Raising Children of Peace
Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones
Children of Peace
Our Natural World -- God-Given Training Ground for Today's Peace Warriors
Karen Judd Smith
In my efforts to raise my children as children of peace, I regard Nature as a first-rate classroom stocked with all kinds of learning tools for children.
Especially in Ocean Challenge, the summer outdoor religious education program, I saw the Ocean in particular, and Nature in general, as our God-given, tailor-made "classroom and cathedral." Spending time at sea allowed many to powerfully experience God and His principles at work in their lives.
In this segment on Nature I wish simply to emphasize the value of the great outdoors as a classroom in which to teach children (and adults) how to be people of peace.
To capture the imagination of my children as I endeavor to present "lessons on peace" I have developed the image of the peace warrior. This I use as a principled alternative to the Power Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so on.
The following five points give structure to the basic elements I wish to emphasize to my children. They also form the center and four points of a compass which serves as a symbol of the "Code of the Peace Warrior'.' These five tenets start with the central point (God and God's love as expressed through the family) and include the four main points of the compass. The compass itself signifies that there is a true north and that there are principles at work in our lives; that when we are lost, when we need to figure out the way to our desired goal, that we do have resources and principles that can point the way. We must not only know how to use them, we must actually use them.
The Center: The Power of the Peace Warrior Comes from God and the Family
God is a loving Parent who created this world for the benefit and joy of His children, who are created in His Image. Even if we don't always think and act out of the belief in a benevolent and loving God, most of us would like to think we do. At least we would publicly attest that we believe in such a loving God. I am not interested in discussing this particular point here. I simply wish to note that as religious people, it is our goal not only to believe in such a God, but more importantly to so center our lives on Him that we act out of such a conviction.
As parents, part of our goal is to show our children by our words and our deeds that God is in fact benevolent, loving, and worthy of our complete trust. Why is it so important for us to do this? Because to our children, we are almost the equivalent of God. What they experience through us greatly shapes their image and understanding of God. In endeavoring to accomplish this we need to remember that children may remember what we say, but more importantly, they believe and mimic what we do.
As we cover the five main points of the Peace Warrior's Compass, this forms the central point from which the four directions emanate. If I were to liken these main points to a hand, this would be the thumb-the one digit that gives the whole hand its dexterity and powerful abilities to create. The role of family love cannot be underestimated in the wholesome development of children toward maturity.
Involve your children in the development of a family mission statement so that all share "ownership" and responsibility. This gives you something as individuals and as a family to identify with and to develop.
Keep a pet: having a pet of some kind, one that is harmonious with your family's living conditions, is a chance for children to experience the joy of taking care of something and feeling like its mommy or daddy. Children can learn that one aspect of love is constant giving. They can also learn simple forms of forgiveness.
True North: Peace Warriors are People of Principle
Just as good navigation requires us to use a compass and other positioning tools as well as to understand why they work, so learning principles and experiencing their efficacy is essential to life's journey.
Principles are essential to peace. While peace is often perceived as the absence of conflict or turmoil, that is only part of the whole picture. Peace is very active. Peace is constant giving in accordance with God's principles. Below the peaceful, serene surface is teeming activity, a balance of forces at work, preparation for the next moment in life.
Peace exists to the extent that there is no conflict between our essential nature and our chosen activities. There is harmony of our personal understanding, desire, and action with those principles through which our universe exists.
Though more self-evident in nature, these principles are present in all human life. So peace is constant principled activity. It is far from boring inactivity. True peace challenges each of us to our core-intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally. We are challenged to become our best.
As parents we need to help our children understand and experience many of the principles at work in our world. Naming those principles and allowing our children to observe their application in the world is fundamental, like our ABCs.
Of course, there are always the birds and the bees, and helping children notice them and appreciate them rather than to be afraid of them. Watch a bee collecting pollen and explain about the male and female parts of the plants and how the bee helps pollinate the plant so the plant can have babies seeds.
Pick up maple seeds and show how they are the forerunners of helicopters. Find big ones in the park or out in the country on a day-trip and throw them in the air to watch them helicopter down. They are neat. The children will naturally want to collect them and throw them. They are beginning to see structure and purpose, and they can begin to appreciate some of the thought and design built into all things.
If you are still in the process of having children in your family, explain some of the basics. Get books with pictures for your children. You don't have to get totally graphic about all details . . . until they ask. Then you can explain and help them feel the holiness of bringing children into the world rather than waiting until they learn about it on the playground where holiness certainly won't be part of the picture!
