Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. Even young children feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain and loss.
Older kids might not like the design of their body, the parents they got or didn’t get. They are surprised when they first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind.
They are sad when the people who are supposed to keep them safe don’t do their job. They feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to them. Their anxiety level rises.
We cannot take away children’s uncomfortable feelings.
But we can reassure them that they are loved by their parents, family members, friends and very importantly—by God.
Guard against offering them false promises.
For example, when serious marital problems persist, avoid over-promising: “Your mom and I will work things out, and we’ll all be a family again.”
Likewise, we should be familiar with what God promises– and doesn’t promise– and stay true to this when we inform children about God. For instance, we can mislead children: “Say a prayer so that Grandpa will get well.” or “Stop doing that or God will punish you.”
Offer true promises backed up by God’s word and character.
I use several child-centered promises from the sacred writings of the Talmud and New Testament to reassure children in times of trouble. You can find others as well.
- God cares about you.
- God is love and all love comes from God.
- God is trustworthy.
- You will seek Me [God] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
- God understands everything you feel inside.
- I [God] am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.
Tweetable: Be accurate about what God promises people and avoid misleading children. Six true promises here. Click to Tweet
These ideas for discussing the possibilities of such a relationship are written at a child’s vocabulary level. Adapt it as needed for a child’s unique situation.
Your connection with God starts with God.
From the beginning of your life, God provides a family for you, intending that you will learn what love, nurture and care are. As an infant you responded to God when you experienced delight in looking at your parents’ faces, feeling warm bath water on your skin or being cuddled.
God’s bond with you is ready for you to join in whenever you want to.
God has been preparing it all along. Your human spirit–inside of you–is where this relationship develops. Since God is spirit, God provided you with your human spirit so you would have the inner space to hold a relationship with God.
You have been responding to God, even when you did not recognize it.
When you see the night sky with countless stars and feel amazement at how big and wide it is, you are responding to God’s glory.
When you see someone’s talent expressed you are responding to God’s handiwork. When you feel love and kindness being shown to you, you are sensing God’s presence.
If you take time right now to think about it, you would remember many times you connected with God. Something special was going on but you did not recognize that it was because of God.
Connect more directly with God the same ways you connect with people.
Starting in early childhood and continuing through your whole life, you have plenty of things to go to God about. You have lots to talk about and question. These questions, conversations and encounters, along with the feelings they produce, form the foundation of a real relationship.
Think about the relationships in your life.
You go places together, hang out, laugh, play, work, eat, talk, argue. With God, you do many of the same things. God has feelings. God is delighted when you are having fun. God feels anger when people hurt each other and feels happy when you are generous. God feels disappointed when someone breaks a promise. God understands everything you feel inside. When you are upset, maybe crying, you can be sure that God is aware of every tear. When you are celebrating a special occasion, God’s heart is full of joy. God knows and loves everything about you.
Note: These traits of God are taken from the Bible’s stories.
Tweetable: What do you say when kids ask, “Can people actually make a connection with God?” Some good ideas here. Click to Tweet
Phil Jackson, former NBA player and current general manager of the New York Knicks wrote: “To my father, there were certain mysteries you could only understand with the heart, and intellectualizing about them was a waste of time. He accepted God on faith and lived his life accordingly. This was an important [childhood] lesson for me.”
While there’s trouble and suffering in the universe, it is friendly…
…and we can see evidence of God’s presence countless times every day.
If you want to foster a a child’s sense of security, consider sharing this perspective: God’s intention is for all human beings to live in community with God and then with each another. Our human frailties, not God’s, increase the selfishness and suffering in the world. God is trustworthy.
Help children identify sightings of God’s care
1. The rainbow
On the very day I signed divorce papers, I saw a rainbow in the clearing skies above our condominium (a rare occurrence in Southern California). With my kids in the back seat, I pointed it out. One of my sons said, “Dad, God is near us and we are going to be okay.”
