Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation

085: Forming Spiritually Resilient Children (with Dr. Holly Allen)

January 23, 2024 Season 5 Episode 85
085: Forming Spiritually Resilient Children (with Dr. Holly Allen)
Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation
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Attaching to God: Neuroscience-informed Spiritual Formation
085: Forming Spiritually Resilient Children (with Dr. Holly Allen)
Jan 23, 2024 Season 5 Episode 85

Many children today are growing up amid adversity, whether brought on by family difficulties or larger societal crises. All children need to be able to deal with stress, cope with challenges, and persevere through disappointments. While we cannot protect children from all hardships, we can promote healthy development that fosters resilience.

Our guest, Dr. Holly Catterton Allen, recently retired from her position as Professor of Christian Ministries and Family Science at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Allen’s books include Intergenerational Christian Formation and Forming Resilient Children: The Role of Spiritual Formation for Healthy Development.

Stay Connected:

  • NEED spiritual direction or coaching that aligns with this podcast? Connect with Cyd Holsclaw here.
  • Join the Embodied Faith community to stay connected and get posts, episodes, & resources.
  • Support the podcast with a one-time or regular gift (to keep this ad-free without breaking the Holsclaw's bank).
Show Notes Transcript

Many children today are growing up amid adversity, whether brought on by family difficulties or larger societal crises. All children need to be able to deal with stress, cope with challenges, and persevere through disappointments. While we cannot protect children from all hardships, we can promote healthy development that fosters resilience.

Our guest, Dr. Holly Catterton Allen, recently retired from her position as Professor of Christian Ministries and Family Science at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. Allen’s books include Intergenerational Christian Formation and Forming Resilient Children: The Role of Spiritual Formation for Healthy Development.

Stay Connected:

  • NEED spiritual direction or coaching that aligns with this podcast? Connect with Cyd Holsclaw here.
  • Join the Embodied Faith community to stay connected and get posts, episodes, & resources.
  • Support the podcast with a one-time or regular gift (to keep this ad-free without breaking the Holsclaw's bank).

[00:00:20] Geoff: Many children today are growing up in the midst of adversity, whether brought on by family difficulties or larger social crises, all children need to be able to deal with stress, cope with challenges and persevere through disappointments. And certainly while we can't protect children from all of those hardships, we can promote healthy developmental opportunities that will foster.

Resilience. This is the embodied faith podcast with Geoff and Cyd Holsclaw, where we're exploring a neuroscience informed spiritual formation. And as always, we are brought to you by grassroots Christianity, which is growing faith for everyday people. Today, we're really excited to have, uh, Dr. Holly Allen, uh, who is retired.

Uh, she's a professor recently, um, of Christian ministries and family science at Lipscomb university in Nashville, Tennessee, and Dr. Alan's some of our books include, uh, intergenerational intergenerational Christian formation. And today we're going to be talking about forming resilient children, the role of spiritual formation for healthy development, Dr.

Allen, thank you so much for being on with us today.

[00:01:27] Holly Allen: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

[00:01:29] Geoff: excellent. So how did you get into, uh, your whole, your whole field has been studying like families and children, um, for much of your career. How did you get into that as a, as a passion project, I guess?

[00:01:40] Holly Allen: I was a late bloomer. Uh, I taught in the public schools, uh, for some years, then I got a master's in educational psychology. What propelled me? into this particular realm of looking at children and their spiritual development, but also the intergenerational piece was an experience we had in church in the 1990s.

We were in a church that decided, well, we were part of a church plant. We started as one small group. We had, I think, twelve children and About eight adults, so more, more kids than adults. And we wanted to be intentionally intergenerational. We didn't want to send the kids away. And as the, this church plant grew into 25 groups and about 700 people, we kept that DNA.

And I, because of my educational psychology background, you know, I had taught Sunday school for many years, and I taught Sunday school with, kind of an educational bent. Whatever was happening in the public schools or in the educational world, I brought into my Sunday school. So, when learning centers came in, when we started paying more attention to um, you know, movement and senses and those kinds of things, I brought that into Sunday school.

