I joined FB just few months ago. I refused to have one, most of my entire adult life. I thought it was rife with negativity and I thought there would be triggers there for me. Not good for my mental wellbeing but somehow thanks to the “snooze” option my wife taught me. That way I could avoid people posting messages of hate, sexism, racism and bullying. Just as there are positive messages out there, it is also replete with messages that could disturb your peace.
Peace is so hard to come by of late. Wars are being waged everywhere ranging from small to large scale and everything in between. Keeping an ear to the ground of Philippine election and politics has piqued my mental wellbeing recently.
Too bad that it is just few weeks from Easter Sunday when we were reminded of the powerful words Jesus spoke; “Peace be with you”. Today I thought it is time to invite peace again in my life. In our lives.
Know when to give up. Maybe the story has to end at some point. Maybe the wheels have to stop turning and start recharging. Maybe the fight is not worth it anymore. The time to stop is when you become exhausted, unproductive, vengeful, angered, unnerved, confused. Perhaps the best recourse is to “accept the things you cannot change (serenity prayer)”.
Forgive and ask for forgiveness. When others hurt us or when we hurt others, that is when it becomes most difficult. That is when you feel heavy. You sweat during those sleepless nights. But when we forgive or ask for forgiveness, it becomes lighter on our shoulder.
Years ago when I challenged a 4 year old boy into capturing his thoughts into drawing, I asked “What does peace look like?”I was really impressed with what I witnessed – a love heart drawn on paper. When I asked, “What does war look like?”. He started to draw vigorously, chaotic lines. I knew it was really war that he drew because of his “angry” body movements while he drew.
It is time to choose that tidy love heart of peace rather than the angry lines of war. It is time to remember and live what Jesus said after His resurrection, “Peace be with you”.
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
If I were to pick one from the fruits of the Holy Spirit right now, I’d choose self-control.
Now it is becoming more often when we feel always being on the edge of an outburst. Is the world to blame or have we become overly sensitive, fatigued and too opinionated? Patience thins when plans go amiss. And almost everyone seem to have some form of addiction. Substance. Sex. Gaming. Netflix. Chocolate. Food. Sleeping. Gambling. You name it.
The world outside our body, mind and spirit, it seems, is ready to rule us. Time to learn self-control.
Self-control for some reason reminds me of self-regulation in children. It is not a stroke of good luck that children learn about it; it takes great mentoring, coaching, role modelling or environment setting to encourage young children to be in control of BIG emotions such as frustration, worry, anger, sadness. These could be a lot to take for a young child but is not entirely impossible to learn self-control. Let us not completely rule out our own ability to learn about it, as well.
But as a Christian, what I aim for is self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit. Nope, it is not merely being in control of my mind, body and BIG emotions but achieving a state in which I allow God to have power over me, where my actions and decisions seems to be made for me, by God.
Self-control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not silence. We could appear really serene on the outside but inside us could be brewing anger and chaos. Growing up, I did not have models of self-control. Everyone around me seemed to explode. It was utterly difficult to learn healthy self-control. For most part of my life, silence was my resort – a padded resilience, bottled negativity and some kind of empty “self-control”. It would surface in my later life as depression.
At some stage in our lives, we have to unlearn old habits and learn new ways. For our sake and sake of our family and children. I thought true self-control, the one gifted by the Holy Spirit, is the one I needed to learn. Because, I have learned the hard way that fake self-control won’t work.
First some practical steps. Prepare the mind for reality of problems.
Being a teacher here in New Zealand, we encourage children to problem-solve. Problems are vital to children’s learning. For example, the play environment I would set up for children would always be challenging and riddled with problems. The “troll bridge” does not have to be still and sturdy; it must be wobbly and problematic. That is how children learn about balance. I believe children must experience falling for as long as they fall safely.
Problems, too, form a big part in how we, adults learn about self-control. We do not deny ourselves with the inevitability of glitches, of plans going awry, of unmet expectations, of problems, of imperfections. I am not always the type who would always look at the glass as half-full. It could also be half-empty. It is more realistic for me. If things do not go to plan, I don’t go ballistic anymore as I used to. For me, that is JUST the glass half-empty again but I know God is going to fill the other half of it. And I am totally at peace with it.
Secondly, think of the danger of lacking self-control.
One is guilt. I have never seen anybody feeling really peaceful after an outburst. God knows how I feel really guilty whenever I lose it with my own children. Once the beast in you has said your piece violently, the fragments of broken relationships would be hard to piece together. Guilt, together with its twin, regret, could visit you even in your dreams. It is gnawing.
The pitfalls of lacking self-control eventually became my hard “why’s”. Why did I want to learn self-control? For me, it is my children. I needed them to have a model of authentic self-control. There was suddenly a sense of urgency to protect their hearts and minds. Being the father of the house, I have that role to create a home not built upon shaky impulses but on consistent practice of letting go and letting God’s power take over.
Learning self-control is tough work. It is not a ray of light that shines upon us while we sit down. Yes, it also takes time to learn. Praying and talking to God often will set the ground for us. Fr. Andrew Ricci whose podcast I follow, always suggests, naming “it” whenever we pray. It is different for all of us. It could be self-control to help you turn away from being angered by the smallest things. It could be self-control from spending too much time watching Netflix. It could be turning away addiction to illicit sexual materials or drugs. We are called by the Holy Spirit to name it whatever it is and to cast it aside. Pray for self-control every single time no matter how long it takes.
Be ready to reap the fruits. The outcomes of self control gifted by the Holy Spirit is not of guilt, regret, emptiness and bitterness but of love, patience and peace. As we turn away from sinful addiction or bridled anger, we reap the grace of being one heart with God. But before any harvest, we need to work really hard sowing, watering, preparing the soil. It may not happen in an instant. In fact, it may be a cross to bear with confusion, hurt ego, sweaty palms, heart wildly beating. But soon all these will fade away and we reap the fruits that we deserve – that of love and peace in our hearts.
This is a question that could be borne out of disappointment, grief, depression or even mere boredom. Whichever it is, I do not welcome it. It nags and gets me into deep thought. Deep thinking, I have come to understand, tends to be more of a liability for me than an asset.
No matter how I tried, this question does pop up from time to time and I really have to grapple with it but now I have been learning and been very quick to reframe it in a way that would make me avoid the pit of futile deep thinking. WHAT MAKES LIFE, LIFE? – is a question that really sounds better in my head in that it provokes “doing” and “action” rather than just merely meaningless pondering.
So what makes life, life?
Make “ordinary” things “extra-ordinary” again.
Very often, these “ordinary” things are being made redundant by our life’s routines. Routine for me is such a killer. We have always had these “things” in our lives – talked with, played with, used, eaten, lived in or enjoyed. These have become such a part of our routine already that we have overlooked their importance. Getting your dream job may have heaped our “hallelujahs” then. I wonder if we are as grateful for it, now. We only realise how much our loved ones mean to us, once we lose them. In most days, they tend to be relegated to just being the “ordinary”. I remember crying when we bought our first house but now I am finding myself wishing it was bigger. These thoughts could all be counter-productive so the solution is to make these things that seemed “ordinary” now, “extra-ordinary” again. Bite an apple like it is the sweetest and juiciest apple you have ever tasted. Drive to work with zest like it is your first dream job. Hug your wife and children like you are never going to see them again. Live your life as if it were your last. Well, you know, it could really be your last. I am really fortunate to teach pre-school age children everyday. They seem to never lose the joy. They always remind me to see the spiritual sense in even the most mundane of things.
Always think and strive to learn and avoid meaningless pondering. Why your neighbours are better off than you are, why you couldn’t be in two places at the same time, why you think people are mean to you or to each other, why people unnecessarily honk their horns during traffic – seem to be pointless thoughts because it gets you nowhere other than to spiral down. Thinking and striving to learn, on the other hand, is one built on purpose and could be actualised into something of value. Recently, I came across quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson which I have been reading over and over again. These are short but really meaningful and have great potentials to make me a better person. I have been constantly listening to Fr. Andrew Ricci’s podcast and have been enriched by his wisdom. Striving to learn new things is a start of greater things.
Act on your knowledge. Implement your plans. I spent my whole life wondering about the ‘what if’s” and the “what could’ve been’s”. I resolve to not waste another minute of my life focusing my energies on these, instead, to start to do, to act and venture into things I am most afraid of and in the process, add value to my life. What is the value of your plan if it remains a plan forever? At my kindergarten, we envision creating a community garden that could benefit our families. Sounds like a big vision but would not come into fruition if we do not attempt to start to work towards it. Whenever I gain new knowledge that deepens my Catholic faith for example, I share them with others hoping that it could impact on their lives as it continue to impact on mine. The home is a good starting point of sharing these. I make myself visible and available for other people and offering a life of service, as much as I can.
Always find time to connect with self, others and God through prayer. Prayer is a respite for the tired, an assurance for the weak, a celebration for the happy, a feast for the soul of the peaceful. Prayer can be all of these. We pray in all our seasons not only when we are in need. Prayer also transcends distance and time and allows us to be connected with the people we love. I have loved ones from the Philippines, USA, Canada, Middle East and Israel but I always feel that prayer still binds us together whenever I remember them in my prayers. Prayer binds me to God. It is always a wonderful place to quell fears, to heal, to feel love, to unburden myself and to remain faithfully connected with God’s promises.
What makes life, life, I learned, are overcoming yourself and getting past your past and your nagging meaningless thoughts. What makes life, life; is to start to put things together beginning with the little things and adding them all up to create a bigger picture of continuous learning, connecting and devoting to a life of prayer. That is the life worth living for with actions all done in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To start to read professional research on childhood, is always a big mission for me. You see, a teacher gets rusty and a little misplaced through time and one surefire way to fan the embers and to get back the inspiration, is to read. As always, getting started is the most difficult step but I have learned in the past that once you get through the first step, it gets easier, intriguing and thought-provoking along the way.
I have few pages of research on spirituality among young children, a topic I long wanted to unravel, sitting on my desk for months. In the last Auckland lockdown, I managed to finally read it. Let me share with you highlights of what I learned from these journals.
Most research contend that spirituality in the early childhood settings, are not fully understood and articulated because it is often equated with religion. Research found that childhood is a stage in life where spiritual experiences are very much alive and when children revere that which cannot be seen. What are some of these spiritual experiences? That sense of wonder and constant wonderings about themselves, others, nature; are considered spiritual experiences. Wonderings truly abound in a young child’s life. A child at daycare once asked me if a tree had a heart like human beings. I invited the child to hug a tree and listen for any heartbeat to seek the “truth”.
Spirituality awakens a child’s focus and creativity and one way teachers could foster spirituality is to invite calm and silence in their lives. Research found that developing spirituality in young children could help address alienation and depression, violence and alcohol and drug abuse, later on in their lives.
The way spirituality was painted here is truly beautiful. But that which drives these spiritual experiences, I believe, is rooted in something more than a realisation, a feeling, an emotion.
What truly drives spirituality is the Holy Spirit and absolutely, my faith has EVERYTHING to do with it. Our connectedness with people, places, things and ourselves; has more meaning, knowing that the Holy Spirit is behind it; such is our eyes that allow us to see the truth.
When my two daughters were toddlers, my wife and I used to take them to the beach just to search for shells. Then, it was not the number of shells they found but how they got to discover each shell. I would let them run their fingers around it and let them find words to describe it. Always, I would point out that God made them. How did God make them? I don’t need to know. For something so perfect, it must be such a loving act. Nature is so perfect and it must be a work of a perfect God.
Nature invites focus and silence. The world bustles with a lot of noise. PS4 noises in the living room. Car honking in the streets. Chatters in the train. Noises in our head. How do we turn these noises off? A time of prayer spent in nature is one way to invite the Spirit. My younger daughter, Soleil came one day telling me that she meditated in the school garden. I was very pleased that she found her way to turn off noises around her and bring in peace by praying in silence.
The Holy Spirit lives in us and manifests Himself in different ways. When our children, show acts of kindness, praise their good-heartedness and let them know that the Holy Spirit guided their work and it must be in their heart. My elder daughter Skylar loves to share her food with her friends in school. I knew that she really has a good heart. When she was about five years old, she got mad at us for shooing the ducklings taking interest in our picnic food. She must be feeling the ducklings’ hunger. Children’s act of kindness are spiritual experiences that must not go unnoticed.
