Childlike vs. Childish

Childlike vs. Childish

In the Gospel of St. Mark, Jesus states:

“’Let the children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will never enter it.’ And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.”

What is it about children that Jesus wants us to emulate? Before we investigate this question too seriously, I want to recommend a little book entitled Children’s Letters to God, which is a compilation of brief letters written by children to God. Listen to some of these gems in order to put us in the right spirit for our topic:

Dear God: Thank you for the baby brother, but what I really wanted was a puppy.

Dear God: My grandpa says you were around when he was a little boy. How far back do you go?

Dear God: I bet it is very hard for you to love everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.

We must make a distinction between the terms childlike and childish. Those of you who have children or grandchildren know that childish behavior includes conduct that is self-centered and disobedient. Those with childlike qualities, on the other hand, reveal basic Christian characteristics. For example:

*Children recognize their dependence on others and look for help from others as a matter of course.

*Children are not impressed with rank or title. They tend to be less prejudiced than adults can be.

*Children are honest with their feelings. They hold nothing back in expressing themselves to others.

*Children are inquisitive. They are sponge-like, constantly learning and growing and excited about new experiences.

*Children find it easier to trust others more than adults do. Place a child on a table and tell them to jump in your arms and they will do it without hesitation, such is their trust.

*Children are naturally joyful and playful. My daughter races to the window with excitement whenever she sees a bird outside, as if she is seeing one for the first time.

*Children bear no grudges. They are inhibited, eager to please, pure of heart, and have numerous other traits that we could list.

Although we can never be children again, Jesus is calling us to cultivate childlike qualities in our relationship with God. Think for a moment about how you relate with God. As you reflect on your connection with God, in what ways are you still trusting, honest with your feelings, inquisitive, joyful, and pure of heart?

There are two other letters in this book that give us great insight into how adults can rekindle the gift of being childlike in our relationship with God. The first letter states:

Dear God: I think about you sometimes even when I’m not praying.

The second follows:

Dear God: I don’t ever feel alone since I found out about you.

Both these brief yet profound letters underscore that true faith is about a personal and daily relationship with God. These two children experience the presence of God as a natural part of their lives. Sometimes as adults, we intellectualize our faith. Children, on the other hand, have the ability to perceive without understanding, to feel without analyzing.

During the Divine Liturgy we are exhorted to “taste and see how good is the Lord.” We are being invited to first experience the Lord so that we may then come to understand Him also.

It is ironic that adults are expected to be role models for children. The reality is that adults have quite a lot to learn from children. May we imitate their enthusiasm so that each of us may breathe a true faith that is centered on a personal and daily relationship with God.

Adult Education in Practice: The Case of Emerging Adults

Let’s consider a concrete example of what’s been written so far about adult education. To summarize, the earlier posts discussed that there are different ways of organizing content in adult religious education, from basic to more advanced. Second, I presented that adult education must meet the developmental – intellectual, emotional, spiritual, religious, and physical needs – of adulthood across the adult lifespan.

What does this mean in practice? To offer a concrete example, I want to share some ideas about working with one age group of adults. It’s one you may not be familiar with: emerging adults.

In the last twenty years, psychologists have been discussing a new developmental category of adulthood: emerging adult.  An emerging adult is no longer a teenager but is not yet a young adult. Emerging adults tend be between eighteen and thirty years old. Because of lengthy educations, delaying marriage, job insecurities, there is an unsettled quality in this developmental phase. When researches asked men and women in this age group the about these and other issues, the most common answers were “yes and no.” Yes, I want to be married, but no I am not married, nor have I found the person yet. Yes, I want to find my career, but no I keep changing jobs. A young adult, in this understanding has answered the questions but is merely relatively at the beginning stages, for example, newly married, in a job for a relatively longer period of time. As with other elements of adult development, this stage of growth is more about changing social roles rather than changing physical or cognitive qualities.

