Posts about children

Confined with Ourselves

Posted on May 01, 2020

Easter Vigil by ourselves (and Deacon Aunt Margie and cousins Charlotte and Josiah)

My uncle used to joke at the end of an evening, “We enjoyed ourselves…that’s about all we enjoyed…”  Here at home quarantined with ourselves I find we are enjoying ourselves... some of the time;  we are also disappointed in ourselves or bored with ourselves a lot of the time.  

In “The Wise Woman,” by George MacDonald, the mystical Wise Woman, in order to affect change in a selfish girl, confines her in a home where she must labor day after day at mundane chores.  With another self absorbed young girl, she encloses her in a bubble in which she must see herself in mirrors from all sides.  I feel that this “shelter-at-home” has this agency of transformation behind it--forcing us to be with ourselves as we go about mundane, repetitive labors, some of which we don’t even know how to do.

I know that I had big plans for this time cloistered at home with my children.  I gained twenty hours a week simply by not doing carpools, shuttling to activities, and engaging in active church ministry.  In the return for the deep loss of engagement with friends, life giving activities, and all the preparation for a Holy Week that we live for every year, I thought life at home would provide a kind of sabbath;  I would be productive;  we would have the chance to read books we have not had time to read, learn games that are still in their shrink wrap on the shelf, play music, sip coffee, make food that we enjoy, FaceTime with family and friends overseas, watch some documentaries.

Even as I look at that list, I realize we have done some of all of those things.  My meals have been more interesting because I am at home during meal prep time;  I have skimmed a Marie Kondo organizing book and organized my closet and drawers and the board games (whoopee); my boys played eight hours of Monopoly; we have had daily walks and more regular family prayer; we have had meaningful Zoom calls with family and friends, the kids have strung hammocks four high, and we have read out loud to each other and watched an interesting movie series.

But the feeling I have is restlessness and disappointment.  Screens are necessary for school and engagement with others. My husband has been on Zoom calls for work sometimes eight hours straight, and my older children are scattered throughout the house on computers for E-learning. It is a disconcerting disconnect to be so embodied with ourselves while being completely disembodied from others. And it is a strange “sabbath” to be away from Church and Communion.  The regularity of the news feed of fear looms large in our conversation, and our daily decisions about contact with extended family or others feel disorienting.

In this atmosphere of restlessness, I have watched us all go through a level of de-tox, of slowing down, of accepting limitations. Not having the normal hurry that jerks us out of our homes and gives us a brief escape into activity, not having the rush of careening toward lights out, forces us to be with our thoughts and our emotions, to be reminded of our choices. It is almost as if being able just to be with ourselves has affected an important work of awakening in us a discontentment with life, a longing for something more.

What if the success of this time is not once again measured by productivity or even creativity, but by personal growth in gratitude, hope, faith, and love?  By shifting our expectations of life? And is it possible that this is achieved simply by being with our own emerging thoughts, reactions, fears, and expectations, and having time to see them as they are?  And then to find that God is opening a window into an eternal space? 

At the end of each day, I do an Ignatian Examen, which involves rehearsing the day from four vantage points.  This has formalized a self-examination that has helped me articulate what is emerging in myself.  This first involves asking Jesus to be present with me as I look back over my day to reveal what I need to see in the light of his love.

The first is Gratitude:  this is a chance to allow the events, conversations, faces of the day to go before me, and to see the hidden mercies, graces, joys of the day.  The monopoly game on the living room floor for three days was an irritation, but two older brothers included a younger brother who often feels excluded, and he held his own.  I become present to that hidden small miracle and grateful for the seeds of something transformational. We stood and observed an unusual hawk in our backyard and identified him as a Cooper’s hawk.  To help our family with gratitude, we have a gratitude journal on a stand on the table encouraging everyone to write moments of gratitude throughout the day.

The second is Thoughts: this is an opportunity to examine my thoughts of the day--this is where I end up spending a lot of time. Where did my thoughts lead to faith, hope, and love?  Where was I caught up in a desolate cycle of thought?  Dialoguing with God about these thoughts and having him shine his light on them, has been an important aspect of the shelter-at-home for me.  Where are my disappointments catalytic for re-evaluation and change?  Where are my disappointments simply an acknowledgement of living this side of heaven? My fears of how this whole Covid-19 experience will change our world have had to be challenged with the faith for how this whole Covid-19 experience could change our world!  

The third is Words: this is an invitation to rehearse my words of the day.  I often find that I neglected to use words that could bless others and encourage them.  Instead, I was reactive or critical.  But I can also hear God’s, “Well done,” when I engaged in a conversation where I listened and was a vehicle for blessing in my words.

