Put a child’s spiritual curiosity to work for you!

During my marriage, my ex and I discussed taking our kids to various houses of worship. They were curious about—envious of?—their churchgoing peers. Though we viewed organized religion with suspicion, we still wondered, How would our kids know what they believed about everything if they’d never been exposed to anything?” (Amanda Avutu)

Amanda’s own curiosity guided her response to her kids.

  • “What did a spirituality built on the tenets of love and hope look like?curiosity love
  • If I could separate faith from organized religion, could I become a believer?
  • What could I gain from contemplating everything I’d summarily dismissed in my youth?
  • What did I want to practice—cynicism? Judgment?
  • What if—through charitable work, acts of kindness, the lessons I was teaching my children—I had been practicing all along? Maybe I hadn’t forsaken religion; I had just reimagined it.”

Amanda’s way with her children

Recently, I drove the kids to Ebenezer Baptist Church, here in Atlanta, for Sunday service. Save weddings, they’d never been inside a place of worship. We listened to a descendant of Robert E. Lee preach at the pulpit of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I thought, We are all capable of so much more change than we realize.

My children and I now have plans to visit Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish temples; a mosque; and at least one more church. Not as voyeurs, or converts, but out of openhearted curiosity and respect.

Ideas for your family

  1. curiosity teenRespond actively when children express curiosity or envy over their friends religious/spiritual beliefs.
  2. Work out an age-appropriate plan to explore spirituality with the child. Any combination of these resources is possible:
    1. Attend houses of worship
    2. Internet search of faith traditions or ethical systems
    3. Read together children’s books based upon sacred writings
  3. Keep your focus on listening to the child’s thoughts; ask follow-up questions to help the child process more deeply; allow the child to lead next steps; give priority to those next steps.

(In an old issue of O magazine, I ran across an article that featured the words of author Amanda Avutu. They struck a chord.)

Tweetable: How #Martin Luther King’s pulpit still enlightens a modern-day family searching for their spiritual identity.  Click to Tweet

Blog’s 5th anniversary and 5 answers

When did you realize you wanted to blog?

When I finished writing Child-Centered Spirituality but before its publication, several smart people recommended that I start a blog so that I’d have a place to raise issues around the subject.

How did you feel when you started writing?

Nervous. Unsure. I wondered if there would be enough to write about and whether anyone was going to read it.

What did you learn from the past five years?

I learned that child-centered spirituality is of interest to many families and to (almost) all children.  Once adults realize that we don’t talk about religion here, but matters of the spirit, their guard goes down and they focus on understanding a child’s own special way of relating with God, supporting and resourcing it, even when it’s different from the adult’s style.

Who helped you along the way toward this 5th blog anniversary?

  1. Tara Miller, coauthor of Child-Centered Spirituality,  read all the posts and offered suggestions. She’s been a guest blogger on occasion.
  2. Alisha Ule provided technical support and set up Instagram, a Facebook page, and Twitter account. She contributes the art ideas, creates the posters for quotations  and more.
  3. Michelle Coe steered the book launch and designed the book cover.
  4. Annette Schalk did the German translations for four years.
  5. Robert Logan provided major funding for the project.
  6. Readers gave ideas for discussion through their questions and comments.

Why did you decide to offer Child-Centered Spirituality Workshop events?

blog anniversary bookAfter the book came out in November 2017 (Amazon & Kindle) I was impressed with an idea that wouldn’t go away:

Through the book’s message, families can recognize the great need to pay attention to children’s spiritual development to the same degree that they encourage intellectual, social, emotional and physical growth. The book describes the big picture issues with age-appropriate aids for adults to utilize with kids. But how does this happen in the ordinariness of everyday life? How does a child form a bond with God?

blog anniversary evebtThe workshop uncovers seven styles people use to connect with God in their most natural way, with emphasis on children.

The first workshop was held in April 2018 in Pasadena, CA. Since then, it’s been in Nashville and Colorado Springs, with more coming in 2019. Contact janet@childcenteredspirituality If your faith community, service organization or parochial school wants more info.

Tweetable: Book now for a Child-centered Spirituality workshop to come to your service organization, faith community or parochial school. Go here for details. Click to Tweet.

Two moms team up to teach daughters conflict resolution

conflict resolutionRobert Fulghum famously said, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten.” Two years after they graduated from kindergarten these girls expanded upon “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody,” thanks to their mothers joining forces to teach some conflict resolution.

A good friend of mine told me her experience.

“My 7-year-old daughter Sophie came home one day very upset because her best friend Mariah said something insensitive about her height.

Sophie was very short for her age, and sensitive about it. Mariah, who was tall for her age, had no understanding that someone might be sensitive about her height.

I called Mariah’s mom and explained the situation. Both of us wanted to teach our daughters how to work through conflict productively.

Moms and daughters get together.

We set up a meeting time for Sophie to share how she felt, for Mariah to hear, understand it, and apologize, and for Sophie to accept the apology and restore the relationship.

Both girls were afraid, as neither liked conflict, but they worked through the process as we coached them.

The result was a restored friendship, rather than the growing distance that occurs when hurt feelings go unaddressed.

The family gets involved.

Our family was later able to talk about that experience of recognizing when you have done something wrong and using courtesy when asking for and receiving forgiveness.”

