How can we facilitate a child's personal relationship with God?
How can we inspire them to enjoy their own spiritual journey?
Young people are greatly influenced by the pop-culture they experience every time they turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, listen to music, or hang out with their friends. This "non-culture" is enticing, persuasive, and even invasive because it grabs them at their emotional essence. If we as adults can possess the clarity, courage and understanding to provide children (from an early age) with real spiritual culture in the form of meanings and values, then the pop-culture may entice them, but it need not invade them. They will have the philosophic foundation to resist becoming tangled up in its web of materialistic and superficial intrigue.
Adult Responsibilities And Challenges
Our first responsibility and greatest challenge is to be loyal to the truth we teach our children, to live it moment by moment. Next we must provide an environment in which our children may discover, explore and understand that truth.
Consider the following:
- Fueling the "Spark" of God:
Many of us have had the experience of sitting by a smoldering fire on a starlit night watching as the last embers die out. We can blow on the embers to create a little flame but we soon realize that the fire needs fuel in order to burn brightly. When we experiment with different kinds of fuel as kindling — perhaps a pinecone, or an abandoned bird's nest, or better still, a sizeable log, we realize that it takes the right kind of fuel to create a radiant fire.
- Cultivating the Soil:
"The soil essential for religious growth presupposes a progressive life of self-realization, the co-ordination of natural propensities, the exercise of curiosity and the enjoyment of reasonable adventure, the experiencing of feelings of satisfaction, the functioning of the fear stimulus of attention and awareness, the wonder-lure, and a normal consciousness of smallness, humility." ~ The Urantia Book, 100:1.5
As we look for ways to fan this spiritual flame in our children, and cultivate the soil essential for their religious growth, it may be helpful to keep several standard educational principles in mind:
- Maintain Balance
- Stimulate these three main aspects of the brain - Thinking, Feeling, Doing
- Learning Modalities — Employ the 7 basic modes of learning which are:
- Verbal-Linguistic —The ability to use words and language
- Logical-Mathematical —The capacity for inductive and deductive thinking and reasoning, as well as the use of numbers and the recognition of abstract patterns
- Visual-Spatial —The ability to visualize objects and spatial dimensions, and create internal images and pictures
- Body-Kinesthetic —The wisdom of the body and the ability to control physical motion
- Musical-Rhythmic —The ability to recognize tonal patterns and sounds, as well as a sensitivity to rhythms and beats
- Interpersonal —The capacity for person-to-person communications and relationships
- Intrapersonal —The spiritual, inner states of being, self-reflection, and awareness
It is indeed important to teach truth, but even more essential to provide metaphors that help children recognize truth, understand ideals, and accept God's will. For their essential foundation of truth they will look first to their parents example of how they live their lives.
"Children are permanently impressed only by the loyalties of their adult associates; precept or even example is not lastingly influential. Loyal persons are growing persons, and growth is an impressive and inspiring reality." ~ The Urantia Book, 100:1.4The most useful part of adult guidance in the lives of children is found in the adult's attitude toward life. Children more naturally live in the moment; they easily succumb to life and truly live it. Adults need to stimulate them in this bright moment of wonder, anything less is a disservice to their growth. Parents are the ultimate teachers to their children and must be acutely aware of this moment of teach-ability as they go about their daily routines of living.
Everyday life is rich with metaphors, which can act to kindle the divine spark in children. For example, the way life is born anew in springtime, the age rings on a tree, the transformation of a caterpillar into butterfly, how water finds its way back to the ocean, all contain valuable spiritual metaphors. To openly express gratitude to God for the beauty of nature, to smile and greet an old person, to notice the unique patterns of the living world, these also represent excellent opportunities to help children to connect with the meaning and value of existence.