The fourth is Deeds: this is a chance to pause and examine actions of the day.  Where were they self serving? Self-sacrificing? Pointless and wasteful? Enriching and engaging?  Where did my deeds match with God’s purposes for my day or where was I drawn into the expectation of others or the misplaced desire to please others?

This simple exercise (which I actually do the following morning, looking back on the day before) has helped me be “with myself,” but in the transforming presence of God.

I am adjusting my expectations of this Coronavirus Confinement.  I have ceased to expect that I will accomplish a lot or that I will have bursts of creative energy and artistic output.  It will be more like the planting and weeding of a garden--totally unspectacular, laborious, with little to show for it at the end of the day, but evident in the breaking forth of a new season.  In actuality, weeding and tending and planting is full of the small actions of hope and expectation. So helping a child with math, listening more intently, making food, sitting down together to eat it, going on countless walks, being willing to navigate the feelings of fear and frustration with an awareness of God’s presence is sowing transformational rewards. 

In short, being with ourselves as we actually are, increases the capacity for us to be with God and others as they really are and find joy in it.  And when this confinement is over, I believe we will look back and see the creativity that emerged, the changes that were sown in the hiddenness of this time, and the longing for God and true community.  This is the faith I am engaging for how our world will be different after Corona...we will be different.  And this unleashes eternal possibilities.  

I better go cut some boys’ hair right now, a labor I do not relish. Wish me joy.

Continue reading...

The Sacredness of Your Child's Imagination: Part II: Practicalities

Posted on March 16, 2018


Portcullis at Hever Castle

It is a heavy responsibility to be the primary gatekeeper for your children's imaginations until they grow up to be old enough to take on the responsibility themselves. Their imaginations are priceless treasures that you are given the opportunity to shape and guide so that they have a rich inner life.

This is the second part to a post that casts the vision for the battle we are in for our children's imaginations. Please read or re-read that post so that this does not seem like a list of heavy burdens or rules. It is the vision that motivates all our choices.

So here are some practical ways to foster a rich imagination in the lives of your children:


A: As few devices as late as possible (every device you add takes time and energy to manage and steals time from more imaginative pursuits).

B. As little screen time as possible.

C. As simple toys as possible (see my list of resources for ideas)

D. As embodied as possible (time in the presence of people)



Walter Firle

1. THE GREATEST BOOK and GREAT BOOKS: Give your children the gift of a rich heritage in the Word of God. I had a professor in graduate school who said she hated religion. She said she only tolerated it because it preserved language, for who didn’t know I Corinthians 13 or Psalm 23. ( I think now many do not!) Well, if an atheist can acknowledge the power of Scripture simply from a literary point of view, certainly we know that it is the path to abundant life. If your children never memorize any poetry but Psalms it would be OK, because they would have their imaginations full of beautiful language AND the words that lead to eternal life. The Bible has so many genres of literature and is so beautifully written and it embodies the one true story from which all other true stories spin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119 is full of images of what the word of God unlocks for us. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I am grateful to my parents who gave me a multi-layered immersed life in the Word of God. It was memorizing a lot of Scripture; it was family Bible study every night; it was singing hymns together in the car. It was missionary stories on the reel to reel when we were sick. When your children are little, read Bible story books, act out Bible stories, memorize verses.

Expanding from the greatest book, welcome in the best books. If you give children good books, you give them worlds beyond themselves. They can share experiences, know people, understand cultures that they themselves will never be exposed to personally in their short lives, except through living books. Children have to be taught what is a good book. When I used to take my children to the bookstore and say, "I'll read you one book you pick out," my daughter would bring me a barbie book. I would have to tell her, "This is not a story. Let's go find a story that well written." Now my daughter is a college literature major and knows the difference! But it took time.

Go to the library by yourself with a list in hand. My list is available on the website, as are many other good lists. Come home with a stack of books that includes something for everyone. They will meet you at the door and be dragging them out of the bags in the entryway. Trips to the library with children are a treat for them, but it is not the time for you to find good books.

Have stacks of the right kind of books available everywhere. Check out books with good pictures on any interesting subject and leave them lying around. Children will leaf through books on shipbuilding or inventions or the Civil War. Audio books are a great option for pre-readers but also for children who have the capacity to engage with books far beyond their reading capacity. I try to keep a shelf for each child with the books that I hope he or she will get to that year. When a child needs a book to read, I send him to his shelf.

