The 4th Annual Backpack Blessing took place in a Georgia church at the start of this school year. The event involves taking your backpack into church, suggesting that God’s presence moves into all spheres of life. A staff member told The Huffington Post that the blessing is meant to engage kids in the concrete reality of their lives, and to narrate that God is with them.
A symbol of God’s presence
In addition to the blessing, each child was handed a compass as a sign of God’s presence in their daily life. The blessing given went something like this:
Bless these children and youth and their backpacks as they begin another school year. Keep them from fear. Guide them in the ways of justice and truth. When they are in new places and with new people, help them to remember that you will never leave them. May they always know that they are your children in the world.
Notice the five elements in this blessing, affirming the children’s worth, capability and connection with God.
- A spoken message
- Attaching high value
- Picturing a special future
- An active commitment
- A concrete object
In the context of childhood spirituality, a blessing can be given to a single child or to a group.
When applied in a family, a group living situation, a school classroom, or a fellowship (e.g. faith community, special interest club) these five ingredients always bring hope, warmth and healing.
Keep reading next week for specific ideas on special moments or rituals you can use to bestow each element onto the children you love.
Ways to bless children right now.
- Compliment the child on a character trait you notice (a spoken message).
- Slow down on a task like cooking to let us accomplish it together (an active commitment).
- Check your photo albums to make sure each child appears in the pictures almost equally (attaching high value).
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas under “Ways to bless children right now,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: In the context of childhood spirituality, a blessing can be given or to a group. See the example here. Click to Tweet
Colton looked forward to his parents’ visit. He hadn’t seen them in almost two years. He’d saved up some small fix-it tasks to do with his dad. In the past this was their way of connecting, but his last few conversations with his father had not gone well. It’s not that they argued. Something just didn’t seem right.
As the two men worked side by side around the loft, Colton experienced frustration when he tried to talk about his life. Now 27, Colton wanted to show his father the kind of life he’d created for himself so his father would be proud. And his father was proud. But for Colton it was another unsuccessful attempt to get his father to show pride and express love in a way he could feel.
We miss hearing words of approval.
Some of us know we will never receive genuine acceptance from certain important people in our life. We know we will never hear their words of approval. Either they don’t cherish us as valuable or they, like Colton’s father, don’t possess the necessary skills to find the actions and words to express their esteem in ways we can receive them. Maybe they are mentally ill, passed away, a missing person, psychologically unfit, or brain damaged by an accident.
One of the most powerful ways of reversing rejection we’ve received as children is to give genuine acceptance to others. We seek to learn new words, experiences and rituals—precisely what this blog series is designed to provide. Each week we offer a section of activities to bless children immediately. Share your results or ideas in the comments section.
Ways to bless children right now
- With a young child, read The Velveteen Rabbit, which talks about how valuable we are.
- Put a loving note on the child’s pillow.
- Take the child and a friend out for a special treat.
- Make and keep a promise.
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with Colton’s story and some of the ideas under “Ways to bless children right now,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: A powerful way of reversing rejection received as children is to give genuine acceptance to others. Click to Tweet
I was an English major in college so I appreciate good, strong words. Blessing is such a word:
“Landing a job allowing me to work at home has been a mixed blessing [has advantages and disadvantages]. Or “I live in a country where I enjoy the blessings of liberty” [benefits]. Or “The town council passed the ordinance with the mayor’s blessing [approval]. Or “Grandfather, will you say a blessing [praise God] before we eat our meal?”
But the kind of blessing we are chasing in this series resembles this:
My friend’s mother always gave me a hug when I saw her and asked, ‘Hey buddy, how’s your day going?’ I will never forget how much her blessing [special favor or mercy] meant to me when my own mother was preoccupied with a serious crisis in her life”
There’s an element of skill involved in showing admiration and expressing favor in a way a child can receive. Blessings comes from one’s heart.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Another way to bless
In her book The Path Laurie Beth Jones wrote, “It is said that the grandmother of Jackie Joyner-Kersee named the child Jackie, “Because someday she is going to be the first lady of something!”