One parent used a simple metaphoric exercise to teach his three children a valuable spiritual lesson. He sat them all down at the family dining table and gave each a tube of toothpaste, a paper plate and a Popsicle stick. He asked them to squeeze the toothpaste onto the paper plate, and promised a ten-dollar bill to the first on who could get the toothpaste back into the tube using the stick. The children struggled for some time but to no avail, and finally gave up exasperated. He then explained to them that unkind words and words of anger are like the toothpaste, easy to get out, and impossible to take back.
The more connections we help them make between the material and spiritual world, the easier it will be for them to identify and connect with these realities. We can literally help them to weave the fabric of relationship, not only with family, friends, neighbors, and community but also with nature and ultimately with God. We can provide learning environments which act to enhance and stimulate their observational abilities so that, they may be alone, but not lonely; apart from, but not disconnected; struggling, but not hopeless. We can validate the truth that God desires to express through them, and help them to celebrate their own unique personality. We can teach them how to think, not merely what to think.
Like Jesus, we must learn to be true servant leaders, and show the way. First by the example of loyalty to divine meanings and values in our own lives, and next by giving them a stockpile of metaphor, or "kindling" to keep their spiritual fire a blaze. We have but to whet the natural appetites that the creator himself put in them that they might be lured by the "tonic of adventure and the stimulus of curiosity" into the "impulse of eternity."
"Love of adventure curiosity, and dread of monotony — these traits inherent in evolving human nature — were not put there just to aggravate and annoy you during your short sojourn on earth, but rather to suggest to you that death is only the beginning of an endless career of adventure, an everlasting life of anticipation, an eternal voyage of discovery." ~ The Urantia Book, 14:5.10
We do not have to rely on chance with our children's spiritual lives. In his profound and fascinating book, The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents, Deepak Chopra has this to say :
"The deepest desire in a parent's heart is to see one's child achieve success in life, yet how many of us realize that the most direct way to success is through spirit?" ~ The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents, Page 19Surely, many parents know this, but are only just beginning to learn how to help their children know it. Again, according to Chopra, true success…
"depends on who you are, not what you do. Being or essence or spirit— call it by any name you want — lies at the source of all achievement in life." ~ The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents, Page 13It can prove helpful to identify spiritual concepts or goals that you want for your children then look for the life materials and metaphors that will help you to pass them on.
Following are and example of two spiritual concepts and one spiritual goal that a parent might wish to teach:
- That God is the child's very own loving spiritual parent with whom they can have an intimate personal relationship. He is the one absolute reality they can always count on.
- That all human beings are a part of the same cosmic family and can learn to live on this planet together peacefully by knowing, loving and serving each other.
- That the child can have a sense of their own spiritual identity and are confident in answering the commonly asked question: "What is your religion?"
FRAMING THE ISSUES
As we endeavor to provide spiritual education for our children, we should consider some preliminary questions.
Things To Consider:
- What do we want for our kids?
- What do our kids want?
- What can we actually provide?
- What is our motive in providing it? For example: Is it to give them our religious beliefs? To help them establish their own religious beliefs? To help them develop healthy self- esteem? To help them establish meaningful relationships? To give them role models like Jesus? To encourage them to learn about other spiritual paths? All of the above?
- What is "spirituality"? For example: What does it mean to have a spiritual experience? What stimulates spiritual experience? What hinders it?
- Different people and groups have different goals for religious education.
- There is a difference between personal religious experience and group religious experience.
- The differences in the way people learn, because each person is unique, what constitutes a moving spiritual experience in one may be completely meaningless to another. Some people may connect with God while reading the written word, others feel more connected while dancing, singing, making music, or creating dramatic and visual art. Our children are no different. We must be aware of the different learning styles and strive to offer a diversity of learning opportunities.
- Conventional differences, such as gender, age, cultural and ethnic diversity.
