Their future brightens when we bless children with a sense of assurance that they have what it takes to accomplish their goals, to push through challenges and heartaches. We do this through acknowledgement of the child’s worth. We back it up with our own investment of time and presence to see it through. I’ve heard one of my mentors, Becky Bailey, do this so well:
- Of course you can pass the test next week. Let’s study together.
- I know you’re scared, but you can do it. I believe in you.
- That’s a great goal. Go for it!
- Okay, the training wheels are off. I’ll be right beside you, but you can ride the bike alone.
John Trent summarizes the concept like this: “Words that picture a hope-filled future draw a child toward the warmth of genuine concern and fulfilled potential. Instead of leaving a child to head into a dark unknown, our words can illuminate a pathway lined with purpose.”
God’s hope-filled future
For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Ways to bless children right now with a hopeful future – Examples:
- Observed behavior: Sensitive. Statement: God has given you such a sensitive heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if you end up helping a great many people.
- Observed behavior: Helpful. Statement: You are such a good helper. You’re going to be such a help to your family. OR You will help many people finish important projects because you are so helpful.
- Observed behavior: Good at math. Statement: You know that math better than I do. I think that’s great. You’ll pass tomorrow’s test with flying colors. You may become a research scientist or a chemist—and maybe change the course of the world.
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas under “Ways to bless children right now with a hopeful future,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing. Becky Bailey’s ideas are found in her book, Conscious Discipline.
Tweetable: Their future brightens when we bless children with assurance that they have what it takes to succeed. Click to Tweet
I remember playing the fortune teller game as a kid. We would take a piece of paper, write dreamy messages and fortunes on it, then fold it origami-style to predict our future—you will be rich, you will be famous.
Now I try to bless the children in my life with words that picture a future filled with hope.
It’s different from predicting their future, but it can transform the way the future unfolds for the child. Dr. John Trent writes, “With words of a bright future they can begin to work on a particular talent, have the confidence to try out for a school office, or even help guide others into the full potential God has in store for them.” They begin to believe in the positive, hopeful future you paint for them.
Anticipating a hope-filled future is not the same as choosing a child’s future.
Our intent is to encourage children to be the best they can be, not to force them into paths that we followed or wish we had followed. (Not, for example, “You’ll be a wonderful engineer someday!”) Adults who put that kind of pressure on children miss giving them a blessing. To bless a child, encourage the child by noticing intentions and actions. Then follow it up to help the children achieve whatever they decide to be or do.
Isn’t a hope-filled future for children just a pipe dream for some?
No. Over and over in sacred writings, we see God’s offer of blessings toward humankind. These blessings are not directed at making us wealthy, healthy or even happy all the time. There are many different kinds of hope-filled futures.
Regardless of life circumstances God offers inner, spiritual blessings: peace, contentment, fulfillment, wisdom, love, forgiveness, mercy, or an ability to see the holy come bursting through the everyday.
What words are you using to predict a bright future for the children you love? Next week, I will share your ideas and mine as well.
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas here, are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: Anticipating #hope-filled future not the same as choosing a child’s future. Food for thought offered here. 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
This question presents an interesting dilemma from the parent-teen perspective. Someone in our blog community shared this story with me. As you read it, consider how you might handle the situation.
Yesterday my daughter asked if she had to go to church. She said she was tired and needed some unscheduled downtime.
After asking her some questions,
it did seem like the issue was more about her time-management skills (too many activities and social events and time spent texting) than about anything specifically at church, which she generally seemed to like.
But her question led to some conversations
about whether or not church was required in our family or optional. My analytic daughter (who will almost certainly go into the sciences) asked, “So if one of us decided we didn’t believe in Christianity at all and we didn’t want to go anymore, would we have to go?” And of course she kept pressing for an answer, even though I had never really thought that scenario through– or talked about it with her dad (who was conveniently not present at the time so I couldn’t get his opinion).
Eventually I said, “If the reason not to go was that you don’t believe it, we wouldn’t force you to go. That wouldn’t feel good. At the same time, if it’s a matter of just going when you feel like it and skipping it when you would rather sleep in, that wouldn’t feel good either. So the answer kind of depends on the deeper reasons. In this case, let’s talk about how you could prioritize your time so you have that downtime you need.”
I’m not sure what we’ll do
if one of our kids really decides to opt out. Most likely they wouldn’t say they didn’t believe in Christianity at all, but simply that church wasn’t a priority at this point in their life. Hmmmm…
After that conversation, the issue seemed to pass.
My daughter hasn’t asked again about having to go to church. But we have had some conversations about what she likes about the experience of attending, and whether she’s going for her own sake or ours. We’ve talked about other families who have different rules and what their reasons might be.
She did, however, opt out of youth group this semester.
In thinking through her time-management and current activities (some of which she shouldn’t drop mid-school-year), she decided something had to go. Together we decided two things. One: She would not have to attend youth group if she didn’t want to. Two: She would have her phone taken away at 10pm on school nights, which would allow for better sleep.
Tweetable: Teen’s question, “Do I have to go to church?” led to a very thoughtful discussion with her mom here. Click to Tweet
I have 4 nieces on my husband’s side of the family. All are high level competitors—two are professional cyclists and two played volleyball on athletic scholarships at UCLA and Hawaii.