Don’t let your kids read books just bec. everyone is reading them (like the Twilight series or Goosebumps). It is not true that “it is just good they are reading.” When they are eating candy, we don't say, "It's just good they're eating." Their ideas about life will be shaped by what they ingest in movies, books, and music.

Read to your children, and it will become your favorite part of the day...and theirs.



2. GOOD ART AND GOOD MUSIC: expose children to classical music. Put it on all the time. Limit the worthlessness of pop music. Put on folk music, world music, worship music...whatever has value to building up the love of beauty. Encourage taking music lessons and regular practice. Then they can play together. I never would have guessed how my children would play music together and fill their time and our home with great music. Invite people into your home who can catalyze music making. Your children can join in or just listen.


Roger Medaris

3. A CLOUD OF WITNESSES: Give your children the breadth of the Church and Family. Give them an imagination for being a part of something so much vaster and greater. Read biographies of saints and missionaries. Expect your children to participate in the life of the church, for instance, we asked our children to give toward our church’s building campaign sacrificially, and we helped them discern what their commitment should be. Children need to be part of praying for lost people your family is connected to, to help with the hospitality extended to people who you are making room for in your home, and they need to be present in conversations with missionaries others from overseas and those who can expand their hearts for the Gospel. Ask those visiting your home from far away, "What do you see God doing where you are living?" and make sure your children are listening. One time we had some dear friends of ours who did work in Kabul, Afghanistan for years and lived through the Taliban, coming through town. We mentioned that we were going to take them out to dinner so that we could talk. The kids cried out in one voice, “Oh no, you don’t. We want to be with them!”

4. FAMILY TRADITIONS: Create family traditions that embody what is important to you. The imagination thrives on these kind of embodied hooks. Plan how you can create traditions around the rhythms of the church calendar so that Advent actually draws them into preparation and the anticipation of Jesus’ coming, that Lent captures the rhythm of life where we hold back, clean out, re-evaluate. You can do this with liturgies, icons and pictures, colors, acts of service, activities.


Carl Larsson

5. BOREDOM: Allow boredom. Children need boredom. We feel like we are supposed to provide constant stimulation for our children. So we put DVD players in cars, hand them phones when they have to wait, have TVs going all the time, and as soon as they tell us they are bored, we think it is a demand on our own creativity to come up with something. I’m not talking about the rare exceptions (I was relieved we had a computer with a DVD player on our sabbatical trip to Brazil when we got delayed 24 hours). If children are denied media, they will find things to do. See my post: "In Praise of Boredom."


Knud Eric Larsen

6. TIME: Simplify your children’s schedules so that they have TIME. Time is essential to the developing imagination. A child has to have unstructured time to follow an idea, to make something, to teach themselves a skill, to experiment. Children of today have the schedules of adults. They move frantically from one appointment to another with little time for reflection or creativity. (Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne is a book worth reading about this). Children need to be doing less. Parents are the ones who have pushed for this out of fear that their children will not be super kids. How were the Wright brothers able to invent an airplane? They spent hours together building and experimenting when they were children. Parents are the ones who are going to have to push to slow this down. Evaluate your children’s schedules. When do they have nothing? They need to have chunks of time in which nothing is scheduled. You may need to train them to use time creatively simply by insisting that it not be filled with media.

7. DIALOGUE: Dialogue with your children. Be shaping their awareness to what is already there. What is that bird that just landed on the wall? Wow, look at this tile; it looks almost Arabic. What do you think of the way this building is designed? Children are losing the capacity to dialogue and listen. Talk to them in the car, while making dinner, while waiting in line. Children need to be around adults. Don’t always hand them media so that they don’t have to sit and listen. We also need to recognize that younger kids can only sit for so long; but don’t shuffle them off to media. Try to include them in the conversation, but don’t make them the focus, either. They need to learn to give their attention to someone else. Sometimes it may be absolutely necessary for the purpose of an important conversation to let very young children watch some appropriate media while adults talk. But this should be occasional.


Carl Larsson

8. OUTDOORS: Get children outside. The indoors will limit their understanding of their place in this universe. The sky, woods, water, sand, activity in nature; these spark creativity and wonder. Children will naturally become creative in nature, if you let them. Try not to be too limiting by not letting them get dirty, or risk something by climbing a tree. In an urban setting, explore all the uniqueness of the city. Try visiting as many parks as you can in this area and observe. Every Friday my husband takes my children on a hike. They have developed an amazing eye, they LOVE creation, they love to be together outside. Nature both empowers us and humbles us. The expansiveness gets us out of the limitations of our minds, but we also see ourselves as part of something greater. Our problems take on perspective.


