Friday, February 17, 2017

6 Tips for Talking to you Children About Evil

6 Tips for Talking to Your Children About Evil

A priest recently rocked our little Catholic school when he delivered a homily about the Devil. More specifically it was about childhood possession by the Devil. If you are thinking “Yikes!” you aren’t alone.  He didn’t beat around the subject, but rather came right out describing his experience with a demonically possessed 6th grade girl. In his discussion, he did a few really great things, which parents can and should model when talking with their own children. First, he spoke honestly about the presence of evil, and secondly, he gave the children specific ways to guard oneself against evil. These two things, honestly and hopefulness are both important components of any tough conversation with children and are essential when talking to your children about evil.

It is important for children to know that evil does exist. And not the far off, unrelated, impersonal sort of  “bad people do bad things sometimes”, or “Abortions happen because there is evil in the world”. Kids need to know that real evil is our there. Don’t lament or be dramatic in our presentation of the facts. Rather give your children a concrete understanding of spiritual warfare and how it works. Just as we talk with our children about helping them to hear the Holy Spirit in their hearts, we need to help our children discern when the Devil is whispering lies. The reality is that as children of God we know we will be under attack but we also know that we will win. Here is how you can prepare your children…

1. Teach them that the Devil Speaks Lies. Remind your children when they are faced with conflict, anger, sadness, that the Devil will whisper lies. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states  that Satan is “…a liar and the father of lies…the deceiver of the whole world” (CCC2852).  As a parent, you can help them to seek the truth. They need to hear the lies for what they are – Lies!  The lies are designed to break us away from those with whom we share love.  We need to challenge the lies with the Truth from God.  We need to ask God to show us evidence of the opposite. 
For example, if we are fighting with a sibling and we are angry it may be tempting to believe “he hates me”.  So examine that evidence.  Ask God - Does my brother really hate me? Then open your heart to God’s evidence because He will show you the truth: What about yesterday when he gave you his orange? What about last night when you sat and played games together? What about last week when he came to cheer you on at your game?  Find evidence to the contrary. God can show you that evidence, so invite him to show you the truth. 1 John Chapter 4 provides instruction on discerning when the spirits we hear are from God or not from God. John tells us that any spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. So bring Jesus into your conversation and He will bring clarity to it all and help us determine the "spirit of truth" from "the spirit of deceit" (1 John 4:6).

2. Stay Away from The Occult and Other Forms of Magic.  This is a hard one in our culture because “Magic” is found in books and movies and even popular children stories. Many children grow up without an understanding that witches do exist (although they don’t ride brooms or even closely resemble those who attended Hogwarts). Any attempt to study or practice Black Magic is off limits. Children should not play games in which they attempt to summon spirits. They should not wear jewelry that offers them special powers. Teach them that interest in The Occult serves as an invitation to evil. It is serious and should not be trifled with.

If they show interest in spirits, help them to study and develop a relationship with some of the saints. Many saints were given special skills by God, like bilocation, incorruptibility, ecstasy, levitation and the gift of tongues to name a few.  They have some pretty amazing stories! Get them a special saints medal and teach them how to talk to ask for the intercession of the Saints. Use their interest in the supernatural to bring them closer to God. Teach them the difference between wearing a cross or medal  or even a scapular as a sign of respect and devotion, and wearing an amulet for special powers.

3. God’s Grace is Found in the Sacraments. We are given God’s grace through baptism and have His continual Grace in the sacraments. Staying close to the Church, the Holy Mass, and the Sacraments fills us with a sort of Holy Armor to defend against attacks.

4. Stay Close to God in Prayer. Most children can become pretty adept at rote prayer. As they get older they develop the ability for more mental prayer and can really transform their prayer life. Teaching our children rote prayers to say when they are scared or overwhelmed is not only healthy, it provides them with tools they need.  Our family favorites are The Guardian Angel Prayer and the Prayer to St. Michael.  When the children get scared or have a hard time sleeping they will often pray these two, a decade of the rosary, or repeat the Our Father until they fall asleep. One of the lines in the Our Father is “deliver us from Evil”. Calling on the name of Jesus is a powerful way to ward off the evil around us - so teach your little ones to pray.
5. Keep blessing your children. Remind them that you bless them for a reason. When you draw a cross on their foreheads you are recommitting them to Christ and drawing the battle lines against evil. Your children should know that they are branded for Christ.

