On Teaching Virtue

Previous to the last 6-9 months, I had no idea people actually worked to teach their children virtue. Then I started seeing blogs pop up with “Character Studies” and “Virtue Training” lesson plans. My first thought was, “Really? That is CHEESY.” Yet, the idea was planted in my head, and slowly, as the days wore on and the tempers flared with the Passionate Princess, I started to think, “There might be something that character study idea after all…”

Truthfully, I have yet to “officially” make it a practice in our home. We spent one week trying to follow the plans for an “obedience” study, reading selected stories from the Bible, answering discussion questions, and anxiously waiting for the fruits of the study to grow, right now. Too bad the Spirit’s fruits don’t grow that way. Perhaps I need some spiritual “miracle gro” for my kids’ souls.

Or perhaps I’m not a lesson-plan follower. After all, I can barely get through a week of my own lesson plans for our homeschool without a bunch of chicken scratch all over the week’s outline, changing our plans not once but twice and even three times. Every single week this happens, I kid you not. It is what I call “schooling with life”. Life happens, school comes next. And that is how I find “character” and “virtue” studies to go, as well. Life happens, and all of a sudden, the virtue I thought we needed the most work on, isn’t the most needed virtue. I was left scrambling, seeking new Bible stories that would cut to the heart and be a life-changing read for my children, especially the aforementioned Passionate Princess. “What is going to get through to her the fastest and effect the biggest, best change in her heart????” I wracked my brain. I chose. I failed. It didn’t work.

I deleted the “starred” message from email, the one in which I sent myself a link to a blog with lesson plans for character studies. Why bother? It was working, I couldn’t find time for it in our day, and by the time bedtime stories and prayers rolled around, we were too tired to give good thought to virtue anymore (save praying for a better day tomorrow).

My husband and I would often talk about the attitudes in the house, I would rant about the tantrums from our oldest and her poor work ethic. We would pray for all four to learn obedience, respect, etc. And then I’d plod through the next day with no specific goal driving my instruction, spiritual or otherwise. (I have always been a spontaneous, go with the flow type of person. In college, my work-study boss told me I was not going to be on his liturgy planning team if I didn’t keep track of life on a planner. I rushed to get a planner. He looked over it with me weekly. For three years, it stuck. Then I graduated, got married, and went with the flow all over again, for 6 years, until homeschooling…I have yet to find my niche in planning…) I would post on FB, to a Christian mothers’ board, to a Catholic homeschool board, practically begging for the magic advice that would turn things around for me, especially with our oldest (The Passionate Princess). The advice never came. Advice came, but not the “magic”, not the secret “plan to follow and all will be right”.

Then I picked up a book on January 1 of this year, one which I had begun to read on October when it came to me from Amazon. It is called, “A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms” by Lisa Hendey. It is a treasure, every mother should read it. Each week takes me on a journey with a new saint, a new friend, a new intercessor in this vocation. St. Monica is now a dear friend of mine. I’m sure you all know who her son is, right? St. Augustine, the rowdy party animal of his time. I stopped each day of that week with St. Monica and reminded myself how her prayers changed her son’s life. I don’t think my oldest is a rowdy party animal, but I now know that my prayers are the secret. My children each have a beautiful free will, a great gift from God, and far be it from me to control it. I can only guide it, give it directions, try to light the right path…but they are human just as much as I, and only through my example, prayer and the grace of God will I raise them to be saints. There isn’t a magic formula, or set of steps to follow (aside from pray, pray, pray some more). Each week, the new saint in the journey “fits” our needs exactly, and each week, I pray more for me to be filled with virtue so that I can be an example.

How could I ever expect to teach that which I do not practice? How silly. It would be like me trying to teach my kids soccer, a sport that I have never once played. Obedience? How can I teach that when I am not exactly being obedient in my spiritual life, not giving enough time to our Lord in prayer.

This Lent has been a turning point as well. We are reading from the book by Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, “Bringing Home Lent with Mother Teresa.” Each day, we pray, read some beautiful and inspiring quotes, and talk about fasting and alms-giving. We are making sacrifices together, working on virtue while fasting from negativity and sin (generosity instead of selfishness, etc), and talking about it often. Shock! This business needs to be talked about, openly, freely, and with love with our children. This felt odd to me at first, because I don’t remember doing much of this type of talk as a child. Each day, it becomes easier. I am able to suggest to my children, “The best way to be obedient in this situation is to …” or “Wow! I am so impressed with your generosity and sharing with your brother right now! You are really learning how to be selfless. Thank you for making a sacrifice.” They are young! They don’t know these things yet if I don’t tell them and live it with them.

Now I am working daily on virtue in our home. Maybe one day I will pull out some stories and attempt a more formal “study”, maybe not. First, I will pray and see how the Holy Spirit leads me. After all, all these virtues and spiritual gifts I wish for my children are from Him, not me.

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