Smart Parenting XXVI + Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are The Meek
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt. 5:5)
Meekness is not a personality characteristic or, in fact, a virtue valued in modern society. If anything, it would be an attribute to be avoided. Surely, in the common secular understanding of this term, parents would mostly likely want to avoid raising children to be "meek." A glance at a typical dictionaryi definition of this word indicates that meekness is associated with being cowed, submissive, spiritless and tame. Worldly success, on the other hand, would be enhanced by traits just the opposite of meekness: being aggressive, spirited and/or exciting.
What Spiritual Meekness is not
The Holy Spirit-inspired spiritual perception of St. Gregory of Nyssa, however, gives an entirely different meaning to the teaching on meekness that Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ gave to His Disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. .
St. Gregory certainly does not mean meekness in the modern societal sense I mentioned above. In fact, he specifically dismisses the spiritual meaning of meekness as that which "is done quietly and slowly." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, 1954) Just the opposite, St. Gregory in his homily on meekness goes on to reference St. Paul's first Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 9: 24), saying "he advises us to increase our speed; So run, he says, that you may obtain."
Honing in on the meaning of Spiritual Meekness
St. Gregory paints a picture of spiritual meekness that is diametrically opposite to our worldly conception. Of St. Paul, he comments:
Look at the wounds of his opponent, look at the bruises and marks he left on his defeated enemy. . . he scratches him with the nails of continence, he mortifies his limbs by hunger and thirst, by cold and nakedness, he inflicts on him the marks of the Lord.
With Jesus, in the face of evil we see spiritual weakness as spiritual strength. Jesus’ confronting of the money-changers in the Temple is a clear example. As St. Luke tells us: "And having entered into the temple, He began to cast out those who sold and bought in it, saying to them, “It hath been written: ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but ye made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Lk 19:45-46)
In this regard, St. Gregory even references the Fathers of Old Testament King and Prophet David, in pursuit of his enemy, writes:
God who hath girt me with strength; and made my way blameless. Who hath made my feet like the feet of harts: and who setteth me upon high places. Who teacheth my hands to war: and thou hast made my arms like a brazen bow. And thou hast given me the protection of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath held me up: And thy discipline hath corrected me unto the end: and thy discipline, the same shall teach me. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me; and my feet are not weakened. I will pursue after my enemies, and overtake them: and I will not turn again till they are consumed. (Ps 17: 33-38)
The saint writes: "the Bridegroom in the Canticle is likened to a roe [adult male deer] because of his speed, leaping upon the mountains and skipping over the hills." (SS 2:8)
Another way of understanding the strength of spiritual meekness is to perceive that it allows for all the time God has ordained to each of us in our natural lives to repent any misdeeds and seek His forgiveness. It is in this spirit that we can consider the application of spiritual meekness displayed, for example, by St. Nicholas in saving the lives of accused innocent and guilty men as they were about to be put to death.
Another example is the action of St. Vladimir of Kiev [Prince of the Ukraine-Russia Region], who after his conversion abolished executions as being incompatible with the Gospel. In his testament to his childrenii he writes:
Above all things: forget not the poor, but support them to the extent of your means. Give to the orphan, protect the widow, and permit the mighty to destroy no man. Take not the life of the just or the unjust, nor permit him to be killed. Destroy no Christian soul, even though he be guilty of murder.
To understand meekness, first understand the 'passions'
In his Homily on Blessed are the meek St. Gregory instructs us that to comprehend the beatitude of meekness in a spiritual sense the role of the passions in mankind must be understood. He points out that these are natural to mankind. "He [God] does not set up complete absence of passion as a law of human nature." Following the teaching of St. Isaac of Syria (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) however, we know that passions are of the body and not of the soul. The saint instructs us: "by nature the soul is passionless." And again he says, "the soul is naturally dispassionate." The reason for this, St. Isaac tells us, is "that God created His image passionless -- yet I do not mean His image in reference to the body, but to the soul, which is invisible [as is God]; for every image is taken from a prototype."
St. Isaac goes on to provide a sagacious explanation of the utility that the passions have for the body:
Every passion that exists for our benefit has been given by God. The passions of the body have been implanted in it for its benefit and growth. . .whenever the body is forced by a privation of what is proper to it to be outside of its own well being. . . it is enfeebled and harmed.
