What’s a family to do when a child’s spiritual direction threatens family traditions? In her own words, a preschool teacher shares some thoughts from a difficult childhood:
Evangeline Jana: not impressed!
I had a very rough childhood. I experienced some sexual abuse growing up and my house was much like a war zone. I was not told that God loved me or cared for me, nor did I think he did, considering my childhood trauma lenses.
We only went to church on special occasions or if my mom was feeling like we should. I will say that when I occasionally went to church I felt something in my heart. I remember thinking, ‘I want to be one of those people, one that God loves.’
If I questioned about God it was tossed aside as unimportant or not for people like us–that is–those who God forgets. My grandmother considered our family in the group of those God forgets because we didn’t go to church and there was just too much disaster and brokenness in our lives.
My grandmother saw God as a person who loved you only when you did good things.
We also lacked forgiveness in my household, so when I began to express my own beliefs [different from those of my family], it was not fully accepted. My grandmother thought I was in a cult.
My mom and sister were suspicious that I was manipulating them to try to get back into good graces after years of rebellion. Today, my mom and sister are mildly supportive and highly suspicious. Both still feel as though I will come to my senses someday.
Whenever possible on this blog, I share from the perspective of a child (or in this case, former child reflecting on her experiences.) What is a family to do when a child’s spirit threatens the family traditions? What actions foster harmony and understanding in the family? I would be interested in your thoughts and there is a Comment Box below.
Character, conscience, reason, and more–they’re all here to explore within the human spirit. A story from my own childhood about character comes to mind.
Last week, the doctor questioned me about my foot pain: “Do you wear pointy shoes or did you used to?” and I thought about my pointy shoes and those long-ago piano lessons.
When I was 8 or 9, my piano teacher participated in NFSM and all her piano students had a yearly audition, a non-competitive adjudication. We were judged on individual merit in the areas of accuracy, continuity, phrasing, dynamics, rhythm, interpretation, style and technique.
That meant four years of daily piano practice. After going many tearful rounds with me about skipping out on it, my mother thought of a game-changer. We went to the thrift store and got dress-up clothes, including beautiful satin high heels. My father sawed off the heels so drastically that they were only slightly higher than my sneakers. But they were stunningly pointed.
After school, for at least one year, I got all dressed up, made dramatic entrances into the living room, walked across the Hollywood Bowl stage and, to deafening applause, began to play Czerny. Frequently I stood to bow before the adoring crowd of furniture.
With one small idea, my mother kept me in the game so that fruits of character had a chance to ripen. In those four years I grew in diligence, reliability, consistency, and the wherewithal to push through when I don’t feel like it. Where are you seeing mental, spiritual and emotional development evolving all at once in the children you love?
Older children and teens learn and process much of their thinking through the lenses of movies, music, art, and literature. Think of how much time they spend exploring and learning through the media, absorbing perspectives about the nature of life, humanity, redemption, love, and spirituality.
Although the messages and beliefs vary widely from one movie to the next and from one song to the next, we can help children process these perspectives by taking the time to ask them how they respond to the beliefs that underlie each work of art.
As spiritual beings, we are natural creators. We create art and music, literature and film, to tell stories that help us understand the nature of life. We crave a narrative framework that helps us understand ourselves and others and our place in the world. Most created works bear the marks of our human search for meaning. A creative work does not need to be explicitly religious in order to have spiritual meaning and insight.
Next time you watch Cinderella with a four-year-old, take some time to talk about it afterwards. Next time you go to the movies with a teenager, ask them what they thought the movie was trying to say. When they are listening to a particular band or singer, ask what view of the world is being communicated.
You might be surprised at how brilliantly observant kids can be.
The one thing Donny’s father said about God opened up a spiritual pathway for an acquaintance of mine, now nearly 80 years old . . . .
I became aware of God first when I was five years old. I was sick with pneumonia. The doctor said to my father, “I hope you have other children at home because I don’t think Donny is going to survive.” My father came into the hospital room where I was in an oxygen tent. He said, “Son, you are very ill. I want to tell you about God. God is the one who made everything. You can’t see him but he can see you. He hears what you ask of him. That is called prayer. Pray and ask God to make you well.”
There I was breathing the enriched oxygen and hearing my father tell me about this great, wonderful one. I did pray. I said, “God, make me well.” And he did.
Donny dares ask God a hard question
When I was 9, friends of my family would ask me how old I was and, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” When I told them I didn’t know, they would say, “You are 9 years old. You’ve got to decide.” One Sunday afternoon, some guests came to visit and again asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought to myself, “I’m tired of this! I don’t know, and I want to be able to tell them.” After the people left, my mother said, “Climb the wooden hill.” (That’s Canadian for ‘go upstairs to bed’.)
Before I got into bed I sat on the edge of the bed, and thought, “I asked God to make me well when I was 5 and I was sick. I have no idea what I want to be. Why don’t I ask God?” So I prayed. This was only the second time I remember praying, other than “Now I lay me down to sleep.” I said, “God, remember me? My name is Donny. When I was sick you made me well. Now will you help me know what I should be when I grow up?” Although I didn’t get an answer right then, I remember feeling peace and I had a sense that God heard me.
When Don was 17, he heard a man describing his particular job, and something excited him. Don said that he knew he “was listening to God’s answer to my question, What should I be when I grow up?” Don had a long and satisfying career.
From Don’s perspective, one conversation saved his life. That may be hard for many adults to believe, but in child-centered spirituality, we step back from our own views and give children the right to theirs.