As parents, we are aware of our child’s growth in many ways. We measure their growth physically by the little lines that mark their height in our doorways or by the way they rapidly grow out of their clothes. We measure their academic progress by listening to them read aloud and discussing their report cards. We measure their athletic ability by appreciating their coordination and abilities in a variety of sports. We measure their social and interactive skills by watching them play with others, address adults, negotiate conflict and how regularly they employ the all important “please” and “thank yous” that we have drilled into them over the years. In my work with our children here at CTR, I would say the parents in our community are doing a truly remarkable job in aiding in our children’s development in a variety of ways.
Now, let’s change realms…and our language a bit. Instead of “measure,” let’s ask “How have we ‘observed’ our child’s spiritual growth?” This, I find as a parent, is a little more tricky to assess, yes? A good start is to pay close attention to what our children are wondering about. Do they ask “Who is God?” “Where was I in the very beginning, before I was born?” “Who and where was God in the beginning of creation?” “Why do so many people suffer?” “Where is my grandparent who has died?” “What does it mean when we say Jesus rose from the dead?” We adults still ponder these questions from time to time too, right? We never really grow out of these BIG life questions, even though we know finding any satisfying answers to them this side of the grave is unlikely. The ability to wrestle with and embrace these questions points to a kind of knowledge and maturity that is also essential to our well-being as humans, growth in spirituality.
When we hear these questions from our children and consider our response, we can remember Maria Montessori who said “joy is the indicator of interior growth, just as an increase in weight is the indication of bodily growth.” Just as we parents knows that the food we give our children is good because our child(ren) grows, so also the joy the child manifests when encountering certain religious themes indicates that these themes correspond to deep, vital, spiritual needs. When our children ask us these questions, they are asking us for spiritual food. When assessing if we are feeding them well, a few questions that may help…
Do our children have a spirit of joy and inner peace? Is there a curiosity about God and things of the Spirit? Is there a desire and an ability to initiate prayer? Is there an ability to make good decisions? Is there an interest and a growing understanding of the collective wisdom found in our sacred scriptures and practices? Are there signs of kindness, compassion, generosity and a desire to help others? Is there an awareness of God’s gifts in creation and the beauty of the earth? Is there a deepening attentiveness, curiosity, and participation at Mass? (FYI being an altar server IMMENSELY helped my most fidgety child focus and she loved doing it!).
We also may ask ourselves what traditions were most important in OUR childhood formation, i.e. bedtime prayers, grace at meals, weekly Mass, family rosary, advent wreath, etc. Which ones are we doing? Or not? And why? I know I still cross myself whenever I hear a siren. I don’t think we can’t underestimate the power of these little rituals. They are little opportunities for God to in-break into our daily lives.
Here is a great idea I gleaned at a conference and immediately instituted in our home.
In the morning I ask my kids “Which of the 7 GIFTS of the Spirit do you need most today? Knowledge, Courage, Understanding, Reverence, Wonder & Awe, Right Judgment, Wisdom” and then I sign a little cross on their foreheads and pray “Vivienne, today may the Spirit give you the gift of _____.”
At bedtime I ask “For which of the FRUITS of the Spirit are you most grateful for today? Joy, Faithfulness, Peace, Gentleness, Goodness, Patience, Love, Kindness, Self-Control…” A wonderful, brief conversation often ensues about their day and why this gift was important. This helps our kids (and US) to identify and speak meaningfully about how the Holy Spirit is active in our daily lives. Simple & Essential.
In the end, (I like to remind myself) God IS present and at work in and through our imperfection and ‘what we have left undone’ AND to have confidence that in continuing to love and care for our children we ARE indeed teaching them in the most concrete and trustworthy way of the love God has for each of us.
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