Spirituality

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Does your child seem disconnected, bored, irritable?  Are you worried about how much time they spend glued to their screens, playing video games, watching shows, or being caught up in the world of social media?  Do they seem to lack a sense of purpose, direction or drive?

Developing your child’s resiliency through spiritual growth can be a vital part of breaking free of these troubling patterns.  Think of spirituality as having a sense that we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves and that our life has some sort of meaning.  People who see themselves as being spiritual in this sense may or may not belong to an organized religion.  There are both potential benefits and challenges to belonging to an organized religion, as there are for choosing not to do so. This chapter will touch on some of these a bit later, but the first focus will be on some of the things all parents might want to consider as they think about how to help their children develop their spirituality.

Research continues to provide evidence that people experience a direct value from developing spirituality as well as indirect emotional, psychological, and physical benefits.   Spiritual practices offer a chance to step away from our ordinary lives and experience life on a different plane, whether it’s lighting candles, singing in a choir, or witnessing a sunrise.  Repeating such experiences regularly helps create an ongoing pattern of renewal and an awareness of life beyond the pressures of the day to day that can be profoundly satisfying.  Some other benefits documented in the research include a longer life expectancy, a greater sense of purpose and connection, and lower rates of smoking, drinking heavily or having casual sex.   (See The Psychological and Physical Benefits of Spiritual/Religious Practices By Ellen Idler Spirituality in Higher Education Newsletter February 2008 Volume 4, Issue 2 Page 1-5 for a readable overview of recent research).

A good place to start is sharing some of your own spiritual journey with your child.  Examine your personal belief system.  Have you ever had moments when you felt that you are part of something bigger than yourself?  Ever gazed up into the night sky and wondered about your place in the immensity of space?  Ever thought about the meaning of life?  You don’t have to know all the answers to start asking the questions and having open honest conversations and shared experiences with your child.

Explore the values that give meaning to your life.  What are some of the core things that motivate you?  Kindness, courage, service, being tough, being gentle?  If you are not sure, ask yourself if someone shadowed you for a few days, what would they conclude are your values by how you spent your time, energy and money?  Then ask yourself if these answers would fit with your own thoughts about your values.  If you want more help exploring your values, consider taking the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths, an assessment tool created by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman to help people identify their values and strengths. You can try it for no cost at www.viacharacter.org

Once you have a clearer picture about your own values, select a few and start creating ways to put them into practice more directly with your child.  For example if service is something you value, plan and follow through with regular opportunities to serve others as a family. Two of our grandsons gave service shoveling snow and created some amazing connections. You can read about their adventures in Snow Storm Blessings.

You might decide you really value loving kindness, empathy, compassion, mutual respect, curiosity, connecting with nature, mindfulness, growing plants, caring for animals, or protecting and maintaining natural habitats.  Perhaps you want to remember and honor those who have died, whether family, friends, strangers, even animals.  Whatever spiritual values are important to you, there are many beautiful traditions and rituals from around the world that you can adopt or adapt, or you can create your own.

Organized religion has played a huge part in the human experience and impacted history and culture in innumerable ways.  Educate yourself and your child about this complex and intriguing history.  This group of people believes this, this other group believes this, I believe this, or I’m not sure what I believe.  These are some of the controversies, some of the strengths, here is how things have changed over time, etc.  Visit different places of worship, attend different cultural and religious events, study the history, beliefs and practices of many different religions and spiritual pathways.  Share your thoughts and feelings.  If there are practices or beliefs that resonate with you, you can adopt them as a part of your family culture whether or not you are already affiliated with an organized religion or are drawn to join an organization.  For example, certain faiths have rituals for grieving, for celebrating changes in the season, births, deaths and other milestones in life, for giving service, for expressing gratitude and hope.  You can draw inspiration from these traditions, adapt them to fit you and add them to your own life if it feels right for you.

Being part of an organized religion can provide a number of benefits, however, if you are not comfortable with any organized religions, you can seek out or even create other communal settings to provide these benefits.  Some of these benefits include: a sense of community and belonging, ongoing social support and nurture, connection with people of all ages and from different walks of life, a set of rules to guide life, regular opportunities to give and receive service, repeated moments focused on feeling reverence or awe for the divine in deity, nature, and/or the human spirit, a chance to explore the meaning of birth, death and the life that occurs in between, and deeply rooted traditions.  Look around and notice how these are part of organizations or groups that fit your needs and interests.  Embrace any that seem to be a good fit for you and maybe even adapt them or create your own to suit you and your family.

Much of life today is busy, busy, busy.  All of us, children and grownups alike, need a respite from the rushing, the pressures, the endless to do lists.  Regularly stepping away from daily pressures can be refreshing and renew our energy.  Creating habits of daily, weekly and seasonal traditions of renewal can enrich our lives.  This can be a daily practice of a few moments of gratitude, mindfulness or yoga, formal weekly religious services, setting aside an hour or two each week for family time, annual traditions of remembrance for loved ones who have died, seasonal retreats to enjoy the quiet of the desert or the mountains.  There are rich, diverse options that can work for your family.  Establish a pattern through your own example of balancing periods of work and activity with rest and renewal.  Talk to your kids about your own struggles to find balance and what you are learning along the way as you keep trying.  Tell them what you think through the big questions of life and what gives it meaning and purpose to you.  Listen as they begin to tell you of their thoughts, their questions, their experiences.  Most of all, remember that you do not have to have all the answers, just a willingness to explore and learn together.


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