Discussion Activity for the Family: Who Am I?

Discussion Activity for the Family: Who Am I?

Discussion Part 1: Who am I?

Questions:

  • Do you know who you are?
  • Why would knowing “who I am” be important to how we live our lives?

Consider this shoehorn.

Some of you may not know what a shoehorn is. It is simply a stick that helps you get your shoes on more smoothly. In some places, this is a household staple and many people appreciate having it very much. If you’ve ever had a little trouble getting that last bit of the heel of your shoe on just right, this is just the thing you need.

Now, if you didn’t know what it was, you might still find a use for it – a slide for your kids’ marbles or to clumsily swat hapless bugs or others but you might be annoyed at the way it is shaped and wish it was shaped more like a flyswatter so you could actually swat flies…

But one day, someone tells you, “That’s a shoehorn. It’s for when you’re wearing your shoes so your foot slips right in and doesn’t ruin the heel of the shoe.” And you might look at the shoehorn in wonder – now you know why it’s the length that it is, and it explains the reason for the way it curves inward. Now, the little thoughtful addition of a hook curved perfectly for a person to comfortably grasp the shoehorn as they slip on their shoes makes perfect sense. From then on, the shoehorn has a little place of honor next to wherever it is that you keep your shoes.

This is – yet another of many more to come – a silly little story to suggest the more serious idea that – if we know our purpose in life, we can meaningfully make the choices and take actions in a way that allow us to fulfill our fullest potential. We are no longer swatting flies with a shoehorn. We might even imagine that, after we knew the purpose of the shoehorn, the shoehorn itself is much happier now assisting people on get their shoes on because – it was made for that purpose.

It may be a curious metaphor to use but consider an often used but the little discussed phrase “I was born for this!” of “I was made to do this.” When is this phrase used? What do people mean when they say this?

Discussion Part 2: Life, Meaning and Purpose?

Questions:

  • Do you feel you know your life’s purpose?
  • What do you need to know to know your life’s purpose?
  • Do you live in a way that connects to your life’s purpose?
  • Would you live differently if you knew your life’s purpose?

So how does one determine one’s life’s purpose? We come back to the shoehorn story to say – that perhaps the best way to know our purpose, we need to know what we were made for. I.e., we need to know our Creator.

And in fact, in a not-so-secret secret, the spiritual traditions have long taught humanity through the ages of a global interconnectedness between all people, rooted in our common origins in a Divine Creator. Read the following quotes from below:

  • Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? (Malachi 2:10)
  • O, mankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that you might know each other. (Quran 49:13)
  • All the people of the whole world are equally brothers and sisters. There is no one who is an utter stranger. There is no one who has known the truth of this origin. It is the very cause of the regret of God. The souls of all people are equal, whether they live on the high mountains or at the bottoms of the valleys. (Ofudesaki 13:43-45) Tenrikyo
  • But a single man [Adam] was created for the sake of peace among mankind, that none should say to his fellow, “my father was greater than your father.” (Misnah, Sanhedrin 4.5) Judaism
  • I look upon all creature equally; none are less dear to me and none more dear. (Bhagavad Gita 9:29) Hinduism
  • Even science has begun to show this, calling the fact of a “Genetic Adam and Eve” and recording the birthplace of all humanity in Africa.

If we all share a common origin from one man and one woman – and we are one family it might make us then think – If we’re to live as One Family Under God, what should my family, as my personal template for other social relations, look like?

We ask these things not expecting people with perfect families to answer them perfectly and we don’t need to come from or have perfect families to work towards healthy, happy families. In fact, if we come from less happy homes we might know all the better the reasons we would want a healthy, happy family for ourselves.

Craft Activity and Lesson: Seeds of Strength

Craft Activity and Lesson: Seeds of Strength

CRAFT ACTIVITY & LESSON

Age Group: 12 & Under  

As kids, we’re oftentimes told “no” “wait” and “later” and, for some, it might be one of the most frustrating things about being a kid. You’re not allowed to do what you want to do, when you want to do it. Yet as parents, we know we must set these limits and expectations in order that our children can, someday, set these limits for themselves.