Jackie grew up in an atmosphere of positive expectation and blessing. She overcame a birth defect and went on to become the first lady of track and field, winning 3 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze Olympic medals at four different Olympic Games. Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of All-Time.
Try one of these 5 actions to bless children right now.
- Make eye contact and listen.
- Make up a positive, loving nickname.
- Use words: “You are going to make a significant impact with your life because of your empathy and kindness.” (Or courage and honesty, or fill-in-the blank with the child’s unique qualities).
- Use one of the ideas they give when you ask for their opinion.
- Let a child use something of yours for a short time because you trust the child.
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas under “5 actions to bless children right now,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: To speak a word of blessing/favor to a child so they can receive it involves an element of skill. Ideas here. Click to Tweet
Popular culture is full of tunes about blessing. From rapper Big Sean to Rascal Flatts, Celine Dion, Martha and the Vandellas, Irving Berlin and back again, we’ve got the topic covered.
Basically, blessing means to wish well. Sometimes a young person will approach the parents to ask, “Will you give us your blessing?” before popping the question of marriage.
A blessing is often given as a statement of divine favor–a benediction. For example, when his friend embarked upon a new job, John O’Donohue offered: “May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.”
Yet the reality of everyday life tells a different story.
Most of us don’t bless people as a way of life. Personally I may be kind or helpful. But I would like to increase my skill of intentionally blessing people.
What if blessings have power to answer contemporary dilemmas, such as increased polarization within our society? As I shopped for gifts during the holiday season, I blessed store clerks, “May you have no angry customers all day” which never failed to cause their eyes to turn from scanning items and to lock on mine as I continued, “Be blessed today.”
In response, one clerk put her hand to her lips and sent a kiss to me. Another stopped for a few seconds of stunned silence as her eyes danced and she said, “I receive that!” The power of a blessing lies in a heartfelt wish for the person’s happiness and comfort. This stands in stark contrast to the negative, even hostile, words rising in society.
A blog series–a challenge to bless
Over the next several blog posts I invite you to explore with me some ways to practice how to bless others for their well-being and success. As always, the posts will be child-centered and spiritually oriented.
Blessings flow from the heart, not from a cognitive formula. Every new experience increases our skill in understanding how and when to wish the best for others.
May these words of hope and love bring out the best in you in 2017, as you seek to bless those who need it the most.
Tweetable: Looking to increase your intentionality of blessing, not blasting, with your words in 2017? Follow this. Click to Tweet
Older children seem to be aware of unexplainable events in their life, events having spiritual or metaphysical overtones. They speak freely to an interested listener, with the attitude that it’s obvious there’s something out there. And they have ideas and questions about what that something might be. It is important to a young person to have adult engagement with their most difficult questions.
Adults can offer a calm presence.
Even though we may have no clue how to answer their specific question, we can offer a non-anxious presence — a certain comfort level with the contradictions and complexities of a preteen.
We also offer understanding when they share their outlook:
There’s a lot of time I think I don’t really necessarily believe there’s life after death right now. I’m pondering, toying around with the idea that once you die it’s done, which would put the end to the point of belief right? But at the same time there’s this nagging, well if it is true, I’m screwed.
If a caregiver has a clear belief system…
…we can suggest an answer to a child’s questions in alignment with that belief system, although it’s still a good idea to hear the child out and not try to force your own opinions.
A framework is useful when adults aren’t sure what they believe.
The obvious challenge arises if a caregivers aren’t sure what they believe themselves.What then? Although saying “I have no idea” to an adult is a perfectly fine response, that can be unsettling to a child because it does not provide a safe boundary.
You might consider responses such as:
- “Some people think X, others think Y.” “What do you think?”
- Or “That’s a great question. Let’s explore that together and figure it out,” followed by an Internet search, a trip to the library and/or some other sources of information.
- Something to consider when a child’s spiritual questions arise and we’re not sure what we believe ourselves. Click to Tweet.
- Saying “I have no idea” to an adult is okay, but can be unsettling to a child asking about God. Go here for ideas. Click to Tweet