I look back thirty-five years later and bless my parents for the gift they gave me. I no longer practice their religion, but I live with every pore in my body believing in something greater than myself. My faith is as easy as breathing, and during times of great challenge, I don't have to search for God or strength. Everything I need is already there and will always be.
I have seen my peers dedicate themselves to never raising a child that way. "I will never force my child into religion the way my parents did" became a mantra. "I will wait until they are old enough and let them choose for themselves." Those choices, along with the "feel good" experiments of the seventies, have been a dismal failure. The result is an ever-increasing growth of what I call "entitlement fixated" people. It is so pervasive that, had I the power, I would make it a new personality-disorder designation.
When children are raised to never know failure, they can't savor success nor appreciate the motivation that second place instills. If they don't learn that we must, at times, do things we dislike for a greater good, they don't learn self-discipline. If we don't instill empathy early on, they may never know the complete joy in giving. And if we neglect their spiritual natures, they may never truly trust God.
I see behind me a generation largely of lost souls looking for God under every rock and crystal, believing they are so special that all of life's challenges are someone else's fault and someone else's duty to resolve. They are spoiled, arrogant, and have no sense of healthy boundaries or respectfulness. How can they, when they themselves have replaced God as the center of all worlds? This is the legacy we have given them. We have absolved them of failure and endowed them with unlimited specialness-therefore, tragically, they cannot arrive at the simple truth that there is something greater than themselves.
My early spiritual training was a little rough around the edges. Yet at least there was something there-a foundation on which to build my spiritual life. I was given a sense of divinity and an eye for all things sacred. I am not the center, but rather, a necessary part of a great whole. My participation in goodness and love and acting on what is right furthers my sense of self and God more than all the awards, accolades, and accomplishments I could ever accumulate in a lifetime.
I have given great thought to the antidote for this affliction, and I believe that the answer lies partly in one simple concept: humility.
Humility is a forgotten lesson. We have confused humility with humiliation and have fought hard to protect our young from its pain. Humility is the concept Mother Teresa tried to convey when she said, "I am just God's little pencil." It is surrender and openness, all in one glorious, spiritual moment. I am humbled when enveloped in a magenta sunset. I am humbled by the amount of overwhelming talent in my small town and in the awesome devotion of all the volunteers to service I meet. I am humbled by the vastness of all things greater than I, yet I am confident and competent in meeting the challenges of my life.
Children need to know that the knowledge gained in failure can outweigh the feelings of "me first." There can be true rejoicing in another's success. Being a part of something greater is better than being noticed. Giving brings its own peace. God is not an abstract concept, but a sense that needs to be nurtured and developed before it can be experienced. It is our humility that allows us to be happy for others and foster their highest good. My parents, though clumsy at times in their lessons, didn't dote on me. Instead, they gave me something I can cherish.
Don't neglect your child's spiritual development. Any foundation is better than none. The lessons of self-discipline, humility, community, and God are all worth any resistance you may encounter. This is our job as parents and role models. This legacy is our best.