Luke 15:13 – “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one or love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
I value my “family” but there were points in my life when my actions led me away from them.
I had some irrational obsessions years ago. Obsessing with fixing broken things at home or keeping the house insanely and perfectly tidy, was one of them. This came in a guise of “valuing family”.
Who doesn’t like a clean and tidy house for your family?I think we all do but for the longest time for me, it bordered on irrationality when even the tiniest things would keep my head in and would make me fly off the handle. I abhorred it when things at home would get broken or misplaced. I hated looking for lost things. That would be enough for me to have a fit. My feelings after exploding would be much, much worse.
Was it worse because of growing anger? Or was it worse because of guilt stemming from hurting the feelings of the people I love. Little things at home seemed really “big” enough to pull me and my family apart. I knew I needed help,
Never stray from your values. Work towards aligning your actions with your values. I came to realise this when I went through counselling for depression. People who suffer the feeling of inadequacy, worthlessness and depression, may have really admirable values in life like faith in God, family, friendship or diligence but our actions or inaction, like sinfulness, disloyalty, betrayal or sloth, could further lead us deeper down the pit.
What I found that I have always valued are faith in God and my love for family. I have always aimed to live by these in the past but was unsuccessful several times. I guess by not praying, I had not realized my faith. I guess by having a short temper over household matters, I had not been a good father or husband, either. Such was a mismatch of values and actions that tormented my soul.
My inaction, I knew, would only make matters worse. On the contrary, I learned later on that the more I spent meaningful time with my family and the more I pray and learn about God’s word; the closer I get to realise what really matters to me.
Now, I know enough that I value my faith and that, not praying or not learning about the bible, will only make me feel inadequate and more depressed. I still do struggle now but I know enough that I value and love my wife and my children, that petty household things must not feel big enough to overcome that love.
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!