I met Tessa, 21, in a class I taught as part of her drug rehab. What she taught me confirms the benefit of spiritual roots beginning in childhood.
Tessa (not her real name) gave me permission to use this letter she wrote as part of her recovery. Notice how she writes about her drug use as a relationship that she could turn to for support, eventually replacing it with her relationship to her higher power.
My dearest friend,
I am writing you to inform you that we can no longer be in each other’s lives. I no longer need you.
At first I loved you because you helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life. You made me feel numb to my reality, like I could do anything. You gave me power. I felt invincible. But then I became dependent to you. I was the puppet and you were my master.
I thought that our relationship was okay for a long time because I was able to function like a normal person, living a double life. Until one day I lost all control of myself and allowed you to move completely into my life and take hold of the wheel that steers my future. I trusted you to get me through the road ahead.
But you deceived me. You drove me into a world of darkness, shame and guilt. You made me do things I would never do, but you were that voice inside my head that made me believe it was okay to break in to cars and houses, and to break the law. You made me a criminal. You no longer made me feel numb. Now all you did was cause me more and more pain, and because you became a huge part of me, I needed you like fish need water.
But now, today, I am strong enough to stand up for myself against you and say that I don’t need you in my life. That I am worthy to have a good life and that I can get through anything without you because I have a loving God. As long as I continue to walk by faith in Him, He will lead me on my path. He will be there to comfort me when life gets emotionally hard.
Tessa is now relying on her relationship with her higher power— God
— to help her when life becomes overwhelming. But consider this: What if she’d had that relationship all along? What if she had a sense of spirituality since childhood and a higher power who is willing to be known? Quite possibly she’d never have turned to heroin at all.
Why not do everything in our power to give children a chance to form some kind of relationship with God?
They can always abandon it later if they find they don’t need it. But if they do—God is there.
Tweetable: Strong spiritual roots in childhood may have spared this young woman from finding love in the wrong place. Click to Tweet
I teach Life Skills courses at drug treatment centers across L.A. County. Last night I sat across from a woman who asked, “What hope do my children have of avoiding addiction when both their father and I are addicts?” In the first of a two-part blog, I offer my perspective.
Can addiction be prevented?
As I’ve sat with addicts, both in and out of recovery, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how we could prevent addiction in the first place, and what kinds of broader societal changes might help.
The solution is probably surprising to the general public.
The solution—while not surprising to anyone who has spent time in AA—is probably surprising to the general public: spirituality. You can’t do it on your own. You need to turn to a power greater than yourself.
Put more attention into spiritual development.
Unless we put more time and attention into supporting the spiritual development of young people, Americans will continue to see unhealthy solutions like prescription drug addiction becoming more and more normal for those overwhelmed by life.
Life without God or spirituality seems fine when things are going well.
But when difficulties come and people are at the end of their rope, having depleted their own resources, they will turn to something else. If it’s not a loving God, it may be prescription drugs or heroin.
Spirituality is often an off-limits topic.
Yet investing in the spiritual development of our children is our best hope for preventing— and recovering from— our recent epidemic of painkiller addiction.
Next week, I will share a story from one of my students that prompted me to write on this topic.
- A surprising solution to the current epidemic of addiction to pain killers and street drugs like heroin. Click to Tweet
- A surprising source of hope for children of addicts/alcoholics. Click to Tweet
Is performing arts a passion for one of the kids in your life? Here’s an idea that may make sense to them as they continue to develop their spiritual life.
Be God’s understudy.
God’s understudy–learning, listening, practicing so we can stand in for God in the world around us. Say yes to continually learning your part and be ready at a moment’s notice to stand in for God.
What does that look like in daily life?
That might mean protecting someone being bullied at school, helping an elderly neighbor with yard work, or being careful to throw trash away rather than on the ground. It is living out two of the general moral rules we learn:
Amid the diversity and magnificence of nature, we have work to do, and that is to take care of the oceans, of plants and animals, and of people, as we have opportunity.
What similarities do you see to being a theatre understudy?
- Rehearsal does not exist. “You are responsible to know the role whether or not you get to do it on its feet. You have no other option than to live in the moment,” says Broadway understudy Bret Shuford.
- It feels a bit like skydiving. Shuford continues, “Especially the first performance you go on, it’s a rush like nothing you’ve ever experienced. The scariest part is taking the first leap, but remember a beautiful, loving, cast and crew will always be there support you. You will surprise some people at what you’re able to accomplish in the role, and you may even surprise yourself.”