Knowing this and more about emerging adults (I highly recommend reading about various stages of adulthood), a parish or diocesan ministry can begin to develop programs or events that meet the particular needs of this period of life.

Given the unsettled pattern in emerging adulthood, with all the “yes and no” answers to questions, a program could be created to work on issues of discernment and decision about life choices. Most emerging adults (and even many of us older adults) were told they “could be anything” in life. Certainly an empowering message, but within the message is potentially the problem of avoid “settling” or “choosing” the path or direction. With supposed unlimited possibilities, choosing can be painful. “What if I make the wrong choice?” is the nagging interior question. If so, avoid choosing; “keep the options open.” An adult education program, a retreat, could look at the choices that we make, how we make them, finding the positive dimension of the choice. An adult education program could use texts from the Bible, lives of saints, and spiritual writings as sources to study, find inspiration, and stimulate conversation. This same approach could be done with emerging adults to discuss issues of marriage, vocation, and their engagement with the world around them: Church, community, and beyond.

Naturally, while older adults certainly face decisions in life, once they have answered the emerging adult questions, resolving issues of career, marriage, etc. the questions and issues change. So, emerging adults, young adults, middle aged adults, and senior adults each have their distinct questions and concerns. Those responsible for ministering to adults in a parish, organizing adult education programs and events, should be spending time getting to know the needs of these stages in order to develop programs that meet particular needs.

In the next and final post on adult education, the focus will be on resources and organizing a program.

Is Ministry Preparing Kids for Life in the Church?

Dorothy Day was a Catholic social activist. And a Cardinal once described her as trying "to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist."

This is the sort of description that should apply to every Christian’s life.

Shouldn’t it?

After all, as Saint Paul wrote, the Gospel is something that doesn’t quite make sense in light of the wisdom of our time: "We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." (1 Corinthians 1:23)

Phrased even more simply: "the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)

If individual Christian lives shouldn’t make sense without God, then the same should apply to Christian activities and ministries.

So, do our ministries make sense without God?

The Shape of Our Ministries

I grew up in the Church. I was an active participant in parish youth groups, athletic events, cultural activities, Sunday School, etc. 

These are the same programs that make up most youth ministry today. And these are the same programs that most of our young adults have participated in.

Yet we all know that the Church has a problem: young people are increasingly disaffected and disengaged from the life of the Church.

Young people are increasingly of the opinion that their lives "make sense" without God

Is it because the ministry that shaped them made sense without God?

Catherine’s Story

I’ve given talks to thousands of young adults across the country, and have been blessed to speak face-to-face with hundreds of them. 

When young adults share their stories, I’ve noticed a common thread. It was incredibly obvious when I met Catherine. 

Catherine is in college. I met her during a young adult event. 

We were going around the room, sharing our stories and struggles. As Catherine spoke, everyone in the room began nodding in silent agreement.

Catherine described growing up in the Church. She was active in everything: from Sunday School to the parish dance group. She played on the community’s basketball team and never missed a youth event. 

Yet, as soon as she graduated high school, her relationship with the Church dissolved. She joined several different clubs and groups. As soon as she heard that there was an Orthodox young adult event in the area, she made sure to attend.

As she described her journey, one thing was clear: Catherine was desperate to belong to something

And she never felt like she belonged to the Church.

"Institutionalized" by Ministry

But why

How can someone who was active in literally every program the Church offered feel so disconnected from the Church?

There’s a scene in the movie The Shawshank Redemption that may help clarify the question.

The movie takes place in Shawshank State Prison. And Brooks Hatlen is an elderly prisoner, someone who was locked up as a young man.

Unexpectedly, Brooks learns that he’s been paroled at age 73, after over 40 years in prison.

Yet he isn’t pleased with the news. Instead, he holds a knife to another inmate’s throat and threatens to kill him.

One of Brooks’s friends is confused by this reaction: why isn’t Brooks happy to finally be a free man?

