Monday, November 9, 2015

Our Children Are Us (Psalm 127) by Rev. Dr. Cari Jackson, Minister, United Church of Christ

In every moment, we are every age we have ever been, according to psychologist Carl Rogers. For me this means, our bodies are like a bus riding down the highway of life and all of the passengers are who we have been at every age. As we travel through life, somethings we see, hear and experience evoke feelings of great joy, love, and calm or trigger tremendous anxiety, pain and fear for different ages of who we are. When this happens, whatever age is triggered, we react to our experiences at the emotional level we had at that age.

When children treated like they are not important, told they not smart enough or good enough, valued more for their accomplishments than for the unique individuals they are, treated like they only have value if they have money, or abused emotionally, physically or sexually, the impact of those feelings never goes away. Those feelings continue to ride on the bus.

Because the child within us never goes away, the impacts of childhood abuse and neglect are long-term unless there is meaningful intervention. "Being abused or neglected as a child increases the likelihood of arrest as a juvenile by 59 percent, as an adult by 28 percent, and for a violent crime by 30 percent" (National Institute of Justice). According to UNICEF, "Every year, hundreds of millions of children are exposed to domestic violence at home and this has a powerful and profound impact on their lives and hopes for the future... Violence in the homes is one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our time...; it is a global phenomenon... Children exposed to violence may have difficulty learning and limited social skills, exhibit violent, risky, or delinquent behavior, or suffer from depression or severe anxiety." (UNICEF, "Behind Closed Doors")

Bottomline, for those of us who seek to bring peace and justice across nations, communities, workplaces and homes, it all begins with the care of all children. In order to have peace and justice in the world, we must develop a critical mass of people who are emotionally healthy, socially responsible, spiritually connected. To develop this critical mass, we must pay greater attention to the messages we give to our children and youth about the value of all life, including their own. That's what the scripture means, "Point your kids in the right direction--when they're older they won't be lost." (Proverbs 22:6, The Message)

There millions of kids around the world who are lost today, and they engage in risky or violent behaviors attempting to find their way. In response to this global crisis, there are a growing number of community-based projects in collaboration with court systems aimed at stemming the rising tide of juvenile delinquency.

In New Zealand, indigenous Maori community leaders developed a juvenile offender diversion program based in an understanding that youth who demonstrate delinquent behavior are indicating that they are lost and reflecting the impacts of childhood traumas. The Maori program focuses on building the self-esteem of youth who have become involved with the court system. In addition to requiring the youth to pay restitution through community service, Maori elders pour messages into the youth about how important, loved, and valuable they are to the Maori community and the world. They emphasize to the youth that they are the Maori inheritance. Because of the success of the New Zealand program in reducing recidivism rates by more than 80 percent, the program has been replicated throughout the United Kingdom and in cities across the United States like Baltimore, Miami and Alhambra, California.

What is our spiritual calling regarding children and youth? Throughout are scriptures, we are admonished to care for, protect, and honor children. The psalmist urges that "children are a heritage from the Lord"? (Psalm 127:3) What does it mean that children are a heritage from God and what difference should that make in our choices and actions regarding children and youth?

I define heritage as something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth or law. By virtue of their birth, every child should be recognized and regarded as God's heritage. As such, every child, even those who get lost along the way, should be nurtured to understand whose child they are. Not just their physical traits coming through particular biological parents, but spiritually who they are as God's own children. Most parents see their children as their heritage; but ultimately, they are God's.
When we see ourselves and others as God's heritage, we will be more diligent to help those who are lost because of maltreatment, violence and abuse. Troubled youth, runaways, delinquent youth, and all of the categories we use, are lost and need help to find their way. All of us have our own inner children who need to know they are loved, valued, and heritage from God. As they know who they are and whose they are, their lives are transformed. This is the work to which we are all called for all the children on the bus, whatever ages they are.

Bible Study Questions

1. Think about times you have been in conversation with someone and thought, "You acting like a child. Grow up!" When that occurs, something as triggered the child within that person to feel unsafe. How might you help that inner child to feel safe and loved?

2. What difference does it make when we recognize all people as God's children and as God's heritage?

3. What assumptions have you made about troubled and delinquent youth? What might you, your church or group do differently to transform the lives of troubled youth (and adults) by building their self-esteem and help them identifying their life purpose?

For Further Reading
National Institute of Justice, "Impact of Child Abuse and Maltreatment on Delinquency, Arrest and Victimization."

UNICEF, "Behind Closed Doors."

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