Editor's note:

We are delight­ed to wel­come Lacy Finn Bor­go back to our pages this week. 

Lacy is a Doc­tor of Min­istry, teacher, moth­er, wife, author of the Good Dirt Devo­tion­als and Life with God for Chil­dren cur­ricu­lum, and beloved mem­ber both of the Ren­o­varé Min­istry Team and the Ren­o­varé Insti­tute faculty. 

This week she is explor­ing with us some ideas about spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and chil­dren. This first piece is an excerpt from her doc­tor­al dis­ser­ta­tion, which you can read in its entire­ty HERE.

(The names of the chil­dren and the details of their sto­ries have been changed to hon­or their privacy.)

—Renovaré Team

Real­i­ty [is] what you run into when you are wrong.” Dal­las Willard [1]

Armed with a Master’s Degree in Edu­ca­tion and acco­lades for lead­ing edu­ca­tion­al work­shops for the New York State Teacher’s Union, I had no rea­son to ques­tion my firm­ly held knowl­edge on the growth and devel­op­ment of chil­dren. In my very young mind and heart I thought I knew all there was to know about child­hood. Real­i­ty, a gift of grace, came knock­ing when Christo­pher walked into my fourth grade class­room. It was only week two of the school year and he had already been shuf­fled from class­room to class­room, as well as sus­pend­ed from school alto­geth­er. I was the third and last fourth-grade teacher to wel­come him into her class­room. One more inci­dent and he would have to go to the alter­na­tive school for chil­dren with behav­ioral dis­or­ders. He was a smart kid using what­ev­er pow­er he pos­sessed for his sur­vival. In my class­room the sit­u­a­tion was no dif­fer­ent. With­in the first week, he jumped out of the sec­ond sto­ry win­dow and shim­mied down the fire escape to avoid a math test. Strange­ly enough the break for both Christo­pher and me came when he was sus­pend­ed from the cafe­te­ria. His dis­rup­tive behav­ior had become an over­whelm­ing obsta­cle for get­ting lunch served to eight hun­dred chil­dren. The lunch staff had no choice but to ban him from the cafeteria. 

I had run into real­i­ty. I had no more knowl­edge to draw upon and the sys­tem had run out of ben­e­fi­cial options. In the begin­ning it was sim­ply a mat­ter of loca­tion. Christo­pher could not be in the cafe­te­ria, so he ate lunch with me in our class­room. As lunch was my only break of the day, I had no desire to teach him, or lec­ture him, or even change him. Over the course of our sev­en months of lunch­es, how­ev­er, I began to become curi­ous. Christo­pher talked all through our lunch­es. He would recount bits of his days or tell me sto­ries about his fam­i­ly. Some­times he would reflect on the deep­er things in his life, like how he felt about his moth­er leav­ing, why he thought death was so scary, and the unbe­liev­able kind­ness of our Vice Prin­ci­pal. I began to won­der what was going on inside of Christo­pher. Christo­pher had aston­ish­ing hope in the future and in the good­ness of peo­ple, he pos­sessed a mys­tery that I could not define or con­trol. As a Christ Fol­low­er I won­dered in what ways God was reach­ing for Christo­pher in all the mess. To pre­serve the pub­lic school sep­a­ra­tion of reli­gious talk from aca­d­e­mics, I began to ask Christo­pher about good­ness rather than about God. What did good­ness look like to him? When did some­thing good hap­pen to him? What was it like to expe­ri­ence good­ness? At the time I knew lit­tle about the three great tran­scen­den­tal ideas: good­ness, truth, and beau­ty. How­ev­er, I knew that God was good and where good­ness was, God was there too. 

Inspired by my curi­ous inquiry, Christo­pher opened up his inner world to me. There was more to Christo­pher than what was pre­sent­ed in his behav­ior, more going on in him than the school coun­selors could deduce. Dur­ing our lunch­es I gave him no lec­tures, I taught him noth­ing. In fact I spoke very lit­tle besides ask­ing a few ques­tions. Christo­pher made it through the fourth grade and even the fifth. He went off to mid­dle school, but some­times he would return to my class­room and hang around after class long­ing to be lis­tened to. 

Christo­pher was the real­i­ty I need­ed to run into. My expe­ri­ence with Christo­pher changed the way I saw and heard chil­dren. It even changed the way I expe­ri­enced God. Christo­pher opened the door for me to rec­on­cile what Jesus taught about real­i­ty with both the edu­ca­tion I had received and my adult-cen­tered notions. Christo­pher helped me to see and expe­ri­ence chil­dren as Jesus did. He opened me to a new real­i­ty, the same real­i­ty heard in Jesus’ invi­ta­tion to children. 

Peo­ple were bring­ing lit­tle chil­dren to him in order that he might touch them; and the dis­ci­ples spoke stern­ly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indig­nant and said to them, Let the lit­tle chil­dren come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the king­dom of God belongs. Tru­ly I tell you, who­ev­er does not receive the king­dom of God as a lit­tle child will nev­er enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.[2]

In this pas­sage the word, let” and the phrase, do not stop,” infer a for­ward mov­ing motion. The adults in the pas­sage didn’t have to cajole, per­suade, or bribe the chil­dren to move toward Jesus. The chil­dren were already head­ing toward him. A child once remind­ed me in a spir­i­tu­al direc­tion ses­sion, I want Jesus, but I want him like I want him, not like you want him.” As I lis­tened to Christo­pher I could sense the move­ment of the Spir­it and so could he. Christo­pher just didn’t have lan­guage to describe that interaction. 

The first ele­ment in children’s spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion is God Self. God gives God’s Self to each human being at his or her begin­ning. Even as we are being formed in our mother’s womb, the Spir­it is whis­per­ing words of love, life and invi­ta­tion to us.

As par­ents, teach­ers and pas­tors this begs the question: 

What can we do to coop­er­ate with the Spir­it in a child’s life? (We’ll work on that in the next blog post.)

For today spend a lit­tle time with Jesus in Mark 10

Hold an image of your­self as a child in your mind. 

Reread the pas­sage and imag­ine your child­hood self in the story. 

What do you do or say? What do oth­ers do or say? What does Jesus do or say? 

Enter into a con­ver­sa­tion with Jesus about what­ev­er surfaces. 

Can you allow Jesus to sweep you up into his arms and bless you? 

Lacy Finn Bor­go has writ­ten Renovaré’s children’s spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion cur­ricu­lum Life with God for Chil­dren: Engag­ing Bib­li­cal Sto­ries and Prac­tices for Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion. More infor­ma­tion can be found at Good​Dirt​Min​istries​.org or at Ama­zon (via Renovaré).

********************

[1] Dal­las Willard, Willard Words,” Dal­las Willard Resources, 2002, accessed Feb­ru­ary 9, 2016, http://​www​.dwillard​.org/​r​e​s​o​u​r​c​e​s​/​w​i​l​l​a​r​d​w​o​r​d​s.asp.

[2] Mk. 10:13 – 16 (NRSV)

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