Another inmate soberly responds: Brooks has been institutionalized. He’s spent so long in prison that he no longer knows how to live as a free man. There is nothing connecting him with the wider world.

After all, what’s a prisoner without prison walls?

And what’s a GOYAn without GOYA?

Ministry as a Garden

When I was young, my grandmother kept a beautiful garden. It was of all kinds of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes.

I noticed that, when the tomato plants were young, she would tie the plants to sticks she placed in the soil. The stick, she explained, was meant to help keep the plant from falling over while the stem was weak. 

When the plant was strong enough to stand on its own, she would remove the stick.

It seems to me that, if our ministries are the "sticks" being used to support our young people, they’re not helping our children learn to stand on their own.

People like Catherine can spend over a decade in a variety of youth programs. They spend years participating in activities, attending events, etc. And, at the end of it all, they seem completely ill-equipped to be healthy members of the Church.

They seem just as institutionalized as Brooks Hadley, completely unable to survive outside of the walls of their youth programs. 

Thus when GOYA goes away, so do the GOYAns.

Do We Need More Programs?

I know what you’re thinking: "maybe this means we need more young adult programs."

Yet a simply desire for more will not address the real problem

Young people climb the ladder from HOPE to JOY to GOYA, moving from one program to another. They spend years learning how to be good participants in these programs, and yet never develop the ability to function as Christians in the Church.

Absent a program to prop them up, our young people find the Church to be uninteresting at best, or completely foreign at worst. Without the threat of being benched during the Basketball Tournament if they don’t show up for Liturgy, they have very little buy-in.

And, because kids may jump through this hoop and show up for Liturgy while they’re in the program, we may feel that we’ve facilitated good ministry.

But have we?

Based on our perceived successes with youth programs, our knee-jerk reaction is to make more programs. Programs for college students! Programs for young professionals!Programs for old adults, and then elderly adults!

Programs from the cradle to the grave!

Investing time and effort in young adult groups may, on a surface level, appear successful in the short term. But what happens after a person ages out of this program?

All we’ve done is kick the can down the road

All we’ve done is form a generation of program participants who will never be at home in the Church itself

We don’t simply need more programs any more than tomato plants need more sticks to prop them up.

We need better programs. We need to recognize that programs are meant to be the stick that holds up seedlings, not the vine themselves. 

We need Christ-centered and Kingdom-oriented programs that shape people who, eventually, don’t need programs. 

We need a vision of ministry that forms Christians with a deep and abiding relationship with Christ in His Church, not mere participants who depend on more and more programs. 

Reimagining Ministry

For decades, we have crafted ministry programs that make perfect sense without God. Children participate in fun activities and go on exciting trips. They play sports and learn ethnic dances. 

(Nevermind that the local YMCA has better sports teams, and there are thousands of summer camps with better ropes courses and arts and crafts.)

And maybe, in order to justify calling our programs "ministry," we sprinkle a bit of "religion" on top for good measure. 

(You can hear the implicit lesson when leaders say, "Let’s pray real quick, and then we'll get back to the fun stuff.")

But we have to be honest.

The reality is that the fruit of these programs isn’t a new generation of faithful Christians who are at home in the Church. Our programs are not forming people with robust and resilient prayer lives who are cultivating meaningful relationships with both God and neighbor. 

Because our programs aren’t guiding young people into the practices of active Christian life, of ascetically struggling to know Christ in His Church. 

Instead, our programs are creating a generation of people who can’t survive without out those programs.

Of people who are completely unable (or even unwilling) to live as Christians in the Church.

Perhaps the ministry we lead isn’t as Christ-centered or Kingdom-oriented as we pretend it is.

Maybe we’ve been doing ministry incorrectly.

Steven Christoforou is the Director of Y2AM.

