When two of our nieces were small, they and their parents would get together with us about once a month and it always included a meal. When it was my turn to cook, I made lots of recipes not in the girls’ normal diet. On the drive to our house, their mom would play a guessing game with them, which she says was a high point of the drive—What kind of meat do you think we’re going to have? salad? dessert? Their mother was preparing them to try new tastes and textures, and to eat, with gratitude, whatever was put before them.
The power of diversity
“Diversity gives the brain a powerful workout. And, just like a physical workout, it can be incredibly good for us,” says Julie Van de Vyver, assistant professor of Psychology at Durham University.
We may tend to gravitate toward people with whom we share life experiences and values, but Julie goes on to say, “When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information. [We see this in] teens who study abroad and demonstrate enhanced creativity.”
Take the same attitude toward spiritual exploration.
As adults we need to develop and guide children’s innate spirituality. We encourage open dialogue and exploration as children engage in their own journeys of ongoing discovery—even it if makes us uncomfortable, and even if we run the risk of them coming to different conclusions from our own. Our role is not to make their choices for them—which we cannot do anyway—but to guide them in their own unique process of spiritual development.
- Read books or watch movies about children with different religious backgrounds from your family.
- Welcome friends to share your religious holiday traditions and then switch and participate in theirs.
Opening ourselves to new experiences can seem hard to do, but it can help children cross divides and create a feeling of connectedness with others and with the divine.
* Inspiration for this post here.
Tweetable: Reflections on the power of diversity, even in spiritual exploration with children. Become an advocate for them to form their own expressions. Click to Tweet
The headline in my local newspaper reads, “Worst [flood] in a generation,” as the Russian River turned storm-battered towns into islands. Once again, older kids ask: “What was God thinking?” Why does God allow innocent people to suffer?
When I talk with children I draw from the thinking of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:.
God is not in disasters.
There’s a great conversation recorded in the Old Testament* between God and a holy man, Elijah. God taught Elijah that he, God, is not in windstorms, earthquakes or fires, but in the gentle whisper that heals.
We live in a physical world.
“Natural disasters,” said the 12th century sage Moses Maimonides, “have no explanation other than that God, by placing us in a physical world, set life within the parameters of the physical. Planets are formed, earthquakes occur, and sometimes innocents die.”
What do we do about it?
A better question than asking why this happened is – What can we do about it? “That is why, in temples, churches and mosques, along with our prayers for the injured and grieving, we ask people to donate money to assist the work of relief.”
We become God’s partners in healing.
“Our response is not to seek to understand and thereby accept,” says Rabbi Sacks. Instead we are the people God has called on to be God’s partners. We can say, ‘God, I do not know why this disaster happened, but I do know what you want of me: to help the suffering, comfort the grieving, send healing to the injured and aid those who have lost their livelihoods and homes.’ ”
We imitate God’s love and care.
“After an earlier flood, in the days of Noah, God made God’s first covenant with humankind. Genesis records** that God had seen ‘a world filled with corruption and violence’ and asked Noah to institute a social order that would honor human life as the image of God. Not as an explanation of suffering but as a response to it.
The covenant of human solidarity
“In our collective sadness for any type of disaster, we renew the covenant of human solidarity. Having seen how small and vulnerable humanity is in the face of nature, might we not also see how small are the things the divide us, and how tragic to add grief to grief?”
*1 Kings chapter 19, verses 9-13. **Genesis 6:11
Tweetable: Be ready to talk with kids when they ask about disasters, human suffering, and hardships. Bullet points here guide you. Click to Tweet
A neighbor of mine shared his mother’s words of wisdom in our local paper. It got me thinking about how I’m passing along wisdom to the children in my life.
My neighbor’s (partial) list
- You don’t dress to impress. You dress to show your respect to others.
- Life’s not fair. Get over it and move on.
- Don’t let your career find you. Find what you were made to do.
- Knowledge comes from school. Maturity sometimes comes with age. Wisdom comes from the Bible.
- Something worth doing is seldom easy.
- Your logic can be perfect, but your facts could be wrong.
Obviously these are not the only words of wisdom that my neighbor lives by, but he’s found a way to frame life by a series of sayings leading to a satisfying life.
There’s power in wisdom
We want the kids we love to end up knowing how to judge rightly and follow the soundest course of action. We teach by example, springing from our:
Wait for a kid’s “hmm” or moment of silence
I usually know when I’ve made connection with a child. Typically it’s followed by a few second of silence as they process a new thought. Sometimes they look off into the distance for a moment. We can leave an even deeper impression when we make eye contact or touch their shoulder or arm as we’re speaking. I learned from Becky Bailey that “connections on the outside with others build neuro-connections on the inside.”
Wisdom is what I hope to impart to kids
When we open our ears and eyes to what kids are feeling, acting out on and thinking about, we build on their life experiences and their perceptions of the world. Our power lies in asking follow-up questions or making 10-words-or-less observations about what they’ve shared. This promotes wisdom in them, a legacy I find worth leaving.
