When your child is a budding scientist, you scrub home experiments off your walls and ceiling. Your hard-earned money goes toward chemistry sets.
In addition to milk and eggs, your grocery cart contains oddball ingredients destined to bubble and overflow onto your bathroom floor.
You are scrambling to help them satisfy a deep passion for learning and unending curiosity.
Glen was one such child.
Fortunately his parents nurtured his scientific bent. The son of a deeply religious US Navy captain, Glen and his family were church members. Glen leaned toward science as a young man and went on to study nuclear physics at the university.
Science captivated his mind and soul.
“The nuclei were responding to our questions, speaking our mathematical language, completely understandable, telling us the nature of their binding forces,” he said. “It was as if they were saying to me, ‘Finally, someone has asked us. We have waited so many eons.'”
Glen recalled being “so spiritually elated after a day at the lab that I would go outdoors and just run as fast and as long as I could, in exultation and gratitude.”
Both mind and soul factored into an important career choice.
Years later, unwilling to aid in weapons development, Glen abandoned nuclear physics and moved into a teaching career, with Ethics as his area of specialization. He did not abandon his passion for intellectual study through observation and experimentation: “My way of thinking is incurably curious and integrative. I can’t teach Ethics without attention to numerous related disciplines.”
Children are going to experience the divine in different ways. Passionate scientific inquiry is one of them.
“be passionate in your work and in your searchings.” — ivan pavlov
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One consistently underrated motivator for kids is the moral or spiritual motivation. We’re trained to think kids won’t care about doing the right or courageous thing for its own sake. But what is almost every classic kids’ movie or book about? The classic clash between good and evil and being on the right side of the battle, even when it’s hard. There’s something intrinsically motivating about being good, brave or honorable.
Motivator: The self-sacrifices of 9/11
First responders, a group of airline passengers, and many more on 9/11 touched our global society through their internal motivations, their moral convictions driving their actions. The powerful drive to do the good and right thing was laid brick by brick in childhood. In a crisis moment the curtain was pulled back on their heart, soul, conscience (call it what you will) propelling them to a level of moral greatness the world recognized.
Motivator: A Little League coach adds another brick
Over this past season, I watched a Little League coach lead his team of 9-year-olds in giving affirmations to teammates in a post-game ritual. There goes another brick into the boys’ ethical foundation: the importance of seeing the good in others. By blending a kind of balance between their physical and moral growth, this coach makes a deposit that will bring a return for the rest of their lives.
Dimensions of the spiritual foundation
Authors Charles R. Ridley and Robert E.Logan identify dimensions that can become cornerstones in people’s spiritual foundations. Over the next several articles here we will offer conversation starters and activities that can be done on the run if you’d like to motivate kids to add some more bricks to the foundation of their internal moral motivation.
- Community transformation
- Authentic relationships
- Personal character development
- Generous living
- Sacrificial service
- Spiritual responsiveness
- Experiencing God
- How am I feeling challenged as I try to instill moral values in children?
- Which of my efforts has been working well and I want to continue?
- What isn’t working in my interactions with them about their motives?
- What do I have to offer by way of personal examples of my intrinsic motivations?
- Who else in our family’s circle of relationships demonstrates intrinsic motivations I respect? What am I doing to get the kids together with them?
Tweetable: Strive to balance physical, intellectual and spiritual development of children. Go here for ideas to solidify moral (spiritual) development. Click to Tweet
In what environment does your child feel particularly close to God? It’s not that God is objectively closer to them in those situations, but that they feel God’s closeness more, they sense God to be closer to them.
These “locations” reveal a child’s spiritual style.
Spiritual style is the way we receive the never-ending stream of communication God sends out to humankind.–Christian A. Schwarz
The Rational Style: A child understands the nature of God through logic and science.
Note the items that apply to children in your life to determine whether they likely possess a rational style of spirituality.
- The child’s views the study of science as a wonderful way to learn more about God.
- You would say that the child loves God with her mind.
- The child is curious to find truth wherever it may appear.
- Intellectually learning something new about God is a deep spiritual experience for the child.
- The child considers it positive to have a critical mindset toward spiritual questions.
- The child is skeptical toward a faith that constantly offers “easy solutions.”
- It is important for the child’s faith that his mind is regularly stimulated.
Discovery questions for rational children
If you notice five or more of these characteristics, the child probably has a well-established pattern of expressing spirituality with their mind.
The following questions may be useful as you seek to strengthen their connection with God:
- What questions about God does this raise?
- What is puzzling about it?
- Where is God’s truth in it?
- How are your doubts causing your own faith to gain power and depth?
- What do you want to explore further?
Coming up: The Bold Idealistic Style
Adapted from The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, by Christian A. Schwarz
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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