Raising responsible children

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

President and Mrs. clinton are scheduled to host a White House conference this week that will bring together educators, experts, parents, and teenagers "to talk through challenges of raising responsible children." The conference is clearly in response to the tragic violence at Columbine High School a year ago, and will likely touch on some of the anxieties and challenges teenagers face today.

Almost certain to come up will be the influence the Internet has on youth.

While prayer is sometimes given token acknowledgment in such discussions, is it possible that prayer, at its deepest and purest, deserves more than a peripheral role - if not at the conference, then at least in our own consideration? One way to think of prayer is as insight into the true nature of things. And this spiritual insight into what shapes a young person's nature and actions is at the core of lasting solutions. As we grasp more of the nature and power of real prayer, we'll find it an invaluable aid in the raising of responsible children. We'll find we get beneath the surface evidence of alienation and anxiety and uncover the very best in teenagers today.

The book of Jeremiah in the Bible offers this promise: "I [God] will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people" (31:33). What's really at work deep inside today's teen - a troubled and turbulent storm, churned by a myriad of violent influences? Not according to that Bible promise. The real thing that shapes his or her nature and actions is God's own law. That law is a force for good that has been placed in the heart of each of us by God Himself. It is a law that provides the basis for right action, right behavior, right inclinations. It is a law that gives a foundation for knowing right from wrong.

When we realize the actuality of this law, we find it begins to still anger and complaint and bitterness in ourselves and other people. Even better, it enables us to get beneath whatever turbulence seems to be the source of trouble, and to help ourselves and others find a place of calm, peace, and contentment that is maintained by God. The righteousness and natural goodness of us all is based on God's law, realized in prayer.

God, who is divine Love, has placed love within each of us. But our participation can't be passive. Our job is to become more alive to the presence of the moral and spiritual characteristics of this love. Then, to awaken within the children in our experience an awareness of its presence. Sometimes we can do this directly, guiding a young person into more wholesome habits and constructive, not destructive, activities. Our best guidance may be through the example we set. At other times, or when we don't have a lot of direct contact with young people, our contribution may be chiefly in the silent prayers we pray for them, and for all people.

True, the impact of this silent knowing may not arrive with all the flashing light and color and noise of the violent scenes pouring from some Web sites. But the power of God's law of good, instilled in each heart - a law that supports every impulse for peace and calm and brotherhood - is much more lasting and more deeply transforming, even though it may scarcely be noticed for all its quietude. It heals.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote something that applies to teens and people of every age: "O glorious hope! There remaineth a rest for the righteous, a rest in Christ, a peace in Love. The thought of it stills complaint; the heaving surf of life's troubled sea foams itself away, and underneath is a deep-settled calm" ("Message to The Mother Church for 1902," pg. 19).

Our prayers can forward the raising of responsible children by dissipating threatening storms of emotion that might otherwise explode into violence. This is especially true when we gain in prayer a spiritual insight into the very law that instills in each child the peace and calm of the all-pervading divine Love. When our prayers recognize that God's own law is in each heart, operating as a peace-enforcing presence, they make a measurable difference for the better.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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