How Do We Help Kids Develop “Post-traumatic Growth”?: Asset 5, Religious Belief

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Recently I’ve enjoyed working with a teenage guy who, like all of us, like every kid on the planet I guess, has been riddled with question like:

  • will anyone like me;
  • what’s my purpose;
  • what if I’m not the smartest/fastest/cleverest/most popular?

In short, he’s doing the hard work of figuring out who he is and what he’ll bring to the world.

He’s been away on a mission trip in another state with a group of kids who were helping needy families repair their homes. It was hard, hot, dirty work. Some recipients oozed appreciation and homemade cookies while other recipients were self conscious and abrupt with their thanks. Yet another, bedridden, was unable to speak to the kids at all. Regardless of the recipients’ responses, this kid knew what he’d done was valued, important. Even better, working as a team member, he experienced a life-giving, life-changing connection. “I’m not the same guy,” he reported. “I don’t know, it might sound weird, but the world needs me. I have something to give, you know? And there are others like me, people I can share these experiences and feelings with…it was cool! I felt like I was living my Purpose. I just want to live every day feeling like that!”

How can we help our kids toward religious beliefs (note: notice that we “help our kids toward…” we can’t give or make someone else’s beliefs. We can show a path, at best!)? Here are some things to consider:

  1. Think carefully about your own religious beliefs, how you got them, how they’ve refined since you were a teen; then, talk about it with your kids;
  2. Engage yourself in religious, thought-provoking reading of some kind. You could start with Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning;
  3. Put your family, parents AND kids, in a spot where it’s hard to miss the grandeur of Something Beyond…a campout, a boat ride under the night sky, sunset on the beach;
  4. Look for opportunities to serve others alongside your kids, ways to help them gain perspective on the world’s need and their own ability to help.

Returning to “post-traumatic growth”… Religious beliefs change our perspective on the world and our place in it…how we’ll interact with other people. As loving parents it is not possible to know what lies ahead in Life for our children. But this much we must assume: difficulties will come. A race he doesn’t win; a car wreck which kills her fiancé; a college acceptance not received; a child born with a heart defect; a marriage ending in divorce; and yes, the loss of beloved parents. Helping our kids today to build a scaffolding of religious beliefs will equip them to meet whatever tomorrow brings. In Nietzche’s wise words,

He who has a WHY to live for can bear almost any How