When we struggle, the Holy Spirit can also hold us together. Anger and sadness are healthy emotions that children have to go through. When prolonged, deep and constant though, these emotions could become unwanted spirits later in our lives. These could turn into the feeling of worthlessness, alienation and depression.
Early on in life, we can help children recognise big unsettling emotions. We label these emotions. We talk them through it. We encourage them to believe that they will never ever be alone and that act of inviting silence predisposes them to prayer. In silent prayer, the Holy Spirit could dwell in them. It could dwell In all of us.
As Jesus promised us in John 14:16-17 – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”
The Holy Spirit is the kind of help we all desperately need today.
While we, teachers and parents, scramble to “teach” our children to succeed academically and socially, we should also “teach” them spirituality driven by the Holy Spirit. The early years is the best time to do this. It is the time when children show so much reverence to the unseen when they spend endless moments of wonderings. Teach them that the Holy Spirit can be invited to dwell in us when we pray in our silence. Once it touches us, all we have to do is surrender and it becomes our armour against the unwanted and unwelcome spirits of this world.
Our life and joy-giving connectedness with the world and ourselves is driven by the Holy Spirit. When that connectedness breaks causing us despair, it is also the Holy Spirit that restores, rebuilds and heals it. Let us take it. It is a free gift.
What is it about superheroes that beguile young children? In my nearly ten years of working alongside children in different early childhood settings in New Zealand, superhero play has always been an interest, a hit among children and one learning area that I really like to extend and support because of its richness in learning opportunities.
Imagine children arguing quite heatedly. I’m Ironman. No, I’m Ironman. The arguing goes on and on. Imagine the language learning opportunities here and the words that can be used for conflict resolution and socio-emotional learning moments. Imagine the bucket of tears from wounded feelings that I have helped mend just because children thought there could only be one Elsa at any given time.
Being a superhero in socio-dramatic play, is physically empowering for children. They become bigger, faster, higher, stronger and more powerful than they already are. Think of the monsters they have slayed, the heavens they have flown, the heights they have scaled and the mountains they have climbed.
In between strenuous running, I would often take a break with them. I would often ask what makes a superhero. Almost always, their responses gravitate towards physical strength. You must see us scale the “mountains” of kindergarten as we chase the “baddies” – heaps of heaving, running, vocal improvisations – all to showcase physical strength!
There is one learning opportunity in superhero play that really stands out for me, though. It is the morality of superhero play; the sense of right or wrong that children learn as they play. Children at a very young age, could actively explore morality as they pretend to be somebody they are not; battling the so-called “baddies”.
Morality, I think, could be taught to young children. Being in the “right” could be about being kind. Being in the “wrong” could be about hitting or mocking others.
I am still in awe of all research that supports the New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum’s (Te Whariki) dispositional learning. Children’s ability to take risks, to take interest, to participate, to be friendly and to negotiate; could be encouraged among children from birth to preschool. Such dispositions could all form part of their lifelong character.
That notion of lifelong learning brings me to the question: What if we start the moulding of our children into the kind of persons Jesus wants them to be, at a very early age? Then my friend, I must say, we are preparing them to become their future selves; the kind of superhero, God envisions them to be – fearless in their faith and loving and kind to others.
Jesus has far more amazing qualities than your regular superhero. Let us draw our children closer to these qualities. Jesus as our God and who is also our friend. Jesus as a great listener. Jesus as kind and loving. Jesus as fearless.
Encouraging children to be fearless in their faith and to be kind and loving, is not always taught through show-and-tell. It is a process that starts at home. Let me highlight that learning as a “process” as opposed to learning as a “product”. While the product focuses more on superficial standards and quality, the “process” focuses on the beauty of relationship; the journeying, the solving of errors, together. It is the constant modelling of kind and loving words at home. It is the constant forgiveness they see at home when one errs. It could be that while playing, we model taking turns. It could even be the constant asking of one of the most important questions of all – How does that make you feel? It could be about modelling feeling words; “I could see how being hit could make you feel very angry”. We need to show children humanity and part of it is empathy and expressing emotions.
In Philippians 4:13, it is said, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”. If there is anything that keeps us from being that teacher or parent who teaches our children how to to be like Jesus then…KAPOW to our fears!