Carl Larsson

9. SIMPLE TOYS: Only allow toys that inspire imagination. Steer away from any toys that are derived from movies or that require batteries. Blocks, Playmobil, Legos, costumes, Lincoln logs, toys for pretend, art supplies….this is all they need. Let them get dirty and make messes.

10. LIMITED MEDIA: Limit all media sources. Am I beating a dead horse? Please understand by my repetitiveness that this is the single most important instruction for preserving a child's imagination. Media deadens the imagination, simply by its form, much less its content. All media disengages you from the moment, causes you not to be present. Delay giving your child a phone. Our children receive one when they must for babysitting or driving, but only a dumb phone with no internet access. This can be done. Don’t let the world dictate to you what you have to do. My teenagers shared a dumb phone until this year when my son had to have his own at 18. We paid more to have a dumb phone even though we could have purchased a less expensive smartphone and turned off the internet access. Why? Because it is a gateway to distraction, a time stealer. The apps, the ease of texting makes it a constant battle. Instead, texting is so difficult on their phones, that they would rather call someone.

Consider very carefully before you buy video games. Once you do, you will be the constant adjudicator, having to say No over and over. Do not encourage personal music stashes. Your older children can have spotify lists on the family computer or on an old phone that everyone shares, but they must be accessible to the whole family. Do not hand your phone to children to entertain them and keep them quiet. Young children should be exposed only to media that is slow moving and does not assault them with fast moving images (consider brain development, as well as their capacity to handle over stimulation). For older children, encourage their group activities not to include media. Encourage fasts for seasons. My fourteen year old, after years of pushback on not being allowed to buy video games or watch certain movies has begun to thank us. He sees all that he has been able to accomplish in his free time.

Become prayerful gatekeepers. Consider the books, movies, music, video games, catalogs, friends, influences that come in your door. Use “Plugged In” or “Common Sense Media” to check up on movie reviews. Don’t just consider sexual content and language; consider what the movie’s worldview is. Preserving the Christian symbolic system is crucial to this. We must be aware when a subtle lie begins to seep into their imaginations. For instance, when children begin to see "cool" people as the virtuous ones, or they begin to think that self-promotion is the way to gain ground in the world or that sneaky, deceptive actions are rewarded, we need to trace their source. I always look for these subtle messages in movies and books. I remember years ago watching the movie Rio and loving the animation and the music. I could not help but notice the subtle message, though, in that the female bird was smart, brash, accomplished, intelligent, and resourceful, while the male bird was fearful, dependent, unable to fly, and easily influenced. If you watch carefully, this is a new common message in "family" movies. Women are portrayed attractive when they are braunish, sensual, loud, sassy, warriors, and the men are weak and malleable, needing to be remade. Gone is feminine tenderness, motherhood, and mysterious hidden virtue. Gone is masculine protectiveness, honor, sacrifice, and proper aggression. Insist that your children call you for permission to watch any movie at a friend’s house. (See my posts on media: "Meditation or Mediation," Dec. 12/15 "Incarnational Living, Living with Less Media," Feb.14/16)




Victor Olson

This is the extra one I put on the list now that my children are getting older. When they are young, you have so much control because you can manage their time and their friends. But by the time middle school hits, if they are the only ones without a phone, the only ones not allowed to see certain movies, the only ones that love being out of doors and doing creative things with their time, they will have only their siblings for friends. Now it is a great gift to have your siblings as your best friends, but by middle school, the world needs to expand beyond the family. It is important for our children to have friends that are not like them, who they can get to know and share time with, people who are not yet believers and who may be from a different culture. But if they do not have any like-minded friends, it will be extremely difficult.


N.C. Wyeth

Perhaps when you hear all this, you feel inspired. Good, you have heard the rallying cry. But perhaps you hear this and you feel exhausted. Good, you have realized the cost. Nothing of value is cheap. Since this is a battle, you will be called upon to be actively engaged. Ephesians 6 says that we battle not against flesh and blood….The two most essential components to your child’s healthy imagination is 1. Your presence: how can you do any of this if you are not with your child? 2. Your prayers: you cannot do it without the Holy Spirit.

May God bless you as you discern and love and pray. The treasure you have in your child is worth all of your investment. The imagination you have protected and nurtured will be one of your grown children's greatest resources and riches. When they are grown they will have the great capacity to live productive and fruitful lives in meaningful relationships with rich inner landscapes.

Continue reading...