The 4th Annual Backpack Blessing took place in a Georgia church at the start of this school year. The event involves taking your backpack into church, suggesting that God’s presence moves into all spheres of life. A staff member told The Huffington Post that the blessing is meant to engage kids in the concrete reality of their lives, and to narrate that God is with them.
A symbol of God’s presence
In addition to the blessing, each child was handed a compass as a sign of God’s presence in their daily life. The blessing given went something like this:
Bless these children and youth and their backpacks as they begin another school year. Keep them from fear. Guide them in the ways of justice and truth. When they are in new places and with new people, help them to remember that you will never leave them. May they always know that they are your children in the world.
Notice the five elements in this blessing, affirming the children’s worth, capability and connection with God.
- A spoken message
- Attaching high value
- Picturing a special future
- An active commitment
- A concrete object
In the context of childhood spirituality, a blessing can be given to a single child or to a group.
When applied in a family, a group living situation, a school classroom, or a fellowship (e.g. faith community, special interest club) these five ingredients always bring hope, warmth and healing.
Keep reading next week for specific ideas on special moments or rituals you can use to bestow each element onto the children you love.
Ways to bless children right now.
- Compliment the child on a character trait you notice (a spoken message).
- Slow down on a task like cooking to let us accomplish it together (an active commitment).
- Check your photo albums to make sure each child appears in the pictures almost equally (attaching high value).
Note: The concept of the blessing, along with some of the ideas under “Ways to bless children right now,” are taken from John Trent’s book The Blessing.
Tweetable: In the context of childhood spirituality, a blessing can be given or to a group. See the example here. 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
Whether it’s “I’m the stupidest kid in my whole math class” or “Okay, I can do this,” we’re familiar with the collection of messages children play in their heads. Self-talk is everything a child believes to be true ….
- …. about the way things work in the world
- …. about themselves in relationship to the world
- …. about a higher power, and that being’s impact on their lives
Self-talk statements usually go unchallenged
Self-talk messages are powerful because kids believe them to be true and consequently, act as if they are true. However, their interpretations can be wrong, causing them to accept as truth conclusions that are actually myths.
For years, I’ve been teaching this in support groups for children, using curriculum by Linda Sibley, who has given permission to share these solutions. I’ve seen firsthand how they work.
Over the next several weeks we will dig into our role in helping children challenge their developing self-talk so they learn to evaluate whether what they are saying to themselves is accurate. Conversation starters and games will give you moments to build on in the years to come.
But first, reflect on your own self-talk as you respond to your life experiences.
You may want to increase self-awareness by answering some of following questions as they relate to your growing-up years:
- What were the verbal messages given to you? (take care of yourself; you’re clumsy; you can do no wrong; get lost)
- Was it okay to be good in some school subjects, but not in others?
- Were you teased by your peers for anything?
- Were you part of the in-crowd – or the out-crowd?
- What did you learn from media about money, violence and sex and the part they play in life?
- Did you measure yourself by rich, famous or beautiful people?
- Was your church or temple accepting and empowering? Judgmental and strict?
- Were you ever shamed, embarrassed or put down by clergy or a self-proclaimed religious person?
What wisdom did you gain from the above life lessons and personal experiences? How did you learn to change your negative self-talk to positive?
- Kids believe self-talk is true causing them to accept as truth conclusions that are actually myths. Click to Tweet
- You can do something to quiet the negative, critical voice in a child’s inner speech. Click to Tweet
We all have a spiritual history. Awareness of our history—experiences, stories, defaults, blindspots–allows us to be fair with the important children in our lives.
A personal example–one of my blindspots
My spiritual history contains a chapter of my life in which I insisted on getting people to agree with my religious perspective. I felt responsible for their faith decisions.
My shift from ignorance to awareness
I don’t recall when or how I shifted from ignorance to awareness. Suddenly I recognized each man, woman and child is on his or her own journey of spiritual discovery and it may take them somewhere different from mine. I backed away from playing God in the lives of my friends to understand God is guiding them on their own path. I carry the same attitude into my conversations with children now.
Notice how another parent was confronted with her own spiritual history– and ambivalence– as she tried to answer her child’s questions.
My husband and I were raised in a Catholic family although our parents never had us attend Mass unless it was for a wedding, etc. The other day, we were passing by this gorgeous church in downtown Oakland and my 3 1/2 year-old asked me what it was. I told her it was a church.
She said: “Is that a place to go for lunch?”
And then… I tried to find the words to explain that some people go there to think about loved ones that are gone, etc… Too complicated!!!!
Our view on spirituality is that we are non-religious persons believing that there is something or someone out there but we don’t really know what/who. And that religion is the answer to humans about everything we couldn’t understand, or to control population. How to explain this?
Questions to increase mindfulness of your spiritual history
- What do you remember about your first awareness of God?
- In what ways did your parents or other caregivers engage with your early spiritual development?
- What were your early ideas of what God was like? What positive emotions did you associate with God? What negative emotions?
- What stories did your parents tell you of their spiritual history?
Tweetable: Awareness of our spiritual history increases the likelihood we’ll be fair when we discuss religion with kids. Click to Tweet
A milestone occurs when children enter school and their relationship pool increases and deepens. They look for ways to connect with others and with God in new ways.
In grade school, you are still the one they most want to hear from about spirituality and the one they most watch to learn what it looks like to live with spirituality as part of daily life.
But now they act in a way that reveals their need to widen the circle to include their friends’ families and a faith community.
For some parents this seems like the right time to affiliate with a religion or faith community.
Community involvement has to do with how a child practices their spirituality, as expressed through various beliefs, practices and rituals. It is an attractive option for millions of families for addressing the longing in children’s hearts for spiritual understanding.
A faith community links up with a child’s needs for attachment and for trust.
It moves them forward to explore the other relational issue of importance to them: how a connection forms between God and a person. One woman remembers when she began to look for this connection:
Just because I was raised in a home in which God was never talked about, doesn’t mean that I never thought about God.
It is true that this influenced me to think that God was not a relevant part of how I go about living my life. And true that being raised in a home where relationship was deeply stunted influenced me to feel that God is distant, even non-existent.
However, these ideas about God being not relevant, non-existent or distant did not form a foundational belief in my core, even though my upbringing should have prescribed it.
There was nothing in my childhood experience to form in me a belief that God is relevant, real or near, but deep down inside these are precisely the attitudes that were rooted in my core, and even helped me to dig out of the relational laziness or isolation that I could have resigned myself to.
A faith Community is an attractive option for millions of families for addressing the longing in children’s hearts for spiritual understanding.
Tweetable: When is a good time to get my family involved in a faith community? Look here for a few thoughts about it. Click to Tweet