Modeling Spiritual Mannerisms
When I was a little girl my parents took my younger sister and I to a “fun house”. This house had a slanted floor with crooked walls, and it had distorted mirrors throughout the house. When we walked into the house I felt fairly normal. It felt a little strange to walk on a slanted floor. However, It wasn’t until I turned around and saw my sister standing there at an angle that I realized how un-normal I looked. When we saw our images in the distorted mirror, we both began to realize how strange we looked. Depending on how you moved, you might have a big or a little head, short or long legs or other weird looking body parts. The view of ourselves was distorted.
You might say that children of divorce have a distorted view of God and distorted images of spiritual issues. Like our images in the distorted mirrors at the fun house, things like praying, reading the Bible, and having a faith walk look strange to a child of divorce. That is, of course, unless someone has taken the time to model and discuss spiritual issues with them. Children of divorce may feel fairly normal until they see and compare themselves with other children at church, then they realize they are un-normal and strange looking in a Christian world.
Just like we teach children to say “please, thank you” and other terms of respect, we have to teach what I coin as “spiritual mannerisms” to children. When we teach manners we might start by modeling what we want the child to do. Next we might say, “What do you say when I give you a cookie?” In other words we consciously teach children about manners.
The same holds true for spiritual mannerisms. We bow our heads when we pray. We quote the Ten Commandments or say the Lord’s Prayer. We model a faith walk and quiet times. We teach respect for the church and for God. We display joy, kindness, love and forgiveness toward one another. Children will do and say what is modeled for them.
Several years ago when I owned a child care, one of our mothers came in upset and questioning what we were teaching her two-year old. This was a family that did not attend church. She said when they sit down to eat that Sarah wanted everyone to hold hands and bow their heads. She said,
“I get that part. She wants us to pray, but what I don’t get is what she does with her eyes.”
She went onto explain that Sarah would bow her head and then look up, bow and look up over and over and while she was doing all of this she was blinking her eyes in a very strange manner.
I questioned Sarah’s teacher about what was going on. She said,
“These are two year olds. When we have lunch I have the kids all sit down at the table, and we hold hands. Then we bow our head; close our eyes and I quote a prayer. While I’m saying the prayer I look up and look around to make sure someone isn’t diving into the food and then I look back down, close my eyes and continue the prayer.”
At home Sarah was imitating her teacher. A simple prayer to an un-churched child was a spiritual mannerism being passed forward.
Some children of divorce have been taught spiritual issues. They might have been a family that prayed together and attended church on a regular basis…until the divorce. The child could have had a good understanding of spiritual issues, maybe even was able to quote scripture and be familiar with church rituals…until the divorce. Just like a shattered mirror, their image of God and religious upbringing has been shattered. Now their view of God is through a shattered mirror, and their images of spiritual things is distorted through the view of that shattered mirror.
Children’s leaders and church leaders can model and teach spiritual mannerisms.
- We can teach children to pray.
- We can model strong Christian marriages.
- We can ask children to take part in church rituals.
- We can alert the child of divorce to changing routines in advance.
- We can ask children of divorce to contribute to church services.
- We can help the scriptures come alive.
- We can share our hurts with children and share how we’ve handled these hurts.
- We can model faith in troubling times.
- We can model joy and we can point out to the child of divorce things they can be joyful about, even the simple things of attending services on a Sunday morning.
- We can teach children of divorce about being kind hearted, forgiving and loving toward one another.
Come back next week when we will discuss some specific steps you can take to help children of divorce to develop spiritual mannerisms.For more resources and information on divorce, family disruption and modern families please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Divorce and Modern Family Help Center.
This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on October 07, 2011.