In Their Own Words… or Pictures

There’s a lot of talk these days about children. How to raise children… how to educate children…. how to discipline children… how children develop their values and beliefs… how to get children to eat their peas… Lots of talk about children.

Over the last decade years, spiritual formation has become the buzz phrase in Christianity. It has found it’s home in material for children as well. Books and curriculum carry this label, whether they are formational or not. There are conferences for pastors, parents and children with this label.

Heck, I write the some of the books and teach at some of the conferences! It’s a hot topic.

There’s some good research out there; we’ve got loads to say and loads to learn. Though I think, we’re missing a voice? The voice of our children.

It’s time for us (adults) to do a bit more listening and less talking.

One of the most rewarding things I do is spiritual direction with children. I have the great honor of listening to children talk about their thoughts and feelings concerning God. They teach me so much.

For the next year on this blog we’d like to give voice and space to children. Their words. Their pictures. Since often images are more meaningful for them.

So we’re asking for your help. Do you have a child, or know a child, who would be willing to share their thoughts about God, through word or picture?

Whether it’s one time or once a month, we’d love to hear from children. Respond to this blog, or contact us over on our FB page.

https://www.facebook.com/gooddirtfamilies

Tomorrow’s blog post will be about how to invite children to express their thoughts about God.

Dirty Work and New Growth

sprout

© Veronica Foale, used under Creative Commons License.

Kids never cease to surprise. Over Christmastide, the period of the twelve days of Christmas beginning December 25, our family had a time of sitting together and focusing for more than 30 minutes on both the spiritual parallels for the 12 Days of Christmas song and then on what spiritual disciplines are, why we practice them, and some discussion on a few specific disciplines.

We are using a book titled Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families by Lacy Finn Borgo and Ben Barczi (which you can download for free to use with your family or purchase in paperback from Amazon, with two  subsequent issues for upcoming parts of the church year available soon). The book has a brief family devotion for every day, centered around the theme of planting and growing–our souls, both kids and adults, are like plants that need good dirt and helpful conditions in order to grow and flourish with God. Each of the few steps in the daily devotion fills a planting metaphor: we till the soil with prayer, we plant the seed of God’s Word by reading a noted Scripture passage, we water the soil by acting a story, drawing a picture, or talking about how God’s Word applies to our lives, and later on we weed, considering how we applied or failed to apply these themes in our day.

Our family has taken easily to the Good Dirt format and we’ve experienced meaningful times of listening to God and each other. That day during Christmastide stands out because we’d had a few days of being in and out of the house, active with extended family and various activities of the Christmas season. We had not spent time in our Good Dirt devotions for three or four days and there was much good material we’d missed. On this day, we started by discovering what none of us had known:

“Some say that the words of the [Twelve Days of Christmas] song were secret code for people to remember their faith during times of persecution.” ~ Good Dirt

For example, a partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, three French hens are the three virtues listed in 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love, and on it goes. This song with it’s Christian faith parallels is a fun way to help kids review important, foundational themes of our faith.

The Christmastide period, being twelve days, also fits ideally for bringing into discussion each of the twelve spiritual disciplines (as identified by Richard Foster in his classic book Celebration of Discipline). These disciplines are grouped by inner, outer, and corporate disciplines and include prayer, meditation, study, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. They all will be re-visited throughout the coming year in Good Dirt.

I mentioned that kids never cease to surprise, and here is why. On this day during Christmas, we didn’t set out to make up all of our lost ground in the devotional. We just started reading together and one thing led to another. Before we’d realized it, we had spent time on the song, talking about spiritual disciplines, and reviewing the first disciplines covered in the days we’d missed. And our boys tracked with us on every bit of it!

Our 8-year-old has been in perpetual motion since he was a toddler. He focuses just fine but cannot stop moving his body. Every Good Dirt session he is rolling on the floor, playing with a ball, walking around, or moving in some other sort of way. He learns and processes by moving;  it’s just who he is. Our 14-year-old is a teenager. He’s wonderful … and also a little hormonal at times. Our middle guy at age 11 is on the quieter side. He usually ends up helping to re-direct his brothers.

Three personalities, three stages in childhood. So, the reality of sitting for such a long period together and discussing some pretty involved areas of theology and spiritual training is something I wouldn’t have thought possible or advisable for us or anyone. Yet it became a time of fun and absorbing discussion and learning.

I’ve often thought about how much I have read and learned and experienced in my life with God and his people in the years I’ve lived, and how I want to share so much of that with my kids. A lot does come up in the living of life, often at the most unexpected moments. Yet, some of what I hope to share with them, like the spiritual disciplines and some of the more complex foundations of our faith, seems to stay on the periphery of our lives together, and though these do come into conversation at times, sometimes they do so without much framework or intentional commitment toward living out and practicing these habits and truths  in ongoing ways.

Good Dirt has begun to change that. I’m learning about my kids in the process. They are deep people. They can discuss and absorb spiritual ideas typically thought to be adult territory without missing a beat. They can venture deeper in their lives with God. We can do it together and learn from one another and God in simultaneous ways.

Getting dirty together has its benefits. Everything may not work, but sometimes the things we never would have tried become the soil for a brand new season of growth.

Have you experienced a similar time of spiritual growth with your children, where a surprising and unexpected route became a catalyst? Would it help your family to try out a resource like Good Dirt?