Those are not bad things. But I was thinking educational model, and that seemed great to me. But I began to see in these small groups that children began to pray with and for their parents and other adults. I had not seen that in Sunday school. That was not what I was. I was teaching them information about God and stories.

Um, and then I also began to see them minister not only to each other but, you know, to adults. I just, it was a different paradigm. That was not our goal necessarily, that's just what I saw. That's what the adults were doing and the children began to emulate them. It changed my understanding of Christian education, and I began to move toward a Christian formation approach, but actually for children, but also for adults.

I began to realize that, you know, we weren't primarily in the enterprise of informing children. We are forming, all of us are being formed and transformed and conformed into the image of Christ. It changed my world. Changed my career, changed my focus, to tootled off to California to get my doctorate in Christian education.

Of course, they are, they were still using educational models for everything. So I just kind of forged my own

[00:03:52] Geoff: Oh, wow.

[00:03:53] Holly Allen: Also bringing So it just, it just mushroomed from there. I have to say, this was not my call. This was not my call. I had no idea this is what I would do with my life. And, uh, it was a calling from God.

And I responded, I think he's been calling people throughout all the ages. And some people say, yes, I'm ready for that. And others say, not now. Well, I was just at the right place at the right time. And he said, okay, I'll use you. And so that's been my life since then, uh, looking at children more as spiritual beings rather than as, you know, kind of receptacles to receive my information for them.

And then certainly that's changed my understanding of spiritual formation for adults as well. So that's how this all began.

[00:04:33] Geoff: wow. Well, so how, um, so you moved, uh, and I think a lot of people, you know, if you've been listening to this podcast for a little bit, you know, that movement from informing like of ideas to, uh, you know, forming the whole person, the embodied, like, um, So you made that move. So then what are, what are the things that you started, like learning or noticing or moving into, um, when it came to children and their spirituality when you made that shift?

They're not just empty buckets, needing more knowledge. Like, so what do they, what do they need? Or rather how do we just like join them in what's happening or, I don't know, like you and Sid probably have way better ways to talk about this than I do.

[00:05:12] Holly Allen: Well, joining them on their spiritual journey, I mean, that's, that's the way Katherine Stonehouse says it, and I love that. This was in 1999 that we moved to California, and actually seeing children as spiritual beings was a relatively new concept, kind of with Robert Cole's The Spirit of the Child and All, The Spiritual Child?

I forget exactly what the title of his book was, but he began to help us shift our understanding. He was not, um, It was just the beginning, um, Catherine Stonehouse's book in 1998, Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey, was I was so glad that I didn't move until 1999 to do this because there was something to read, uh, looking at children as spiritual beings.

What I was trying to define at first was, I had seen something different. in these intergenerational small groups, and I had to say, well, what was it that I saw? And actually that was called, you know, spiritual formation or Christian formation. So moving from that education, Christian education to Christian formation.

But the whole world of Christian education, which runs, you know, the Sunday schools and those kinds of things and all of our churches, was still very much into the Christian education mode. And so I was in a, you know, a doctoral program that, education. So I had to kind of just form my own little way.

First thing I had to do was define what do we mean by children's spirituality. Because most of the world was saying, you know, faith development or Christian education. But this was a new term and a little bit scary, I think, for people. Spiritual formation felt a little like the transcendent world that's around us, you know, that kind of thing.

Didn't sound very Christian to people. So I've tried to use Christian formation more often. People seem less fearful of that, but I had to define what I mean, meant. And so I looked at everything I could find on, um, children's spirituality and there, hmm, didn't have lots of choices. So I looked at just Spirituality, looked first at that, and I looked at religious spirituality, Christian spirituality, spirituality, and then children's spirituality, I probably found four definitions of that.

Putting all those together, this is one of the questions you had said, what do you mean by children's spirituality? I came up with a definition that works for all of us in the Christian world, but we have lots of folks, many, many Christians work in the public schools, work in government agencies. They can't really use a Christian definition.

