Thursday, June 19, 2008

Treasure in Heaven

A post by Rod Dreher, about a month ago, caught my attention.

Narcissism and the church was a post on how priests and bishops fall into the trap of thinking that, because they give up something (such as a wife and children) they therefore deserve to receive something (like an expensive car). And he points out that it is especially hard for priests not to fall into this mentality when their bishops do.

While I think he is right and find it easy to criticize the clergy with a Mercedes or the like, I recognized that I fall into the same trap all the time.

No, I don't own a $50,000 car or live in a million dollar home. But I do catch myself thinking, "I didn't sleep well, Cecilia has been hanging on me all morning and spilled juice on the carpet, Felicity won't nap and keeps crying at me and I got squeegie (our word for the dirty stuff in the diapers) all over my skirt! I deserve ice cream today!" or "I deserve to buy something off my wishlist today!"

And the mentality is no different than the criticized clerics in Rod's article. And it got me thinking: Is reward ever okay? Do I ever deserve anything? Is the sheer idea of rewards bad? Should we use any reward system with our children or are we setting them up to fall into the trap I keep falling in to? Of course it is clearly present in the Bible but mostly in the Old Testament where the virtuous get more children, more sheep, more goats, more crops, etc. And I bounced these thoughts of my husband today on a drive to the zoo (it is great to be able to bounce thoughts off your best friend, especially when he is a moral theologian!). And he pointed out that the concept of rewards is not bad in and of itself but the New Testament shifted rewards from being earthly to heavenly:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.   ~Matthew 6:19-21

Before Jesus, it would make sense to think of our rewards in terms of cars or ice cream or books. He changed things though. His sacrifice and resurrection demands that we think of our rewards in terms of eternal life. Which sounds difficult and it is. We live on earth in the here and now and the idea of an intangible, invisible reward is difficult to work toward, especially one promised at the end of our lives. We are not a people who enjoy waiting.

Then I wondered, if we are supposed to be storing up treasure in heaven, should we use rewards with out children? Yes. Simply because children are too young to understand heavenly rewards but the concept is important for them to grasp. Personally I don't give rewards for learning, what I call, "Survival" skills, such as eating with a spoon, walking, using the potty, etc. I do use them for good behavior though. There will come a point though, maybe about 5 years from now, when Cecilia will be old enough to begin to grasp the idea of heaven and its rewards and good behavior will need to be exercised for the sake of heaven rather than toys or treats.

In the mean time I get to work on myself and my attitude about rewards for myself. So the next time it is simply just "one of those days," join me in offering it up for a little less Purgatory time and offer any "deserved" treat up for the salvation of souls instead.


  1. I really like this take on rewards. I've been trying to sort out what my parenting philosophy is in regards to treats, rewards, punishments, etc. This definitely helps.

    I would add that I'd use extreme caution with rewards for good behavior though as it can backfire. My in-laws used to use going out to breakfast after mass as a reward for good behavior during mass and I didn't like the way the girls used to start asking if they'd been good enough as soon as the final hymn ended. I suppose that behaving during mass might be considered a "survival" skill?

    I think even very young children do value the reward of praise for a job well done. I've noticed how Bella craves my approval and loves being useful and how she glows when I tell her she's done a good job with picking up her toys. Frequently after I've praised her I find her taking initiative to be helpful in other areas.

  2. Yes, I think once they are old enough to behave in Church, it would be a "survival" or "basic" skill in my book.

    I admit we don't use rewards for good behavior often, but I know, for example, after we got back from Denver, Cecilia had been so good for the whole trip - planes, throwing up on trains, time zone changes, 3 masses in 3 days, car rides, days without naps, etc. - we did buy her a treat.