengthens family togetherness, helps children learn, and empowers them to understand that they can help others. Serving others benefits a child's psychological, social and intellectual development. It increases self-esteem, responsibility and helps children develop new social skills. The time that you spend together as a family helping others will be rewarding and more memorable than almost any other family activity this year.
This Lent, make outreach a habit. It will take time for your children to be comfortable at a nursing home or serving meals at a soup kitchen. Don’t expect them to feel comfortable on their first volunteer experience. But know that with each time they volunteer, they are building an inner strength that will help them throughout their lives and on your family’s journey to salvation.
What can your family do to serve others?
- Start at home: Read the daily readings, watch Be the Bee, and have a conversation with your kids about the topic covered. Teaching your children to focus on others and be aware of people’s needs is an important step in raising compassionate children.
- Sponsor a food drive at your parish or youth group and let your children be involved. Let your younger children color a poster or flyer advertising the drive. Bring your older children to the food bank or shelter when you drop off the collected items. Local food banks are incredibly strained this year and there is always a need for non-perishable grocery items
- Make greeting cards for children who are hospitalized with chronic illnesses
- Visit the elderly and shut-ins, visit parishioners in their assisted living. Bring them a small gift – a flower, plant, small icon, greeting card.
- Invite FOCUS to your parish or youth group for a “family day” of service. FOCUS will lead a day-long outreach into your community to help people in need while helping you learn and experience the root causes of poverty and understanding what you can do to help. email: email@example.com
- Listen to your kids – ask them for ideas of how you can help someone in need.
- Shovel the driveway or rake leaves for an elderly neighbor. Lead by example. It won’t do to tell your kids, “go rake Mrs. Pappas’ leaves!” But if you get a few rakes, put them in the hands of your kids and lead them over to her house, you will find that it is wonderful to work together.
- Help FOCUS cook and serve meals to hungry children when they don’t have access to free/reduced meals at school. Contact FOCUS for info on how your parish can help. www.focusnorthamerica.org or firstname.lastname@example.org