As a mother and the director of our children’s program at St. John’s, I am a seeker of wisdom and truth regarding the spiritual lives of children. I have made mistakes, and I have looked inward to discover my spiritual breaking points, where old wounds never healed properly. I recall as a child feeling so sensitive to a critical word. Early on I began the process of internalizing struggles that I felt would be judged or worse, made fun of. I was horrified of displeasing the adults in my life. Over many years, I created versions of myself that would work well in different scenarios. As an adolescent, it was such a lonely, heart-aching time… and I had loving parents who gave me the world. I had special gifts and talents that were celebrated. I had a church community. And yet… something within my spiritual self was tamped down, ashamed, scared. I wasn’t free. I wasn’t connected to God in a way that was truly life-giving.
I ponder this reality… the combination of circumstances that made it impossible to talk to my parents about what my heart was SCREAMING about. I just let my heart scream, determined to shush it. Determined to figure it out on my own.
I did not figure it out on my own. Shocking, I know. I continue to learn and grow in my spirituality, and I am so grateful that God brought me to St. John’s. Finding in my work an outlet for spiritual, professional, and personal growth is an unbelievable blessing. That child who ached for affirmation and shushed the messages from her heart is still here, but now I’m looking at my own children and the children of this community, and I know we can do better.
Recently I found a wonderful book about the spiritual development of children and teens, and I highly recommend it to you:
The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving
by Lisa Miller, Ph.D.
Dr. Miller writes about the scientific evidence that in our first two decades, we are primed for deep spiritual connection and development. She lays out, in clear language, ways in which we [adults] support that development, and ways we hinder or handicap that development. This book includes language that has spoken to me… has put into words the ponderings of my heart and organized a strategy to evolve.
In trying to find an excerpt to share, I found myself reviewing whole chapters – I’m truly fascinated by this material! Here for you, excerpts from an early chapter called, “Birthright.”
“Spiritual development is a biological and psychological imperative from birth. Natural spirituality, the innate spiritual attunement of young children – unlike other lines of development – appears to begin whole and fully expressed. As the child grows, natural spirituality integrates with the capacities of cognitive, social, emotional, and moral development, as well as physical change, to create a more complex set of equipment through which to experience transcendence and spirituality.
Our child’s spiritual faculty flourishes with support and encouragement to grow strong and to integrate with the rest of her developmental growth. This process of integration is also shaped by her internal dialogue and through interactions with parents, family, peers, and community. The practice field is everywhere, and it happens every time she has conversations with us about life’s big and little questions, such as about meaning and purpose, being good people, how to treat others, what it means to be empathetic and compassionate, and why we need to take care of the earth and our environment.
As parents, we can take those ideas into the playing field of daily life and show our children how we live and express spiritual values in everyday interactions with other people, with animals, with nature, with our own inner life, and with the life of the mind and big ideas. We can take our children to explore sacred places and spaces: a house of worship, a sanctuary tucked away in a hospital, a mountain, or a river. We can encourage (and model) acts of expansive love and kindness. This exploration cultivates spiritual knowing and attunement, a sense of the spiritual dimension that is always present and is deeper than superficial attributes and higher than competitive and materialistic priorities. Supported by this exploration, the continuing conversation with us, and by her own internal spiritual dialogue, she continues to define what spirituality is and what the journey is for her.” (Miller, pg. 29-31)