Tweetable:  Two moms join forces to teach a simple lesson in conflict resolution to their daughters. To what degree are you and your closest friends teaming up for some of these important life lessons? Click to Tweet

A single focused conversation made a difference

Robert Logan, guest blogger, shares a conversation he had when we were foster parents.

conversation with our foster child

One highlight I remember from my time as a foster parent was a particular conversation– brief but meaningful. Heather (not her real name, and not pictured here) was a 14-year-old girl and had been with us for less than a year. One evening we were having dinner and I was chatting with her about her schoolwork (which was not good).

Here’s my reason…

She said, “The reason I’m failing Spanish is because I don’t like the attitude of my teacher.” It was one excuse after another. Things weren’t fair. The teacher had it in for her. And so on.
I responded in a soft voice, “You know, Heather, you’ve had a lot of hard things happen to you. I’m sure you haven’t told us everything, but what you have said is bad enough. No kid should have to deal with that. But at some point in your life, you’re going to have to stop blaming everyone else for your problems.”
She responded with a flare of anger: “I’m not blaming everyone else for all my problems!” I paused, then in a soft voice, quietly said: “Well, you just told me all of the reasons you’re failing Spanish. This happened because of that. I don’t know what you call that, but I call that blaming.” She was really angry, and shortly after that our conversation ended. It was the single longest focused conversation we’d ever managed to have– probably five minutes all together.

And here’s my apology…

While I was driving her to youth group that night, Heather apologized for the first and only time… for being “such a brat.”  Perhaps this was a turning point in taking responsibility.
Although we lost track of her over the years, she did graduate high school, got a job, and had a boyfriend who respected her. Teens are at such a crossroads in deciding how to shape their own values and the choices they will make… regardless of the choices other important people in their lives have made– or not made– for them.
Tweetable: It doesn’t happen frequently, but once in a lifetime, a single conversation can make a difference in someone’s life. A foster parents talks about the only one he ever had–here. Click to Tweet

A single focused conversation made a difference

Robert Logan, guest blogger, shares a conversation he had when we were foster parents.

conversation with our foster child

One highlight I remember from my time as a foster parent was a particular conversation– brief but meaningful. Heather (not her real name, and not pictured here) was a 14-year-old girl and had been with us for less than a year. One evening we were having dinner and I was chatting with her about her schoolwork (which was not good).
She said, “The reason I’m failing Spanish is because I don’t like the attitude of my teacher.” It was one excuse after another. Things weren’t fair. The teacher had it in for her. And so on.
I responded in a soft voice, “You know, Heather, you’ve had a lot of hard things happen to you. I’m sure you haven’t told us everything, but what you have said is bad enough. No kid should have to deal with that. But at some point in your life, you’re going to have to stop blaming everyone else for your problems.”
She responded with a flare of anger: “I’m not blaming everyone else for all my problems!” I paused, then in a soft voice, quietly said: “Well, you just told me all of the reasons you’re failing Spanish. This happened because of that. I don’t know what you call that, but I call that blaming.” She was really angry, and shortly after that our conversation ended. It was the single longest focused conversation we’d ever managed to have– probably five minutes all together.
While I was driving her to youth group that night, Heather apologized for the first and only time… for being “such a brat.”  Perhaps this was a turning point in taking responsibility.
Although we lost track of her over the years, she did graduate high school, got a job, and had a boyfriend who respected her. Teens are at such a crossroads in deciding how to shape their own values and the choices they will make… regardless of the choices other important people in their lives have made– or not made– for them.
Tweetable: It doesn’t happen frequently, but once in a lifetime, a single conversation can make a difference in someone’s life. A foster parents talks about the only one he ever had–here. Click to Tweet

Are you out of the loop about childhood spirituality?

What is child-centered spirituality and why is it important? Here’s the short answer and a story from someone who is in the loop with it.

What is child-centered spirituality?

loop of young child's spiritualityIt is listening to and nurturing what is already inside a child’s soul. The way to encourage children’s innate longing for the divine is found in opening yourself up to their world, in asking them questions and answering theirs, in listening. It is about honoring the soul–the sacred space within them.

It’s serving more as guides, or even fellow journeyers, than we do as teachers. It is working on the assumption that spirituality already exists inside the heart of every child, and that God is already at work there. Maybe our role is just to help facilitate and develop what is already resident there.

Why is it important?

Children’s faith in God’s presence with them, in God’s goodness and care for them, can sustain the mental and emotional resiliency they need to live. It can provide perspective on life and death, eternity, guilt, grace, forgiveness.  Children’s inner spiritual anchor can be a safe place to turn when life’s challenges come upon them. Older children will, as we all do, turn to something when they feel overwhelmed. Yesterday’s lead article in my local newspaper was, “Xanax abuse rising at schools.”

In the loop with Jay

father daughter loopI dove into teenage life for all it was worth. My energies and activities, my adventures, risks, and yes–faith meant I found a second home in faith communities independent of my family. I settled easily into the context of a church youth group and a Christian club at school.

My parents practiced child-centered spirituality. They recognized my need for adults outside the family who knew me well and I drank deeply from the water these adults provided. That I went on to become a high school English teacher was a natural extension of all I learned and eagerly wanted to offer others in those pivotal years.

Now with our own children, my wife and I take best practices from our parents and our own experiences that we hope will make a developmentally positive and enduring spiritual difference.

Tweetable: Get in the loop with childhood spirituality. The proven benefits of making peace with God should be encouragement enough to invest time and attention in their holistic development. Click to Tweet