“Perhaps the most valuable explorations come when children learn that each person is created in the image of God, deserving respect and caring. When children know that they are created in God’s image, their own self-worth is bolstered, and it is safer, and easier, to ask questions about God and the rest of their world,” observed Maxine Handelman. This morning I was reading Handelman’s book, Jewish Every Day, where I found an idea to share.
Making it fun to discover God’s secrets
Have children collect leaves that, at first glance, seem to be exactly alike. As children examine the leaves they will discover that, indeed, no two leaves are identical. Then show children a sheet of postage stamps or a stack of paper plates. The children will discover that these person-made things are all identical.
They have just discovered one of God’s secrets. When people make things using machines, the objects all come out the same. When God makes things in nature, no two things are the same. The question then becomes, “Why did God do that?”
Making it comfortable to talk about God
The easiest–and also the hardest–way to help children explore their questions about God is to make “God-talk” a regular, normal part of our conversation. When [family members] refer to God in a comfortable, regular manner, then children will know it is safe for them to talk about God and safe for them to explore their own understandings of God.
“God may come into the home whether or not a family consciously invites God in,” Marvel Ginsberg notes. “It’s often the children who bring God in through their discoveries and with their questions. If we do not support exploration and wonder with warmth and respect, then eventually God is likely to be conspicuously absent.”
How does your family make God-talk a regular part of daily life?
Tweetable: It’s often the children who bring God into the home through their questions. Make it normal to do so. Click to Tweet
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” –C.S. Lewis
Authors Charles R. Ridley and Robert E. Logan inspired me to reflect on the push-pull of desiring to cultivate compassion in children while simultaneously shielding them from emotional pain. If we want to invest in the development of a child’s compassionate heart, there are costs involved. We decide for ourselves whether the cost is worth it.
Cost—A child’s awareness of emotional pain
When a family is touched by disappointment or loss, isn’t our natural inclination to run, to find a way to protect ourselves and our children? “To care—at a deep and authentic level of our spirits—opens us up to pain,” says Ridley. Certainly we monitor how many details the child knows. We also stay emotionally connected with them through their discomfort as they find composure in the knowledge that they need not fear emotional pain.
Cost—A child’s feelings of inadequacy
When children recognize that hardships have entered life—their life or someone else’s—they learn that they are not able to fix it or change it. We’re tempted to step in and pump them up with positive affirmations because we want them be confident and happy. Yet to develop a compassionate heart we must leave children with their feelings of being powerless. We come alongside them to help them form their own healthy way of handling these feelings.
Cost—An adult’s mandate to show compassion in action
We are busy people. “Still, we realize that kids learn from what we do more than from what we say. So we stop what we’re doing and tend to a person who needs help especially when it is not convenient to do so,” noted Signe Whitson. “We hold ourselves back before speaking in a frustrating interpersonal interaction. This is costly when we are tired and swamped by many responsibilities.”
Tweetable: If we want to invest in the development of a child’s compassionate heart, there are costs. See more here. Click to Tweet
Starting next week, new blog posts will go out every two weeks, rather than weekly. My focus is being pulled in many directions right now. Because. . . .
The pace of life speeds up
Personally, I am still adjusting my weekly schedule around a new job at a Hilton hotel property in Sonoma County’s (CA) wine country. I began teaching life skills at a transitional living house for single homeless women and children in Marin County. And I’m putting the final touches on the Child-Centered Spirituality book. There’s a lot to be done yet before publication.
The pace of publication
The book cover looks amazing. I’m thrilled with the graphic concept, which will be repeated inside through call-out boxes. The final edit work is almost ready to be sent over for formatting.
I’m downright excited at the thought of getting this book out into the world! If all goes as planned, it will be available November 1 on Amazon. Perfect for holiday gift-giving!
If you want to be the first to know when it’s ready for pre-order, be sure to pop over to the Home page and sign up. You will receive a complimentary PDF: Why Childhood Spirituality Matters.
The proper focus can change our pace
Everything I do, in every channel of my life, is part of a legacy that I’m making for my child. For my children, if I have more. I’m not motivated by much, certainly not money – but I’m motivated by that.
Eberhard Arnold 1883 -1935
Every child is a thought in the mind of God, and our task is to recognize this thought and help it toward completion.
Tweetable: Child-Centered Spirituality’s blog posting changes from weekly to every 2 weeks now. Check us out. Click to Tweet
Our foster daughter Angie had the most sympathy of any person I’ve ever known. At age 14, her spontaneous, heartfelt expressions of sadness for someone else’s misfortune far surpassed my own.
Angie and I had occasion to drive through some hardscrabble neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. From time to time we would see a man lying on the sidewalk and she would say out loud with great feeling, “Oh! Poor thing!”
Angie’s sympathy moved her to pray for hurting people.
Sometimes I’d ask her, “What is your prayer for this person?” Other times, Angie would say, “We should pray for that man,” and say a short prayer out loud (integrated right into our conversation) about her hope that he finds food today or a better place to sleep.
Prayer fosters a sense of security.
In his book Love in a Fearful Land, Henri Nouwen writes, “Prayer is the way to both the heart of God and the heart of the world.” Prayer is a word that describes a relationship.
Praise children for being willing to pray. They will sometimes pray things that you know are unrealistic or inappropriate. It is up to us to teach them a different way so that they gain trust in God’s goodness and sidestep the disillusionment (which sometimes lasts a lifetime) that God didn’t answer the prayer — God doesn’t care — God doesn’t even exist.
Prayer helps a child be calmer.
Prayer can be one action children take when they feel sympathy for strangers. Perhaps they see something like a car accident firsthand or hear upsetting national or world news. When you allow them to make a loving and prayerful response, you are helping the child be calmer. And reflect back to the child his or her admirable intention that some good comes to the stranger(s).
Tweetable: Allowing kids to make a prayerful response to upsetting events helps them be calmer. Click to Tweet
For most young people, school and its related activities are the scene of almost all personal involvement with others. You might say that school is a community– the broader environment in which kids find themselves. They can not only have a good experience there, but they can take the initiative to make it a good experience for others.
3 ways students can facilitate positive change in their school community
- Approach and include students who are being excluded.
- Tell someone who’s bullying or using put-downs that it’s not cool; not something that’s okay here.
- Speak to a campus administrator if there’s word of a fight, or if someone has carried a weapon to school. (Rick Phillips)
As more than bystanders — students can see specific results.
A Sacramento-area high school administrator shares, “Two of our students engaged in a war of words on Twitter that led one to ponder suicide…. One of our… students intervened by supporting the victim, directing the attacker to stop, and getting help. The student is now getting support. This was a dangerous situation very possibly stopped because of some Safe School Ambassador [students] on our campus.” (Chris Smith in The Press-Democrat)
Care, speak up, right a wrong
Parents share some ideas here that worked for them when children came to them with community concerns.
- Preschool – When the child sees classmates in distress, encourage hugs or words of comfort. Let them know that they can pass along to others whatever empathetic gestures you’ve been making toward them.
- Early elementary – As you listen to the child’s concerns about an injustice or putdown directed at a classmate, first mirror back what you see and hear. Identify your child’s underlying emotion: “You seem angry.” And finally, move to brainstorming ideas for action: “If that happened to you, what would you want someone to do for you to comfort you?”
- Older elementary – Talk about the difference between speaking up to get help for a friend in distress and tattling to get someone in trouble. Keep asking for help until someone responds. And always tell me so I can support you.
Tweetable: Safe ways for students to become more than bystanders when their classmates are in distress. Click to Tweet