O God, my God! What miseries and mockeries I now experienced, when obedience to my teachers was set before me as proper to my boyhood that I might prosper in this world and excel in the science of speech which would gain the praise of men and deceitful riches. After that, I was put in school to get learning whose usefulness I could not imagine (useless as I was), and yet if I was idle in my studies, I was flogged! For our forefathers deemed this the right way, and many, passing the same way before us, had laid out the weary paths through which we were obliged to pass, multiplying labor and grief on the children of Adam.
But, Lord, we found that men prayed to You, and we learned from them to think of You according to our abilities, to be some Great One who, though hidden from our senses, could hear and help us. So I began, even as a boy, to pray to You, my help and refuge; and I let my tongue freely call on You, praying to You, even though I was small, with no small earnestness, that I might not be beaten at school. And when You did not hear me (not giving me over to folly thereby), my elders, yes, my own parents who certainly wished me no ill, laughed at my stripes, which were then my great and grievous ill.
Is there anyone, Lord, bound to You with such greatness of soul and with so strong an affection (there is a sort of stupidity that may do that much) – is there anyone who is endowed with so great a courage from clinging devoutly to You that he can think lightly of racks and hooks and other tortures? For throughout the whole world men pray fervently to be saved from such tortures and can they as bitterly mock those who fear them as our parents mocked the torments which we suffered from our teachers in boyhood? For we did not fear our torments any less, nor did we pray less to You to escape them. And yet we sinned in writing, reading, or studying less than was required of us. For we did not lack memory or ability, Lord, of which, by Your will, we possessed enough for our age. But we delighted only in play, and for this we were punished by those who were doing the same things themselves. But older people’s idleness is called business, while boys who do the same are punished by those same elders; and yet no one expresses pity, either boys or men. For will any one of good sense approve of my being whipped because as a boy I played ball, and so made less progress in studies which I was to learn only so that, as a man, I might play at more shameful games? And what else was my tutor doing who beat me, who, if defeated in some trifling controversy with his fellow tutor was more embittered and angry than I was when I was beaten in a game of ball by a playmate?
St. Augustine is describing the great trials he endured as a youth, preferring, like most boys, to play than to apply himself to study – study that he did not see as being worth his time. The greater message here, to me, is that one of the reasons he saw no point to his studies is because he looked at the adults around him with disdain. He saw well educated adults being idle, but calling it part of their business. He saw his tutor get very angry over a disagreement with another tutor, angrier even then he got over a game, yet young Augustine would get punished for such behavior.
For me, this recalls times when I have asked more of my children than I have asked of myself. How many times have I scolded my children for wasting time or not doing what I asked when I too am guilty of spending too much time on the computer or not doing my duties cheerfully and efficiently. Sure, we can tell ourselves (and the kids) how they don’t carry the mental responsibilities we do, how they didn’t work all day, how we do so many things that they don’t see. While this is true to a certain extent, do we really set the best example for our children as often as possible? And if we really are doing the best we can and we truly are tired or are suffering from something they don’t realize or know about, do we sit down with them and help them understand how valuable they are to us and how much their help means to us?
I’m sure Augustine’s teachers and parents felt like they were doing the best they could – they were treating him as most children of that time were treated. But they, like many of us, don’t often look at ourselves through our children’s eyes and see how things appear to them. We can’t always make them understand everything and there is definitely a time and place for telling them they have to do something “just because,” but we should never forget what it’s like to be a child and how we appear to them.
Deo Juvante, Jen