However, spiritual writers have constantly warned us of the passions and that they separate us from God and from the whole of mankind. Morelli (2009b) provides some understanding on this seeming contradiction. It is the passions that have gone wrong that are spiritually harmful.
[Inordinate] passions may predispose individuals to discord from God and mankind. St. Paul's warns us: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19-21). The Church Fathers attribute these to the demon of each passion that never tires of breaking the union between God and mankind.
The spiritual core of meekness: moderation
St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954) tells us: "Hence the Beatitude commands moderation and meekness, but not complete absence of passion; for the latter is outside the scope of nature whereas the former can be achieved by means of virtue." What is sinful, so to speak, is being "drawn into passion." St. Gregory goes on to say that in virtue we can "resist such leanings manfully and to defeat passion by reason." St. John of the Ladder (1991) considers that "the precursor of all humility is meekness."
St. John of Kronstadt (2003) explains the relationship between meekness and humility. He does this by first asking a question. "Why are the meek beatified immediately after those who mourn"? He then answers his own question. "Because meekness is the fruit and the consequence of contrition, of crying over our sins and failings." (c.f. Morelli, 2012)
Cognitive Behavioral-Psychology of meekness: moderation
Such spiritual wisdom is echoed by contemporary scientific researchers into human behavior. Cognitive psychotherapist Albert Ellis (1962) writes that "there is something about the nature of human beings more than others. . .which makes it horribly difficult for them to take the middle ground. . . instead of having moderating behavior." The beneficent effect of moderation in the areas of health, such as eating, drinking and various psychological domains are well known.iii
Two approaches have been most prevalent in cognitive modulation, or regulation, of behavior. One method, described by Morelli (1997, 2006), is based on aiding patients to identify and restructure irrational cognitions that lead to strong dysfunctional emotions and resultant inappropriate behavior. The other method, initiated by researchers D'Zurilla and Goldfried (1971), considers lack of self-control or moderation to be due to a deficit in systematic problem-solving skills. Treatment intervention involves teaching patients to specify problems, produce alternative solutions and systematically test and confirm the solutions.
The pivotal work of Spivack and Shure (1974) provides an overview of the cognitive problem-solving learning program. They found that children with significant disruptive aggressive interpersonal behavior problems (even in relatively simple social interactions, such as sharing toys) had deficits in social information processing. These children fail to consider the consequences of their behavior, nor do they have the knowledge of alternative actions to bring about desirable pro-social outcomes. Intervention is focused on recognition of interpersonal problems, and on teaching them to generate alternative step-by-step solutions to these problems before taking action steps. Morelli (2006b) describes means-end analysis , a step in a problem-solving process called the General Problem Solver (GPS), developed by Newell & Simon in 1972, in this way:
[it] involves assessing the difference between the stage that the individual presently occupies and the completed task. The second process is called the sub-goal strategy. The individual takes an action or operation to close the gap between where they are at present and completing the goal.iv
A brief description of applying this technique with children in Shure's own wordsv might be helpful. She describes her thinking and that of her colleague, George Spivack. In the 1970's they:
Recognized [the] need for specifically selected vocabulary words to help young children think the problem solving way, e.g., "is/is not," "and/or," "same-different," "before/after," "might/maybe," etc.,), and developed lesson-games to associate those games to questions designed for hypothetical children, e.g., "Can you think of a different way that (child) can get his brother to stop bugging him?" "What happened before Rudy called his friend a name?" "What happened after? "What might happen next if . . .?" etc.). Recognized [the] need to train teachers and parents to carry over this line of questioning when real problems came up (e.g. "Can you think of a different way to solve this problem?" "What happened before you hit him?" "What happened after?" etc). -- called "ICPS dialoguing" -- to associate thinking with behavior.
A summary chart is provided in the Endnotes. It should be remarked that in the modern application of this program teachers and parents can use group interaction, pictures, puppets and role-playing to facilitate students’ cognitive-emotive and behavioral skills. Children can also be asked to give examples of problems they have encountered in their own lives.
As seen in the chart below, the "treatment" starts out with lessons that teach preschool and kindergarten children basic problem-solving language and coping skills. Word concepts such as not (e.g.: "Is that a good idea or not a good idea?"); same/different (e.g.: "Can you think of a different way to solve this problem?"); and if. . .then (e.g.: "If you hit Johnny, then what might happen?") are taught to the children.
It can be readily seen that this program is designed to ameliorate extreme behavior into behavior that is more moderate. This is consistent with the spiritual understanding of meekness being moderation.