It doesn't help them to do that. Say, it's a Trinitarian definition. Well, that's not going to help. So, um, this is the definition that I mostly use, and it's pretty It's universal for anyone, really. Children's spirituality is a quality present in every child from birth, by which children seek to establish relationships with themselves, with others, and with God.

[00:07:53] Cyd: Um,

[00:07:53] Holly Allen: Um, that shows up in Almost all definitions, you know, religious spirituality, Christian spirituality, spirituality, just general spiritual, some transcendent, it might not be God. They'll say a transcendent other, uh, but that child self. Uh, is important that they are a self, they're an I, they have needs, they're separate from other people.

Um, the child, others, we've done a fairly good job with that, but that others have different needs, they're not me, they're others, but I need to be in contact and we, we are a we, and not just an I, and um, and then with God. Uh, in public settings, in government settings, it might not be God you talk about, if the child brings it up, you can jump on that.

Uh, but Whatever the child uses for that, there is a sense of transcendence that most children have. And one can tap into that. Our preschools, our Head Start programs, have allowed for a general spirituality. Um, our public schools have really shut it out for fear that it would become a particular spirituality.

Christian or Jewish or something. Uh, so we've really, uh, shut that out. But our preschools have been more open to that. But that sense that children come into the world as relational beings, uh, Seeking others. Seeking something. And, uh, we've done a good job, I think, in Christianity, you know, trying to say, there's a God who loves you and knows you, and let's come to know Him, or at least in recent years we have.

We've done a fairly good job with the child others, but it's come out a little more moralistic. You need to share. Things like that. Rather than that. Uh, God given that we belong with each other. But the child's self, we've done a relatively poor job in general. So that has been one of the areas of focus.

But that works for almost everybody. We're nurturing children in their relationship with themselves, others, and God.

[00:09:43] Geoff: Excellent.

[00:09:43] Holly Allen: Simple, you can remember it, uh, and people get it. There's another piece that shows up in a lot of definitions. The child's relationship with self, others, world. and God. And I chose to stay with, uh, self, others, and God because of the first and second commandments.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. But I do have a little place in the book for the fact that some children really make that connection, that spiritual connection. And outdoor settings in their connection with the world, and I think it's very valid and of God.

So, I include that as well.

[00:10:18] Cyd: so, oh, sorry, were you going to

[00:10:20] Geoff: Oh, go ahead.

[00:10:21] Cyd: Okay. Um, yeah, as you, as you unpack all of this and especially the self others and God, um, I'm just curious if there, as you studied, you know, child development and, and the formation that children go through is, does one of those. Come first, like for a child, does a child begin to develop a sense of self first or a sense of others first or a sense of God? What is the research or what does your work have to say about that?

[00:10:51] Holly Allen: There are differing ideas on this. Our problem is, of course, very difficult to say what's going on in a three

[00:10:57] Cyd: sure, of course.

[00:10:58] Holly Allen: a week old, or a one day old. We are sure from the science, they are already looking for

[00:11:04] Cyd: Right.

[00:11:05] Geoff: hmm. Mm

[00:11:06] Holly Allen: You know, we do all the studies with the eyes. What are they looking at? Do they look at a random picture, or do they look at a face kind of picture with eyes and a mouth?

They look at the face. Well, why would they do that? I mean, nothing that we know of says faces are important. I mean, did they get taught that? No, that seems to be in

[00:11:25] Cyd: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:11:26] Holly Allen: It is. It is. Yeah, yeah. Everything kind of. So we've done enough scientific work that we say, yes, this seems to be. They are seeking connection with

[00:11:34] Cyd: Yeah.

[00:11:34] Holly Allen: Yeah, that's there. Um.

[00:11:37] Cyd: Yeah. I'm glad to hear that. Just because Jeff and I have done a lot of stuff with, you know, attachment and spiritual formation. And so, um, you know, that's true with what we've learned too, is that, you know, it's, it's looking for connection, looking for faces like from the earliest stage and it's, it doesn't seem like any coincidence, right.

That, that babies are only able to see about as far as from the crook of an elbow. to the face of a caregiver. And so just that that's the distance they can see. That doesn't seem like any coincidence that that would be the way that guides.

