Raising Children of Peace
Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones
Chapter 3 Past, Present, and Future
Heart to Heart: The Art of Belonging
Consider the word "belonging." Now take it apart: "Be longing:" We must be longing to belong. Jane Nelsen states in her book Positive Discipline) that the true primary goal of all behavior is to find a sense of belonging and significance. Children and adults alike often display inappropriate behaviors as they seek a sense of belonging and significance.
To whom then do we belong? I grew up in the Catholic tradition and can still remember my first Catechism question: "Who are you?" The answer: "I am God's child:' Religions have offered important articles of faith and yet the heart-to-heart connection is missed. How do we make the shift from believing to knowing? Example: I believe God is good; or I know God is good (because I know goodness). I believe God loves me; or I know God loves me (because I know love). This movement from believing to knowing is the process of spiritual growth.
According to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon:
Originally, true love was to be gained through life experiences and understood through internal realization. True love is not something that can be learned through words, a written text, or schooling. It is experienced completely only in life. As newborns, Adam and Eve were to grow and perfect themselves gradually through experiences of the heart of true children, true brother and sister, true husband and wife, and true parents encompassing their whole lives. Only after experiencing the true love of God in its entirety can one perfect oneself. 1
We are the teacher/parents or parent/teachers given to our children. We are meant to convey wisdom so that they may better digest and clarify their life experience and nurture their internal realization. This is the maturity, the wisdom, the life experience you pass on to your children. I offer four main points to help make the internal connection-how to know (not believe) that we truly belong.
Love longs for a beloved. God longed for you and me. He longed for a family to call His own. This longing was a preparatory stage-much like the expectant parent preparing the nursery for the coming baby. God invested his energies as Heavenly Father-Mother in creating a nursery, a garden where children could grow and love and appreciate beauty in profuse variety reflecting Him. As we wait for that tenth month when the baby is here at last, so God awaited the arrival of His firstborn. So much investment! So much energy, thought, and love.
The heart of belonging says, "I long to be with you." Jesus spoke of the correct state of heart when he said awaiting the Messiah should be as a bride waiting for her bridegroom. This is the standard of heart for our relationship with God, with our spouse, and with our family.
Our heart-to-heart connection is like our umbilical cord to Source Love. We belong. Just as a child in the womb is attached to the mother's life flow through the umbilical cord, so is our attachment to the Core of God's love.
When my daughter Clairin was four years old, I was teaching her class the story of Creation. I explained that in the beginning there was only God. There were no trees, no grass, no people. With concern, Clairin asked, "Do you mean there were no flowers, no bugs, nobody?" "Yes," I explained, "only God." Clairin's eyes became large and huge tears appeared on her cheeks. With horror, she cried, "Do you mean God was all alone?" Our whole class cried with her. "Yes," I said. "God was all alone."
This is a critical ingredient for a sense of belonging. Early in our marriage I dreamed that I carried my new husband in my womb and I loved him already, before he was born. Then I felt a strong internal urging: "Go to Mark now. Tell him that you accept him. Tell him you accept every part of him" The next thing I knew I was on the red eye train to New York where he was at that time. I knocked on his door at two a.m. to give him this message.
I didn't know the value of the message at this time. I didn't know that his parents had at one time disowned and exiled him, or that he had been stricken from his family's will. (His parents are millionaires) All I knew is to tell him I loved him like a baby in the womb. He belonged to me; I belonged to him. Mark soon left for Germany with a performing arts group. Neither of us knew how long it would be until we saw each other again. But years later he told me that his life in Germany was so hard that he could not have survived except for the message that he was completely accepted by me.
We need to accept ourselves as the worthy inheritors of God's love. (To my husband I can say now, "I accept everything about you. Your snore is obnoxious, and yes, you're getting a little gray, maybe a little extra weight too? But you know what, honey? I completely accept you!) This is the unconditional acceptance we experience with our children. But to feel this way about ourselves-this is perhaps the most difficult of all. We must come to feel peace within ourselves and honestly come to know that we do, indeed, belong!
God gave my husband, Mark, an experience of acceptance. We were in Korea as dormitory parents to some twenty teenagers. Mark was feeling he had made some mistakes in dealing with the kids. He dwelled on this and became more miserable wondering how God could love him when he made mistakes with these dear children. God spoke to him and said, "Mark, you are my one-year-old baby who is now learning to walk for the first time. Sometimes when you try to walk, you fall down. Do you really think that I am the kind of Parent that sees you trip and ridicules you for tripping, shaming you as you fall? Mark, that is not the God I am. I am the Parent that applauds your tiniest effort. I'm the Hand that helps you to your feet again. Mark, I'm your biggest fan!"
I must insert here that in our heart connection-whether connecting ourselves or helping to connect our children-we must take care to apply belonging rather than shame. Shame and guilt do an excellent job keeping our separation intact. This is in fact the most effective weapon against true belonging, keeping us disconnected. Stephen Glenn in his book Raising Children for Success says that guilt is useful for only ten seconds, to jolt our conscience into correct action. Anything longer than ten seconds, he says, hurts us. Shame should never be the motivator to action. Shame is useful only for the heart's moment of recognition.
