Fostering spirituality in kids
Poet George Bernard Shaw said, "The best place to seek God is in a garden. You can dig for him there."
Children have the perfect hearts and open minds to easily grasp the wonder of the world. In most cases, they haven't been tainted by skepticism or cynicism and they're filled with the wonder of God's creations.
Last week in my blog, I asked the question: Why does grass grow? The purpose was to inspire creativity. It did. But it inspired more than that, too. It brought out innocent spirituality.
One child responded (through his parent) that, "Grass grows because God wants it to." Another responded, "Grass grows to paint the world another color."
Spirituality gives meaning to the world beyond just living and dying. Ask parents to define spirituality and some may say that spirituality is a form of religion, but a private and personal form. Others may say that spirituality is a belief that there is something greater and better than mankind. Sound confusing? It can be.
Not for children though. Kids easily accept the religion their parents guide them toward. Spiritual children and their families practice Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and many other organized religions. It all goes back to the open hearts and open minds that children have. How parents behave, perhaps more than what they say, fosters that spirituality. Actions speak so much louder than words.
Joan Taylor, a children's librarian, said, "I think we live in a shrinking world where we all need each other and we all need to respect and understand each other. Our similarities are greater than our differences. For children, their beliefs are an accident of birth. Part of being a citizen of the world is to understand the basic premises of the world's great religions. That responsibility falls on adults."
Going to church every Sunday was a problem for Anita Gardner. Her daughter Emily was diagnosed with ADHD and autism. When Emily was younger, her behavior was unruly at times. Gardner stopped attending church because she didn't want Emily's behavior to disrupt others.
Gardner wondered if Emily could ever have a Christian experience because of her inability to understand the concept. A pastor friend of hers put it into perspective when Gardner asked him if the abstract concept of faith and confirmation would be a waste of time for Emily. He asked her, simply, "Do we understand everything?"
Gardner's church reformatted their confirmation class to help meet Emily's needs. They encouraged her to participate in all kinds of activities. Gardner found that Emily had compassion that many adults lack. She began to help homeless people with her confirmation group.
Then she decided to serve more homeless people with her neighbor, Rae Kirkbride, who has worked with the homeless for a number of years. "I told Emily I help homeless people because I love them," Kirkbride said. "Even though they seem different from me, I can love them because Jesus loved me first."
Love is a concept that almost everyone understands. So is prayer. Alex Steinman, education director of Harambee Christian School, believes that it's best to show kids the value of prayer by praying with them on a regular basis. In addition to having a routine time to pray, Steinman believes it's important to stop and pray in the midst of a situation or discussion so children understand that God is personally involved in every situation.
Steinman also believes in the separation of church and state. He does not advocate forcing students in public schools to pray. "The parents of students at Haram-bee Christian School understand that their children will pray in the classroom on a regular basis," he said.
Steinman understands that not all children attend church. "According to the New Testament, the value of church is not so much in religious rituals, but in the friendships and community that sustain us and help us grow in a relationship with God."
My nephew is a classic example of a spiritual child who does not attend church. My sister has instilled in her children a love for nature and a respect for all God's creatures. One day I heard Aaron tell a friend, "God wouldn't be happy if you stepped on that worm." Aaron is filled with spirituality.
My grandchildren attend church regularly and are steeped in their faith. I'll never forget the time my granddaughter and I were stopped at a traffic light. It was a beautiful, sunny spring day. "Look, Alexa," I said. "There's a bunny nibbling on clover under that bush. Isn't spring wonderful?" Alexa didn't miss a beat. "Yes it is," she said, "And did you know that God gave me a hug today?"
In that instant, God gave me a hug too. I felt it ... just like an innocent child.
Jan Mader lives with her husband and three dogs in Columbus. She has three grown sons. Read her blog, Ignite to Write, on ColumbusParent.com.
On the web
- Bible stories and prayers for kids: biblestories4kids
- Article about children's need for nature
- Good book for parents to read with their children: A Faith Like Mine: A Celebration of the World's Religions - Seen Through the Eyes of Children, by Laura Buller.
- Read Jan Mader's blog, Ignite to Write. Jan shows readers how to ignite creativity in themselves and their kids.