I was an English major in college so I appreciate good, strong words. Blessing is such a word:
“Landing a job allowing me to work at home has been a mixed blessing [has advantages and disadvantages]. Or “I live in a country where I enjoy the blessings of liberty” [benefits]. Or “The town council passed the ordinance with the mayor’s blessing [approval]. Or “Grandfather, will you say a blessing [praise God] before we eat our meal?”
But the kind of blessing we are chasing in this series resembles this:
My friend’s mother always gave me a hug when I saw her and asked, ‘Hey buddy, how’s your day going?’ I will never forget how much her blessing [special favor or mercy] meant to me when my own mother was preoccupied with a serious crisis in her life”
There’s an element of skill involved in showing admiration and expressing favor in a way a child can receive. Blessings comes from one’s heart.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee: Another way to bless
In her book The Path Laurie Beth Jones wrote, “It is said that the grandmother of Jackie Joyner-Kersee named the child Jackie, “Because someday she is going to be the first lady of something!”
Jackie grew up in an atmosphere of positive expectation and blessing. She overcame a birth defect and went on to become the first lady of track and field, winning 3 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze Olympic medals at four different Olympic Games. Sports Illustrated for Women magazine voted Joyner-Kersee the Greatest Female Athlete of All-Time.
Try one of these 5 actions to bless children right now.
- Make eye contact and listen.
- Make up a positive, loving nickname.
- Use words: “You are going to make a significant impact with your life because of your empathy and kindness.” (Or courage and honesty, or fill-in-the blank with the child’s unique qualities).
- Use one of the ideas they give when you ask for their opinion.
- Let a child use something of yours for a short time because you trust the child.
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas under “5 actions to bless children right now,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: To speak a word of blessing/favor to a child so they can receive it involves an element of skill. Ideas here. Click to Tweet
Popular culture is full of tunes about blessing. From rapper Big Sean to Rascal Flatts, Celine Dion, Martha and the Vandellas, Irving Berlin and back again, we’ve got the topic covered.
Basically, blessing means to wish well. Sometimes a young person will approach the parents to ask, “Will you give us your blessing?” before popping the question of marriage.
A blessing is often given as a statement of divine favor–a benediction. For example, when his friend embarked upon a new job, John O’Donohue offered: “May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.”
Yet the reality of everyday life tells a different story.
Most of us don’t bless people as a way of life. Personally I may be kind or helpful. But I would like to increase my skill of intentionally blessing people.
What if blessings have power to answer contemporary dilemmas, such as increased polarization within our society? As I shopped for gifts during the holiday season, I blessed store clerks, “May you have no angry customers all day” which never failed to cause their eyes to turn from scanning items and to lock on mine as I continued, “Be blessed today.”
In response, one clerk put her hand to her lips and sent a kiss to me. Another stopped for a few seconds of stunned silence as her eyes danced and she said, “I receive that!” The power of a blessing lies in a heartfelt wish for the person’s happiness and comfort. This stands in stark contrast to the negative, even hostile, words rising in society.
A blog series–a challenge to bless
Over the next several blog posts I invite you to explore with me some ways to practice how to bless others for their well-being and success. As always, the posts will be child-centered and spiritually oriented.
Blessings flow from the heart, not from a cognitive formula. Every new experience increases our skill in understanding how and when to wish the best for others.
May these words of hope and love bring out the best in you in 2017, as you seek to bless those who need it the most.
Tweetable: Looking to increase your intentionality of blessing, not blasting, with your words in 2017? Follow this. Click to Tweet
Comedians Amy Poehler and Bill Hader met when they worked at Saturday Night Live. They talked to journalist Neil Pond about how their parents’ specific words of praise made an impact on their future.
Hader: “I grew up in Tulsa, Okla. I was maybe 5 or 6, and we drove past Oral Roberts University, and in front are these giant praying hands. My grandmother said, ‘What are those?’ And I said, ‘They’re the praying hands.’ And she was like, ‘Oh.’ And I said, ‘And at midnight, they clap.’ She didn’t laugh; I think she thought I was serious, because I said it very dry. But my mom started laughing so hard. And we got home and she told my dad and he laughed really hard and asked me, ‘You just said that, huh?’ That was a moment I realized, Oh, that was funny.”
Poehler: “What you said about your parents saying ‘That’s funny’ is important, because kids can tell when parents notice that. When a parent says, ‘That was funny’ and means it, that’s the kind of encouragement that can send you on a crazy, 40-year journey.
The human spirit responds to praise relying on specific description.
Eric Sondheimer wrote: “Myrna Rivera was a teenager herself when she became a mother. Now she puts in long hours as an office worker to support her family, and there is little time to rest, let alone collect her thoughts and write a letter to her boy. A request from her son’s football coach coaxed her into describing his character and her feelings for him:
“I admire your efforts to be a better person. I am happy to have you in my life, though I know sometimes I may get on your nerves, but I just want you to know that all your dad and me want is a better life for you.”*
Another mother, receiving the coach’s same request, wrote in Spanish, “I’m very proud. You’re the nicest kid I’ve ever raised and during hard times you don’t ever ask for anything.”
The coach passed out letters to all his players at practice one July day. “What happened next took everyone by surprise. For the next 15 minutes or so, wherever you looked you saw players sobbing—against walls, in corners, bent over in chairs.”