[00:12:07] Holly Allen: not random. That is, of course, the survival of the fittest people would say, oh, that's survival.

[00:12:11] Cyd: Yeah. I would say that's God saying you're a relational being and here are your people. Yeah.

[00:12:18] Holly Allen: agree with that. I do believe God made us to be spiritual people seeking him and, you know, all civilizations have had some, that we know of, have had some sense of a transcendent other. I think that's what separates us from the animal world, the spirit of God that I think in some way is in us. Uh, and, and we seek him.

How to establish how early that happens, it's a little harder, but very early on, uh, children seem to lean that direction. They, they seem to understand that cause and effect works, you know, that if you roll, uh, a marble behind a barrier, and you roll it and it's coming downhill, they'll look at the other end.

And no one taught them to do that, they just do. And so those are some of the other studies that, that say, Oh, they expect things to, well why would they do that? It's the order of the universe, I think, and that we're, we're sort of, uh, you know, wired for that. Lots of ways that we can come around it. You can't establish it.

They're not able to say, yes, I'm aware that there is a God who's present in my life, and he talked to me last night. I mean, they're not able to do that at six months old. I do think God is present in their life, and that he talks to them. I think he is called all children at all times, and some children do seem to be a little more keenly aware of

[00:13:40] Geoff: Mm, mm

[00:13:42] Holly Allen: not to say that it's not happening with others, but it's more keen. Some are just attuned, uh, in ways that others aren't. You know, if you have three children, usually one of them is a little more, like, how did that happen? Why? Do you think God did that? And the others are like, I don't know. Uh, it just, it just happened.

Uh, some, I think, are more attuned. But it, um, it's hard to establish that as truth. The child, others, peace, anyone who's had a child or spent much time with children, you know, they're, they're seeking connection, we want to belong. Um, that's, that's going on all the time. I don't think there's a lot of, um, you know, disagreement about the fact that children are relational beings.

I think we pretty much know that. As to which one comes first, I think that's hard to establish, but I think we know early on they're looking for people.

[00:14:30] Geoff: For sure.

[00:14:31] Cyd: It's just, uh, it reminds me of a story. Um, so we have two sons and when our younger son was probably about three, he might've been even younger than that. Um, he was just sort of sitting sort of off in a corner, just kind of playing on his own and sort of doing the talking and, you know, sort of playing with all the things he was playing with.

And I just curiously asked, Hey, what are you doing? And he said, playing with Jesus.

[00:14:54] Holly Allen: Oh,

[00:14:56] Cyd: at that little, you know, and I'd never said to him, Jesus is always with you. Um, but he had just picked up enough from, you know, sort of our little storybook Bibles and all of that, that he was just off playing with Jesus.

And I just thought, Oh, how precious. I hope you never stop playing with Jesus. And I just

[00:15:15] Holly Allen: wonderful. No one said,

[00:15:16] Cyd: I'll leave you to it. You two have fun. I'm going to go away.

[00:15:19] Holly Allen: it. No one said you can't play with Jesus, he's not really here. Nobody had said that to him. Nobody had said you can't play with Jesus, he's here. But he just thought he

[00:15:28] Cyd: Right. Or even you can't play with Jesus. Jesus doesn't play. Of course he does. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:15:35] Holly Allen: That's good. I love that. Sophia Cavalletti, uh, just, she was interested in Montessori's, you know, godly play in that, uh, Catkeeses of the Good Shepherd. She wrote some things 30, 40, 50 years ago. Uh, and she tells the story of a little girl who grew up in a very, uh, atheistic home. No one in the family, not even the grandmothers in Italy, uh, believed in God.

They didn't go to church. They didn't do anything. And one day, um, you know, she just asks her dad, Where did everything come from? And he said, oh, he told her all about the Big Bang Theory that, You know, some people just think there was a big bang and, and then he said, Well, and some people think that, you know, there's a God who created it.