Counsel of St. Isaac of Syria: Spiritual meekness-Psychological Disarming
St. Isaac of Syria presents us with a beautiful synergia of what is known in cognitive-behavior therapy as the disarming technique and which is an activity that can be sanctified as spiritual virtue. The disarming technique was explained by Morelli, (2010):
Basically, it makes a neutral statement about the other individual’s response. One does not have to agree to what was said and what you consider false, so truth as you see does not have to be compromised. This is especially important if the truth you expressed and that was rejected by another individual reflects the orthodox teaching of Christ and His Church.
St. Isaac tells us:
Confute those who would strive to dispute with you by the strength of your virtues, and not by the persuasiveness of your words. By the meekness and quietness of your lip, put the impudence of the obstinate to silence, and not by speaking. Reprove the wanton by the nobility of your life. . . .
It takes Godly strength to remain moderate and not cow in fear in the face of evil.
Once again, these words aid us in focusing on the spiritual connection between moderation and meekness. I want to strongly emphasize, as I have written previously (Morelli, 2006c), the spiritual necessity for committed Christians to use all the scientific treatment procedures of medicine and psychology as well as the Holy Mysteries of the Church in the healing of body, mind and spirit. The Church Fathers understood that we are made in God's image and called to be like Him in all things. St. Gregory of Nyssa said: "Medicine is an example of what God allows men to do when they work in harmony with Him and with one another." St. Basil of Caesarea said: "God's grace is as evident in the healing power of medicine and its practitioners as it is in miraculous cures." To quote the straightforward advice of Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Ageloglou, 1998): "You, doctors, take good care of your patients. . . you should have a practical mind. Generally speaking, everyone of us must take advantage of his mind which is a gift from God."
Transitioning from worldly moderation to spiritual moderation (meekness)
Developing a Godly mindset
This may be initiated by helping the child develop a Godly mindset regarding caring for self and reacting to others. Helping the child evaluate actions that relate to their bodies by using the words of St. Isaac of Syria "benefit and growth" mentioned above would be especially helpful. A child might be prompted to answer if a specific action would be of benefit to them or help them grow in some way. This could be done in the guise of a question and answer exercise. A parent might ask: "What would happen to you if you ate the whole box of cookies?" The answer a child might give might be: "I would get sick," or "I would get fat," or "You would punish me." The parent could then respond with another question: "Would this be good for you in God's loving eyes?" or "Do you think God would think eating all those cookies would help you to grow?" This approach can be used for any number of foods a child may overindulge in.
Parents and others can also emphasize that what helps us and benefits us the best is a balance (moderation) of different life activities. Watching a good television program can be a benefit; it can be entertaining, a learning experience or relaxing, but watching too much television can be harmful. A child could be asked, for example: "If you spent the whole day watching television what would happen?" A child might answer: "I would not be able to finish my homework (or say my prayers, etc.)." The parent may ask the child: "Would God want this for you?" "Do you think He would think this good or bad for you?"
Some children have an idealized, unrealistic view of what success is and how it is obtained. They may see someone attain success and not realize it takes a long period of self-discipline in the area in which they have attained success and that they had to balance their lives, that is to say do all in moderation, to achieve their goal. This practical wisdom was not lost by Elder Paisios (Ageloglou, 1998) who commented:
In our days, many young people have a strange attitude: they want to study, without attending school (they often participate in school strikes, etc.), they want to have good grades without studying hard, and they want their graduation diplomas brought to them at the cafeteria where they are having fun.
Behavior Management 101
In previous parenting articles (Morelli, 2005, 2006a) I have gone over the basics of pinpointing behavior and the proper use of reinforcement and punishment in facilitating appropriate behavior and attenuating inappropriate behavior. In helping a child learn meekness, that is say moderation, it is important here to emphasize one important behavior management procedure: reinforcement, also called rewards or favorable events, must follow the behavior that is to be increased. To put this rule in simple everyday terms: 'first you do your homework, then you go out to play.' Application of this principle is critical in the learning of new and weak behaviors. This rule has to be clearly explained to the child before beginning the program and then be consistently (100%) applied. In practical terms, this means no exceptions are allowed. This is so important that I will give two examples.
Scenario: Johnny, an eleven-year old boy, a star and key player for his team, is about to leave for the national 'little league' championship title game.