Count The Cost:
Considering the cost of developing a culture that we can pass on to our children's children is quite relevant. A child's religious education can cost little or nothing, for a parent can help a kid find wonder and meaning everywhere. However, a full spectrum program involving a group of children will almost certainly involve supplies, space, and stimulating activities, all of which require adequate funding. Even more important to success is the commitment of enthusiastic adults who are willing to expend time and energy to make it all happen. Religious movements must support and encourage adult role models to help children find God, by developing creative and meaningful ways to keep the fire of their spirit burning bright.
Some examples of what you can do to add spiritual meaning to a child's life:
- Light a candle during prayer, when reading aloud, at family meetings, or at bedtime. Candles add a touch of the sacred to events.
- Share your own experience of God with kids. This will let them know that it is OK to express the joy and adventure of finding your own spiritual path.
- Ask children and youth in your care what they feel, want, and think regarding God.
- Create a resource library to share with your family and religious community. There is an abundance of excellent material in print.
- Devote some of your own worship and study time to teaching children about God. Raising children with a God-consciousness is a community responsibility.
- Be humorous, enthusiastic, wild, adventuresome, playful, spontaneous, and even silly.
- Become an excellent storyteller — some of the world's greatest stories are in religious books. Telling stories is much more powerful and interesting than merely reading them.
- Integrate truths and activities from all paths into the religious teachings you want your children to learn . Seek the living truth in all religious paths; be neither elitist, nor isolated.
- Keep a wide array of art materials in your home to allow for activities to be planned with a minimum amount of trouble, and for spontaneous activities. Keep on hand the usual stuff kids like to use when being creative — paper, pencils, pens, crayons, balloons, balls, etc. It never hurts to have unusual stuff too!
- If you can, keep animals around, they bring out a child's natural compassion and desire to care for and love others. They can touchingly teach the lessons of birth and death. Even rats can make wonderful pets — they are clean, intelligent, interactive and can take a lot of holding.
- Offer some unselfish service in honor of your spiritual path, especially in the presence of children.
- Whenever possible, ask older children to teach younger ones. All through life we take on the responsibility of two important roles, that of teacher and student.
Some things to avoid:
- Don't expect children sit still too long.
- Don't expect them to listen too long without an opportunity to do something.
- Don't assume that your sacred experience will be sacred to them.
- Don't limit a child's concept of the spiritual. Honor their experience of God, their sincere faith and childlike understanding of God is often times deeply profound.
The most important thing that happens within a group of people, whether it involves children or adults, is relationships. Any "lessons" or "teachings" are taught best by their practical application to this one cosmic reality, without which, they have no value.
"Everything non spiritual in human experience, excepting personality, is a means to an end. Every true relationship of mortal man with other persons — human or divine — is an end in itself. And such fellowship with the personality of Deity is the eternal goal of universe ascension." ~ The Urantia Book, 112:2.8More food for thought to broaden the perspective on child-culture:
"It is to the mind of perfect poise, housed in a body of clean habits, stabilized neural energies, and balanced chemical function when the physical, mental, and spiritual powers are in triune harmony of development that a maximum of light and truth can be imparted with a minimum of temporal danger or risk to the real welfare of such a being." ~ The Urantia Book, 110:6.4
Children learn by doing, they need something to feel, see, smell, taste, touch or move in order to experience reality. To give your child a religious foundation, it never hurts to study how other religions have helped children learn and experience their spirituality. It may be inspiring for them to get up and dance, chant, light incense, play drums, or gong bells. Adults often find that they too benefit greatly from experiencing more color, sound, smell, touch, taste and emotions as they attempt to make spiritual growth more appealing for their children. As children witness our love of truth, they will be more likely to seek it themselves, not only in the traditional sources , but also along all religious paths.
Sometimes the simplest things are the most powerful and can be all that is necessary to kindle a spiritual fire in a young person's life. Think creatively, use your imagination, have fun, and remember; whenever we set out to fuel the spiritual fire of a child the Spirit of Truth will ever speak, saying "This is the way."
Sara L. Blackstock
Family Life Program
Fifth Epochal Fellowship of Readers of The Urantia Book