Tweetable; Each day, so much information comes to us and the kids we love. Check out the benefits that Wisdom has to offer. Knowledge is necessary, but search for Wisdom like a treasure. Read more. Click to Tweet
Over the past 15 years, large strides have been made in the science behind how the brain develops and the settings and contexts that are conducive to learning. It’s brought exciting insights for enriching the human spirit!
Daily settings for increased brain development
Social relationships, emotional experiences and cognitive opportunities provide purposeful learning paths for the brain. Drive conversations causing kids to reflect upon, make sense of, and learn from the often misunderstood spiritual dimension. A child’s world may be seriously impoverished if we don’t.
As the brain develops, so does the human spirit.
The child’s spirit needs hope, and the comfort of knowing that a loving God is with them, watching over them wherever they are, wherever they go. Ask them, “When did you feel God’s love today?” They need to know what to do when they mess up and how to handle guilt. They want to know what God is like, and how to make a personal connection with God.
What we can do
Feed the child’s human spirit when, in responding to their questions and comments about God, we convey God’s love, affection, warmth and tenderness for the child. Make use of nurturing touch, empathy, empowerment, and unconditional love with children, to reflect the heart of our unseen God. Explore your own family’s religious or spiritual traditions to find accurate information about God. Where you find a disconnect here, go to trusted friends and sacred writings for wisdom.
Genuinely pursue a whole-child approach.
Not only are kids more likely to feel at peace with God, but they are more likely to care for others, and to pass that spiritual nurture down to future generations of children in their lives.
*(I read about the brain basis for integrated whole child development emerging from the lab of Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang in USC’s alumni magazine.)
By now, family members are accustomed to me asking for holiday Wish Lists or kids’ current clothing sizes in October. Why am I making preparations so early?
Sure, I get online and order before the Sold Out box shows up and I’ve reduced the stress level I caused myself with the “Help!–I need more hours in my day” cry.
But it’s nothing like that.
With preparations done, I’m free to carry a message of grace and love to the vast number of people who need it in December.
Done with our personal preparations, we can look, listen and respond to others who feel things like this:
- “The problem with all the Christian holiday displays is that…others feel alien in comparison. We’re the other Americans, the hyphened Americans. I love the multi-culturalism of our nation, the myriad ethnicities and histories. Let’s really celebrate it.” (Shahar Lubin)
- “I don’t mind the pageantry of Christmas….As long as my views [as a skeptic] are respected and the fact that I don’t attend church regularly doesn’t make me a lesser person in [a Christian’s] eyes, I’m perfectly fine.” (Ryan Johnson)
- “And worst of all, the endlessly expanding extravagance of gifts and parties actually makes these days incredibly stressful for millions of people leading to higher depression and suicide rates. Christmas kills, if inadvertently so.” (Edward Clint)
Be present for your neighbor and for those you don’t know well.
Walk in the opposite spirit. I’m with EJ Dionne who said, “I find it decidedly un-Christian to insist on aggressively pushing Christmas greetings onto those who own religious commitments are different from mine.”
With a headstart on preparations, we can keep an open mind and an open calendar.
A special ed teacher, writing in O Magazine, tells of being on the receiving end of a boy who was paying attention.
“One year a boy in my 5th grade class lost his mother in a car accident…..At Christmastime he saw the other students giving me gifts, so he came in with a two-liter bottle of ginger ale. He said he looked around his house and wanted to get me something special, and he knew I liked soda. I cried.
“Every year at this time, we are called to renew our hope that cold indifference and smug complacency can be overcome by a humble and gentle love powerful enough to inspire [us all].” (EJ Dionne)
Tweetable: Big rewards lie in store for people who make themselves buckle down and get holiday preparations done early. The reward I’m thinking of is not what you think. More here. Click to Tweet
Smile whenever you see courtesy in a child you’re close to. You are a walking, talking, indelible image of how to make your corner of the world a better place. Your courtesy efforts multiply because they are doing what you do.
Family members were happy to share these experiences.
- “The kids lower their voices when they are on their cellphones in public. When I was trying to learn to do this, I used to say that if I’m having trouble hearing someone, raising my voice doesn’t fix it.”
- “When my daughter is wearing headphones, I’ve seen her become more aware of staying tuned to social courtesies. When I accidentally cross someone’s personal space, I apologize and she is picking up on this.”
- “My family doesn’t show up at a party empty-handed, unless we’ve been instructed to. We bring a food item (but not always to serve then) or a plant. My daughter spoke up from the backseat recently when I completely forgot to do this so we stopped and picked something up.”
- “If our children are invited to a friend’s house to play, they also feel invited to help with the cleanup. That’s been a tough one to learn but it’s coming along.”
- “Since people offend me at times, once in a while when my child is with me, I’m open about my ups and downs on the road to forgiving. I generally let my son in on the conversation as I’m working it out and even ask him what he would do.”
- “My nephew was watching as someone started a rant with me about politics. Later I talked to him about why I did not inject my own political opinions but simply summarized this friend’s position to her, letting her know I heard her.”
What easy acts of courtesy can you add to this list?
“Courtesy is a small act but it packs a mighty wallop.” –Lewis Carroll
Tweetable: Pivot away from today’s disheartening rhetoric toward the elaborate courtesy your own children offered to many people they were with. Go here for a smile. Click to Tweet