I operate a preschool. Every day, one hundred children, ages 3 – 5, step onto my campus to develop a love for learning. Every day for 17 years, I have welcomed these children and their families. I have shared in their joys and comforted them in their grief. I have watched a generation grow in front of my eyes and what I see is disturbing. It began subtly. Our preschoolers begin exhibiting behaviors that were unusual.
We began to notice a lack of skills that we would expect to see in this age group, the ability to use the toilet appropriately, the ability to feed themselves, the ability to rebound from injury or separation. I began to experience meetings with parents greatly distressed over minor inconveniences, a perceived slight from a teacher, a perceived judgement from another parent, an inability to accept the policies of our program, expecting a classroom to change procedures for the convenience of the family. At first I thought it was an anomaly, maybe unique to Irvine, but as I speak to other directors and families in general, I find that an incapability to deal with life on its easiest terms is permeating the country at large. Research indicates the increase of trends such as adult children still living at home, birth rates dropping, drug/alcohol abuse increasing, and suicide rates skyrocketing. We have a generation of folks that have no hope. And that is what, at its core, resiliency is all about. Hope.
By definition, resiliency is the ability to face adverse conditions with a positive attitude. That positive attitude is directly related to the hope, or belief, that a person can overcome the adverse condition, or that the situation will soon change for the better. Having witnessed a generation existing with diminishing hope and that generation raising our next generation, I am deeply concerned for the outcomes. What will this world look like in 30 years if hope vanishes?
The million dollar question that must be answered is, how do you instill hope? How do you teach resiliency? There are books, articles and research papers galore that speak into this subject. I am not the only one concerned and as this topic becomes increasingly relevant, there will be multiple paths suggested to alter our course. But let me give you one alternative that is often overlooked, the church. I know many of you have just given up on this piece, but please give me the time to explain. Church, done wrong, can be judgmental, cliquey, and even harmful. Church, done right, is the hope of the world.
I grew up in a small country church in rural Indiana. At most, our congregation numbered 100 regular attendees. Most Sundays found 50 or so stalwart congregates established in the pews. On the surface, we looked like any church, but what made our church special was the multi-generational commitment to weave love, support and encouragement in and out of our daily lives. We only met on Sundays, but Church was not a Sunday only thing. It was a daily choice to serve each other, encourage each other, to support each other through all the adversities life threw at us. We shared a common faith that promised acceptance, forgiveness and assurance that a greater good is in control. As a farming community, we experienced adversity on a daily basis and without the support of the community, without the hope of better things to come, many would have collapsed under the pressures. In our church, the children were an integral part of the community. We were considered capable of learning the complex concepts of the bible. We were expected to contribute to the wellbeing of the church community. We were taught the tenets of our faith and were held accountable for our behaviors, not by just our family, but by the entire church community. We were taught, by example, to care for each other and to be a source of joy and comfort. We learned from our elderly community that a visit or a meal could elicit great joy (often rewarded with warm gooey chocolate chip cookies). We learned from our farmers that hard work was essential for success. We learned that bad things happen to good people, but good things can often come from adverse circumstances.
As a child, my family experienced one of those circumstances. My father, a teacher by day, farmer by night, was rushing to harvest our crops. A major piece of equipment, the combine, needed repairs and while trying to fix the problem, he made a mistake. The mistake nearly cost him his arm. The mistake nearly cost him our farm. The mistake nearly cost him his life. In a near tragic event, a farmer and his family teetered on the edge of disaster. In this near tragic event, the church stepped in and provided the hope our family needed to carry on. As my father lay in his hospital bed, the church harvested our fields. As the church harvested our fields, our neighbors took notice. As our neighbors took notice, the media arrived. As our story was told, the hope of the world was highlighted and our family not only survived, but thrived. There were days of fear and uncertainty, but the church provided the strength, experience and hope to move forward. This was a powerful lesson to learn as a child. One that I have never forgotten. It has fueled my desire to build communities of support to the families our school serves.
So how can we teach our children resiliency? By providing a source of support, a source of encouragement, a source of hope to lift them above their circumstances and provide an opportunity to give back to their community. We can provide structure, guidance, education and strong relational interactions that build a foundation of trust and confidence. This foundation will strengthen each time a hurdle is crossed, a mountain is climbed, or a valley is traversed. This strength will provide assurance that adversity can be met and overcome. This assurance will provide hope for what is yet to come. This hope will change the world.