Everyone's challenge

Recently "The Oprah Winfrey Show" featured a high school program designed to help stop the violence and alienation that youth face every day.

Students from a school in Monroe, Michigan, participated in exercises aimed at breaking down barriers between students and promoting their valuing of one another. The show discussed how the climate of a school often fosters verbal harassment, bullying, and severe violence by accepting them as the norm. What I saw tugged at my heart, prompting action.

One 2003 survey revealed that more than 800,000 students are verbally harassed each year in American high schools on the basis of race. Dress, academic grades, religion, friends, sexual orientation, and musical preference were also cited as reasons for the negative labeling that leads to anger and despair (oprah.com). This behavior is not limited to American schools; organizations such as "Youth against racism in Europe" indicate widespread unrest.

I find myself cheering for organizations that promote understanding – but at the same time yearning for teenagers to gain an understanding of the spiritual identity that is theirs and everyone's. This understanding never depends on a vote of confidence from other people, and it's so full of empowering love that it naturally stops alienation and promotes meaningful human connection.

"Happiness consists in being and in doing good;" wrote Mary Baker Eddy, "only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness: conscious worth satisfies the hungry heart, and nothing else can" ("Message to The Mother Church for 1902," p. 17).

Mrs. Eddy's discovery of Christian Science amplifies the great gift that God gives us – perfection as His sons and daughters. We in turn can give others the gift of recognizing this perfection.

We are all children of the one Father-Mother, God – each with innate goodness, place, and purpose. Standing up for and honoring this truth in oneself and in others is a basic necessity. Seeing oneself as inseparable from goodness – which is what those teens were doing in some measure on the Oprah show – enables us to naturally see our relation to one another as brothers and sisters in one caring family.

I love the way the Bible addressed this identity: "What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it – we're called the children of God! That's who we really are" (I John 3:1, Eugene Peterson, "The Message"). The chapter goes on to acknowledge that the worldly point of view, with its destructive and judgmental labeling, doesn't involve any understanding of God, "or what He's up to." It makes sense that expanding our view of God, who is Love itself, is the means to value ourselves as His children.

A student I met won her struggle with serious depression, through prayer. She told me, "The spell wasn't broken until I took all my strength to look to the nature of God to find myself."

Notice that she said it took all her strength. We're all worth that degree of effort. A few years ago, I told this girl's story in a detention facility located in the same town where the students participated in the program. What did her story mean to them? I asked. One boy, initially withdrawn, suddenly lit up with the answer. "Love destroys fear," he said brightly.

We intuitively know that we need to get our relationships with one another right. Life goes better that way. We'll meet the challenge as we begin with our primary relationship, the link with God. Jesus made this point when he taught his followers to pray "Our Father" – the universal divine Parent.

Seeing ourselves as children of divine Love is seeing how we really are loved and lovely. That's when the labels come off, the fears fade, and we're freed to love ourselves and everyone.

Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.

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