One of my nieces, Alison Tetrick,recently reflected about “almost winning.” It spoke to me of child-centered spirituality and I’ve summarized her ideas here.
Our whole lives we are taught to strive to win, to be the best.
Be the best in sport, school, career and even family life. At one point some of us settle for the 80% or even just completion credit. If not, just use a clever filter and crop on Instagram and play the part. No one can be in top form all the time, right? But the athletes we idolize and the CEOs we google-stalk are all considered winners in our book.
We want to be winners too.
Honestly, that’s why I like being in sport. There are clear and concise deliverables. Whoever crosses the line first, wins. Although it may not guarantee your Olympic bid, you had a moment of winning. But what about the people who really tried? Who gave their best effort? Whose struggle captured the crowd’s heart? The underdog with the compelling story? What about those who almost won?
Is there such a thing as almost winning?
For me, this concept goes back to my first-grade spelling bee. I remember prancing proudly into the house at 7 years old with my second-place ribbon, only to reach the realization that second place was really just the first loser. In this situation being the first loser may have been prevented if I had asked them to use the word in a sentence. I had difficulty pronouncing the difference between “ripe” and “wipe” so I spelled the wrong word. Even so, this is a lesson I will always remember.
I have been on both sides of the results and scoreboard.
I have been the rider who even though was victorious, was close to being upset and the crowds murmured about the possibility of dethroning the queen. And I have been the rider who almost won with courage and gusto, but was just passed at the line in dramatic fashion.
The concept of almost winning has been floating in my mind since my return from the Aviva Women’s Tour in Great Britain. Almost winning a Women’s World Tour race and donning the leader’s jersey! Can you imagine!? But, I didn’t win.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. Even if you didn’t win, you were a crucial part of sport. You showed courage and tenacity and maybe a little stupidity, but that is what it is all about. Why else do you line up to a race?
Winning isn’t everything. Almost winning is something too.
Even if it is just against yourself. You risked, you raced. You put yourself out there to either succeed or fail. That’s why we spectate and participate in sport. We don’t compete to just get a gold star for finishing. We compete to push our limits. To test ourselves. Sometimes the test is your overall effort, not the result. You know when you almost beat yourself, and when you played it safe.
I would rather almost win, than just survive.
Of course I can say that now with hindsight clarity. In the moment I wanted to crawl into a hole. The end result is only one part of the endeavor. You have to have courage under fire and be bold. By doing this, you will have a hell of a story, and you also may surprise yourself and those around you.
Race bikes. Use it in a sentence. Win. Almost win. Lose. But make it count.
Tweetable: For a young athlete in the family, a pro cyclist gives a different perspective on “almost winning” here. Click to Tweet
Young people raised with moral or religious principles and practices typically arrive at adolescence ready to find answers to a questions like “How do I know and experience and be ‘right’ with God? How should that look different for me than it does for my parents?”
After all, the faith they have now cannot be the faith they had when they were 4 or 8 or 10.
Nor will it be their faith when they’re 21 or 48 or 83. Faith is a force that will continue to develop and mature over the course of a lifetime, and sometimes it needs to change in order to continue to invigorate and sustain people as they enter different stages of their own development.
Show them how
So how– now in their teens– can you show the kids in your life how to experience and navigate a relationship with God? Here are some thoughts I have… feel free to adapt them for your own use.
- Explain “relationship” with God as an internal conversation that includes questions, doubts, heart longings/prayers. God is big enough to handle it all.
- Ask them questions… and really listen to their answers.
- Do NOT pretend you have it all together and do NOT pretend you know everything. They will know you are lying.
- Open up to share appropriately (less is more) when you’re going through something that life throws at you and how you experience God in that situation.
- Confirm that a relationship with God is a good idea, even when you don’t know all the answers. Open dialogue is good.
- Invite them to come along with you when you’re doing community service… or just doing something nice for others. Making a meal for someone who just had a baby is a tangible way of showing the love of God. Make that connection.
- Don’t major on the minors. When kids get sidetracked on minor points of doctrine and belief, try to call their attention back to the main points and general principles.
“But I’m not a religious person.”
if you don’t think of yourself as having spiritual awareness, ask trusted family friends whose spiritual life you respect to stand in for you. Meanwhile, communicate positive intent toward God and faith, much like divorced couples who have learned it is best for the children to speak positively of the other parent, though they personally feel quite differently.
The evidence confirms the value of faith to young people.
Studies of religiousness/spirituality have found a positive correlation with an adolescent sense of well-being, positive life attitudes, altruism, resiliency, school success, health and positive identity, as well as a negative correlation with alcohol and drug use, delinquency, depression, excessive risk-taking and early sexual activity.
Their questions are deeper than we think.
“A number of years ago I overheard my then teenage son discussing with his friends the origin of AIDS. Not how AIDS developed…. rather they were arguing why — a deep spiritual question. Was this disease a simple development of nature? A cosmic punishment? Or even a divine opportunity for compassion?
The conversation surprised me,” said Dr. Ken Doka. “I was confounded by the intensity of the debate. I should not have been. We often fail to acknowledge the intense spirituality that underlies adolescence. It’s a spiritual time of development, complete with idealism and questions of identity and meaning.
Tweetable: The faith adolescents have now cannot be the faith they had when they were 4 or 8 or 10. Here’s why. Click to Tweet