Letting Children Develop Their Own Loves, Desires – Letting Them Go. “The Little Virtues” by Natalia Ginzburt (Jan. 2008)

Susan's Thursday morning note January 19, 2008
The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburt
Arrow Analogy in a Letter from missionary Jim Elliot to his son
Helping children find their own passions and loves in life without our influences.  Letting go.

Good morning!  No coffee, but the sun is supposed to shine today.  Does that count for a stimulus? I always am ready to read advice from experienced parents on what they recommend for raising children, then taking on goals of what I find applicable to me and sharing what I think you will also find useful to think about and be encouraged by.  I read this week an excerpt from Natalia Ginzburt (1916-1991).  Her husband was murdered in a Nazi prison camp for his stands during WW2.  I have ordered copies of several of her books, for she is easy to read, and a lover of literature.  She was known as Italy’s most important postwar woman writer, and a member of the Italian Parliament, later translating famous authors, Proust and Flaubert.  Her essay, The Little Virtues, discusses raising our children.  She discusses teaching money, attitudes, giving, habits….okay – virtues!  Here is what she wrote on children finding their own passions/loves in life – without our influences.

On letting children develop their own loves, desires – letting go:  What we must remember above all in the education of our children is that their love of life should never weaken.  This love can take different forms, and sometimes a listless, solitary, bashful child is not lacking in a love of life, he is not overwhelmed by a fear of life, he is simply in a state of expectancy, intent on preparing himself for his vocation.  And what is a human being’s vocation but the highest expression of his love of life?  And so we must wait, next to him, while his vocation awakens and takes shape.  His behavior can be like that of a mole, or of a lizard that holds itself still and pretends to be dead but in reality it has detected the insect that is its prey and is watching its movements, and then suddenly springs forward.  Next to him, but in silence and a little aloof from him, we must wait for this leap of his spirit.  We should not demand anything; we should not ask or hope that he is a genius or an artist or a hero or a saint; and yet we must be ready for everything; our waiting and our patience must compass both the possibility of the highest and most ordinary of fates.

A vocation, an ardent and exclusive passion for something in which there is no prospect of money, the consciousness of being able to do something better than others, and being able to love this thing more than anything else – this is the only, the unique way, in which a rich child can completely escape being conditioned by money, so that he is free of its claims; so that he feels neither the pride nor the shame of wealth when he is with others.  He will not even be conscious of what clothes he is wearing, or of the clothes around him, and tomorrow he will be equal to any privation because the one hunger and thirst within him will be his own passion which will have devoured everything futile and provisional and divested him of every habit learnt in childhood, and which alone will rule his spirit.  A vocation is man’s one true wealth and salvation.

What chance do we have of awakening and stimulating in our children the birth and development of a vocation?  We do not have much; however there is one way open to us.  The birth had development of a vocation needs space, space and silence, the free silence of space.  Our relationship with our children should be a living exchange of thoughts and feelings, but it should also include deep areas of silence: it should be an intimate relationship but it must not violently intrude on their privacy; it should be a just balance between silence and words  We must be important to our children and yet not too important; they must like us a little, and yet not like us too much – so that it does not enter their heads to become identical to us, to copy us and the vocation we follow, to seek our likeness in the friends they choose throughout their lives.  We must have a friendly relationship with them, and yet we must not be too friendly with them otherwise it will be difficult for them to have real friends with whom they can discuss things they do not mention to us.  It is necessary that their search for friends, their love-life, their religious life, their search for a vocation, be surrounded by silence and shadows, so that they can develop separately from us.  But then, it will be said, our intimacy with our children has been reduced to very little.  But in our relationship with them all these things – their religious life, their intellectual life, their emotional life, their judgment of other human beings – should be included as it were in summary form; for them we should be a simple point of departure, we should offer them the springboard from which they make their leap.  And we must be there to help them, if help should be necessary; they must realize that they do not belong to us, but that we belong to them, that are always available, present in the next room, ready to answer every possible question and demand as far as we know how to. 

…If we cling to our children we eagerly demand that they give us back everything we have given them, that they be absolutely and inescapably what we wish them to be, that they get out of life everything we have missed; we end up asking them for all the things which can only be given to us by our own vocation; we want them to be entirely our creation, as if having once created them we could continue to create them through their whole lives.  We want them to be entirely our creation, as if we were not dealing with human beings but with products of the spirit…then we can let them develop quietly and away from us, at the development of an existence, needs.  This is perhaps the one real chance we have of giving them some kind of help in their search for a vocation – to have a vocation ourselves, to know it, to love it and serve it passionately; because love of life begets a love of life.

A few months ago I wrote on letting our children go with an analogy of arrows flying, given in a letter from Jim Elliot to his parents, when he decided to leave for life overseas on the mission field:  I do not wonder that you were saddened at the word of my going to South America…Grieve not, then, if your sons seem to desert you, but rejoice, rather, seeing the will of God done gladly. Remember how the Psalmist described children? He said that they were as an heritage from the Lord, and that every man should be happy who had his quiver full of them. And what is a quiver full of but arrows? And what are arrows for but to shoot? So, with the strong arms of prayer, draw the bowstring back and let the arrows fly – all of them, straight at the enemy’s hosts. (Psalm 127:4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth.)

I ordered four other titles from Natalia Ginzburt.  They will be interesting to read – so interesting to me how there is no end to what is out there for us to read, to think about, to learn from.  Have a great weekend!  Don’t think you don’t have anything to read – go pick up a book that did influence you or that you loved, go on the internet and look up that author.  Find out what books influenced that author and order them.  There is no end once you start.  Thank you so much for coming in even when the weather is so cold and gloomy.  I know there are so many places you could do your shopping, and I can’t tell you enough how much it means that you come to keep our store growing.  I can’t wait to continue growing – with books that will change the lives of you, your children, and your friends.  I hope I’m working when you come in, but know that I’m here if you need to write, and I do see that you came and thank you in my head!  Turn off the television and have silence or go and read.  You never know – you may be even a different person next week!!!  Susan

Latin for this week:
Sedit qui timuit ne non succederet – "He who feared he would not succeed sat still" (Horace). For fear of failure he did nothing.

Works Cited:
Cahill, Susan, Editor.  Wise Women: Over 2000 Years of Spiritual Writing by Women.  1996.  W.W. Norton.  New York