When children are older, you can give more detailed explanations of God's principles again in the context of the natural environment. Instead of simply playing with seeds, go to an interactive science museum and see many examples of positive and negative, subject and object. Or go camping and hiking.
West: The Path of the Peace Warrior Is that of Dominion over Self
To make this journey from childhood and childish ways to adulthood, we must learn to live as men and women of peace by attaining true dominion first over ourselves (private dominion) and then dominion in the world (public dominion).
In understanding nature's value in teaching our children how to grow as children of peace, we must realize we will be fully challenged to parent our growing youth. We need to present opportunities for our children to take steps toward self-control, self-discipline, and therefore true dominion. It is with this in mind that experiences in nature enable our children to know the value and reality of the living, breathing word made-flesh that is experience.
The value of self-discipline can be experienced in simple things such as being able to swim and to be confident in the water. When children learn to swim, they have to learn skills, they have to deal with their fears of the water, and they can also revel in the excitement of accomplishment. Another important point is that it is an opportunity to do something together. Children and youth need to engage in activities with responsible others, not only be entertained and amused, even if it is academically advantageous. Mere entertainment doesn't compare with live interaction with people.
True Dominion -- First Over Ourselves
The youthful concept of dominion starts very primitively, and too often does not develop much further. For example, when one child hits another with a stick, a toy, or some nearby object-turned-weapon. Often as we get older, our weapons simply get more sophisticated and effective.
It takes insight and maturity to learn that assault and brute strength are not true dominion. The highest forms of private dominion include self-knowledge, self-discipline, and self-sacrifice.
Because private dominion is basic and does not necessarily involve other people, nature is again a perfect setting for such personal development. There are many exciting sports and outdoor activities that allow people to "experience themselves." Some of the most exciting outdoor activities are physically challenging, giving the individual the opportunity to face personal limits, and to watch them expand. We can confront our fears, and with encouragement and our own youthful refusal to give up or give in, can accomplish, despite them.
Personally, I often feel more alive, more excited about life, when I am face to face with death. Jumping out of an airplane leaves your life hanging by threads-and boy is that exciting! First I had to deal with heart-palpitating mind-boggling fear. But what is gained in the experience is the confidence that I can function and do what I need to do even when scared as can be. And then to find that sheer exhilaration . . . is rather addictive!
Skydiving was also, for me, a graphically lived experience of the proverbial "leap of faith." Skydiving is not for everyone, and there are many other ways to experience the leap of faith. But for me it was an important experience because of the certainty that I have in the faith process. Fear, uncertainty, trust, the jolt, relief, exhilaration are all aspects of the leap of faithand the leap from the plane. The physical experience of sky diving gave me added confidence in the more spiritual activity of practicing my faith, of living a life of faith rather than only believing it is a good life to live.
Such experiences are like milestones that not only mark some level of personal achievement and sense of freedom, but also model the essentials of successfully living our chosen path.
The Path to True Dominion
Here I would like to take a brief look at freedom . . . something close to the heart of our youth. Freedom is another of Life's great paradoxes, for true freedom comes through self-discipline, self-knowledge, and self-sacrifice. Unfortunately people today-adults and children alike-often confuse freedom with license.
The greatest athletes appear to move effortlessly. Such apparent ease, grace, and beauty is the end result of hours of strenuous effort, sacrifice, and discipline. The greatest artists and musicians likewise produce works that appear to emerge with effortless ease. This freedom to perform, to create moments of great strength and beauty, of intense emotion and passion, are born of hours of diligent progress, of discipline and constant effort. Freedom to perform such great feats doesn't come freely, but it is powerful. Such personal or private dominion prepares individuals for public dominion.
This foundation of dominion over oneself is the main focus for the Peace Warrior because it prepares us to go to the next stage of public dominion. Dominion over oneself is most important for our youth, and is all we will deal with here for now.
Almost any outdoor activities are perfectly fine. Boating, sailing, swimming, scuba diving, hang gliding . . . anything that excites you and your children and is age-appropriate. The more challenging the sport or activity or the more knowledge and skills it requires, the more they will have to develop and apply self-discipline, self-knowledge and self-sacrifice. The key is that if the activity is something they really enjoy doing they will willingly discipline themselves. Having accomplished at some level gives them ownership of an entire process that involved risk, fear, overcoming the fear, trust, exhilaration, relief and much more. This real knowledge of an entire process and what it takes to accomplish something is their own and they can be taught to use that experience as a stepping stone to even greater achievement.
As much as possible, participate in the activity with your children. It strengthens the parent-child bond, it increases or fortifies trust, and you can simply experience the joy of living together as a family.