This is an activity we might use to help kids think about these small frustrations differently. Rather than looking at each frustration individually, we might redirect kids to think about them as taking small steps towards self-mastery. We usually associate strength with invincibility, superhuman capacities but in reality, we want to associate strength with strength of character and virtue because it is in this much more difficult but worthwhile endeavor that we’re able to manifest our fullest potential as sons and daughters of God.

Materials: paper, coloring materials and stickers

Directions

  • We start first with a simple discussion about seeds. How do seeds grow? What do they need? (Sunlight, air, water, nutrients)
  • Today we’re planting some seeds. Seeds start out very small and by looking at a seed, we don’t necessarily know what kind of plant it is going to be. Our seeds will become trees – but what kind of tree will it be? You can decide – it can be a pine tree or an orange or apple tree or even a tree that doesn’t exist – a tree that grows cars or the like. Decide what kind of tree you want to plant! Draw the outline of this tree on a piece of paper and don’t forget to outline some of the “fruits” of the tree so you can remember what kind of tree it will be.
  • Talk about how sometimes we get frustrated about things – we aren’t allowed to do things, we have to wait for things. But when we’re able to overcome these feelings and still be grateful for all the things we do have, we grow our own seeds of character. We’ll use this chart to track our progress. Every time we have a little victory – we can take a sticker to fill up the outlines our trees.
  • Display the picture somewhere to serve as a reminder. You might want to ask your child/children if they had a little victory that day and if they want to share it with the rest of the family. Celebrate the little victories with a sticker to add to the picture. Even if he or she wasn’t able to get a victory that day, gently nudge and encourage them towards the good.
  • Once the tree is filled, consider making a special time during family time for the person to receive recognition for his or her accomplishment. It is also a great way to encourage him or her to reflect on their progress and make new determinations going forward.

As a parent, you might consider making your own tree and sharing your own ups and downs. Most times we focus on teaching our children but the best way to teach them is to become the kind of people we hope they might also strive to be. Sharing – appropriately – our own challenges helps them see growth as a meaningful, lifelong process.

Also, we want to think of this entire activity as a fun, visual way to hone a positive habit in our everyday lives. Like training wheels, we want to use this concept of “seeds of strength” as a way to cultivate the habits of self-mastery in ourselves and in our families.

Connecting with God Everyday

Connecting with God Everyday

This is a recent reflection from a mother about the importance of building in daily habits that help us connect our families to God and His hope for humanity.

My daughters just started ice skating this summer. Every Saturday morning they had class.

They started on the side of the rink, moving slowly, inch by inch. Gradually they let go of the siding and wobbled across the ice, their arms flapping up and down to steady their weight. I would watch from the side, holding my breath between falls. With the help of their instructor, two months later, they can now glide around the rink safely.

Early on, I realized the importance of supporting their ankles in their skates. I observed that their ankles would fold inward, making it painful and hard to stand on the ice, let alone move on their skates.

One class, I called them off the ice and coached them to try to stand straight on their blades. One of my daughters complained that it was hard to stand straight, her skates kept collapsing.

I knelt down to check out the situation and found that her skate was loose. The extra room between her skate and foot made it hard for her to control her skates. It was also rubbing painfully against her foot. I could see if I didn’t tighten the skate, she would end up with at least a blister, at worst a broken bone.

I loosened the laces. Then carefully, I adjusted each layer. I made sure her socks weren’t scrunched down but pulled tight against her skin, then I smoothed the tongue of the skate up against the top of her foot. Finally, I carefully pulled the laces tight, row by row, making sure that the skate was snug around her foot.

As I pulled the white lace, I realized, this is how it is with God. When we allow a gap to come between God and us, when we stop seeking to understand His principles and values, when we don’t take time during each day to connect to His heart and His dream, we become like the loose skate. We don’t contribute to the joy and excitement of gliding across the ice, rather we pose danger and even pain.

That is why building in daily habits to connect to God throughout our day is crucial to understanding our identity, but also our overall sense of well-being. Having habits such as prayer, a study of spiritual scripture, discussion around our life aspirations and family values are valuable avenues for every family and individual inside that family to touch on the most important relationship in our lives.

