Sometimes it takes science a while to catch up to what many of us know intuitively. Those of you who are parents or who work with children know that they are spiritual beings. One can be spiritual without being religious, but I never trust people who are religious without being spiritual. Lisa Miller, one of my favorite researchers and author of The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving (2015), says that spirituality is a living relationship with a higher power and that the relationship is a source of daily guidance. Your child’s higher power may be God the way you understand God; or their sense of the divine may focus on nature or the connection between all things. Whatever your and your child’s sense of a higher power may be, your spirituality isn’t just a given—have it or don’t have it. Spirituality can and does develop. That means that we can nurture it!
We want to nurture spirituality because it’s associated with greater overall health and reduces risks of depression, substance abuse, and other high-risk behaviors. So, over the next few weeks I hope to share some of the science (and maybe some personal experience) on spiritual development in children to awaken your curiosity and to encourage you to walk with your children on a lifelong journey of spiritual exploration.
Pastor Melissa Lemons
The God of Our Childhood
I grew up in the rural South (New Kent County, Virginia) and adults would often describe God as someone out to catch me doing wrong and punish me for it. That is not the kind of God I know and love. Few things upset me more than to hear some tell child or another adult that “God’s gonna get you.” As a pastor I’m always fighting “bad theology” and as a counselor I see the kind of damage that bad theology does to one’s self-esteem, relationships, and expectations for a happy future.
Yes, it’s true that when we are foolish or sinful we are likely to suffer the consequences of our actions. We also know that we sometimes suffer when we are careful and compassionate too. So, it seems unwise to blame God for our own mistakes or the mistakes made by those around us. A punishing image of God can be damaging to our mental health. Rejecting images of God can lead to a poor sense of self-efficacy (I can accomplish things) and a poor self-concept. Loving and accepting images of God have positive influences on our sense of self-worth. What we believe about the spiritual world and ourselves can be conveyed to our children, even if we don’t mean to do so. We can give our children a good start by offering them positive images of the spiritual world, shaping their expectations for healthy, loving relationships now and into the future.
Want to know more? Check out this link (with a short video) on relational spirituality: http://www.bu.edu/danielsen/center-for-the-study-of-religion-and-psychology/research-publications-and-projects/relational-spirituality/
Pastor Melissa Lemons