And she said, I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. And she just whirls around the room and said, There is a God. There is a God. There is, I knew it. Um,

[00:16:23] Cyd: That's beautiful.

[00:16:25] Holly Allen: was that? You know, I think God is at work saying, I'm here, uh, to every child. And some people have those around them who encourage that, others don't, and even then, I think there's this deep understanding that there's more than me

[00:16:40] Cyd: hmm. Yeah.

[00:16:42] Holly Allen: One who knows me, and we can shut that down, you know, we can, we're very effective if we attempt, attempt it. We can shut that down, and that's one of the things that I talk to you about, that even unintentionally, we can shut that down. Like Jesus doesn't play. That kind of thing. You know, we can do that, but we can impede that.

We can, uh, you know, discourage that. We can hinder children on their spiritual journey. I do spend a little time on that sometimes

[00:17:07] Cyd: Which then brings us to that question of resiliency, right? So you've defined, you know, child spirituality for us, but how, how are you defining resiliency?

[00:17:19] Holly Allen: Well, I looked at, um, you know, the Handbook of Resilience and things like that to say, what are the big definitions? And I found four or five fairly good ones. And I asked my students, I still teach the children's spirituality course at Lipscomb. That's my one class that I. Hold on to. And I always ask them, which one of these connects with you?

You get it when you hear it. And the one they really always say, basically always, there are a few who say other things, but it's the sense that, um, resilience is when a child exhibits positive developmental outcomes and avoids maladaptive outcomes under adverse conditions. Many of them don't give both sides of that.

And my students like it says it's not just. That you look, you're looking fine, it's that you're not exhibiting some things and it also includes the idea after you've experienced adversity because, you know, a lot of kids have good enough lives, good enough homes, good enough churches, good enough schools, they really haven't hit anything and to say, Oh, they're resilient is a little premature.

Of course, we can hardly say that now because all children older than three, um, experienced the pandemic. And it, it was an adverse condition for almost all children at some level. Now, it wasn't maybe traumatic for every child, but it was, they hit a, hit something, something like, I have a little video of a four year old going, McDonald's is closed, everything is closed, we can't go anywhere!

And, you know, having a little meltdown, it's, we know that's not the end of the world, but when you're four, you know, your life changed. Um, so Most children, and all the adults, have experienced some adversity now. So, what we mean by that? My students always say, but what do we mean by positive outcomes and, uh, maladaptive?

This is the question that I always answer. So, what we're seeing in kids who are resilient, after they've had some difficulties, is they're getting along well enough with other children. They're doing well enough in school. Um, they know and follow, in general, the behavioral rules of society. They listen to adults.

That's what we're looking for in general. And then what are the maladaptive outcomes? Would, of course, be kind of the opposite of that. You could put it in other ways. They're exhibiting maybe social withdrawal or the opposite end of that. Aggression and violence. They're not getting along with people.

Usually, uh, or one of the symptoms they might show a maladaptive outcome. Poor school performance. And, of course, just severe anxiety or other mental disorders. Deep depression. Uh, but other, uh, maladaptive, uh, behaviors that you can see. It doesn't always mean they've experienced some trauma or adversity, but it means something and you can see it.

And if they're, they're just not becoming resilient, they've experienced something and they're not exhibiting resilience. So those are the general things we're looking for. So it's, uh, children after experiencing some adversity are exhibiting positive developmental outcomes and are avoiding maladaptive.

after these adverse conditions. So that's understandable to most

[00:20:29] Cyd: Yeah. So a lot of people who listen to this podcast have connections in church somewhere, right? So some people are going to be involved in, um, ministry leadership positions. Other people are just going to be sort of volunteering in kids ministry. So if you were to, I know we can't read your whole book on this podcast, right?

And I'm sure there's more than one thing that you would say, but if there were like one or two things that you would want to say. to people who are out there working with kids, thinking about structuring kids ministries. What's one or two things that could help really promote resilience?

[00:21:05] Holly Allen: There's a long list of things, but things

[00:21:08] Cyd: I'm really limiting here. I'm saying only two, but we don't have time for all of them.