But these things are not automatic. Like everything important in life, they take effort and discipline to develop and maintain. But, like the important things in life, when we don’t consistently invest the effort, we are less happy and become disconnected from our purpose and identity, and source of life and happiness.

As parents, but also as husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, we should regularly check in to see how our spiritual habits are doing and refresh them if need. Just like I do now every time before my daughter goes out onto the ice, I check her skates to make sure they are snug.

I tightened the last row of laces on the skate and asked my daughter to stand. She stood on her tightened skates and smiled, “It feels good!” She tried standing, now with no gap between her feet and the leather, her ankles stood steady. Happily, she pushed off onto the ice again.

Education for Life Begins in the Family

Education for Life Begins in the Family

Why is Education Important?

Even while we take it as a given that we want an education for ourselves and for our families, it sometimes becomes lost in the fog of unknowing why education is so important.

Why is this important? Why do we need to know why we want to educate ourselves and our kids and those around us?

It is because answering this question may radically alter how and what we would do to educate.

So, ask yourselves, why – as parents, as children, as grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. — would we want anyone to have an education?

The first temptation might be to answer simply: so we can have a job/work. Yet, statistics show that now not only jobs but careers themselves might change over 5 to 7 times throughout one’s lifetime. But clearly as the economy changes, this is also set to change. A recent interview with a LinkedIn executive commented that individuals may change his or her job over 15 times in a lifetime.

So, ask yourselves, why – as parents, as children, as grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc. — would we want anyone to have an education?

So what kind of education would need for ourselves and our families if we focused on training them in skill sets and knowledge for a job that would, most probably, change multiple times in a lifetime?

Beyond Jobs

Moreover, as economies have begun to move towards automation, technology and communications develop at a mind-numbingly rapid pace, will we even be able to anticipate the skills that would be needed for the jobs of the future? Certainly, twenty years ago, almost nobody would have seen the need to train students how to write code or to even imagine a world where one could make money on video “unboxing” the latest consumer products. But one thing is clear: tomorrow’s needs will not be today’s and educating people with today’s skills will not be enough to prepare us for tomorrow.

In fact, with the rise of the Internet and communication technologies, knowledge is no longer hard to obtain. It is literally at our fingertips and so the ways and importance of rote memorization and may have their place, but it becomes more important to know what to emphasize and to teach how to think rather than to memorize facts and figures. Put another way, we need to acquire the critical thinking skills that allow us to digest and interpret information rather than to spout information.

Yet, the lesson here is less about what kind of education we need to get work in the future but more meaningfully, what is the purpose of education itself?

Education for Life

We would propose that education for jobs and even for what we might term a “career” misses the real point of education. This is because human education should be education for life and not a vocational or intellectual pursuit.

In this case, how much of what we teach now – in our homes, our schools, faith and local communities and society-at-large – align with what we think would fit into this framework of an education for life?

in terms of education at the level of a family, how are we educating ourselves and each other?

Thinkers such as Joseph Chilton Pearce and educators such as Maria Montessori and the Waldorf School and others have proponents of this view for a long time and have developed school curriculums to nurture the whole person. Yet, in terms of education at the level of a family, how are we educating ourselves and each other?

We have framed this educational series “Education Starts at Home” as a way to explore different questions related to “education for life” beyond a cognition-based education and perhaps towards an “education of the whole self” through an “education for the whole family.” That is, we wish to explore what it means to educate ourselves and our families to be more than workers but to be ethical, engaged and productive members of our families, communities and societies in ways that go way beyond the confined and confining limits of educating for jobs.

A Life-Long Pursuit

It is along this line of thought where we also introduce the concept for education as not only for the young but perhaps that while the young may have the most to learn, adults probably have the most to gain in realizing that education is a lifelong pursuit, done best perhaps alongside our families. To point, even while morals and life lessons are built into many of the best-loved and oldest children’s tales, it is most likely that the parents that retell or read these stories to their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. are the ones who most fully understand the secret treasures buried inside them.

It is also instructive to know that most people, facing the end of their lives lamented most about what we could interpret to mean 1) not fulfilling their potential or dreams and 2) not having the kinds of families or relationships that they wished to have. We take from these bitter realizations the lesson and the hope to find ways to help families avoid these end-of-life regrets by helping build strong, healthy families that help each family member to fulfill their highest potential.