Example I: The boy rarely does his homework or daily chores (very weak behavior) and puts most of his focus on baseball. Currently, his chores and homework are undone.
Example II: The boy always completes his homework and daily chores (strong behavior) and integrates baseball with the rest of his life. Currently, his chores and homework are undone.
Example I: Parent response: "Johnny, you know the rule, it was your choice not to do your homework and chores so you chose not to be able to go to play in the championship game. I am really sorry you made this choice."
Example II: Parent response: "Johnny, you know the rule, but you always do your homework and chores before playing your baseball games. The one time you missed your chore you did it immediately after the game. You certainly earned playing in the championship game. I am proud of you."
Frequently parents in Example I have a difficult emotional challenge. They inappropriately "feel" sorry for their child and want to "give in." However, they are engaging in mindless helping (Morelli, 2009a). They are placing the so-called 'value' of the game and/or the child's feeling 'missing out,' over really helping the child learn responsibility and moderation and, eventually, spiritual meekness. Parents should have no trouble coming up with other examples. Extra-curricular activities, participation in hobby events and proms come to mind.
Godly/un-Godly Activity Exercise
A technique parents, catechists and clergy can explore with children is helping them distinguish Godly vs. un-Godly activities. An activity list can start the exercise, but their children should be encouraged to add their own as well. A "G" can be used to label Godly activities and "UG" for un-Godly activities.vi Children should be encouraged to state the reasons why these actions are Godly and or un-Godly. It is imperative that children know the spiritual reason for the acceptability or unacceptability of these actions. (Morelli, 2011).vii (Morelli (2007) provides an example of understanding issues of sexuality from a Christ-like perspective. A typical Activity Exercise list may include the following (the list should be modified (add or subtract activities) to account for the age of the child):
eating normal amounts G
saying daily prayers G
saying or doing nasty things to other children (bullying) UG
going to confession G
over-drinking alcohol UG
skipping school UG
moderate drinking-(if family custom, e.g., a glass of wine at dinner) G
taking drugs UG
texting while driving UG
attending every church-school class G
doing assigned chores G
missing homework UG
attending Divine Liturgy every Sunday and Feast-day G
playing video games all day UG
sharing with others G
looking at porn on computer or magazines UG
telling the truth G
having sex before blessed marriage UG
forgiving when you have been hurt G
not giving needed viii aid to others UG
Inheriting the earth
St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954) gives us both spiritual and psychological insight into the meaning of Our Lord's telling us that the meek "shall inherit the earth." St. Gregory says:
. . .that even in this life the meek will delight in length of days and many other blessings, as did the long suffering Job, David, Jacob, and many saints in the New Testament who shone with meekness. Most important the meek will receive God's promised boons in the land of the living--in Heaven.
Talking over the consequences of the each of the activities in the Activity Exercise with the child (or adults for their own consideration) can help clarify the ensuing worldly goals or divine graces. For example, overeating, smoking, taking drugs can cause physical and psychological harm to our bodies as well as shorten our lives. It would be educationally and catechetically sound if the child were able to articulate these consequences by answering a series of Socratic questions as illustrated above.
Spiritually, by performing these ungodly actions we are not caring for the gift of our own lives, a gift that God has given us charge over. Saying our daily prayers, going to confession and Divine Liturgy, attending church school are ways we acknowledge God and show our love for Him. St. Luke (10: 27) tells us Jesus’ own words to us: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind." Some of the other actions in the Activity Exercise, such as not bullying, helping needful others, not being unforgiving of others, not stealing from others and having sex only within a blessed marriage are geared toward fulfilling the second part of Jesus' counsel on love, that is to say that love be extended not only to God but : ". . . [to] thy neighbor as thyself.”
We begin our journey to the Kingdom of God by our Holy Baptism, by it becoming among the 'royal priesthood' of God's people His Church. However, we must remain continually committed to Christ by what we treasure in our hearts, what we have in our thoughts and the actions of our daily life..
In inheriting God's blessings not only on earth but, more importantly, in Heaven, "the land of the living," we have Christ as our guide. As St. Peter tells us:
For to this ye were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving behind for you an example, that ye should follow His footsteps: “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth”; Who, when He was reviled, reviled not in return; when He suffered, He threatened not, but kept on giving Himself. . . . (1Pt. 2:21-23)
Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.
D'Zurilla, T. & Goldfried, M. Problem solving and behavior modification. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1971, 78, 107-126.
Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart
Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
Morelli, G. (1997). Emotion, Cognitive Treatment, Sacred Scripture and the Church Fathers. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology & Religion, Brookline, Mass. In Chirban, J. (Ed.), Sickness or sin?-Spiritual discernment and differential diagnosis: Orthodox Christianity.
Morelli, G. (2006). Healing: Orthodox Christianity and scientific psychology. Fairfax , VA: Eastern Christian Publications.
Morelli, G. (2005, September 17). Smart Parenting Part I. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles5/MorelliParenting.
Morelli, G. (2006a, February 04). Smart Parenting Part II. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliParenting2.php.
Morelli, G. (2006b, June 04). The Spiritual Roots of Procrastination. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliProcrastination.php.
Morelli, G. (2006c, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHealing.php.
Morelli, G. (2007, August 28). Smart Parenting VI: Talking to Your Children About Sex. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartParentingVI.php
Morelli, G (2009, February 08). Good Marriage XV. Ensnared By Mindless Helping. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/good-marriage-xv-ensnared-by-mindless-helping
Morelli, G. (2009, April 10). Healing the infirmity of sin: a brief explanation. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-healing-the-infirmity-of-sin-a-brief-explanation
Morelli, G. (2010, April 09). The Disarming Technique. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-the-disarming-technique
Morelli, G. (2011 February 01). Pastoral Pointer: It's the Spirit Behind the Letter. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/pastoral-pointer-its-the-spirit-behind-the-letter
Morelli, G. (2012, May 02). Smart Parenting XXV Applying Christ's Beatitudes to parenting: Blessed are they who mourn. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/view/smart-parenting-xxv-applying-christs-beatitudes-to-parenting-blessed-are-t
Newell, A. & Simon, H. (1972). Human Problem Solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Spivack, G., and Shure, M.B. 1974. Social Adjustment of Young Children. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
St. Gregory of Nyssa. (1954). The Lord's Prayer, The Beatitudes. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.
St. John Climacus (1991). The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.
St. John of Kronstadt. (2003). Ten homilies on the Beatitudes. Albany, NY: Cornerstone Editions.
I thank my editor Anne Petach for this comment:
"Part of the problem with the English word meek is that it derives from an Old Norse word meaning pliant or soft, whereas the Greek word ‘praus’, meek (praotes = meekness).
Used in NT and also in Septuagint, (Moses was ‘meek’) and surely also for St. Gregory, meant gentle in the sense of ‘’under control.’ From Aristotle onward,[meekness] includ[es] the meaning of “a strong animal under control”- This is the set of meanings that is the context of the word for St. Gregory, I believe. See these pages at: http://books.google.com/books?id=PTpPsnD_gQ0C&pg=PA111&lpg=PA111&dq=praus+greek+usage&source=bl&ots=DD6LMdeV-Y&sig=v5hFjEnbiNzPByNWgqSRVFBvzHQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=KlKXT77qB6WviQKw-Kj7Dw&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=praus%20greek%20usage&f=false Kj7Dw&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAw#v=onepage."
iv A flow chart showing the GPS Model:
ICPS in a Nutshell --Preschool to Age 12
PRE-PROBLEM SOLVING WORDS
PRE-PROBLEM SOLVING THINKING
PROBLEM SOLVING THINKING
BEHAVIOR AND ADJUSTMENT
There's more than one way to think about things
People feel and want differently, and have rights
There are DIFFERENT ways to solve the SAME problem
A solution might work for SOME, not for ALL people
Finding out about others
Appreciation of Timing
Sequencing of Events
What else can I do?
There's more than one way
Is that a good Idea or not?
What might happen next?
Prevent or reduce abnormal amounts of:
- Nagging, demanding
- Emotional upset
- Inability to wait, cope with frustration
Enhance and Promote
- sharing, taking turns
- concern for other's feelings
- getting along with others
Myrna B. Shure, Ph.D
vi Another good suggestion from editor Anne Petach: " As a former catechist, I can see great possible fun in classroom activities as children respond aloud with a hearty Ugh! At the appropriate time – likely to help the lesson stick."
vii Many of the articles in the Good Marriage, Smart Parenting and Essay series (http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/archive/morelli) provide the Christocentric reason for these evaluations. Children are not inclined to obey rules when the reasons for the rules are not known. Thus the importance of facilitating children's spiritual understanding.