You have just discovered that your 5-year-old has stolen a toy from your neighbor’s house. What should you do?
I suggest you pack up your family and move to a new neighborhood. Pronto. I don’t care how much you love your current neighborhood. You owe it to your child to immediately leave your American dream and start fresh in a new neighborhood, just waiting for families like yours to move in. The name of this new neighborhood, by the way, is Gethsemane Gardens.St. Louis de Montfort suggests that when we meditate on the Agony in the Garden when praying the rosary, we ask for two special graces: true contrition and complete obedience to God’s will. No other mystery illustrates these graces better than and therefore, I can think of no better place to raise children than within the walls of Gethsemane Gardens.
But how do we get there? First, familiarize yourself with this mystery. Pray it. Study it in Scripture. Read about it through the eyes of the Saints or other Church-approved sources of people who have had visions of this mystery. Discover the many ways these two graces are presented to us within the story.
Then bring your family there and explore it together until it becomes the best-known mystery of the rosary. Once you have moved there, your job will be to teach your children true contrition and obedience. But for now, we will just focus on contrition.
Imperfect contrition is easy to teach, but perfect contrition takes time. Begin it now, with your children, whenever they commit a sin. Walk them down the path of empathy, contrition and reparation and you will be well on your way to instilling perfect contrition in their hearts.
When I give my talk: ”5 Steps to Perfect Parenting,” I instruct parents on how to do this by using the questioning and prompting process. Pretending your son has stolen a toy, the process may go something like this:
“How does it feel when someone takes one of your toys? Do you see that when you take your friend’s toy, he must feel very sad too?” Get him to see that we are all very much alike. If being stolen from makes him sad, it must make his friend sad as well. This is basic empathy.
Then, move on to contrition. Have him tell you some things for which he is thankful. This reminds him of all that he has and helps to defeat the greed that made him steal the toy in the first place. Remind him that all we have comes from God, not because we deserve it, but because He loves us and wants us to learn how to use these blessings to bless others. Remind your child that not only did he steal the toy, but he stole a chance for his friend to bless someone by sharing it.
Some form of reparation to the person hurt is always required once your child sees the wrong he did. Your child will know that returning the toy and apologizing is the only way to make it right again. He should do this as soon as possible.
Now it is time to go to God. If your child is old enough, he must confess his sin as soon as possible. But for the sake of this example, we are raising a younger child in Gethsemane Gardens who does not yet have recourse to this Sacrament.
Say an Act of Contrition with him. Then ask, “What can you do as an act of love and sorrow to God?”
This step is important. So often we forget when we sin against another person, we not only have to make it right with the person we hurt, but we should also try to make a loving act of reparation to God.
Instilling this in your child’s heart early on will give a strong base for perfect contrition his entire life.
Help your child choose natural acts of reparation based on the offense committed. For instance, eating a sibling’s Easter candy warrants not only replacing that which was unjustly consumed (reparation to the one sinned against), but also, perhaps, giving alms or purchasing a can of food for the poor. A natural act of reparation to God is a very appropriate attempt at amendment and I think Our Lord happily accepts them all.
Some acts, however, are more pleasing than others. For instance, one day my youngest son hit his sister hard enough to leave a red mark on her arm. After applying a cool washcloth to her arm (his act of reparation to his sister) and apologizing to her, we went straight to our prayer room and did a slow, heartfelt Act of Contrition. I asked him what he thought an appropriate act of reparation to God would be. Solemnly he pointed to the crucifix and said, “Can I give Jesus a kiss?”
I handed him the crucifix and he gently kissed each of Christ’s wounds.
“I absolve you of your sins,” I could almost hear Jesus say, “Now go in peace.”
He handed the crucifix back to me, gave me a huge smile and ran off to play, leaving me holding the crucifix in utter amazement.
I love this neighborhood.