Rev. Lynne Smith is a Deacon in Full Connection in the North Georgia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. She serves as the Minister of Education of North Georgia Family Counseling Centers and works with churches to create ministries that influence family wellbeing. For more information about the Life Compass and Faithful Family Life Curriculum go to www.ngfcc.org.
The church is the one place in our culture with the ability to address the entire family throughout the developmental life cycle. Think about it. We perform marriages. We baptize infants. We give Bibles to 2 year-olds and 3rd graders. We mentor adolescents through Confirmation as they learn about their faith and choose to accept the vows of membership for themselves. We stand with Seniors as they graduate from High School and send care packages while they’re away at college. We celebrate retirements, visit those in the hospital, and grieve our losses. Every major developmental milestone is recognized by the church in some way. So what are you doing to equip your congregation to navigate these milestones in a healthy way?
Maybe take a moment to reflect on your own experience. Personally, I knew everything there was to know about raising children…until I actually had children. When my firstborn turned two, I’m pretty sure I purchased every book on the market about how to raise a strong-willed child. It didn’t take long before I realized that she hadn’t read any of those books. When there was a workshop at church on parenting, I went. Turns out, she didn’t study that material either.
Fast-forward a few years to the start of high school, fourteen years old. My daughter was excited about everything. I was afraid of everything. In case you’re wondering, that’s not a good combination. Fear says “no” a lot. And when you say “no” to a strong-willed teenager, a lot… I’ll let you imagine what that might be like. This time, I was incredibly fortunate that the church wasn’t just offering a workshop of best practices, rather the church created a small group experience that explored why the teenage brain is excited about everything, and studied what is happening in my brain when I’m constantly afraid. This group also offered a safe environment in which to explore the origin of my fear so that I could move toward an attitude of courage to face the fear, and not act out of it. I learned skills, proven by scientific research, to reduce reactivity and nurture connectivity. I learned how to establish healthy boundaries and how to clearly state those boundaries in ways that affirm and value the others in my home. Most of all I discovered that if one person learns healthy skills in a family system, the whole system becomes healthier.
My daughter is an amazing person, as are her siblings. They are uniquely who God created them to be. I’m so grateful that the church saw fit to teach me the skills of healthy relationships, frameworks to help me understand developmental transitions, and methods to help me navigate the journey so that I have the skills to enjoy and appreciate the amazing people that they are. For me, this is and has been a spiritual journey, and I would be thrilled if all churches could become places in their communities where families could come to learn the skills of healthy relationships simply because it’s what we do – not because there’s a problem.
The ability to do this work begins with awareness. In the Faithful Family Life Curriculum , awareness is part of the centering practice. It’s impossible to transform something if I don’t know about it in the first place. When I can focus my attention in the present moment without judgment, I can:
- orient to the energy of God’s love at work in the world and choose how to participate in that energy;
- safely explore and understand my thoughts, sensations, and feelings so that I respond to others with truth and love;
- connect past memories to present behavior through story and sacrament;
- value learning, and recognize that what I know (and what I do) is different from who I am.
From this centered place, I can point my Life Compass to the reality of my life, and access skills, frameworks, and methods that connect me to my family, my church, my community, and the greater world with love, joy, kindness, and compassion. So can you. And together we can create a place where families can learn the skills of healthy relationships because that’s what love does.