While there will inevitably be challenges and obstacles in this kind of endeavor along the way, we find it most satisfying to think that, as the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, noted “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way is the way.” [emphasis added]

Six Tips for Parents Who have a Teenage Son Who is Searching for God

Six Tips for Parents Who have a Teenage Son Who is Searching for God

Is your pre-teen or teenage son starting to ask questions like, “Is God real?” “How much of my parents’ values are valid?” “Is there really a spiritual dimension to life?”

It is not unusual for an adolescent boy to start asking hard questions about his faith.

Don’t panic. Take a deep breath.

Your son is starting out on his own journey to become a hero in God’s history.Although it seems that these doubts and questions are the road to disbelief, they are actually an important part of your son’s journey to adulthood. Questioning the most fundamentals are a part of his efforts to make his faith his own.

The great heroes of history also went through this phase, probably more than once, and it opened the way to new understandings of God, His ideals and His principles. So, congratulations! Your son is starting out on his own journey to become a hero in God’s history. This is probably his first of many where he will come to deepen his relationship with God and his faith.

This important stage is probably heightened by the physical changes he is going through. It is scientifically proven that the testosterone spike during adolescence and young adulthood not only causes physical changes, but also stimulates the desire to feel the thrill of pushing boundaries, whether it is rule boundaries, physical limits, or safety.

This stage in their life could last months, even years.

And during this time, he is going to need you more than ever.

Here are six things you can do to help him along the way.
  1. Remember. God is bigger than any question that your son can pose. God’s love doesn’t change. God’s truth doesn’t change. Don’t let your son’s questions intimidate you. His questions may actually lead him closer to God in the end.
  2. Pray for your son. In many ways, your son is starting to venture out of your proverbial “nest” to see the world. It can feel very scary for the parent as your son flexes his mental and spiritual wings to see if he can fly. Your first impulse may be to put out your hand to prevent him from falling out, but more than your hand, he needs your prayer. Your prayers will help you connect to the long-term perspective God has for your son, and His wisdom. Your prayer can also support your son, and open his heart and eyes to see God and his faith actively working in his life.
  3. Listen to your son and give him honest answers. The temptation may be to give your son quick and strong answers. But, your son needs to feel that you are with him on his quest for understanding. Some of the questions you may not be able to answer to his satisfaction, but give him your most honest and sincere answer. That aside, his questions may be stemming from other challenges in his life. He could be struggling with fitting in with a circle of friends at school, he could be feeling unsure of his own self-worth. When you listen closely to your son’s questions, you may be able to uncover the real root of his questioning.
  4. Create a place for him to explore his questions.
    1. Some families have started family study circles with other families where their adolescent sons are able to study, listen and ask questions with other family parents and peers. This support circle is helpful not only for your son, but parents as well. Sometimes someone else can give an answer that is better accepted than you can. It’s okay to borrow mouthpieces. This place with understanding and little judgement will provide a place for your son to bring up his question.
    2. Other families have said that a circle of brothers of faith who walk through their journey together is extremely important. Every boy will go through their course in making their faith their own. Having each other will provide a place where they can openly express their questions, provide support during their highs and lows, and discover God together
  5. Encourage him to make efforts in his search for answers. Asking the questions and uncovering doubts is just the first step to finding the answers. Encourage your son to invest in his search. Along the way he can develop tools that will help his spiritual development. He can try things different things to see what helps him on his journey. He could go into nature and challenge his physical limitations as he searches for an answer. He could a time period where he devotes time to prayer and or study. He could commit to a time period to attend family study circles or youth group to ask his question. But make sure he understands important things can take investment over time.
  6. Remind him how much you love him and how you will love him no matter what. God gave your son you, to show the unchanging, eternal and unconditional love of God. So, no matter what he says, does or asks, don’t lower your expectations of happiness for him, but also remind him how your love will never change.

 

Be excited, but also patient. As he experiences growing pains in his move from childhood to adulthood, this is also chance for you to grow as parents. You will be pushed to express your love in different ways, share and affirm your faith in new ways, and grow closer together as a family.