The Child's Sunday
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
IN William Black's pathetic story "A Daughter of Heth" there is a vivid description of a Scotch Sunday in the minister's cold, gray house. The boys and girls sit in the bare parlor studying the catechism, and the oldest, promoted to Josephus, has wickedly cut out the inside of that thick volume and converted it into the home of a secular white mouse. No one who has read the book can forget that picture.
The Puritan's Idea.-Our own Puritan Sunday is not left so far behind us but that our fathers and mothers can tell stories of days which seemed interminable in their solemn stillness. Charles Dudley Warner, in his charming book of New England life called "Being a Boy," says: "Long before sundown the Sunday-school book had been read, and the boy sat waiting in the house with great impatience the signal that the day of rest was over. When the sun (and it never moved so slow) slid behind the hills, the effect upon the watching boy was like a shock from an electric battery; something flashed through all his limbs and set them in motion, and no play ever seemed so sweet to him as that between sundown and dark Sunday night."
The old hymns which spoke of the first day of the week as an "emblem of eternal rest," and of heaven as a place "where Sabbaths ne'er shall end," bring back to the mind of many a man and woman their childish dread of an eternity of dull doing nothing. To rest and to be bored are synonymous in the mind of a child. The active limbs crave movement, not relaxation, the active minds employment, not repose. The question is not, how shall we make our children's Sunday a quiet day, so much as how shall we make it a busy one.
Making a Church Attractive.-In the morning there is al-ways the church service, and after a child is four or five it is old enough to attend this regularly. Many parents think Sunday-school enough for children, but, as a superintendent of a quarter of a century said recently, "If they cannot go to both, send them to the church service only. Experience has shown me that if they go to the Sunday-school alone they graduate from that without any habit of church attendance, and they never form one which is worth anything."
Our churches today with their stained glass and flowers, their organ music, choirs, and responses, are calculated to attract and interest children rather than repel them, and yet, especially in our cities, few children attend church. A clergyman with an audience of fifteen hundred recently counted just six children in his congregation, and this with a service lasting only an hour and a half.
Parents seem to think that to take small children to church is a cruelty to them and to their elders as well, because of their restlessness. A little ingenuity, however, can prevent a child from being fatigued or uneasy. If, as a reward for attention during the early part of the service, a pad and pencil are given to it when the sermon begins, it will draw quietly for that half-hour. A paper doll or two, or even a doll twisted up out of mother's handkerchief, may not be amiss for a very small child; but, after one can read, the hymn-book will prove an unfailing source of amusement if one is shown how to find the hymns from the first lines given in the back.
The day will come before the parents could expect it, when, without any suggestion, the child will feel ashamed to be entertained in church, and will begin to listen as the grown people do. If it is questioned when it comes home, and praised for having caught the text or some idea in the sermon, its pride will be aroused, and the problem of its attention in church will be solved.
Meeting the Sunday-school Halfway.-As to Sunday-school, children cannot help loving that. What more could be done to make it delightful than has been done, when every conceivable device is employed for their pleasure and instruction? Yet a parent should not depend altogether on the child's teacher; the lesson should be explained at home and thoroughly learned there.
If books are drawn from the Sunday-school library the list should be made out by the parent, for these books are sometimes the poorest of literature, full of pious twaddle or sentimental cant. Fortunately a great change has been made in this respect of late years, and libraries are being placed in our Sunday-schools made up of books of standard excellence.
Dinner, and Afternoon Occupations.-The Sunday dinner should be made one of the principal delights of the day to the children. It need not be elaborate, but it should be planned always to gratify their tastes, especially by way of the dessert. There should also be something extra in the shape of a treat after dinner, either of candy or of some other sweet, to mark the day. This will put them into such an agreeable frame of mind that they will entertain the suggestion willingly that their parents should be given a rest on Sunday afternoon.
If there is a large play-room they may be established there with their every-day clothes on, and a number of delightful things to do. The Sunday playthings will be taken out first; each little girl may have her doll, an especially pretty one which never appears except on this day. The boys may have dissected maps of Palestine to put together, or they may draw maps with colored chalks on the blackboard, which their parents are to see after-ward. Then there may be mottoes or Bible verses to be pricked on cardboard or sewn in worsteds, or, most delightful of all, done in old-fashioned spatterwork. The children may also make scrap-books after any one of half a dozen plans, out of religious pictures cut out of papers and magazines on rainy weekdays, or they may paint those already made. The doors of the Sunday library may be unlocked, and the books reserved for this day alone will seem full of interest. There should be a good "Life of Christ," a collection of Bible stories, "Pilgrim's Progress," and a few good story-books. The older children will enjoy a simple concordance to the Bible, and may vie with each other in writing out lists of birds or flowers or stones.
The Father's Opportunity.-By the time all these things are exhausted, and the little limbs become restless again, the naps of the older people will be over and there will be an opportunity for noise. If the children's home is in the country nothing can fill up the rest of the afternoon better than a walk with their father. Too many busy men might be described by their children as a boy is said to have described his father, as "the man who spends Sunday here." Few children feel as well acquainted with their father as with their mother, but Sunday afternoon is his opportunity.
But if there are only crowded pavements about the home, or if the day is stormy, still there are pleasant things to do indoors. There may be a Noah's ark under the dining-room table for four-footed beasts and creeping things. Daniel in the den of lions, or Joseph sold by his brethren, may be represented realistically. Or the example of one ingenious father may be followed, who had his boys sit on the stairs and answer questions of Bible history, each going up a step as he answered correctly, or down one as he failed.
After the animal spirits of the children are somewhat quieted there is always that pleasantest of hours, the twilight time, when the family circle sing together their best-loved ballads and hymns--a time no child can ever forget.
Then will come supper, which the children will always enjoy helping prepare; this should be something of a picnic meal, charming because of its unlikeness to any other during the week. After this the day will close happily enough, especially if last of all there is a story which begins, " When I was your age-."