2. God’s “hand” on my face
One mother told her children how her father would tuck her into bed at night and place his hand on her face, soothing her to sleep. She continued, “Now when I can’t get to sleep, I pray and ask God to lay his fatherly hand on my face, and I am able to sleep.”
3. A kind stranger
While shopping with her children, Heather made it to the check-out a bit frazzled. Back at the car her kids piled in, every grocery bag loaded, she slammed the door shut–when she realized she left her wallet in the store. She got out and started unbuckling her children when she saw a man running over to her:
“The cashier let me run this out to you,” he explained. During the ride home, she and her children talked about how the man left his own grocery cart and delayed his day to show kindness to people he didn’t even know. And how they could see God in that man’s actions.
Have fun hunting for sightings of God’s activity with children, in–
- People’s kindness to strangers
- Unexplained events
Tweetable: Sharing God’s intention for the universe may foster a child’s sense of security. And what is that? Click to Tweet
Their future brightens when we bless children with a sense of assurance that they have what it takes to accomplish their goals, to push through challenges and heartaches. We do this through acknowledgement of the child’s worth. We back it up with our own investment of time and presence to see it through. I’ve heard one of my mentors, Becky Bailey, do this so well:
- Of course you can pass the test next week. Let’s study together.
- I know you’re scared, but you can do it. I believe in you.
- That’s a great goal. Go for it!
- Okay, the training wheels are off. I’ll be right beside you, but you can ride the bike alone.
John Trent summarizes the concept like this: “Words that picture a hope-filled future draw a child toward the warmth of genuine concern and fulfilled potential. Instead of leaving a child to head into a dark unknown, our words can illuminate a pathway lined with purpose.”
God’s hope-filled future
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Ways to bless children right now with a hopeful future – Examples:
- Observed behavior: Sensitive. Statement: God has given you such a sensitive heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up helping a great many people.
- Observed behavior: Helpful. Statement: You are such a good helper. You’re going to be such a help to your family. OR You will help many people finish important projects because you are so helpful.
- Observed behavior: Good at math. Statement: You know that math better than I do. I think that’s great. You’ll pass tomorrow’s test with flying colors. You may become a research scientist or a chemist—and maybe change the course of the world.
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas under “Ways to bless children right now with a hopeful future,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing. Becky Bailey’s ideas are found in her book, Conscious Discipline.
Tweetable: Their future brightens when we bless children with assurance that they have what it takes to succeed. Click to Tweet
I remember playing the fortune teller game as a kid. We would take a piece of paper, write dreamy messages and fortunes on it, then fold it origami-style to predict our future—you will be rich, you will be famous.
Now I try to bless the children in my life with words that picture a future filled with hope.
It’s different from predicting their future, but it can transform the way the future unfolds for the child. Dr. John Trent writes, “With words of a bright future they can begin to work on a particular talent, have the confidence to try out for a school office, or even help guide others into the full potential God has in store for them.” They begin to believe in the positive, hopeful future you paint for them.
Anticipating a hope-filled future is not the same as choosing a child’s future.
Our intent is to encourage children to be the best they can be, not to force them into paths that we followed or wish we had followed. (Not, for example, “You’ll be a wonderful engineer someday!”) Adults who put that kind of pressure on children miss giving them a blessing. To bless a child, encourage the child by noticing intentions and actions. Then follow it up to help the children achieve whatever they decide to be or do.
Isn’t a hope-filled future for children just a pipe dream for some?
No. Over and over in sacred writings, we see God’s offer of blessings toward humankind. These blessings are not directed at making us wealthy, healthy or even happy all the time. There are many different kinds of hope-filled futures.
Regardless of life circumstances God offers inner, spiritual blessings: peace, contentment, fulfillment, wisdom, love, forgiveness, mercy, or an ability to see the holy come bursting through the everyday.
What words are you using to predict a bright future for the children you love? Next week, I will share your ideas and mine as well.
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas here, are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: Anticipating #hope-filled future not the same as choosing a child’s future. Food for thought offered here. Click to Tweet