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Why is faith so hard for so many? Check out this week's episode of Live the Word for more:

 

Meeting the Needs of Adult Learners

Meeting the Needs of Adult Learners: One Size Does Not Fit All

In my previous post, I discussed three different ways to develop an adult education program in a parish. They were Learning the Tradition, Deepening Knowledge of the Tradition, and Applying the Tradition. Essentially each of these creates levels of engagement with the adult learner, from basics to something more advanced.

Now, we should think about the nature of adulthood itself. If you ever took a human development course, you may recall that as we develop across our lifespan we go through different states of development. In a nutshell, there are physical stages, cognitive and emotional stages, and social stages. Theorists over the last century have studied them and named them. These understandings have had a huge influence on education as well as other areas of life.

Adulthood is also a stage of development, with biological, cognitive and emotional, and social stages. The religious questions of adults also develop over time. Adult development should be considered when creating an adult education program. When our adult education work meets the needs of the people, the more successful we are likely to be.

All adults are not in the same place developmentally. In short, in adult education, “one size does not fit all.”

My grandmother had a saying, “Where you are, I was. Where I am, you are headed.” Think about it. If you are sixty years old and reading this today, how are you different physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially, and religiously from when you were thirty-five years old. Looking at people older than yourself, how are they different from where you are now?

Each stage of adult life has different questions and concerns that could become the basis for adult education work in the parish. Parenting, vocation and career, marriage, making sense of life’s journey as we age, prayer, just to name a few.

We also have to keep in mind that adulthood brings with it many physical and cognitive changes as well, ranging from hearing and vision to comfort in a chair, recall and memory issues, and others. In general, all these areas decline as we age. We still learn and are very capable of learning, but it can take us a bit longer, the environment has to be “right” for the learning to occur.

What can we do?

Target the program to a specific group. In a marriage program, for example, while couples certainly learn from the experiences of couples across the span of a marriage, you might want to target some programs for newly married, or couples that have been married for a few decades. Younger adults are typically more concerned about discerning their future place in the world. Older adults are typically more concerned about reflecting on their lives and making sense of their life’s journey.

Consider the environment. Especially for older learners, the space should be bright enough, the acoustics should be appropriate, the chairs easy to get in and out of. Don’t expect a group of senior citizens to look forward to sitting on the floor!

Taking all of this into account, parishes can develop programs that meet the religious, social, cognitive and emotional, physical, questions and needs of adults. Combining these ideas with the “levels” of education mentioned in the earlier post, creates many rich possibilities.

 

To be continued.

 

What is Love?

“I love your new SUV!” “I love this restaurant!” “I love that movie’s soundtrack.” Countless times, I have expressed these types of sentiments. Perhaps in my eagerness to describe a sincere appreciation for things, I casually say I love them. As innocent as this may appear, I begin to suspect that the careless and repeated misapplication of a word—especially one as foundational as love—tends to dull its rich meaning. Since “God is love” (1 John 4:8), that word should be reserved primarily for my affection for God and neighbor.

 In 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, St. Paul delivers one of the most beautiful passages ever offered on the nature of love. Love, he says, is long-suffering and kind. It rejoices in truth and bears all things. It believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends. St. Paul’s message is profound, stirring, and timeless. In a contemporary society that often encourages prideful individualism, love is the corrective measure.

Christ Himself designates love as the identifying mark of His followers: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34–35). Love, then, is the God-given attribute that creates and sustains existence itself. We innately desire to love and be loved. God’s unfathomable love for us, exemplified through Christ’s death on the cross, calls us to both give love and accept love.

We do not have to abandon our fondness for cars, food, music, or other “stuff.” Indeed, God created matter for our sustenance and measured enjoyment. However, the heart’s greatest desires and concerns should primarily exhibit a relational aspect, indicative of the high priority of our connection to God and others. This is the significance and aim of our love. We are beings, made in God’s image and after His likeness, that will, ideally, not only speak the word love with greater consideration but live by its divine nature as well.

George Tsongranis, MDiv is the Content Developer for the Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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