A family activity teaches young kids how to give descriptive praise
The Sprinkler Wand: Young children will delight in a wand with streamers hanging from it to sprinkle family members with kindness. Teach the children what can and cannot be sprinkled on each other. Practice phrases such as, “good for you,” “you did it.” Show them how to sprinkle appreciation in the form of joy, humor, peace, happiness, brain power, safety and love. (Conscious Discipline)
Tweetable: The human spirit responds to praise relying on specific description more than on a “good job!”
All kids are by nature creative. But if you have highly creative kids in your life, you might recognize these common traits identified by Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Kaufman, authors of Wired to Create:
- an openness to one’s inner life
- a preference for complexity and ambiguity
- an unusually high tolerance for disorder and disarray
- the ability to extract order from chaos
- a willingness to take risks
The big surprise
The big surprise in a creative kid’s imagination network may be that an openness to one’s inner life shows up as the strongest of all the common traits.
Child-centered spirituality nurtures the inner life of a creative child.
Here are some specific ideas for different age groups.
- Praise originality. Turn off the talking toys once in a while and help the child make up silly voices for plush toys, action figures or dolls.
- When an ambulance or fire truck speeds by, help children think of a way to express empathy in their own words to communicate good thoughts or prayers for anyone sick or hurt.
- Book: Have You Filled a Bucket Today? Valerie Deneen suggests here that filling a kindness bucket is a creative way to visualize how the child’s actions affect others.
- Mealtime game: Alice Honig suggests putting out 3-4 objects on the table; then ask, “Which one of these would you give up if you had to give one back? Why? What could you do with the other two things? Could you use them together? How? (Note: adults should participate as a player, not as an authority figure.)
- Picklebums gives us Dress-Up Glasses as a way to choose to see everything in a positive or negative way. After creating the glasses, do several role plays discussing what “being optimistic” means.
- Suggest that they document their gratitude through art. What things are you grateful for in your life? Have you ever had a spiritual experience in your life? Document it through making a film, writing, painting, making a playlist of music, creating a collage, etc…. any type of work that represents these things.
- Make something for someone else. You will honor those around you who support you. (Note: Both of these ideas from Fritz Perlz.)
What activities can you share with our readers to strengthen their inner life? Feel free to list them in the comments below this post.
Tweetable: Ideas here that engage a child’s spirit in creative activities. Click to Tweet
A grandmother in our blog community shared her birthday request with us. She asked her teenage grandsons (currently in foster care) for a special gift that she would appreciate more than any kind of present — a letter telling her how they feel about her.
She told them that the letter could be short or long, handwritten or emailed. With permission, here are lightly edited excerpts from one boy, meant to encourage each of us as we seek to do the best for the children we love.
From Day One you have been there for my brother and me, never giving up on us. Even if we make mindless decisions, you believe there’s good in us. I couldn’t believe it myself a few years ago. Things have changed a lot between the last 4-5 years, for better or worse, but not you.
You’re still involved in our lives, still reminding us to strive for greatness. I don’t understand how you do it. I truly don’t. Your job as a parent is done; you raised two children already and worked more than half your life. Your hip is not what it used to be and you’re still able to come out to our football games and track meets. You really show us the meaning of family.
We live with people who care for us, sure. They have a role in our lives that’s important. The point is they get paid to house us and provide us with the basic things we need. You never got a thing for what you’ve done for me. It’s a small fact that goes without being said, but it makes all the difference.
I don’t need to remind myself of my situation or my past. My world has had pain in it, has had addictions in it, and it has had hate in it. I regret too many things I’ve done, things that shape who I am today.
But I know what kind of person I want to be, what kind of future I see for myself, and everything I have accomplished already wouldn’t be possible without you. I drive you insane most of the time, but nothing is stronger than the bond we have. Grandma, I will love you forever.
Tweetable: Ask & you shall receive. Smart grandma asks teen grandson for birthday letter instead of gift and wow! Click to Tweet
I received many expressions of sympathy after my mother died last year. One of the most meaningful (pictured) came from a child in my life. Her parents said it was her idea. But behind the scenes of that child’s loving act was parental support facilitating her idea to find its way into my hands (and my grieving heart).
The spirit’s domain
Most of us long for more harmony, unity, and kindness in our world. Intangibles like these flow from our innermost being and some of us sense the presence of God through them.
Show children how to lift a person’s spirit in their everyday life.
One of our readers offered an example from her family: While getting donuts at the local donut shop, Tyler and I noticed a homeless person walking through the parking lot. We were late to a baseball game my husband was coaching so we hurried to our car.
I looked at Tyler who was putting our leftover change in the console between the seats. “We should do something for that guy.” Tyler said “Why don’t we give him our change? It’s not much but it’s something.” Tyler gathered the change and walked over to speak with him and [lift the man’s spirit].
When a child shows us the way to lift a human spirit and we are humbled.
How can we amplify acts of kindness so children’s perspectives focus outward more often — on the gifts they have to contribute to the world? On the good they can do for others? On understanding the feelings and perspectives of others?
- Applauding adult involvement when children want to do good toward other people. See examples here. Click to Tweet
- How we make the world a better place when we let kids do something nice for others even when it is inconvenient. Click to Tweet