I mentioned a few posts back that I planned a summer study of the Beatitudes with the kiddos. We’re so enjoying The Beatitudes for Children by Rosemarie Gortler. The illustrations are engaging and each Beatitude is explained and clarified at a level children can understand. Each Beatitude is followed by a prayer, which we included each morning as part of our family devotion.
We finished the First Beatitude (blessed are the poor in spirit) and I’ve been thinking about it all week — not only about what the Beatitude means for us, but about how attachment parenting can help us raise children who are poor in spirit.
What Does It Mean to Be Poor in Spirit?
The First Beatitude is “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. The kids and I learned that to be “poor in spirit” doesn’t mean you lack money or feel sad; It means you are humble. We’re humble when we recognize that we’re entirely dependent upon God for everything. We trust that he will be there for us and we recognize that we need to put our lives in his hands. We know that we can communicate our needs, worries, and joys to him because God cares about every facet of our lives. To be humble also means we are modest – not arrogant or proud.
The kids thought and talked about times in their lives that did or might eventually require them to be humble, to be poor in spirit: when we’re upset over a something a friend says or does, when we lose something we cared about, when we’re frightened about a new situation or facing a challenge. How we choose to handle these moments shapes us and forms our spiritual lives, for better or worse.
How AP Can Help Our Kids Become Poor in Spirit
Following an attached lifestyle will go a long way in helping us raise children who understand what it means to be poor in spirit. Infants and small babies who are held, fed when they’re hungry, and cuddled tenderly become children with a deep sense that they can count on their parents to meet their needs. When they continue to be loved and treated with respect, when they grow up in a peaceful, warm home atmosphere, they develop both trust and a healthy self-esteem.
As these securely attached children emerge into adolescence and early adulthood, they’re more likely to possess the modesty and trust necessary to surrender to God and to depend on him in a healthy, open manner. Being modest isn’t encouraged in American popular culture. Being arrogant and full of yourself seems to be a prerequisite to popularity these days, as if it’s a sign of strength. But arrogance is really a sign of a broken heart. Robert Karen writes in his majestic book on the history of attachment theory, Becoming Attached, that when a child has grown up in an unloving, unsupportive home and possesses a shaky attachment to his mother or primary caregiver, he builds a shield of self-protection: “The person who expects to be rejected gives little of himself, . . appears superior and standoffish, others back away from him.” Becoming Attached, 205.
In contrast, a modest person has a healthy assessment of his strengths and weaknesses, and recognizes that we all need others in our lives if we’re to enjoy meaning and self-fulfillment. Spiritual modesty allows us to recognize our need for God’s care and guidance. The kind of dependence on and surrender to God that we need to be poor in spirit may be easier for adults who felt cherished and cared for as small children.
I struggle with the whole concept of trusting God to take care of me. For me, it’s not a sign of arrogance (at least I hope not), but part of a life long spiritual loneliness that continues to haunt me even into middle age. I believe God has the power to take care of me, to intervene to protect me, but that he chooses not to. He chooses to keep his distance, to help others who need him, and he says to me, “You’re on your own. Good luck.” This feeling clearly has nothing to do with the truth, but it’s still a powerful feeling operating below the surface as I try to grow spiritually. I tend to soldier on, acting as if I feel deeply loved and protected by my Father. Really, I feel I’m locked in a room alone; I can hear God bouncing his other children on his knee, but I remain alone only imagining what that relationship must be like for those other Children of God. I’m prevented from experiencing the true joys of the kingdom of heaven.
I wouldn’t wish this spiritual loneliness on anyone, and especially not on my children, each of whom is a precious, unique gift placed in my care. My children’s self-concept, their ability to give and receive love, their ability to manage loss, will all be influenced and impacted by my (and my husband’s) parenting choices. My children’s capacity to experience Christian joy and to walk through life with a deep sense that God is available to them and knows every hair on their heads will be impacted by these choices.
Now some might point out that many great saints in history came from deprived, abusive, dark backgrounds and this is certainly true. Some saints were abandoned and grew up with little tender care yet somehow managed to impact the world with their gifts. But this doesn’t mean we would wish such suffering on any child. And it doesn’t mean we should avoid looking at how we can prevent emotional suffering in children and adults. If we can love each other in such a way that we’re all more open to the joys of heaven, then that’s the path we should take. We should be willing to ask the hard questions and to make difficult choices that will release our children to become what God is calling them to become.
When we’re there for our children, they internalize the clear message that they’re worth our time and attention. When we treat them with respect and respond to their needs with tenderness, they internalize the message that they’re valuable and lovable. It makes perfect sense to me that armed with this confidence, they’ll find it easier than those children who’ve grown up in a harsh, rejecting home, to experience a loving Heavenly Father and to trust that he’s devoted to them like they are tiny babes bouncing on his knee.
Photo credit: Wong Sze Yuen (photos.com)