Many times, a personal story sheds a brighter light on the subject than moralizing. Rather than telling a child facing a question or decision what to do, telling them a story from your own life can be much more helpful. It helps them think creatively and gives them the confidence that they can come to their own solutions.
When children raise questions, our ideal response is to hear them out and invite more dialog. Lisa Miller uses something like: “You bring such important questions to the family;” or “When I was a child I wondered that, too. I am so happy you are sharing these thoughts with me.”
Consider what spiritual stories you can tell the children in your life.
A friend of mine (mother of three teens) who does this says, “It could be about a time you failed, a time you needed God, a time you doubted God, a time you were surprised by something you couldn’t explain, a time when you sensed God communicating something to you. And consider what beliefs of yours came out of these experiences.”
Questions to help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids:
- What beliefs define your decision-making process?
- What do you believe about how you will relate to people? Strangers, enemies, wrongdoers, immediate family, etc.
- How do you relate to God?
- When have you had times of doubt when God felt very far away?
- What/who are your trusted sources that informed your spiritual progression, growth and wisdom?
- What gives your life purpose and meaning?
- How did you arrive at your present spiritual place?
Our spiritual stories don’t have to be noble or positive. The power comes from it being real and being yours.
Note: Some of the ideas for questions were inspired by Tom Rapsas on StoryCorps.
- Tell kids your spiritual story. They’re still forming a moral compass and our experiences inspire. Click to Tweet
- Seven questions here that help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids.
The tightrope walk may be an apt analogy for one’s teen years. Exhilarating and risky, these years are better navigated following some serious practice time/strength training and a safety net.
“Researchers are beginning to discover the importance of being a spiritual person, especially for teens,” according to Larry Forthun, associate professor at the University of Florida.
What spiritual components comprise practice time/strength training?
- At least one positive friend. Scott, a high school senior, lives with his sister and her boyfriend. Scott found a supportive church youth group. These friends encourage him as he works on submitting college applications and they understand when he says his connection with God is a top priority.
- Nonjudgmental adult(s) with whom to talk freely about emotional, spiritual, intellectual questions or doubts. One such adult said, “We are in an unending narrative of life, in and between generations, passing on to those younger than ourselves, for good or not, whatever we have to offer.” (M. Labberton)
- A form of self-expression (e.g. art, music, writing). “I never would have guessed that, for the quiet girl whose torturous words spilled out like poetry, life is a spiral of family arguments and evictions–a daily battle against the scourge of hopelessness.” (Sandy Banks)
What are the descriptive qualities of a teen’s safety net people?
The Search Institute suggests these qualities:
- Not afraid to discuss spiritual questions, even if you don’t have all the answers.
- Listen to and respect what the teen has to say, even if you do not completely agree.
- Be a good role model of your own spiritual beliefs, practices, and commitments.
- Nurture the teen’s gifts and talents by allowing them to express their spirituality through journals, music, art, etc.
- Help connect the teen with spiritual leaders and mentors, other than yourself.
- Encourage teens to surround themselves with positive friends who strengthen their spiritual growth.
Note: Some ideas for this post were taken from one of a series of documents of the Department of Family, Youth & Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension, 05/2011.
Tweetable: Great ideas here for how to be a safety net under the tightrope of a teen’s spirituality. Click to Tweet
Phil Jackson, former NBA player and current general manager of the New York Knicks wrote: “To my father, there were certain mysteries you could only understand with the heart, and intellectualizing about them was a waste of time. He accepted God on faith and lived his life accordingly. This was an important [childhood] lesson for me.”
While there’s trouble and suffering in the universe, it is friendly…
…and we can see evidence of God’s presence countless times every day.
If you want to foster a a child’s sense of security, consider sharing this perspective: God’s intention is for all human beings to live in community with God and then with each another. Our human frailties, not God’s, increase the selfishness and suffering in the world. God is trustworthy.
Help children identify sightings of God’s care
1. The rainbow
On the very day I signed divorce papers, I saw a rainbow in the clearing skies above our condominium (a rare occurrence in Southern California). With my kids in the back seat, I pointed it out. One of my sons said, “Dad, God is near us and we are going to be okay.”
2. God’s “hand” on my face
One mother told her children how her father would tuck her into bed at night and place his hand on her face, soothing her to sleep. She continued, “Now when I can’t get to sleep, I pray and ask God to lay his fatherly hand on my face, and I am able to sleep.”
3. A kind stranger
While shopping with her children, Heather made it to the check-out a bit frazzled. Back at the car her kids piled in, every grocery bag loaded, she slammed the door shut–when she realized she left her wallet in the store. She got out and started unbuckling her children when she saw a man running over to her:
“The cashier let me run this out to you,” he explained. During the ride home, she and her children talked about how the man left his own grocery cart and delayed his day to show kindness to people he didn’t even know. And how they could see God in that man’s actions.
Have fun hunting for sightings of God’s activity with children, in–
- People’s kindness to strangers
- Unexplained events
Tweetable: Sharing God’s intention for the universe may foster a child’s sense of security. And what is that? Click to Tweet
It was 8:50am. Jayeff sat in the passenger seat of my car as we crawled toward downtown Los Angeles on our way to teach another Life Skills class. A little daylight opened up in the fast lane and a luxury car jammed its way into the space, then zigzagged to cut in front of me, hoping to find another opening, propelling him to his destination more quickly.
Jayeff and I caught our breath at the reckless behavior. I remarked that he sure was in a big hurry. She said, “He must be late for work….” and I finished with, “…and he’s going to get fired if he’s late one more time!” She said, “He’s the sole provider for his family” and I continued, “I sure hope he makes it safely and on time!”
The skill we would be teaching, in a matter of minutes, was Positive Intent–the very skill we practiced in the car to keep our composure and manage self-control.
Are you a mind reader? Probably not.
I don’t know why that driver was in such a hurry, but since I was making up his intent, “Why in the world would I want to attribute an intent that results in nasty feelings for me? I can just as easily attribute positive intent to these situations and reap positive emotions.” (Dr. Becky Bailey)
Negative intent is ingrained in most of us.
Dr. Bailey writes, “The habit of attributing negative intent is so ingrained in most of us that it is difficult at times to recognize, much less reframe positively.”
I got to thinking: Have I practiced negative intent with God?
Most of us have formed an image of God. When we judged God’s nature, we harvested a bushel of emotions about this higher power. When we attribute negative intent to God, the emotions we experience toward God are equally negative.
Give God the benefit of the doubt
Seeing the best in God is the only perceptual frame that will enable us to connect with this supreme being, rather than projecting guilt, hurt and other negative feelings onto God. We can just as easily attribute positive intent to these situations and reap positive emotions.
Impress it upon the children
With positive intent we can transform the way a child’s experiences God. My parents did this for me, making it possible for me to form a deep, enduring connection with the one who loves us all.
Note: Becky Bailey’s lesson on the skill of Positive Intent inspired me to ponder its effect on human connections with God.
Tweetable: We try to give the benefit of the doubt to people. What would happen if we extended it to God? Click to Tweet