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
It was 8:50am. Jayeff sat in the passenger seat of my car as we crawled toward downtown Los Angeles on our way to teach another Life Skills class. A little daylight opened up in the fast lane and a luxury car jammed its way into the space, then zigzagged to cut in front of me, hoping to find another opening, propelling him to his destination more quickly.
Jayeff and I caught our breath at the reckless behavior. I remarked that he sure was in a big hurry. She said, “He must be late for work….” and I finished with, “…and he’s going to get fired if he’s late one more time!” She said, “He’s the sole provider for his family” and I continued, “I sure hope he makes it safely and on time!”
The skill we would be teaching, in a matter of minutes, was Positive Intent–the very skill we practiced in the car to keep our composure and manage self-control.
Are you a mind reader? Probably not.
I don’t know why that driver was in such a hurry, but since I was making up his intent, “Why in the world would I want to attribute an intent that results in nasty feelings for me? I can just as easily attribute positive intent to these situations and reap positive emotions.” (Dr. Becky Bailey)
Negative intent is ingrained in most of us.
Dr. Bailey writes, “The habit of attributing negative intent is so ingrained in most of us that it is difficult at times to recognize, much less reframe positively.”
I got to thinking: Have I practiced negative intent with God?
Most of us have formed an image of God. When we judged God’s nature, we harvested a bushel of emotions about this higher power. When we attribute negative intent to God, the emotions we experience toward God are equally negative.
Give God the benefit of the doubt
Seeing the best in God is the only perceptual frame that will enable us to connect with this supreme being, rather than projecting guilt, hurt and other negative feelings onto God. We can just as easily attribute positive intent to these situations and reap positive emotions.
Impress it upon the children
With positive intent we can transform the way a child’s experiences God. My parents did this for me, making it possible for me to form a deep, enduring connection with the one who loves us all.
Note: Becky Bailey’s lesson on the skill of Positive Intent inspired me to ponder its effect on human connections with God.
Tweetable: We try to give the benefit of the doubt to people. What would happen if we extended it to God? 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
Happiness is a funny thing–Is it even possible to be happy all the time? Where do we find the right people or things to make us happy more often? Are any of the children in your life growing up with the impression that life (or God) owes them happiness?
Children’s statements reflect their beliefs about happiness and become their self-talk.
- “If __ hadn’t happened, I’d be happy now.”
- “Other people’s lives are happier than mine.”
- If I just had __ I’d be happy.”
- If I don’t have __, I will never be happy.”
They don’t realize that their focus has turned to the things they don’t have. While it’s obvious to us that loving relationships and basic needs being met will increase enjoyment of life, children may not yet understand that these don’t produce happiness. We can help them see that they set themselves up for disappointment when they depend on external sources for their happiness.
Change self-talk to get unstuck
- “Happiness is about who I am, not about what I have–or don’t have–in my life.”
- Other people’s lives have more unhappiness than I know about. We all have stress and troubles. That’s normal.”
The role of spirituality in a child’s happiness
There’s a place in each child’s being, typically referred to as the soul or heart or human spirit. When children become aware of God’s presence in that space, some find inner stability, which helps them hold onto hope…. like this girl in a domestic violence Safe Place (where I taught life skills).
Specifically, notice her self-talk and her spirituality.
Blue. I used to love the color blue. When I saw the color blue I loved it. But while we were on our journey homeless, I realized that the color blue wasn’t as blue as I thought, because I wasn’t in a feeling of happiness. Every time I looked at the sky it reminded me of the pain we were going through.
I few times when I lay in bed, I would think about–is there any hope that God could give us? I used to feel bad for myself but I told myself to pray more and ask God to give me the strength to get through the day. God heard my prayers. We were moving in a house where my mom could make us food. And where we all could communicate. All the stuff God gives me is like gold to me because he gives me things that are really amazing in my eyes.”
Tweetable: What children tell themselves about happiness may hinder our efforts to show them a good time. Here’s how. Click to Tweet
Thanks to Linda Sibley for her thoughts here about this.
What does spiritual discouragement look like in children? No hope for a way out of a tough situation? The faith (or nonfaith) they are growing up with not aligning with what they read, hear, see or feel in school and the world around them? Tired of rituals that do not resonate?
In the depths of their spirit they might hurt because of bad religion or no religion. Maybe a young person is seeking to understand new sensations that “something other” is nearby, hoping, if they focus on that mysterious presence (of God?), it will manifest itself in their life. Or maybe they’re running away from religion or it just doesn’t make sense to them now in their current stage of life.
One man I interviewed gave four ideas for encouraging discouraged kids.
I went to religious schools—one of them in particular stunted the possibility for spiritual growth in me by putting a crabby, nasty, angry, judgmental face on God. They masked God to the point where I could no longer derive comfort from him.
Then another religious school (it was Mennonite, which is not my own faith tradition) dismantled that false, ugly face for me. Through their gentle words and humor and fun and acceptance, they drew me back to the Shepherd.
I cannot overstate what a difference this made to me: If I had continued in the other school I can conceive that it might have taken many years to journey back to the God of love. There is a distinct possibility I would have never returned to a spiritual path that includes the Christian tradition.
Gentle words, humor, fun and acceptance
Our best friends and our favorite people do all these with us when we’re discouraged! It is the same with children. When we’ve listened without judgment to their distress or doubts and returned gentle words, haven’t we sensed them “melt” into the wonder of being heard and accepted? Humor can relax our discouraged spirits, and sometimes it’s just the fun of letting laughter wash over us that can bring refreshment and a wider perspective.
Tweetable: What does spiritual discouragement look like in kids? And the encouragement they’re looking for. Click to Tweet