Jan 28th: Nuturing The Spirituality of Children For An Inspired Life!, with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski.
A Part of the Series:
Nuturing The Spirituality of Children For An Inspired Life! with Rev. Dr. Steven Koski. Series: The Awkened Brain A Spacious Christianity, First Presbyterian Church of Bend, Oregon. Scripture: Matthew 19.14.
Join Steven and Becca this Sunday as they discuss the importance of nurturing children’s spiritual lives. Learn about some practical ways to support spiritual growth in both children and adults.
Steven: We’re beginning this New Year focused on how important it is to connect to our spiritual core and develop the capacity to have a spiritual response to life, from a deep place of wisdom and love, instead of reacting to life from anger, frustration, and fear. And today I want to shift our focus to the importance of nurturing the spiritual life of our children. And there’s no doubt the pandemic had a profound impact on the well being of our children. In our book, the spiritual child, clinical psychologist Lisa Miller, argues there’s a clear link between spirituality and health and well being. Her research showed that a child is five times less likely to be depressed if a spiritual life is nurtured, and shared with a parent, grandparent or an important adult in their life. Her research showed that, that children who have a positive active relationship to spirituality are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers 40% less likely to use and abuse substances. Her research shows that spirituality is the greatest resource and protect her against anxiety, depression, loneliness, substance abuse disorders. There’s a scene in the Bible when Jesus is teaching. And parents are wanting to bring their children to Jesus so that their children might experience His healing presence of unconditional love. And now the disciples tried to shoo the children away because they’re doing important adult things and children have no place there. Jesus rebukes them. And Jesus says, Let the children come to Me, do not do anything to hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to children such as these. And today, I’ve invited Becca LSR, Director of Children and Family Ministries, to join me in conversation on the importance of nurturing the spiritual child, Becca, first and foremost, thank you for your just your passionate commitment to the well being of not just our children, but children in general. And thank you for the wisdom that you bring. And I really appreciate you joining me in this conversation. And and just wondering, tell me why you think it’s important to develop the spiritual well being of children, especially as they move towards adolescence and adulthood. Yeah, Becca Ellis: well, I think all the things that you just stated about the research that Dr. Miller has done, we know that there are so many benefits to spirituality for children. And for any individual, right, we know about how prayer and mindfulness and meditation and these sorts of practices doing good, they strengthen parts of our brain, they help us thrive in life. And when I think about spirituality, right, we think about it as this connection and relation to, you know, God, the Divine Source, whatever word you want to use. And it’s also though, you know, to ourself to others, to the world as a whole. And I think when we have that more holistic spirituality in our lives, it helps us find meaning, and purpose that gives us a compass for navigating life, which is what we want as parents for our children. And going back to that research to those things directly combat right, those mental health disorders, anxiety, depression, and there’s such a clear correlation in that in that research that you mentioned, but also I think Lisa Miller talks about in her book, the spiritual child, how just a parent practicing their own spiritual life that has an effect on a child’s not only their well being, but them not having struggling with those mental health disorders when they’re older as well. So it’s really an innate part of them. And essential to everything about them. I think, you know, I tend to think of spiritual development is not like this isolated thing we do over here to become better people in the world. But yeah, we’re neatly spiritual beings. And I think that as our development goes the way it should, our capacity for spiritual connection expands. And we know that for children when their development goes the way it should. This happens when they’re very young when their essential needs are met. And I don’t mean just basic, like shelter and food. That’s of course important. but essential, is sort of these things innately within us that help us live fully and thrive in the world. And I love the work of Dr. Gaber Matej, who’s a physician, and he writes extensively about childhood trauma and wounds, and he talks about these essential needs. And the ones that he kind of highlights are one, every child needs unconditional love from multiple adults in their life. And we know a secure attachment with one adult is pivotal. But multiple adults makes such a difference. And this means that a child should not have to work to make their relationship with a parent work, they should just rest and be. And you know, they don’t need to be compliant or funny, or cute or smart, or any of this to know that they are loved. And I think of the narrative of Jesus, when the children come to him. And you notice