**You can follow various families blogging on their use of Good Dirt and its themes by subscribing for free here.

A Twelve Day Party

If you are just now joining Good Dirt families, Welcome!

You are not late to the party, you are just in time.  In fact, welcome to one of the most holy seasons of the year, Christmastide. During Christmastide we celebrate the “pinch me I’m dreaming” miracle of God entering humanity, God wading into joy and pain.

During Christmastide we are engaging in the 12 Classical Spiritual Disciplines Richard Foster writes about in Celebration of Discipline. However in Good Dirt, we engage in them family style. You can still pick up a devotional at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1482697459/ref=cm_sw_su_dp

Or you can download it for free at http://www.scribd.com/doc/178534327/Good-Dirt-Advent-Christmastide-Epiphany-Volume-1.

Join us in the next 11, nearly 10 days as we enter the open space of a life with God through prayer, meditation, study, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.

If these feel overwhelming and not so child friendly check out our child friendly definitions. https://gooddirtfamilies.com/tools-for-tilling/

Happy Christmastide!

Purpose in Struggle

This week led to some profound discussion in my home.  There were topics that seemed pretty heavy for a 10 and 13 year old.  “Why did He let them arrest Him?”  “Why did He heal the people who were there to kill Him?”  Our discussion (as always) steered us in a direction I did not anticipate.

Jesus came to earth for a purpose and it wasn’t so that we could spend too much money giving gifts and sing carols once a year.  He came, fully God and wrapped in confining flesh, to do nothing less that offer salvation to a lost world.  To save us.  To show us the greatest love that the world has ever known.  At any time He could have given up.  He could have decided that it was too uncomfortable to live a life limited by the constraints of a human body. He could have returned to Heaven. Every day that He lived on Earth he made a choice to finish he task that was set before Him.  A task that was more than difficult but had a greater purpose than the suffering He would endure.

Everyone has to make hard choices.  As Christ-followers we have the choice to seek out our purpose in life.  The purpose that God Himself placed before us.  We have to choose to carry on when things get hard, when our lives don’t turn out like we thought they would and even when it doesn’t seem fair or when we think that someone else has it better than us.  We have to choose to stick around and not run away, to lean into our struggles and accept them as they build our character and sift out the ugliness of our flesh even as they make us more like Christ Himself.  Our choice doesn’t lead to the salvation of the world.  But our choice can lead our families to salvation.

One of the choices our family has to make every day is how to view autism in our lives.  We could choose to feel sorry for ourselves and to get mired in the why’s.  We could choose to compare our lives and our calling with the callings of more “typical” families.  And sometimes we do just that.  We cry out to God for answers and for relief for us and for our sweet girl.  He is always gracious to answer us and that answer always remains “this is your purpose.  This is how my Glory will be played out in your lives.  This is how others will see Me through you.”  This answer is humbling and so full of love that it makes my heart swell.

What an amazing gift to give to my children at Christmas time: the gift of knowing that though God doesn’t always step in when times get hard, He always has a greater purpose in mind.  The greater Glory.  And if we are patient, and learn to listen and to wait we just might get to be a part of that Glory.

Do As You Can…Not as You Can’t*

Sitting at dinner one night, my family was unusually quiet and no one would make eye contact with me.  They don’t call me 007 for nothing so I picked up on this right away.“Ok, what’s going on?” I demanded.  A barrage of “You tell her,”  “No, you tell her,” and “I’m not telling her,” filled the room.

Finally a confession was made. “I said we’d make cookies for the orchestra concert.”And a second confession, “We’re in charge of the department Christmas party this year.”  I don’t do well when I’m over-scheduled and everyone at the table knew it.  My mostly sane mother persona takes the last train to Clarksville. My family was afraid the train whistle was coming.

There is a danger in busyness and especially busyness in “spiritual activities.” There is a danger in Good Dirt.  In Good Dirt there are lots of activities that we, list makers will want to check off in order to feel good about ourselves. That is a serious danger. Checking things off in Good Dirt will not make you holy. God will not love you or your children more. (As if he could love you more than he already does…seriously.) Turning Good Dirt into a legalistic checklist of behaviors and activities to manipulate your family or God will make you crazy… or your family crazy and then you will start looking like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with eleven thousand twinkly lights, cutting off the newel post, and burning down your Christmas tree. (OK. Maybe not all that.)

Actually it’s more serious than that. Making a “to do” list out of a spiritual tools can lead two ways.

  1. Failure, we don’t measure up and then we think God doesn’t approve of us. His love or approval doesn’t hinge on what you’re doing.
  2. Success, you get all the things on the “to do” list checked off. Now, you are really hard to live with. Pride. You and yours are so holy because you have done x,y, and z. God is interested in who you are becoming, not how many religious practices you accomplish.

Ben and I have this really wonderful friend named Jan Johnson*. She has been telling us the same thing for years now,

“Do as you can, not as you can’t.”  

When you take a look at Good Dirt and you see a list of things to do, do them if you can. Do them if you think they will draw you and your people closer to Jesus. Choose a few, (few as in one or two) do those… linger over them, spend time talking to one another, open up the space for God to move.

The point is not a holy list of “have-tos.”

The point is to become more fully the person God has created us to be and that happens when we have the open space to really connect with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and our family.