[00:21:13] Holly Allen: can do or those, or after school care people, uh, in a Christian setting, um, one, I mean, Just, you are loved. You are valuable. You are important. I notice you. I see you. I'm so glad you're here. We're always glad when you're

[00:21:30] Geoff: Mm hmm. Mm.

[00:21:32] Holly Allen: such positive things for kids who feel overlooked and, uh, not important.

Life has not gone well. The people in their lives maybe aren't paying much attention to them at all. That's probably the very first

[00:21:44] Cyd: Okay,

[00:21:45] Holly Allen: You can say that

[00:21:46] Cyd: I'm going to interrupt you a second because most of our listeners have heard us talk about joy and using, uh, Jim Wilder defines joy, joy as, you know, the experience of being with someone who's glad to be with you and joy being the foundation of all of our identity, right? Without a strong joy foundation, we don't really know who we are.

And so I love that that's the number one thing that you named is that expression of I'm. I'm so glad you're here. I'm happy to see you. I'm glad to be with you. That's the expression of joy right there. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:22:21] Holly Allen: with that, is, uh, we can start very early on with this identity piece. Children who are resilient know who they are. And, uh, early on, you can say, you're a child of God. Um, in my fifth grade Sunday school class just recently, I talked through all the things that I am.

You know, I'm a child to my parents, I'm a wife to my husband, I'm a mother to my children, uh, I'm a teacher, and I named all these identities. And I said, is it possible? that I might lose my identity. And we talked through the fact that actually my parents are now dead. I'm no longer the child of a living person.

Um, my siblings, I'm a, I'm a sister. Uh, one of my sisters has cancer. terminal cancer. So, it's possible one of these days I will not be a sister to a living person. Um, it's conceivable that my children could die before me. What if I'm not a mother someday? And there are many people who are no longer a mother, who've lost a child and it was their only child.

Um, I'm retiring. You know, I may no longer be a teacher in that general sense. But is there anything that I will always be, that will never change, it will go with me until I'm on my deathbed? I'm a child. God, that's who I am. That's who I will always be, no matter what happens to me or the people around me.

That, I mean, the children in the class were, you know, really thinking with me, which one of these will I still be? And they said, well, probably, you know, all your kids aren't going to die before you. That's probably right. I'll probably always be a mother. But, you know, it's conceivable. Is there anything? It was a wonderful discovery moment, and I hope they will take that with them.

And we can say that to children. When all of their life seems to be falling down, they will always. And I think that all of us always have that identity.

[00:24:08] Geoff: That's so important. I think and that links together the, um, the spirituality piece and the resilience piece that your, you know, a core stable identity of who you are, you know, as the theologian and a resident cultural critic, um, oftentimes we're trained out of that, uh, kind of perspective because. Um, on the one hand, our culture is very much about who, who we are is wrapped up in what we do.

So even if all my relationships or my roles, um, were to fall apart, you know, I, I have the things, um, but again, those, those could be outside of us. And so then the other move is that, well, I find my worth and my, um, identity. Kind of like deep with inside me, like my special own me. And sometimes it's called the true self or whatever, you know, whatever there's a, right.

But finding you outside of your roles and outside of even your relationships oftentimes is thought to be the goal of self discovery and, um, and that when you find that, then, um, you can find that stable core that'll help you be resilient, that'll help you overcome difficulties. You'll find happiness. And the truth is, is I think both the science.

And the, the long Christian spiritual tradition says, well, you can't actually find that core identity inside yourself. Uh, and so what you're saying is I might have these human relationships that might change. And so if my identity is in them, um, I might become lost. And then I think parts of our modern world will say, yeah, so you should just give up on relationships, find yourself.

But what you're saying, and I think what we all want to say is actually. You don't give up on relationships. You just make sure you have the right one that helps define who you are. And then that'll create, um, your stable identity and your resilience in the midst of suffering and hardship. And I think that that is, that's why I was glad you started with specifically Christian spiritual formation, because that is like that, that we have a personal God, that we are his children and he is our father, that he knows us and loves us.

Is a different spirituality than other religions or even different kind of like non religious spiritual formation. And so that's why I always want to come back to like, like what is specific about this Christian spiritual formation? And I think it's this relationship piece that you were mentioning.

[00:26:29] Holly Allen: Absolutely. I, I do find it strange that the modern secular world is now saying, you just need to be true to yourself, find yourself, live in yourself, be that. And yet, they also say we're relational beings. We are really, at core, we are relational beings. Uh, you know, who are we going to be in a relationship with?

Well, with yourself. I'm thinking that might not be enough. We do need to be in contact with ourselves and be aware, but there's more.

[00:26:54] Geoff: Oh, that's great.

[00:26:55] Holly Allen: Are you good?

[00:26:56] Geoff: That's great. So do you, uh, you have another question? You have a follow up there? I know I was pontificating there.

[00:27:01] Cyd: It's all right. You're prone to do that every now and then we'll give you, we'll give you a little space for that. Um, no, I just, it's been such a joy to, to be with you, Holly. It reminds me too. And it makes me, um, it makes me so grateful that I've had the opportunity to be involved in young children in worship, which is, um, you know, and, and.

just that, that participation in the story and not only being able to do that, not, not, I didn't get to do it as a child, but my mom started that program in my church growing up. And so I got to help, you know, even when I was a teenager and even as a teenager, I think that that shaped informed me in some ways of just that, you know, and you brought up catechesis of the good shepherd too.

And just that idea of like, we are all sheep in the pasture and entering into the story of God in that participatory kind of way. And in sharing the story together and then being able to do that at the church that we were a part of for, you know, for 18 years of just being able to lead children in that and just seeing the awe and the wonder and just the joy and excitement around the stories of God that happened differently than in a, let's read the Bible story out of, you know, out of a picture story, which is not bad either.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. Um, but I just really just want to say thank you. I, I, you know, just for our listeners, especially like, like. Don't ever, we can't ever underestimate the spiritual depth of a child. And I believe that's why Jesus says, do not let, do not hinder the children.

Let them come to me, um, because we have so much to learn from them. And so I wonder if as our parting thought. Um, you said at the beginning when you were talking about your experience in having kids be part of your worship, when you were doing this church plant, which then grew, you said it was good for the adults, for the children to be there.

Can you say a little bit more about why?

[00:28:54] Holly Allen: I mostly have experienced that in that blessed way in small groups, intergenerational small

[00:29:02] Cyd: Mm hmm.

[00:29:03] Holly Allen: I love having the children with us to worship when we're gathered together on Sunday mornings, but in intergenerational small groups, uh, they see our faces and we see theirs. We hear their questions. Um, one time in a small group we had been singing, um, Jesus, Lamb of God.

And, you know, we were singing it, and at the end, this little five year old said, Can we sing it again? And you know, we did. That can't happen generally with 500 people for anybody who wants to sing it again, but that second time through, in case we had been wondering in our minds earlier, it drew us back in.

Um, they're willing to ask those questions. They're willing to say what's on their mind. Uh, we, uh, children prayed. We learned early on that as we began to pray for people and with people, children would very early on gather around and put their hands on people. And they started praying for adults. And it was amazing to hear children pray for what's in your heart.

They learned how to minister. It wasn't like we said, now we're going to teach you how to do this. They just began doing it. It was not, um, a skill they thought, I need to learn. It's just that they began joining us and it blessed us incredibly, to hear their voices, to hear their entering in so fully with us.

They, um, we took the Lord's Sephirot in our small groups. They wanted to serve. They, um, we allowed them to take it, whether they were baptized or not. We were in a church that practiced believer's baptism. And, uh, you know, some people thought that was controversial. But they began to enter into that in a way much differently than I had as a child.

And each week we would ask questions like, um, What part of the crucifixion do you think was the hardest for Jesus, what was hardest for Mary, what was hardest for God? And you know, they got to hear adults respond, and we got to hear them, um, and along the way when we would talk about, we did godly play stories as well.