In cultures of the Far East shame is often used to guide a child. One day we heard that a leader would be coming to the dormitory to speak to the children. He told them that bad grades would bring shame to their parents so please study hard. The leader left, pleased that he could spur the dormitory children to work hard.
What would the Westerners' response to this be? "I'm not capable, I should pack my bags and leave this minute!" They began to believe that they did not belong and were not accepted. I reported this to the speaker the next day and he was completely shocked! He thought he was being a parent to the students by this style of motivation.
Appreciation / Love
If you long to be with someone and accept them wholly, you cannot help but come to appreciate them to the point of love. As we educate our children with this kind of heart, they will step by step come to know for themselves the love of God. I make it a point as a teacher to recognize my students when they return to school after an absence. I don't just say, "Oh, how are you feeling?" I tell them, "We missed you. It isn't the same without you!"
I came across a book recounting the creation story as told by the storytellers in a Native American tribe. The Seneca elders saw life as a circle and taught the children about this circle of life. As seen in the diagrams below:
As you walk your way around the circle, you begin with learning the truth, accepting the truth, serving the truth, living the truth, walking the truth, and finally in full circle you can embody gratitude for the truth.
I've seen that true gratitude comes through life experience, recognizing truth, or beauty, or goodness, and that appreciation wells up like a spring in your heart. I can say that I am more grateful for my parents today than I could have been earlier with less life experience. Mark Twain's quip always entertained me when he said that at fourteen he believed his parents were rather stupid, but he was surprised how much they had learned by the time he was twenty-one. Children can be trained to say thank you in terms of learning manners and respect for others, but I believe true gratitude is a process of maturation learned through life experience.
Historical Perspectives on Belonging and the Loss of Belonging
My mother told me that when I was born, she had been given a drug that kept her asleep for the first eight hours of my life. My birth had been announced to the family but my mother felt sad that she did not get to meet me for half a day! I wondered once if God felt that way through history. His children were being born but, in a sense, He was the last to know. God, in conceiving us, hoped to have an intimate relationship with man. He must have dreamed of the day when He could live directly in the heart of man. But separation caused God to live "in heaven"-separate from our hearts.
I had hoped that with our children we could make a bond from the beginning. That's the reason that four of our five children were born at home. I remember the first hour after giving birth so well. For the first two hours I always experienced a kind of spiritual high-very alert, very awake, singing songs -- now face-to-face with the baby I had longed to hold for the last nine months.
Separation from God was like separation from the umbilical cord-drastic and premature. We have seen our world go through a history of separation anxiety, birth trauma, and a feeling of unwantedness. We come from a history of people who feel separated.
Our separation from the Source Love of God has caused us to feel that we don't belong. We grew up without the bonding tie of Parent and child. We even found ourselves separated from the creation. Native American legends handed down to their children speak of a time long, long ago when all people, all creatures, spoke a common language called "Hail-lo-wayan"-language of the heart. It was a silent language but understood by the Sky Nation (the spirit world) as well as all of the Elemental Kingdom (the creation). When a man needed medicines, the plants would know their place to heal.
We must daily remind ourselves: "I belong to God:" We underestimate the power of this understanding. To whom do I belong? I belong to God!
Belonging Passed On
As parents and teachers I think we could all honestly agree that often we have found ourselves thinking or behaving or parenting just as our own parents did. That example has a strong influence on our natural inclinations. A famous parenting lecturer recently termed this our "bone knowledge:" Even if we have trained ourselves differently, during times of stress or exhaustion we still find ourselves expressing that bone knowledge. It's in the bone marrow, she said. Each parent imprints upon a child quite unconsciously. The word "character" actually means "imprint" or "stamp:" We must let God have His hand on us, imprinting Himself undeniably into our bone marrow until we imprint the same on our children. In time, our bone knowledge will be called our connection to the Source-our ultimate belonging-and no other. I would like to propose that as parents we disconnect from the great lies: "I am unworthy'." "I don't belong." We very much do belong to that special place in God's heart. We are the bridge-crossers. We come from the land of separation, inheriting the feeling that we do not belong. At this time in history, we must be the bridge from the place called "I don't belong" to the place called "I belong."
The Indian storytellers had the holy mission to transmit stories of their ancestors from generation to generation. With the blessings of their ancestors they would speak of them with such honor that the tribe's attachment would be made. The connection would be made to their tribes dearly departed. The storytellers were the bridge, the connectors, the visionaries. Are we not the same for our people? We have a heritage. We have an ancestry. We have a love lineage. We have recovered our belonging connection to God.
I would like to finish with a little story, quoting a not-atall famous person. This person is Austen Goodman, my four-year-old son. His older siblings were discussing what God looks like. Does God have a face, or none at all? Is God big or small? The siblings decided that God was too hard to understand. Four-year-old Austen put an end to the discussion when he said, "God is easy to understand. He's so big that He fills up the world with love and He's so small that He can even live in my heart."
1. Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline, New York: Ballantine Books, 1987
2. Rev. Sun Myung Moon, The Providential History of Salvation, Washington, D.C., April 16, 1966.
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