Dear church family,
I have a favor to ask. I need your help with something that is far too big–and important–to accomplish on my own. Will you partner with me in helping my children develop a love for Jesus that lasts a lifetime? This tops my list of things that matter! The good news is that encouraging children to walk with Christ may be easier than you think.
First, let me ease any fears you may have. I won’t ask you to knock on doors or pass out flyers to strangers. You won’t need to preach on a street-corner with a bull-horn. I won’t even ask you to volunteer in the children’s ministry–though I am exceedingly grateful for the incredible leaders who faithfully build into the lives of our children each week.
Instead, what my children need most are adults who model Jesus’ example in one, specific, area–an area that has been meticulously researched and is proven to help children develop a faith that sticks. As a side note, I think it’s exciting that psychologists are validating key ideas that have been present Scripture all along. Today, I would like to share with you what psychologist are learning about the value of attachment, how Jesus lived out these key relationship principles, and how you and I can adopt similar strategies to support our children in developing a lifelong love for Jesus!
The Science of Children and Relationships
Before exploring how you and I can best team-up, I want to introduce you to a British psychologist by the name of John Bowlby. John grew up in the early 1900’s–a time when children were expected to be seen and not heard. John was raised by his nanny, who became a mother figure in his life. Sadly, John was only allowed to see his biological mother for an hour each day, which took place during tea time. Additional interaction was viewed as a dangerous spoiling of children.
As an adult, John described two childhood tragedies that left festering wounds. The first, was when his beloved nurse, Minnie, left the family. Minnie was John’s primary caregiver, and John bonded to her the way that most children attach to their mothers. Although John was only four years old when she left, he remembered this event vividly. John’s second tragedy was being sent away to boarding school. Although his parents were trying to protect him from the dangers of the first World War, this event also left a lingering wound. As an adult, John wrote, “I wouldn’t send a dog away to boarding school at age seven.”
These childhood events caused John to take interest in human attachments, which became his area of expertise. John discovered that children who are securely attached to their mothers–that is, children who see their parents as a safe-haven, where they can find comfort, nurture, and love–are better prepared for the rest of their lives. John Bowlby and his assistant Mary Ainsworth spent countless hours conducing attachment experiments and confirming their results. His research reveals that securely attached children have higher self-esteem, are better at regulating their emotions, and make friends more easily than children with insecure attachments. When secure children grow up, they report a higher satisfaction in their own dating relationships and marriages.
John Bowlby’s primary contribution is a mountain of data that points to the life-long benefits that occur when children connect to safe, positive, supportive adults.
The Psychology of Adult Attachment
Recently, psychologists have begun exploring the impact of attachment on adults. Marriage therapists noted that the traditional strategies of teaching couples to communicate better was not producing positive results. In The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, Researcher John Gottman shares that no matter how well couples learn to communicate, they continue to argue about the same things over the course of their marriage. Couples in therapy were learning how to refine their arguments, tone down their anger, and argue better. Yet, this was not meeting their primary needs for friendship, love, and attachment.
Eventually, therapists caught on to the fact that what the majority of married couples long for isn’t less arguing, but a closer connection. Naomi Eisenberger, from the University of California, conducted brain imaging studies revealing that rejection and exclusion trigger the same circuits in the brain as physical pain. God has hardwired us to connect to other human-beings. So much so that when this attachment isn’t present, it hurts!
Jesus and Attachment
In the Bible, we find that Jesus knew the value of attachment all along. In Matthew 9:11, the Pharisees asked the disciples why Jesus spent so much time eating with tax collectors and sinners. Apparently, hanging out with a less than reputable crowd was something that Jesus did often–so often that Matthew 11:19, refers to Jesus as a friend of sinners. The Bible never tells us if Jesus preached to this “sinful crowd,” and we don’t even know if this was on Christ’s agenda. What we do know is that Jesus ate with them, drank with them, and was an honored guest at their parties.
John Bowlby would describe Jesus’ actions as forming a secure attachment with the people who needed Him the most. Jesus loved those he met, accepted them as they were–warts and all–and became a trusted friend! Long before psychologists conducted thousands of hours of research, Jesus understood the value of safe, secure, attachments.
Children, The Church, and a Faith That Sticks
Sadly, recent studies show that nearly half of our youth will drift away from God, and the church, after they graduate from high school. Today, attachment research is making it’s way into our churches to help combat this epidemic. Kara Powell is professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, and a 20-year youth ministry veteran. Her research reveals that children who are involved in inter-generational worship–that is, they actively participate in the adult worship service–and children who have tight-knit relationships with adults in the church, are most likely to develop a faith that sticks.
Helping Children Develop A Lifelong Love For Jesus
As you can see, us parents really do need your support! Will you team-up with us in helping our children develop a lifelong love for Jesus? When you see my children at church, would you take the time to greet them by name, give them a high-five, let them know that you enjoy seeing them worshiping in the adult service, ask them about their week, and most of all, develop a genuine connection with them?
When I served as a camp counselor, years ago, our camp director would proclaim, “First children will learn to love their love their camp counselor, then they will learn to love their camp counselor’s God.” Our camp director was right, attachment is powerful! I firmly believe that the children who attend our church will, first, fall in love with the church leadership, volunteers, and the body of Christ. Then they will fall in love with the God we serve!
Taking the time to connect with our children will help them grow into more confidant kids, have better relationships as adults, and most of all, develop a lifelong love for for Jesus Christ! As a daddy to four girls, I would like to thank you for taking the time to connect with our kids!
What about you? How have you seen the power of relationships at work? Are you teaming-up with the church to help your children develop a sticky faith? What are you doing to develop a secure attachment with your kids? I’d love to hear more from you in the comments below!
Oh, and if your looking for tools to build family joy, cohesion, and attachment, then you’ll want to checkout my upcoming book, 131 Creative Conversations For Families! It’s available for pre-order now, and will be officially released on June 27!
Family, Friendship, and Faith Link-Up
This link-up is an excellent place to meet new friends, network, and share your posts. Please feel free to include any family, friendship, and faith related posts. If you have time, please visit some of the other submissions, leave a comment, and make some new connections–after all, this is what teaming-up is all about!
Finally, I’d love it if you would grab a button for your site, or link back to the Family Friendship and Faith Fridays, link-up, in order to make it easy for others to join in!