One, one week we did, of course, uh, Jesus birth, and we, we asked the question, Why do you think Mary responded to the angel in the idea she was going to be pregnant at 14 or whatever? And this one little kid said, I think she was probably mad. And we're going, Oh. She said, Well, you know, she probably had her life planned differently than this.

I just loved that they, you know, didn't already know that Mary said, let it be as to me, to me, as you have said. And I just thought, what a real answer. Let's enter that. And, you know, by the second or third week was she thinking, what have I gotten myself into? What am I going to say to Joseph? She, a little girl just jumped right in there.

So how they respond, how they see what God gives them to say, Seeing them as as important, and the gifts that they bring, that they, what they bring is as weighty and as important as what the adults bring. That was, it was life changing for me, which is why I changed my career. You know, everything, I just said, oh wait, we've been doing this wrong.

We need to be hearing from the children and assuming that God is at work in their lives, and to experience that personally in real time, and then encourage others to say, How can we do this? Are there spaces, places that we can hear from our children and what God is doing in them? That, to me, It, like I said, it changed my life, it changed my understanding of education, it changed my understanding of formation, it changed my understanding of God.

It just changed everything for me. In those settings.

[00:32:44] Cyd: right. Yeah. And it speaks to the understanding of, you know, when Jesus said, if you want to enter the kingdom of God, you must become like a child. Right. Just the honesty, the authenticity, the genuine wondering and curiosity, those, those, those all came out in what you were saying. And so just that, that sense of how, how can we know how to become like children if we don't ever spend any time with children or if children are never among us.

Um, so I just really appreciate having this conversation. This has been really fun for

[00:33:15] Geoff: Yeah. Who would have thought that, um,

[00:33:17] Holly Allen: I'll tell you one more,

[00:33:18] Geoff: would have thought that, uh, becoming childlike as Jesus told us include might include hanging out with children more.

[00:33:24] Cyd: yeah.

[00:33:26] Holly Allen: well it, it simply does, um, I'll tell you one more godly play story. It was kind of, like you said, uh, young children in worship, this is, you know, godly play and young children in worship have some crossover. Uh, again it was telling that first story of Jesus and his, uh, birth and, so we were talking about Joseph and Mary going.

to Bethlehem. And then of course the shepherds came to Bethlehem. Then the wise men came to Bethlehem eventually. And, and so they're all on their way to Bethlehem. And maybe we're all on our way to Bethlehem. And we talked about that. What does that mean? We're all on our way to Bethlehem. And I had, uh, we had about six or seven families there that night.

This was during the pandemic. And we were gathered around a, outdoor, you know, fire. And so the families were kind of spread around. And I had given several wondering questions to the families to talk about. Uh, like, how did the wise men know this was a star for the king? You know, those kinds of questions that aren't answered in scripture.

And one of the questions was, what does it mean that we're kind of all on our way to Bethlehem? And most of the families didn't get to that question. Uh, they just ran out of time. And so I asked it anyway, and then I realized, oh, nobody thought about this. So it was kind of blank. The parents didn't say anything.

The children didn't say anything. I was about to offer something. Seven year old girl over here said, Well, I mean, we might not be exactly on our way to Bethlehem, but I think we're all on our way to see Jesus. I just think that's what we're doing. And of course everybody was like, that's amazing, seven years old, and I think we would have gotten there eventually with a little more prompting, but that was lovely, that that was her response, just, we, we need to be with our children more, Jesus knew that, and we need to orchestrate that as we can in our churches, they have much to share.

[00:35:06] Geoff: Excellent. Well, thank you so much. And you do kind of spell that out a little bit more, uh, like I said at the beginning for all of you, uh, listeners. You know, um, Dr. Allen has written a book on intergenerational Christian formation as well as what we were talking about more today. Um, the forming resilient children, the role of spiritual formation.

I'll believe that in the show notes so you guys can find them, uh, really easily, but thank you so much for taking out a little bit of time and being with us and kind of encouraging as well as nudging us along the way in our, our own adult spiritual formation through participating in the spirituality of children.

Thank you so much.

[00:35:44] Cyd: Yeah, thank you