Last month a 10-year-old girl passed this note of gratitude to a childcare worker in her after-school program. The worker explains:
I was sitting around a table with four children, preparing to act out a little play, when Destiny asked me a question about God. They all heard me answer her very simply.
I don’t remember the question, but she was so attentive to my answer that I went home, wrote out what I had said, and gave it to her next time I saw her. We had two or three more short interactions about God and three weeks later she wrote this note to me:
Not far below the surface of a 10-year-old girl’s chatter about boys, who’s wearing ugly clothes, and who hurt my best friend’s feelings lies a human spirit… open and longing for someone to care.
At some point, every child understands a moral directive and does the opposite. This is a defining moment in the child’s life. This is when they (subconsciously) ask us, So what? Why should I do the right thing? What difference does it make? We are keenly aware that we give the answer to these questions by what we do ourselves more than by what we tell them.
Reflect for a moment on why you do the right thing.
Why do you obey traffic laws? Why do you tell the truth? Why do you follow instructions from flight attendants? Why do you file your taxes with honesty?
to avoid unpleasant consequences?
it’s how I was raised
I draw on spiritual strength
it gets me more of what I want
to get to heaven?
because __ said so (the law, the boss, the church)
When we take time to reflect on the meaning of our choices, we become clear on the direction we are giving children.
Your internal motive for why you do what you do shapes, both directly and indirectly, the framework your child uses to answer, “So what? Why should I?” That message becomes part of their hard-wiring for years to come.
At some point, every child hears a moral directive and does the opposite, a defining moment in the child’s life. Click to Tweet
When we reflect on the meaning of our choices, we become clear on the direction we are giving our kids.Click to Tweet
Children look to us for direction. We adults generally respect each other by our mutual belief that we do the best we can to provide direction for our young. We understand the weight of the challenge.
Yet the children’s voices persist in their pleas for spiritual attention beyond a code of ethics:
Someone looking in from the outside would say that I had a very good family. Every material need was provided, my mother was a stay-at-home mom and she cooked good meals, and watched out for our safety. Once in a while she read to me and my brother before bedtime. We had good camping vacations in the summer. But these things didn’t feed my lonely soul. (The exposure to nature during the camping trips did impress on me an appreciation of nature, which I almost worshiped in my high school years.)
Nothing spiritual happened in my childhood—ever.
Children want guidance for what to do with their innate sense of God’s presence.
Very early on, while their purity is still unmarred, is the time to begin talking about God with children. They have automatic positive responsiveness. They sense that God exists in some form. The caregiver simply cooperates with that natural instinct to provide direction and interaction about God. It is never too early in a child’s life to engage spiritually. Yet if you miss the first windows, it’s never too late either.
What can we say about God that informs a child… yet also leaves them free to strengthen and refine their unique connection with God as they mature?
A large part of this blog’s purpose is to give you reasonable direction as you seek what is best for you in answering this– and other questions– where there is a lot at stake.
What can we say about God that informs children, yet still frees them to refine their unique connection with the divine? Click to Tweet
If we work on the assumption that spirituality already exists inside every child, the impact we have on children even in the earliest stages of their development makes such a difference.
Many years ago I was told the story of a baby.
This baby was born to a mother addicted to crack cocaine.The little boy was born with an intense craving for the drug, and quickly went into withdrawal. He was inconsolable, crying and arching his back in pain. His mother was not available to him, as she was going through her own withdrawal.
A group of friends decided to take turns holding that little baby in two hour shifts around the clock. Even as he cried and felt pain, arms were always around him. Even when it looked to those holding him that their arms were having no soothing effect, they still held him. After what seemed like an eternity, all the drugs were out of his system and he was at peace… lying in the loving arms of his caregiver.
What difference do you imagine that made to the baby boy?
What did he learn about God even through unfair circumstances? How did his experiences shape him– even experiences he wouldn’t later be able to remember?