Change happens. It is an unavoidable yet influential part of life, contributing to the development of our character and our faith. For both parent and child, transitions then become critical markers along our faith journey, as in the face of transition we can choose to move towards God or away from Him. Parenting through transition can be challenging for many reasons, but most especially because we experience the change simultaneously with our children; there is no practice round as we face change together. Often times we are going through our own transition process while juggling logistics and, while our children’s safety and emotional well-being are a priority, our children’s spiritual development as Young Emerging Believers becomes unintentionally neglected.
After a decade of living in Africa, I can attest first hand to the trials, and errors, of a parent in transition. I watched helplessly as years of intentional discipleship seemed to slip away. My oldest son struggled most of all my children, having lived the longest overseas and having the most to lose by leaving. He was nine, right on the cusp of pre-teen adolescence, and I was watching him drift further and further away from the faith I had instilled since birth. When it came time for me to finish my Master’s degree in Christian Formation and Discipleship, my final project emerged from this deeply personal piece: a curriculum to help missionary kids (or the newer, broader term, Third Culture Kids) like mine to connect more deeply with God. Through integration of intentional and formative practices, I watched my all of my children not only return to faith in God but establish a richer, more dynamic relationship with the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Despite the difficulties families may encounter during seasons of change, there are key elements parents and caregivers can implement within the home that can aid in the healthy spiritual development of their Young Emerging Believer during the tumult of transition:
Help your child embrace the transition. When change happens we have a choice: to resist the transition and all it presents to us or lean in and embrace it. There will be a temptation to move your child through this process prematurely, immediately ushering him/her from the old to the new for fear of causing undue pain or discomfort. The transition should neither be skipped over nor ignored, but rather it is crucial to stay present in the midst of the tension that change brings, guiding your child to do the same. Your child needs time to process and grieve what is being left behind and the plethora of unknowns which lie ahead. This intentional pursuit of taking one mindful step at a time will help your child to navigate the transition; remembering the past, engaging in the present, and preparing for the future, all the while cultivating even greater resiliency. It also teaches your child that one does not have to make haste towards comfort or fix all of life’s difficulties, but one can lean on his/her faith in and relationship with God to guide, support, and sustain through the growing pains one’s personal narrative.
Find rhythms in the transition. Both in times of stability and times of change, “the crucible of our formation is in the anonymous monotony of our daily routines” (Warren, 2016, p. 34). Rhythms and rituals anchor the family to one another and to God. Bedtime practices, meals, tea times, car rides to and from home, chores, reading together, family games, and/or other seemingly innocuous daily or weekly markers set the liturgical tone for the home. Domestic routines relay messages to Young Emerging Believers about self, the tribe to which they belong, and the God (or gods, i.e. cultural influences) their family serves. When transition takes place, these family observances direct our children’s attention to what we hold sacred and can become the glue that bonds the family unit despite circumstantial instability. Whether your family is steeped in daily habits and traditional practices or you begin when transition hits, the key is intentionality.
“The family that plans and practices ritual around these threatening transitions is on the way toward keeping the family stable in the midst of them” (Beckwith, 2010).
Translate the transition. Children think and feel very deeply, but they do not always have the vocabulary to describe the complex perceptions they may encounter. Be intentional in giving your child language for these thoughts and feelings, offering appropriate times to express them. Resources like the “Feelings Word List,” can be helpful for identifying basic and complex emotions. (You can also read Miranda’s blog, Getting in Touch with our Feelings for more on this). Younger children, who need abstract concepts like emotions to become concrete for the sake of interaction and mastery, can illustrate these feelings or utilize puppets (either purchased or made). Older children may choose to articulate with just words or more sophisticated expressive modalities such as drama, song, poetry, dance, photography, and/or other intuitive art expressions. Giving emotional language to the Young Emerging Believer in transition empowers your child to put words to thoughts, feelings, and experiences, inviting him or her to practice self-awareness and hospitality toward strong and “negative” emotions. By creating this safe environment and bearing witness to the emotional upheaval which accompanies transition, you are modeling for your child the relational safety necessary for authenticity and vulnerability with him/herself, his/her faith community, and Trinitarian fellowship.
Children are incredibly resilient. They can brave and overcome the challenges of change while finding solace in the steadfast love of a faithful God, but they need our help.
“We set our intention to make our home environment and communities, our actions and expectations, and our ways of interacting with one another to be consistent with spiritual values. Family and the field of love [a place to learn spirituality in everyday life] are our most important tools for building a spiritual life, for giving our children a spiritual grounding” (Miller, 2015, p. 159).
What we as parents offer to our children in transition not only equips them for future change, it eternally impacts them spiritually.
“Regardless of whatever transition instigates through the departure from the comforts and culture of familiarity, it is the fellowship of the Trinity, the intimate connection of family, and the loving acceptance and knowing of oneself, which establish the Young Emerging Believer’s foundation for spiritual formation, equipping them to move forward in faith” (Keisler, 2019, p. 69).
I conclude with a poem written by my son, not for the sake of nepotism, but to offer hope to any parent who feels his or her child is lost in the changing tides of transition. I have seen the other side and to you, I say there is indeed hope; at every crossroads of my children’s spiritual journey, I must re-remember and hold fast to that promise, again and again. Regardless of its poetical merit (which, as the proud and completely biased mother, I think there is much), it expresses the heart of a young man who has felt the sting of loss, experienced the pain of grief, and, like a psalter, chosen to turn his gaze back to God, despite it all.
The trees are so old they have seen so much
of winters old and summer hot.
They are budding, prospering, and growing;
they have seen the accomplishments of humankind;
they have also seen the faults.
The trees have seen destruction and death;
they have also seen love and happiness.
The flowers and mountains and rivers are their friends.
The trees dance at God’s name,
their cries ring through the mountains; the trees weep.
They hear cries of pain, they hear terrible lies.
They feel pains of the world.
The trees only live because of God.
They go to God for peace, for love, for protection.
God always gives peace, always loves, and always protects.
You can go to God for all of those things.
God is our heavenly Father; He loves us so.
CMK, May 2019
Beckwith, I. (2010). Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship
Keisler, N. R. (2019). Helping Third Culture Kids Navigate Transitional Instability Through Formational Christian Practices. (Unpublished Master’s Capstone). University of the Nations, Cape Town, South Africa
Miller, L. (2015). The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving