Spiritual Development with Children
My entire life, my hair has been very straight and fine (each strand is thin). I accepted “this is just the way it is” since my hair “won’t hold a curl.” So, imagine my surprise when one of our kids began growing, not stick straight hair, but curls, in the infant years. I marveled at the curls while applying my shampoo and conditioner, and as the child grew the hair straightened. Weird. This happened a few times with a few different kids, until I had a child who began to acquire not stick straight hair with my routine, but a budding halo of frizz and tangled snare. What was I going to do with this problem?
The tangled hair is just one unexpected problem I have encountered. Problems present themselves in tons of ways when living with kids. Over and over again, I am presented with what feels like the same disagreement because one of them is “doing something to me I don’t like.” Recently, with my elder kids, I found myself repeating to them, “Well, this is a gift, because you can learn to...(be more patient or endure).” But, they don’t want to learn, they want to win. I understand, because I want that, too. I rarely believe that whatever situation I am experiencing “is a gift because I can learn to...be more patient, find endurance, lean on Christ.” I feel I am learning all the time, not teaching. I become tired of learning. It is overwhelming and, in the beginning when most of the kids were little, I wondered when I was going “get it.” When would I learn everything and stop needing to learn? The kids catch on to my habits (whether set-up intentionally, or by lack of attention). At some point I realized, habits are caught. They aren’t taught. I can have our kids memorize doctrines of the church, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Ten Commandments, which are wonderful seeds to plant, but I don’t think those are the most powerful things kids learn from me. No, the most powerful thing they learn from me is the way I do things. How do I know my “way” is aligned on the straight and narrow path? Here’s something else to ponder: what if my “way” is causing problems?
The topic of spiritual development with kids and the problems we experience, the “way” of doing things, is rarely discussed in depth. Each day can sometimes feel as if I am on an island, alone, trying to figure the “way” out. As I get older, I do not find I know more about Christ; I need to learn how to learn from Him! Before I can even get into the arena of learning from Him, I have to really want to get in there. I have to become small to let His arena take me over. I need to listen in the moment to His small whisper and I must lean in to hear it carefully. It is painful, because I feel I am met with my own inadequate preparation for the job of parenting. I am a learner and my kids are learning from me. How do I teach them about cultivating a heart for Christ over a lifetime when I don’t always feel like learning myself? The answer is terrifyingly true. I cannot. I can pray for my kids, but I cannot force. The heart in each person is a sacred castle, off limits to any conversation except what the heart allows. It is the free will space constructed for the Holy Spirit.
There is One who agrees with a self-proclaimed inadequacy to parent. He gives kids and, along with that, comes the authority to handle the various situations the kids present. I am, literally, the authority in our children’s lives right now. Consider the giving of authority a powerful transaction. We lay hands on others to pray for something specific, to transfer grace to that person. Apostolic succession is based on a transfer of authority all the way back to Christ. In the secular world, we tout the United States of America’s ability to transfer authority from one elected official to another peacefully. Essentially, God created a child and gave that child to his or her parents, and for these kids, they are with me. My feeling I do not have the skills needed to parent is irrelevant.
The struggle is real and normal. Furthermore, it is not going away. It is a straight and narrow path to achieve closeness to God, “‘for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Remember, even if it is hard to believe in the chaos of child-rearing, it is still God’s truth: His grace is sufficient. His truth does not require us to believe Him to make it true. There are answers available, but they are His and not mine and not yours. God built each household to be as different as the individuals in its make-up. Each house has different problems, different solutions, and different graces. The way God the Father speaks to a household to demonstrate His love and gives it spiritual practices will look different house to house, but make no mistake, He is speaking. What is the way you solve problems with your kids to demonstrate the straight and narrow path? The feeling of “I don’t know what I am doing” is normal and human. God is so creative, and no two pairing of parent and child is alike. A strong-willed child is paired with a passive parent, or a quiet child is paired with an extroverted caretaker. These little sacramentals, these kids, bring what seems like endless opportunities to be tried in the fire of refinement. Why does God do this? Because He is good, and can demonstrate His personal presence when we are most in need of His strength, such as dealing with a stressful situation involving a child (or a child’s hair). I am convinced we, as parents and caretakers, must help each other remember that He is waiting with all His answers, we only need to start out asking for His help. Or begging for His help as His children taking care of children who beg us for help. We must be willing to become small to enter His big arena of grace.
I slowly figured out the hair products that work best on tangles and frizz. I had to learn a completely different hair care method to meet this individual child’s needs. It felt foreign. I could not figure out why this head of hair was so different from what I expected. In the back of my mind, whenever I tamed the frizz, I was wondering where this pattern came from. I received my answer. One evening last year, I was brushing my teeth and noticed a strand of shorter hair twisted and curled at my hairline. I pulled it straight only to see it re-coil. Interesting. As it turns out, when I learned more information and changed the way I took care of my hair, natural waves and loose curls presented themselves. I was wrong about having “stick straight hair.” My true, real pattern was there all along, just waiting for me to change and receive something new. I needed my soul and heart set to be looser on the proclamation about who I am. I am really a wavy haired, loose curled mom of a curly haired kid, neat! I received grace, in this minor detail of my life, and it rippled through me and to my kid. These things are caught and not taught. The answer came through the grace of a twisted hair revealing God’s truth hidden all along by the way I was doing things. His grace did the work and the revealing after I laid down what I thought I knew and picked up the change offered to me in the present moment through a very small detail. I wonder how many times that curly hair lay against my head without my noticing...