Parenting comes with a never-ending list of challenges. If, as faithful Orthodox Christians, you choose to obey the Lord and raise your children in the Faith, then you will eventually hear your children complain about church being boring. It is, after all, only natural for children to struggle with such a thing; even some adults struggle to overcome their boredom of church services.
“Church is boring!” they’ll say. “Do we have to go?” And when you say yes, they have to go, the immediate comeback response is, “Why?” Thankfully, many books and articles answer the why of our going to church. So in this article, we’ll focus instead on how to respond when your child says that church is boring. How can you respond to your children in a way that supports Christian practice but acknowledges their perception of the world?
Note: You may not be able to respond right in the moment that your child complains. Just make a mental note to address it later, perhaps on the way home.
Option 1: Ask why it is boring
Children often find themselves frustrated in situations in which they are not allowed to participate. When you ask a child why he finds something boring, a majority of the time that will be the reason why. Because he isn’t allowed to do anything except sit and be quiet and watch everyone else do all the work. While that may sound like heaven to us as adults, it is torture for a child.
Everyone participates in liturgy, not just the priest
Teach your child that the liturgy is all about participation. Every single one of us – child or adult, priest or layperson – should participate in the Divine Liturgy. If we feel like a spectator, or like a member in an audience watching some sort of performance, we need to take a moment and think about why we feel that way. Most often, it is because we are not participating!
Related: Handling Children In Church
One of the easiest ways to participate is to follow along in the service book, or to sing/pray along with the priest and choir. Not only does it make things more interesting, but it makes the time pass faster for your child – make sure you tell her this!
Rather than staring at the wall and disengaging, find ways for your child (and for you!) to become more involved in the service.
Brainstorm ways to engage your child in the service
If your child feels left out or unengaged, try finding some ways to involve him or her in the service. If your son is old enough, he could serve as an altar boy and help the priest. Perhaps your child could help the greeters or ushers at the entrance of the church, or sing in the choir. Or if those options aren’t feasible, consider giving your child a prayer rope to help her count through all the times she hears certain words, like “Lord, have mercy,” or “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Alternatively, hold hands with your child and tell him to squeeze your hand every time he hears a chosen word or phrase.
Option 2: Explain that we all have to do things that are not “entertaining”
As adults, we know all too well that not everything is entertaining. Sometimes there are just things we do because we have to (or should) do them. Participating in worship is one such activity, as well as personal prayer, fasting, etc. If we hope to become the people God has created us to be, we must encounter and overcome challenges. And for a lot of us, dealing with boredom is an incredible challenge.
Let your child know that entertainment is only one part of the human experience. There is a place for fun and recreation, just as there is a place for silence and worship! Our life is about more than simply having fun all the time; our goal is to become holy and have eternal life with God.
This can be a vague, impenetrable concept for a small child. It can easily come across as one of those irritating virtuous things grown-ups say. Here are some ways to make it more concrete for your children.
Build empathy and gratitude
Ask your child to think about all the people whose actions help take care of her in any part of her life. Ask her things like:
- Where does food come from?
- How does it get to your house?
- How does it get to the store?
- Who grows it on the farm?
- What kind of work goes into running the farm to produce the food?
- Does the farmer have fun digging up the soil, pulling the weeds, carting manure, milking cows at 4:30 in the dark, cold, snowy morning?
- What about the people who collect trash?
- What about the people who maintain our plumbing?
It’s not at all difficult to come up with a long list of things that other people do for us. Things that we cannot do without, but that we are thankful we do not have to do for ourselves!
When you have the list, ask your child to think about those people – how does he think the farmer feels? The plumber? The trash collector? The doctor? The janitor? Mom and Dad cleaning up stomach flu in the middle of the night?
This will, firstly, help your child grow empathy and gratitude toward others. Once you have gotten to this point, you can then guide the conversation to help your child see that some of the most important activities in our lives are things we would consider “boring”.
Option 3: Explain the benefits of worship in church
Often we do things because of the good it can do for ourselves or for those around us. So this is the next logical approach to tackling boredom in church. After all, what good does it do to sit through a 2-hour service once a week?
To understand why church matters, you need to encourage your child (and yourself) to think about the invisible. This is the perfect time to tell your child that the most important things in this life are things that we cannot see with our eyes. Love, compassion, repentance, courage, obedience, integrity, and so on.
Imagine with your child
While your child may not yet have the ability to think abstractly, he does have his imagination! During the next Divine Liturgy, ask your child to look around and think about who is there that he cannot see with his eyes. Is there a Saint standing behind each icon? Are there angels around the altar? Are our deceased loved ones there? Where is God and what is He doing during the service?
If all of those other people – God and the Saints and the angels and Grandpa – are present in church with us, then it must be important! Ask your child what the Saints are doing, what God is doing, during the service. Ask him what kinds of things he can do with God while he is there. Try to avoid yes or no questions here, because your child will just default to the answer he thinks you want to hear. Use what, how, and why to fuel his imagination and get him engaged.
Respond, don’t react
Every child will ask questions. Every child will resist authority and test boundaries, and nearly every child will think church is boring at some point. There is no escape from the aggravating curiosity of childhood. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be a miserable experience. Our parenting will not be perfect, and it will not stop them from asking questions. But with love and patience, we can respond to their questions with thoughtful conversation, rather than react with impatience, irritation, or exhaustion. And through these thousands of interactions, by God’s grace, hopefully we can produce faithful adults.
Did you respond differently when your child told you “Church is boring”? Share it in the comments!
Keep Reading: Teaching Your Children (And Yourself) How To Pray