The blessing of undivided attention

The blessing of undivided attention

I’ve never been good at multi-tasking. It’s not that I didn’t try. I tried for years.  I just can’t hold my thoughts together when I’m working on multiple projects at once. It’s always been this way, so it’s not just because I’m getting older. I admit being jealous of people who have bookmarks in several books right now, digital or otherwise.  To keep plot lines in context? Not a chance.

Suddenly an inability to divide attention is a hot commodity.

To listen with full attention is in demand.  Personal devices, certainly good and necessary, are perhaps the most common enemy of our desire to give all our attention to what our loved one has to say.  To be emotionally present with others communicates their importance.

As we finish this series of blog posts on the topic of blessing children, we will now focus on making an active commitment to giving them our undivided attention.

What we can do to develop their spirit

Look for opportunities to talk with them and find out what is going on in their minds. Ask good questions that allow them to respond however they want. Help them sort through their dreams, opinions, wishes, and just generally be available.  Be honest with them about your own thoughts and goals. Integrate their faith and morals when it is natural to do so.

Author Gary Smalley wrote about spiritual growth, “Our purpose in listening with full attention is to be able to take what children share and weave it into words and stories that teach new truths and communicate not only a blessing, but also principles for living.”

Expect to pay a price

From his own experience with his three children, Gary found that his commitment to bless them meant:

  • Hard work–to provide a blessing to each child
  • Time—to meaningfully touch and hug them
  • Courage—to put into a spoken message the words of love that have been on the tip of my tongue
  • Wisdom and boldness—to highly value them
  • Creativity—to picture a future for them filled with hope and with God’s best for their lives

Yet we also get a blessing from the joy we feel at seeing a child’s life bloom and grow because of our commitment to them.  It is in the giving that we receive.

Ways to bless children right now

  • Let the child wear something of yours (a necklace, a baseball cap) during dinner because you trust the child can handle it.
  • Ask, “What would it take for this to be a great weekend for you?” and try to see that it happens.
  • Learn a new age-appropriate joke and tell them.
  • Make their favorite dinner on a day other than their birthday.

Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas here are taken from the book, The Blessing.

Tweetable: When you commit yourself to give undivided attention to kids more often, expect to pay a price. Click to Tweet

4 ideas to bless kids with your undivided attention beyond making eye contact and listening. Find them here. Click to Tweet

Show children our common ground at Christmas

Show children our common ground at Christmas

Affan Abdullah is a Muslim American. He doesn’t celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. He feels, however, that we can find basic common ground and beliefs, no matter our faith or non-faith.*  What is this common ground?

candlesWe offer each other holiday wishes, often along these lines:

  • A wish that we all will live up to the values the holidays represent, not just talk about them.
  • A wish that we will live into the spirit of the season, helping those who need it and sharing with others from whatever we have.

What is the spirit of Christmas?

  • elem-boy-drawingFor children old enough to recognize that difficulties, trouble and disappointments have entered their lives, Christmas offers hope. Tradition records that Jesus described humanity as filled with both the characteristics of God and with self-defeating tendencies. Christmas brings the hope that good will overcome the bad, and Jesus laid out his way of doing that.
  • The need for community and fellowship. Jan Sutton sees the weeks of festivities and reunions as a way to hold communities together. She points out that there is nothing religious about giving and generosity.*
  • Spiritual intensity. Marianne Williamson, herself a non-Christian offer this: “One doesn’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the fact that Jesus is a magnificent spiritual force. Jesus gives to Christmas its spiritual intensity, hidden behind all the… sounds of the season.”

“Because no words are as powerful as our human lives.” (Scott Korb)

We can respect the powerful life of Jesus as a figure of peace and authentic justice….. Jesus as someone who fed the poor and comforted the grieving. Christians remind themselves of the good work Jesus began and of his call to do them to do likewise.

Tweetable: Christmas brings hope to children and all of us that the good will overcome the bad. Click to Tweet

Children need to know there are so many ways spirituality fosters community, not division and strife. Click to Tweet

*USA Today, 12/21/14

Addiction: breaking up with my best friend

Addiction: breaking up with my best friend

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’s story

journalingTessa (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

Surprising source of hope for children of addicts/alcoholics

Surprising source of hope for children of addicts/alcoholics

boys-on-matI 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.

0xyUnless 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.

Tweetable:

  • 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
God’s understudy: spirituality for kids in performing arts

God’s understudy: spirituality for kids in performing arts

theater curtainIs 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:

  • do no harm and
  • do good

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.

stage-doorWhat similarities do you see to being a theatre understudy?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”

high school rehearsalChallenging 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