6. Talk and Don’t Stop. Children are capable of much more than we give them credit for in our current culture. We shelter them from the truths assuming they are too young for serious talks, but the reality is that this shouldn’t be just one talk, but rather an ongoing topic that your family can discuss on a regular basis. When they complain about going to mass you remind them that the one hour they spend with Jesus is time for their soul to be strengthened by His presence and His grace. They will need that strength to turn from the temptations of evil. When they misbehave during family prayers, gently remind them that developing a relationship with Jesus in prayer will help them to hear His voice and discern what is true and good versus what is evil. When they repeat the lies of the Devil (you don’t love me!) remind them that the Devil is whispering lies in their ear. You would give your life for them, and you gladly sacrifice daily for them.

Parents need to keep talking to, praying for, and giving blessings to their children.  Children need to develop and ear for The Truth and learn how to discern truth from evil. They need to understand the importance of prayer, The Sacraments, and The Church in keeping them spiritually grounded. Parenting our children is hard.  Ultimately our children will choose to follow or to reject a relationship with Jesus.  Our job is to set them out on their path of holiness prepared for the journey. Keeping the truth from them does not prepare them. God never leaves us and he has given us the tools to for these encounters. So pass along the truth and equip the next generation for good.

Possible questions, responses and suggestions…

Is the devil out to get me? The devil wants more followers, but if you devote yourself to God, then the Devil can't get you. God lets us choose to follow Him (goodness) or to turn away from good and turn to evil. Just choose God in your heart and your deeds and you will be okay. In 1 John 5:18-19 it is written “but the one begotten by God He protects, and the evil one can not touch him”.

I am scared. Well it is pretty serious stuff but God tells us to Have No Fear. He is always with us. And we each have a guardian angel to be with us a guard against the devil at all times. So you have your own spiritual body guard which is pretty cool!

What if I mess up? God know everything and in His infinite wisdom he knew that we would mess up. He gave us the sacrament of reconciliation to help wipe away those sins. We all make little mistakes so each night we should think about our day and pray to the Lord for forgiveness for the little mistakes we are bound to make.

But what about our loved ones who are not Catholic? It is a little harder for non-Catholic Christians because they don't have the Grace of the sacraments to give them spiritual strength. But God loves all of his followers and if they have a strong prayer life and turn from Evil to Jesus then God will keep them close too. God desires that we all serve Him and know Him and love Him. That is why we were created. It is easier when you have the fullness of the faith, but non-Catholics can still grow to know, love, and serve God. And we can pray that they too will be brought into the fullness of the faith so that they can fully participate in a sacramental life and do things like take part in communion and reconciliation. But that is their own choice and their own journey.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Is It Better to Raise our Kids without Religion? An analytic review.

A recent LA Times Op-Ed piece by Phill Zuckerman, a Professor of Secular Studies at Pitzer College, is causing many to wonder

 "Is it better to raise our kids without religion?"

I admit I was initially mystified by the research and felt the need to roll up my sleeves, leave the laundry un-attended and dig in. Unfortunately Zuckerman's main source, recent research by sociologist Vern Bengston, is currently "in press" and not available for review or interpretation.   Bengston's resume and vita are great. He is a solid researcher who has dedicated his life to the study of aging.  I started my academic journey in this field and both value and appreciate his work.  Looking at his life work (rather than the specific book), I couldn't possibly question his motives, nor do I question his research methodology.

So assuming that Bengston's research is solid, let's discuss the very question of how kid fare when raised with or without a foundation of faith in a higher power, and more specifically, the general complications in conducting research of this nature.  In order to do this, one has to look at the variables (things) measured.  For simplicity sake, we are just going to look at how religion is generally measured and how the outcome 'better' is determined.

Measuring Religion 

Religious self identification is not a construct that is easy to measure because you are really talking about a transformation that occurs throughout ones life, from cradle to grave. It is something that should be ranked on a continuum with multiple questions to put together a complex picture.  Therefore self-report on one's religiosity is a fairly unreliable measure of how religious someone is, unless you go beyond the "do you believe in God?" Y/N response.  Or "Do you attend church?"

Even with a more complex measure of religiosity, when asking devout individuals about their faith one runs into some stickiness. As Darwin pointed out "ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge" (1871). Therefore those who are well schooled on their faith may judge themselves to be less developed in matters of religion than do those who were maybe raised in a faith but not even currently practicing. You could have a young man contemplating the priesthood who scores lower in religiosity than does a individual who hasn't set food in a house of religion in years.