there’s no further instruction for the children about how they should be the instruction is for the adults, like, you guys are missing the point kids, you just be and you are loved, and your presence matters. And I think that’s, that just speaks so beautifully to that essential need. The next essential need he talks about, which most of us do not get to experience is that children should be free to express every emotion they possess, and be able to develop that we have every emotion for a reason. And as parents, many of us as children, it was suppressed, right? Don’t cry here, okay, oh, you can’t be angry like that, you know, this is not okay, is what we’re saying. And we create a wound in that child. And we’re actually stunting their brain development and their spiritual development. And the last one real quick, he talks about is free play in nature, and how we need imaginative, creative, spontaneous play, and we share this with other mammals, puppies play elephants play, right. And we know that play has everything to do with healthy brain development. And it’s, it’s interesting, because we put such a priority on cognitive development, we give kids gadgets, I mean, I know preschoolers who have iPads. And in that we’re taking away a child’s chance to have that creative play, which we say were made in the image of this great creator, like all of nature’s creative in nature, always recreating itself. And so ironically, we’re stunting our children’s ability to develop their brain healthfully. And, you know, and their spirituality. Want Steven: to ask, what can we learn from children. Jesus also said, unless you become like a child, you cannot possibly see the riches of heaven. And so often we think that’s our job to teach children. But what can children kind of teach us about spirituality? Yeah, Becca Ellis: kids, the number one thing I learned becoming a parent is that kids have so much more to teach us than we give them credit for. I think part of this is, you know, they just ask so many questions, and they see things so plainly, I think, also, what I didn’t know is that my kids would reflect so much back to me kids are mirrors. And if you have any, you know, even an ounce of self awareness, you can look at your child at some point and go, Oh, that’s me. And I don’t like it. Usually it’s, you know, a wound or something we don’t like. And so they’re just naturally inviting us into these opportunities to grow in our spirituality, to, you know, face these patterns, really to stop that generational, you know, trauma that we can instill, and instead pass on something better. So yeah, the lessons are endless with children. I think. I Steven: was thinking about those of us who are parents or people like, my situation where my kids are grown up, and they’re, they’re out of the house. What does this have to do with us? I mean, I heard somebody say once that this person was suggesting that the one thing that would absolutely transform a church is if every adult in that church regardless of whether they had children or not, if every adult was committed to learn the names of every child in the church, which then would give the children the object obviously, we’re not going to task the children at that, but but it would give the children you also the opportunity to know more names of, of adults. So what about us that aren’t directly parenting children at this particular moment of time? Yeah, Becca Ellis: that’s a beautiful picture to think about. And I think there’s a few things one, I think one of the really sad parts of about our society actually is that most of us in our day to day life, our, it begins and ends with our own age group. We’re very isolated from one another. And when I think about, you know, going back again to that, like tribal village sense that we had, there were all the ages mixed in there, and everyone had value in something a role to play. And, you know, we hear a lot of the elderly, we don’t hear as much about elders in our culture. And I think part of that is we have such this, you know, consumerism driven culture, that once you are no longer able to participate in the workforce, like you, you don’t have that monetary value anymore, we tend to discard people, and it creates so much loneliness in our world, not not just for our elders, but for our young people, too. Because, you know, I have no, in my short, 36 years of life, that as I get older, I have more wisdom to impart, I have more wisdom to help guide me, I have less attachments of things that were hard for me to get perspective of when I was younger. So our, our older, or older generation has so much wisdom to share with our youngest ones. And, you know, like we were talking about earlier, children have so much to teach our older, you know, our older ones, it’s very mutual and church, or in faith community spiritual communities, is this one really unique space where you have all the generations present? Do you have the possibility for that? We don’t go to many other places where that happens in our day to day life. And so yeah, I think things could be so different if we just interacted more in an intentional way. And I do think that as the adults in the room, that’s our job, but But children can also sort of lead the way in that because they’re so open to so much as long as they know they’re safe, they’re loved, they’re cared for, they are enjoyed, they are, you know, part of the community in a meaningful way. I think it’s very powerful.