- Imitation is the highest form of flattery–sort of. An understudy has to replicate what the original star is doing, to a degree. “You have to honor the performance of the actor you’re covering,” explains Merwin Foard, who has covered 30 actors in 16 Broadway shows. “You don’t want to mimic… but you want to bring your own version of [the role] to life.”
Challenging things, bad things, happen to the people around us.
Trouble and hardship are part of living. But faith means trusting that the God of heaven and earth loves us, walks with us, and sustains us through troubles. As God’s understudies, we hang in there with other people to make life more bearable, more livable and more joyful.
Tweetable: Our world could use more people who, like theatre understudies, stand in for God, in everyday life. Read more. Click to Tweet
Know any performing arts students who are spiritual? They may like the metaphor of being God’s understudy. Click to Tweet
Young people raised with moral or religious principles and practices typically arrive at adolescence ready to find answers to a questions like “How do I know and experience and be ‘right’ with God? How should that look different for me than it does for my parents?”
After all, the faith they have now cannot be the faith they had when they were 4 or 8 or 10.
Nor will it be their faith when they’re 21 or 48 or 83. Faith is a force that will continue to develop and mature over the course of a lifetime, and sometimes it needs to change in order to continue to invigorate and sustain people as they enter different stages of their own development.
Show them how
So how– now in their teens– can you show the kids in your life how to experience and navigate a relationship with God? Here are some thoughts I have… feel free to adapt them for your own use.
- Explain “relationship” with God as an internal conversation that includes questions, doubts, heart longings/prayers. God is big enough to handle it all.
- Ask them questions… and really listen to their answers.
- Do NOT pretend you have it all together and do NOT pretend you know everything. They will know you are lying.
- Open up to share appropriately (less is more) when you’re going through something that life throws at you and how you experience God in that situation.
- Confirm that a relationship with God is a good idea, even when you don’t know all the answers. Open dialogue is good.
- Invite them to come along with you when you’re doing community service… or just doing something nice for others. Making a meal for someone who just had a baby is a tangible way of showing the love of God. Make that connection.
- Don’t major on the minors. When kids get sidetracked on minor points of doctrine and belief, try to call their attention back to the main points and general principles.
“But I’m not a religious person.”
if you don’t think of yourself as having spiritual awareness, ask trusted family friends whose spiritual life you respect to stand in for you. Meanwhile, communicate positive intent toward God and faith, much like divorced couples who have learned it is best for the children to speak positively of the other parent, though they personally feel quite differently.
The evidence confirms the value of faith to young people.
Studies of religiousness/spirituality have found a positive correlation with an adolescent sense of well-being, positive life attitudes, altruism, resiliency, school success, health and positive identity, as well as a negative correlation with alcohol and drug use, delinquency, depression, excessive risk-taking and early sexual activity.
Their questions are deeper than we think.
“A number of years ago I overheard my then teenage son discussing with his friends the origin of AIDS. Not how AIDS developed…. rather they were arguing why — a deep spiritual question. Was this disease a simple development of nature? A cosmic punishment? Or even a divine opportunity for compassion?
The conversation surprised me,” said Dr. Ken Doka. “I was confounded by the intensity of the debate. I should not have been. We often fail to acknowledge the intense spirituality that underlies adolescence. It’s a spiritual time of development, complete with idealism and questions of identity and meaning.
Tweetable: The faith adolescents have now cannot be the faith they had when they were 4 or 8 or 10. Here’s why. Click to Tweet
I received many expressions of sympathy after my mother died last year. One of the most meaningful (pictured) came from a child in my life. Her parents said it was her idea. But behind the scenes of that child’s loving act was parental support facilitating her idea to find its way into my hands (and my grieving heart).
The spirit’s domain
Most of us long for more harmony, unity, and kindness in our world. Intangibles like these flow from our innermost being and some of us sense the presence of God through them.
Show children how to lift a person’s spirit in their everyday life.
One of our readers offered an example from her family: While getting donuts at the local donut shop, Tyler and I noticed a homeless person walking through the parking lot. We were late to a baseball game my husband was coaching so we hurried to our car.
I looked at Tyler who was putting our leftover change in the console between the seats. “We should do something for that guy.” Tyler said “Why don’t we give him our change? It’s not much but it’s something.” Tyler gathered the change and walked over to speak with him and [lift the man’s spirit].
When a child shows us the way to lift a human spirit and we are humbled.
How can we amplify acts of kindness so children’s perspectives focus outward more often — on the gifts they have to contribute to the world? On the good they can do for others? On understanding the feelings and perspectives of others?
- Applauding adult involvement when children want to do good toward other people. See examples here. Click to Tweet
- How we make the world a better place when we let kids do something nice for others even when it is inconvenient. Click to Tweet