We are good parents, loving parents, parents of the highest intention and unyielding commitment. Our conversations tend to focus on how we can prepare our children to be successful in school or on the team, or about their academic or other accomplishments. We care about their social lives, from playdates to prom dates, and we coach them day to day with hopes that they’ll make good friends, get along with their peers, and step up to do the right thing when the moment calls for leadership. We want them to be emotionally hardy and resilient, to know happiness and how to take setbacks in stride, to learn how to manage big feelings like anger and disappointment. When they do not get what they want, we hope that they will be able to successfully set a new course, readjust, “hit reset,” and move forward to succeed.
This one paragraph from psychologist Lisa Miller sums up the milestones we’ve covered up to this point. Emotionally, we’ve talked about the importance of giving a child a vocabulary, then perspective, teaching empathy, and finally resourcefulness. Socially, we’re encouraging awareness, then reciprocity, reinforcing ownership, and boundaries. We’re building in foundations for their emotional and social lives that we believe set the stage for helping your child move forward to succeed.
But is that all? Is there an even more “foundational” foundation? What about faith? How much does your child’s spiritual life really matter? What difference does it make in the long term? In who they’re becoming and in their ability to navigate life today and all its complexities? Who is God? Who does He say that you are? How has He called you to live? What do we believe, as a family?
The new science, according to Dr. Miller, says that your child’s spiritual development, in fact, means more than everything else. She goes on to say, “And yet all of those conversations, elaborate schedules of extracurricular activities, and high aspirations often miss the single most crucial ingredient of all, the only thing that science has shown to reliably predict fulfillment, success, and thriving: a child’s spiritual development.”
Did you catch that? A child’s spiritual development is the only thing that science has shown to reliably predict fulfillment, success, and thriving. The new science is basically telling us what the old truths have always been saying. Faith is foundational. Your child’s spiritual life matters most of all. And science is now backing it up.
Research shows that children who have positive relationships to spirituality are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances. They have 60% less propensity for depression than other teenagers. Brain imaging data shows that the cerebral cortex of the brain is thicker for those who have an active spiritual life. A thin cerebral cortex often accompanies depression and Alzheimer’s. In addition, those who have a defining sense of faith have more regulated levels of cortisol in their brains. Cortisol is considered a stress hormone and, when disregulated or sustained at higher levels, can slow growth in children and wear on the brain and body.
In other words, these next four chapters may be the most important of the entire book. However, it’s easy to become blocked by the stumbling blocks that often make up life in this season of parenting, whatever season you’re in. Prayers become a part of the rote bedtime routine. Church is a required part of the structure of the week. But often there’s time for little else . . . little conversation . . . little connection that helps your child’s heart discover the heart of God.
A mom approached me (Melissa) at a recent parenting conference. “I try to pray with my son at night. But he talks the whole time I’m praying. Does it really matter? He’s not paying attention anyway.”
It matters. Your child’s faith development matters. And he is listening more than you know. His little faith is growing right now, as you read the words on this page. She’s asking questions, even if she’s not asking out loud. Your child is gathering messages and experiences to create this foundation of faith. It started before he even met you. Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (niv). Psalm 139 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (niv). Science agrees. Miller goes on to say, “Science now tells us that this spiritual faculty is inborn, fundamental to the human constitution, central in our physiology and psychology.” In other words, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children,” according to Romans 8:16 (niv). A child’s faith is an inherent part of who they are. And a profoundly influential part of who they will become.
Science is backing what we already know. Old truths are getting more attention because of the “new science.” But, they’re simply echoing what we’ve always known to be true. It’s a reminder to pay attention. We want to remind you to pay attention—not just to their emotional and social lives but, even more importantly, to their spiritual lives. Your child’s faith matters. And your voice is crucial to the foundation of that already burgeoning faith. He needs you to teach him the foundations of faith…about God, who He is and how deeply He loves this little one He’s entrusted to you.
For more stumbling and building blocks to a child’s faith foundation, grab a copy of Are My Kids on Track?