In his LA times piece, Zuckerman points to the lack of atheists in prison, but he fails to also acknowledge that prison culture is set up as a major recruitment site for many extreme religious groups. It is also fertile ground for evangelization for traditional faiths like Catholicism. Caring for those in prison in one of their Works of Mercy practiced by Catholics.  Lastly, one's religious affiliation or "coming to Jesus" can influence parole boards as well. For lost souls, with time on their hands and limited access to nice people, spending time in mass or worship, and learning that they are loved and redeemed - well that is just plain attractive. If you wanted to draw the conclusion Zuckerman was making, you would need to show that at the time of arrest or time the crime was committed - these individuals were actively practicing their faith.  That is a very different thing than merely citing a lack of Atheists in prison.

Is there a Dosage Effect?  If one is really looking to argue that religion is harmful to folks, than we should see some form of a dosage effect. If we conclude that no religion is better than the next step statement must be more religious is worse. In measuring religiosity is there a dosage effect? Are those who attend daily mass and go to monthly confession for instance, the most likely to be vengeful intolerant folks? Are religious missionaries who are living in huts in Rowanda actually the most racist of Americans? Are those who have given themselves wholly to the Church by taking Holy Orders the most vengeful, racist, nationalistic, militaristic folks surveyed? As the Church's struggle with sexual abuse was made public, that argument was certainly put out there, but the facts just didn't match it.  Cases of sexual abuse by priests occurred in half the frequency of those by teachers for instance (source).

If one takes into consideration upbringing in the faith, currently practicing, and some dosage of practicing you have a more complex picture.

Looking at the same effect another way, a previous faithful Catholic who is shacking up with his girlfriend and at odds with his parents over it, may recognize a lack of grace in his life. Perhaps those who identify as Christians or Jews or Muslim, but have strayed from the church feel that loss and act accordingly. They may very well be in conflict with family members, harbor feelings of resentment, or bitterness. Compare this to a person who has no concern of hell or damnation or the afterlife at all, whose only goal is to just be happy.  Zuckerman actually raises this point in his article when he quotes an atheist mother who wonders if ones "moral sense suddenly crumbles" when those with a religious up bringing question or reject their faith.

What religion are we talking about?
Which religions were measured? Were all religions lumped together? While there are some central tenants across religions there are some major differences in social justice teachings as well as in ideas of how to interact with others who are of different faiths. To lump all 'religious' together seems to convolute the outcome variable, which is at this point just listed as "better than".  Those who measure religion know that there are huge differences between denominations even within just protestants.

What does better mean? What are the outcome measures? One needs to consider what the values the researchers value as those will influence what the word "better" actually means. A few common measures of 'success' in psychology are whether the individuals are moral, tolerant, vengeful, nationalistic, empathetic. Once those outcomes are defined it is extremely difficult to measure them though self report because people naturally attempt to paint themselves in the best possible light.  Duke researchers for instance found that religious people were more racist.  If looking to measure racism, it is hard to just ask people "are you a racist?".  Researchers are of course more subtle than that, but I pose the question to make a point. When measuring racism you may be measuring a more complicated construct - honest or self awareness. Those who are honest and self aware may say "yes I guess I am a little bit", when they are no more/less racist than the person dishonest or less-introspective person who says "No, absolutely not".

For religious folks, a 'better life' would be considered to be one that is filled with the Lord. So all these questions about whether or not we should be raising our kids religious or not is a mute point being asked only by those without a relationship with God. Those of us who have a relationship with the Lord, want our children to have one too. It is the best gift that we can possibly give our children - a life in eternity. We are looking at the research to find ways to best raise our children to be as close to the Lord as possible.

In no way is this article intended to imply that the highly regarded Bengston's research is poor. I merely want to point out that the question posed by Zuckerman "Is it better to raise our kids without religion?", is more complicated than the op-ed piece implied.  Bengston devoted an entire book to the research question and was only quoted once in the Zuckerman article:

"Many non religions parents were more coherent and passionate about their ethical principles than some of the 'religious' parents in our study," Bengston told me.  "The vast majority appeared to live goal-filled lives characterized by moral direction and sense of life having a purpose."

In closing, I wonder if the researchers have missed the point entirely.  The question and research seems designed to appease the minds of those parents who have chosen to shield their children from religion.  Those of us who have chosen to raise our children faithful to a religious teaching have done so in the hopes of equpting our children with the skills necessary for them to know God, love God, and serve God in this life so that they may enjoy eternity with God in the next. That is our end goal and it is hard to find fault in that.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Slippery Slope of Spirituality

Photo Source

If you aren't moving forward spiritually you are slipping back.  