South: Peace Warriors are Interdependent and Live in Harmony with the Universe
Learning to be people of principle means we seek true dominion. This involves successful development through three stages: dependence (childhood), independence (adolescence), and interdependence (adulthood).
Awareness of these stages of development and clarification of the goal of interdependence is critical to maturation.
Given that as parents we are primarily concerned with the education of our children, our youth, I think that there is at least one major characteristic of youth we need to recognize and employ. Youth, the independent phase of life, seeks excitement and challenge, often with such abandon that the value of the life being risked is obscured. If we clearly realize that Peace throws down a far more challenging, exciting, and satisfying gauntlet than any misguided yet alluring alternative, we can also realize we have a viable and resplendent option for our youth. As parents we are challenged to make sure peace is redefined in terms that speak to our youth today, and is presented as the truly challenging and exciting alternative to the abundance of lesser options out there.
Today our youth are inundated with graphic and deceptively alluring alternatives. For today's men and women of violence, desecration and abuse are their golden calves. But what are we offering our youth? We must constantly review where our children are and what they need to stimulate them to go God's way.
As religious folk we often simply present a rather one-dimensional image of the person of peace as one who suffers and sacrifices. We see this clearly in the religious paintings, sculptures, and art epitomizing the Prince of Peace. Without meaning to diminish the value or the reality of Jesus' life, we do need to present the whole picture -- and include the joy of wisdom and growth, the satisfaction of self-mastery and accomplishment, and the thrill of conquering ignorance. But that side of Jesus is not so prevalent, understood, nor visually depicted. Such representations of greatness as the former, often do not inspire youth, so they look for engaging role models and excitement elsewhere.
It truly is a challenge to have children and to satisfy all their needs, their true needs. That is part of the daily opportunity that we as parents have to grow in wisdom, knowledge, and love. As we do this, we too are more fulfilled as individuals and so as parents and husbands and wives. Our children are indeed messiahs to us!
Luckily Nature is our God-given classroom in which we can be challenged to learn true dominion. Out in nature our children can develop their independence in a wholesome environment where simultaneously they can experience the power, the beauty, the excitement, and the majesty of interdependence. Our Earth, with its mountains, rivers, seas, and skies is a living tapestry of interdependence. Such interdependence is the greater reality of life in our universe. Independence and dependence are only parts of the larger picture. It is imperative to begin to experience this greater reality as children, so that as we mature we can recognize and actively pursue a thinking and a lifestyle that embraces interdependence and encourages a conscious effort to achieve harmony with all things.
Again, the real choices are your family's. What is most important is to get out under the stars, away from the controlled environments of home, city, and the familiar. Get some good fresh air. It's easy enough to pick up a tent and some blankets and just drive two hours out of New York to a state camp ground. It may be in the hills, the mountains, on a river, or by the sea. Start while your children are young. Doing even the simplest things in nature such as pitching a tent, cooking dinner over a seven-dollar hibachi, and all crawling into the tent together after dark to tell stories is simple but powerful. Of course, you can gradually get more sophisticated or do different things while camping, but these will come naturally later. Just go do it!
East: The Heart of the Peace Warrior Is to Love and to Teach Love
Emotional security enables the children to master their fears and to go beyond their total dependence and protective self-interest, so that they can mature into loving, giving human beings.
Raising children of peace means raising children of principle whose actions are motivated by creative love rather than destructive fear. These children can become men and women of peace because they learn to live love.
Likewise, it is important for children to understand that love is not just a feeling, but is primarily giving. Giving little things. Giving kind words, giving encouragement, giving time to another, sharing. It is not learned overnight and requires constant modeling by parents.
Again, our children can get such a skewed perspective of what love is and is not from people at schools and from society in general. We need to provide them with an ample supply of truth.
There are whole sections in this book dealing with the teaching of heart, and of love. In nature the heart of giving is probably most evident in the relationship between parent and baby animals. So try visiting the zoo in spring. Or again, our responsibility is to get out into Nature. Nature will do much of the work for us, but we have to make the effort to get there and make ourselves available for the lessons there to be learned.
Go take your kids to the ocean, to the mountains, to the deserts. Go out onto the front porch or press your nose against the window pane when the next storm comes around. Feel the silence, the magnificence of the night sky! Go watch the activity of ants, a spider weaving a web, sharks in the water, the colors on a bird. But don't do it from the couch. Make the effort to do it yourselves and own the experience, make it your own story of excitement, life, and death. And be there with your children. Share the experiences together . . . while you can.
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