Saturday, May 30, 2020

Family Faith Sharing Activity: Seeing the World in a New Way

Achi is a simple strategy game that comes to us from Ghana. It is tic-tac-toe with a twist and makes for a great family game.

When I taught this game to my kindergarten students, I remember watching as they discovered the need not only to pay attention to their strategy but also to mine. They were sure to lose unless they stopped me from making three-in-a-row. This revelation helped them to see the game in a new way.

When the Spirit, promised by Jesus, descended on the disciples during Pentecost, the disciples were able to see the world in a new way. They now saw each person as someone needing to hear the Good  News.

Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:19

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can see our relationship with God in a new way. The Pentecost story reminds us of the Great Commission. Just as the disciples, we are to go and make disciples. We do this in our families, in our church, and our communities. We are blessed to be a part of God’s work.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Grieving the Semester That Wasn’t

If your children do not seem to “be themselves” lately, it is wise to consider they might be grieving.

You would think that because God gave us separate emotions to use on different occasions that the brain would be able to choose the right emotion for the job.

We might think that – but we would be wrong.

My theory may not be official, but I imagine the brain keeps emotion in a sack, and sometimes when it doesn’t know which emotion is correct, it picks a random one and applies it. This phenomenon is especially real for children who are beginners in the business of feelings. Grief may not always look like grief.

For parents, it is a good idea to frequently make a check on the emotional expressions of your children to see if there is a hidden emotion.  For instance, the school year has ended. While this means family members no longer have to fight for computer time, and parents no longer need to worry over lessons, it still does not feel like summer vacation.

This year did not have the usual routine that helps school-aged children to bring closure to the year. Your child may not have mentioned missed field trips, yearbook signings, or special events that typically replace the grief of change with good memories. And your child does not need to be graduating to feel grief over what was lost. The brain knows that some part of the end-of-year routine is missing, creating sadness and anxiety. The brain does not ignore grief, and it doesn't always understand what to do with it.

Grief is a reasonably unfamiliar emotion for many children. If they have not experienced the loss of a family member or a pet, they might not recognize grief over losing end-of-year activities. And while this kind of grief is not as intense as a family loss, it is there none-the-less.

Because your child may not recognize this loss, this may impact behavior in much the same way as anxiety. In other words, it may not look like grief.

Here are three things that you can do with your child if you suspect that grief is lurking behind unexpected or hard-to-change behavior.

Sit in grace. While the impulse may be to immediately correct the behavior, this is a perfect opportunity to spend some time in grace mode. Some small things ask for empathy and reframing.

“I wonder if you are feeling sad about missing the end of the school year? I think your teacher and your classmates feel the same way. What can you do to help yourself feel better?

Do you see what we did there? This response correctly identifies the feelings of grief and points the child in the right direction for regulating -- or dealing with -- those feelings.

Wait a bit. Some behaviors cannot you cannot ignore, but most can wait until after a cooling-off period. Allow your child some time to calm down and find his or her sadness. Talk with your child about grief before applying a consequence. Often, once children realize the emotion that caused the behavior, they no longer wish to repeat the behavior. If it is a persistent behavior, understanding the "why" behind it will help your child find a better way to express feelings.

Make connections: When children experience a new emotion, they lack an understanding of how to regulate it. Even if your child denies that he or she is sad about the end of the year, it doesn’t hurt to make that connection so they can gradually learn how to identify emotions and how to use them more effectively. Identify grief as the reason for the behavior. Say it aloud and allow your child to talk about it and about what can be done.

It is a healthy product of grief to do something to remember what was lost, such as communicate with a friend or write a letter to the teacher.  An effective way to explain this is to point out the difference between dealing with sadness and anger and doing things that make others sad or angry. 

We want our children to learn they can control their behavior in nearly any emotional state. Once they can do this, their emotions begin to help them understand what has happened instead of possibly working  against their better interests.

The LORD is near the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

God in His providence gave us emotions to help us learn, to help us make decisions, and to help us live and work with each other. Emotions also help us to comprehend new experiences, overwhelming experiences, and unwelcome ones. It is a gift to be able to help your children to understand and use emotions. It is a task with which God will gladly help. He cares about your emotions, too.

Family Faith Sharing Activity: Puzzles

Tangrams are fun puzzles for the family. Some are easy, some are challenging, and sometimes the youngest member of the family does the best work because he or she can think outside the square box. Practicing these puzzles not only creates family time, but it supports mathematical thinking, as well.

Puzzles are more manageable when we know the final result. Tangrams can remind us that God is bigger than the puzzles in our world. God understands the coronavirus and mask-wearing and what is safe. God also knows when this chapter in our lives will end. He is the maker of the puzzle, and He loves and protects us.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. I Peter 5:7

This verse is from the readings for this Sunday and is a favorite verse for many. It is a blessing to be able to give our worries, frustrations, and confusion over to Jesus and to rest, knowing that He cares for us in ways we cannot imagine. 

Working with your children on any puzzle – or at any other activity – allows you to remind them of God’s love and protection. Whether it is anger, fear, worry, joy, or surprise, we feel the emotions God gives us. Throughout it all, it is best to trust and thank Him.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Family Faith Sharing Activity: Protection

There is nothing like a good science experiment to learn about God’s world and our place in it. In this simple activity, we use a glass, a paper towel, and a larger container with water to see how air protects the paper towel from moisture. It looks like magic, but it's science.

You know Him, for He dwells within you and will be in you. John 14:17

These words from Jesus to His disciples teach us about how God abides in us and seeks to protect us as His precious children. We don’t need to be afraid to be protected by a mask, or by staying 6ft apart, or by staying home. We know these are all ways that our Heavenly Father protects us.  

Friday, May 8, 2020

Family Faith Sharing Activity: Cloud Dough

Is there a reason for everything? That is a question way above my pay grade, but I do know that a powerful, loving God can bring good out of anything. We may feel lost in the worry, frustration, and boredom of this strange time, but God is helping us to develop skills that He will use later in our lives. Use this family faith sharing activity to make some cloud dough and talk about what it means to be living stones. (I Peter 2:5)

O LORD You are our Father; 
we are the clay and You are our potter;  
we are all the work of Your hand. Isaiah 64:8

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Family Faith Sharing Activity May 3: Brain Game-Changer

If you are old enough, you may recognize the origami fortuneteller in this picture. It is simple to make and fun to play with, but in this message, we are not going to use it to tell our fortune. Instead we will use it to choose an activity that helps us to move from our hot brains (fear, anger, worry) to our cool brains (helping others, problem-solving, learning).

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

Psalm 23 is a beautiful prayer that reminds us of how God cares for us and protects us. When we are in a state of “I shall not want,” we are content with the knowledge that we are God’s sheep. When anxiety builds up and causes us to be angry, tired, and confused, we can take a brain game-changer break and get back to a place of contentment and peace.

As part of this family message, I am challenging families to set about memorizing Psalm 23. It may seem daunting, but it is quite doable for most school-age children. The link above provides tips for learning the verses in fun effective ways. For each verse, I have included some devotional thoughts, discussion questions, and a prayer. Every moment we spend in scripture is time well spent as God uses this to increase our faith. Memorization is a fun challenge, but it is not necessary.

I pray God’s blessings for families during this time of upheaval. Times like these are when we depend on our families most dearly. God is using these days to help you and your children to grow in many positive ways. And yes, even on days when it doesn’t feel like it.