Steven: So what are some practical how tos, you know, how can we perhaps nurture the spiritual life of children and doing so nurture our own spiritual lives? Yeah. Becca Ellis: And I’ll answer this from both, you know, a parent perspective. And you know, it can be applied, I think, to anyone who has a meaningful relationship with a child. The the first one that comes to mind is that, we need to remember that kids don’t really need all the answers, they need to be encouraged to ask questions. And I think Lisa Miller talks about this, too, where she says, You know, when your child comes to you with these big questions like about death, or, you know, why are there shootings, or you know, these things that are really hard? And we don’t even know the answer, and we don’t want to say the wrong thing? The worst thing you can say is, I don’t know. Because what that does is it shuts down the conversation. If there’s nothing further, if there’s no inquiry, right? We’re saying, not only do adults not know what’s going on, maybe it’s not important to know what’s going on. So instead, you know, if you don’t know what to say, just ask them back. What do you think, you know, and being very honest, that, you know, I don’t have the answer. This is what I think or this is what I used to think. But now I think this or hey, let’s research that this week and talk about it, you know, so it’s really just helping them or instill, I guess, that curiosity and wonder that’s going to serve them so much more than giving answers or just, you know, trying to quote Scripture at them or teach them a Bible lesson and make sure they know what the moral lesson is in that. So that’s one thing. The next thing I think, is paying attention to what the spiritual doorway is for your child, your grandchild, whoever it is, I think about how parents do this all the time, if there’s an interest our kid has in sports, or music or dance, we will go to so many lengths to get them signed up for the lesson, get all the gear, make sure they’re there. You know, it can become like our life. And it’s, it’s the same thing though, where we can find a doorway for our unique child that connects them in a spirit like in a spiritual way. And many times these overlap music is a beautiful doorway to spirituality and some children really have that, you know, just natural inclination toward it. How do we nurture that? How do we get creative and pay attention to those things? And it can be anything I mean, all of life, if we really believe we are innately spiritual, it it shouldn’t be so hard to find. It just takes paying attention and making space. And I think the last thing that comes to mind that’s crucial is modeling that we are doing the work ourselves that we are showing this as a priority in our life that we are modeling the havior aligned with spiritually attuned life, our kids pick up on that they absorb it, they’re copying everything at a young age. So we have a huge amount of influence on that.
Steven: That reminded me I was walking my dogs near a playground the other day, and there were two kids who were, who were fighting with each other, just having an argument and in their arguing with each other, which naturally, see all the time, there was shouting, and there was name calling. And I couldn’t help but think, I wonder where they learned that behavior. You know, they, I’m sure learn that behavior from watching the adults around them. I mean, they could have learned that they had the TV could be in the background, and certainly our, our political leaders don’t necessarily model emotional intelligence, or even a spiritual wisdom for our children. And as we’re focusing these, these few weeks on, on the importance of connecting to our spiritual core, and developing the capacity to have a spiritual response to life, you know, one that one that comes from love and compassion and empathy and wisdom, as opposed to just reacting out of anger and frustration. You mentioned the importance of modeling, how might we do that.
Becca Ellis: And I think that really goes to the core of us doing the work, our work, our spiritual work that’s in front of us, and really being intentional, and recognizing that this is a huge responsibility. And it shouldn’t just be on parents, because all children are all of our children. And you know, I often think those first five years of life are so foundational, if we could just all get on board and make sure every child born has everything they need. And that we know helps them to form these healthy neural connections and their spirituality, we can change society in a generation, you know, and we’re all a part of that. And one thing I love about that is you looked at those kids, and you saw something probably in yourself, you wanted to change and something in the world you wanted to change. So we can take that, I think as an inspiration to support one another in that growth. But yeah, if we can model that compassion and kindness, if we can learn to pause, right, and have some space between our response and stimulation, whatever is happening. It might seem small in some ways, but it really sets the standard for, for how we should interact in this world. And kids are watching for sure. There’s Steven: a concept that I think has the potential to heal this broken world of ours, this idea that you just share that all children are there all our children. Imagine, just imagine if we lived into the truth, when you shared something, once that has continued to stick with me where you said, imagine if we were as passionate about nurturing the spiritual life of our children, as we are about sports. Imagine the difference that would make her any last thoughts you want to share? Becca Ellis: No, I just am really grateful that these sorts of conversations are taking place. It’s just so vital. And it’s not just about kids, it’s about us too. It’s about you know, deepening our own relationship with God with others with ourself. And it’s really this beautiful picture of how we can kind of heal collectively, you know, as this extended family, and bringing everyone in with a sense of belonging and love and care. And it’s it’s hard in practice. But, you know, we can try and we can do our best and we can do it together. So Steven: well, I, I learned a lot from you. You model a lot for me, and I really appreciate you in the work that you do. Thank you and thanks for this conversation. Thank you