This was a statement, a reality, a truth, that I came upon during my RCIA classes. It may have been in a book, or it may have come from a speaker.  But I loved the quote because it highlights the danger of being luke-warm in our faith- we show up to church usually and check the attendance box.  Gone to church? Yup. I am done for the week. I am a good Christian.

We all think we are more pious than we really are.  Closer reflection and prayer leads us to a more accurate assessment - reality.

For instance, I am a far cry from my monthly confession goal.  I like to think of myself putting my faith first, but there is a concrete example of me NOT doing that.  And facts are facts.

Our need to have an accurate understanding of our own spiritual life is even more important when we are raising children.

If we don't set the prime example, if we skip mass, if we don't take them to their catechesis classes or have them involved in ministry or service work, what baseline are we setting for them? Our hearts pull us closer to the church and we make excuses- no confession this week because we have that birthday party and the soccer game and there just isn't time.

The kids don't ever see the pull, the evaluation, the careful mental negotiation- all they see is the end result (confession, mass, volunteering, or birthday parties and soccer games). Of course we want to let them go to birthday parties, but sometime we need to say no and choose something that is better for them. We need to ask "what do they gain from this experience?", and "Is it worth all the running around to achieve that goal?".

Stuff is going to slide- so what do you want to be the "stuff" that slides?

As parents we have to establish the baseline - then add to that. For our family, baseline is mass on Sundays, boy involved in one ministry each (liturgical reading, altar serving), and my husband and I are each in a small group, and we adopt-a-family each Christmas. We can't do any less than that, but we can add to in comes daily mass when we can, journaling, Jesse Tree during advent most years, praying the rosary occasionally, frequent confession. For many, our extras are their baseline- and that is okay. We do what we can, when we can. Maybe someday I can get to that point too. But having outlined things that are "essential and non negotiable" gives me a solid footing to build upon as we try to grow in Christ as a family.

So I ask you, what is your baseline? What are you reaching towards? What is helping you grow closer to Christ and how are you helping your children to grow closer to Him as well? Because after all if you aren't helping them move forward spiritually you are holding them back.

Thanks for stopping by!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Top Posts of 2016, Plus That One That Went Unnoticed

Top in 2016
As 2016 draws to a close, I am excited to provide you with some of the top posts for the year, plus one of my favorites that ended up under the radar and is worth visiting if you haven't yet had the chance.

1.  A Good Enough Advent is a short post about giving up our lofty and maybe unrealistic goals and finding what works for each of us. You can read it here. It is short and simple as things really need to be this time of year.

2.  One of the most personal and also most clinical posts of the year was my post-hysterectomy write up. I think I must have the write search-words for that post. If you or someone you know is thinking about a hysterectomy they should read this. Or you too if you are into reading about the nitty-gritty! You can find it here.

3.  Being a Bricklayer (here) gets the award for the least descriptive title ever.  It is about finding balance in our lives and learning to take things one day at a time. I have renamed it Focusing on Today: Learning to be a bricklayer. I really loved this one!

4.  The post Tattle-Tailing on your Friend's Kids provides some tips for navigating that uncomfortable conversation we all have to have sometime. I wrote it after a friend had to tell me about my daughters mis-deeds. Oh the opportunity for humility that parenthood provides us! Read it here. 

5. and 6. As I looked through the titles I came to realize I had two very similar titles that thankfully did NOT have the same content: How to Survive the Seasons of Parenthood and Surviving the Seasons of Motherhood. The first (here) is more about accepting the changes of parenthood and redefining our normal (rather than pining for our past life).  The second post which I renamed Transitioning through the Transitions (here), is about the constancy of the changes in parenthood. I love this post because with 4 kids it seems like someone is always dealing with something major (but thankfully still minor in the grand scheme of things).

7. How to Make a Catholic Education Affordable (here) was written for a link-up on Catholic Education. It has a lot of tips and links to education support/grant/scholarship opportunities and is super practical.

8.  The best one that went unnoticed is certainly the post Teaching Forgiveness (click here).  In it I discuss the importance of learning to say you are sorry.

You can read other's great Top 2016 posts over at Revolution in Love (click here). My friend Bobbi has opened up her site for all of us so be sure you check some of my buddies out there. Thanks for your interest and support in 2016. I am looking forward to much more writing in 2017 so tune in next year for more. Until then, thanks for stopping by!

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