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 GoodDirtMinistries.org or at Amazon (via Renovaré).

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[1] Dallas Willard, “Willard Words,” Dallas Willard Resources, 2002, accessed February 9, 2016, http://www.dwillard.org/resources/willardwords.asp.

[2] Mk. 10:13-16 (NRSV)

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