“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
An acquaintance of mine, a preschool teacher, describes a time when she saw God’s heart reflected in a child’s actions.
“One of the children in my class became upset and started to cry. Her classmate, Miguel, immediately stopped what he was doing, grabbed a tissue and literally wiped her eyes. He then sat next to her and comforted her. Miguel is filled with a deep sense of compassion and justice. I praised Miguel for that compassion and for caring for his friend.”
1) See experiences through the child’s eyes.
Miguel’s empathy reflected God’s heart toward his friend. He had understanding and insight into his friend’s thoughts and feelings. He took action to comfort her.
Empathy is not an easy skill to use, especially for those who were raised to minimize feelings, or skip over feelings and go right to changing or fixing them. When we practice empathy we communicate to children that we care.
2) Respond with empathy to reflect God’s heart of love toward children:
- That hurts, doesn’t it?
- I’m so sorry.
- Good for you! You did it!
- I remember feeling that way when I was a child–it’s exciting, isn’t it?
- It’s scary to feel all alone.
3) Support the child’s bond with God and God’s bond with the child.
Obviously bonding requires presence. Mere information about someone does not make a strong bond. We reflect God’s heart toward children when we support God’s bond with the child. This is difficult because we’re dealing with a Higher Power who is invisible. But when you are with the child, it is also easy to find God’s presence.
- Look for kind acts and loving gestures wherever you go. Why? Because that’s where God is making an appearance. Develop a family habit to point out the good, not the stupid or rude.
- Notice and verbalize signs of God’s love: in nature, in movies, music, children’s literature, in happy surprises.
- Focus on God’s nurturing, comforting, gentle presence in difficult times and give God the benefit of the doubt.
Tweetable: Understand & support a child’s bond with God even when you don’t have one, or don’t have the same kind. Click to Tweet
The different ways children experience God can be called their spiritual style. With their mind and heart they form a positive relationship with God in the best, most natural way for each of them.
Many styles within the same spiritual tradition
Typically you and the children in your life share a family spiritual tradition but we do not necessarily live out our faith or our ethics in the same ways. Adults will be more effective in helping children make their own discoveries about God and life when we understand their natural impulses (and our own).
The Enthusiastic Style: The child celebrates the power and presence of God through excitement.
Note the items that apply to children in your life to determine whether they posses an enthusiastic style of spirituality.
- For this child, being excited about God is an important aspect of faith.
- The God of this child’s understanding is a God of action.
- It is important to the child to experience coincidences where he believes God is alive and active in the world.
- The child doesn’t want to be bored.
- The child desires to join in on God’s work in the world.
- It is important for the child to feel the presence of God.
- The child likes to pray for things we would call miracles.
Discovery questions for enthusiastic children
- Where did you find yourself laughing, crying, joyful or inspired by something God did?
- What needs do you see that you’d jump at the chance to meet?
- What have you done in your life that you’d love to do more of?
- What experiences do you want to have in your lifetime? How do they relate to God?
- What do you see God is doing all around you?
- Where did you feel God’s powerful presence in a situation?
Adapted from The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, by Christian A. Schwarz.
Tweetable: Enthusiastic children feel God’s power and presence even when we do not, so don’t discourage them. Click to Tweet
Has anyone ever asked you about your personal spiritual style? Has anyone ever offered to support you in exactly that area, the area of your strongest receptiveness for the divine? Or has it been your experience that most [people] are so focused on their own approach to God that they believe it is the right one, or at least the best one, for everyone else?
Researcher Christian Schwarz posed these questions as he explained why he considers his study identifying spiritual styles to be important in understanding how both adults and children seek and find God. In recent posts, we discussed Sensory, Rational and Bold Idealistic styles. Here we add another.
The Sharing Style: A child passes on the grace of God through service.
Note the statements that apply to children in your life to help identify whether they may possess a sharing style of spirituality.
- The child strongly senses God’s presence whenever they show grace and forgiveness to others.
- Often the child’s prayers are for people who aren’t experiencing love from other people and/or God.
- The child is drawn to service projects and other ways to share with others.
- The child notices and comments when people do random acts of kindness in everyday life.
- The child expresses a desire to respond to the hurts and needs of people.
- The child looks for ways to include everyone.
- You can see the child’s faith grow when he experiences God in his interactions with people.
Discovery questions for sharing children:
If you can identify four or more of the statements above you can probably recall several times when the child connected with God through sharing.
The following questions may be useful as you seek to strengthen the area of their strongest receptiveness for the divine.
- How did you experience God by giving?
- How did you see God in other people’s kind actions?
- What does this show you about God?
- How were you feeling when someone shared with you?
- How does that connect with who God is?
- When were you able to forgive someone who wronged you?
Coming up: The Enthusiastic style
Adapted from The 3 Colors of Your Spirituality, by Christian A. Schwarz.
Tweetable: A child’s spiritual style is important in understanding how they seek and find God. More here. Click to Tweet
Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. Even young children feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain and loss.
Older kids might not like the design of their body, the parents they got or didn’t get. They are surprised when they first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind.
They are sad when the people who are supposed to keep them safe don’t do their job. They feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to them. Their anxiety level rises.
We cannot take away children’s uncomfortable feelings.
But we can reassure them that they are loved by their parents, family members, friends and very importantly—by God.
Guard against offering them false promises.
For example, when serious marital problems persist, avoid over-promising: “Your mom and I will work things out, and we’ll all be a family again.”
Likewise, we should be familiar with what God promises– and doesn’t promise– and stay true to this when we inform children about God. For instance, we can mislead children: “Say a prayer so that Grandpa will get well.” or “Stop doing that or God will punish you.”
Offer true promises backed up by God’s word and character.
I use several child-centered promises from the sacred writings of the Talmud and New Testament to reassure children in times of trouble. You can find others as well.
- God cares about you.
- God is love and all love comes from God.
- God is trustworthy.
- You will seek Me [God] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
- God understands everything you feel inside.
- I [God] am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.
Tweetable: Be accurate about what God promises people and avoid misleading children. Six true promises here. Click to Tweet