I want my kids to flourish. And yet in the daily waking up, packing lunches and backpacks, school, homework, carpool, extra activities, church and community living and doing it all over the next day, I’ve noticed my kids can feel drained, not flourishing. The feelings that seem to drain them the most come when they perceive that something threatens their personal value and they get caught up with comparing themselves to others, usually in the form of what others have, such as technology, pets, toys, or experiences. Even more ensnaring, is when my girls compare themselves to their own (usually unattainable) expectations of who they should be – it starts so early! In either case, they are both assessing their personal value and searching for ways to affirm their value. Whether it’s that her project should look just right or her expectation that she shouldn’t disappoint anyone, my kids and yours are easily very much affected by the nagging question that plagues even adults. And it is a nagging question because it is repeated over and over again in spite of what is accomplished and at each and every moment of failing, “Do I have any value?” This question, when left unacknowledged and unaddressed can lead our kids (and ourselves) to troubling attempts to attain a temporary sense of value and worth. But when we as adults acknowledge that this is a big and ever-present question for all of us, we are able to affirm and normalize a child’s search for personal value and direct him to where this question was always meant to lead – the source of his value.
God’s desire for our kids to flourish already includes the answer to this question. He assigns a different value than the kind that our kids are used to experiencing. Typically, younger kids look to mom, dad and other meaningful adults in their lives to be reassured that they have value. Students scan the people and media around them to form themselves in the image of the attractive person, the popular person, the “YouTube” person, the good person, or the not-like-anyone-else person. Adult children that wrestle with this question may try to make themselves in the image of friends or acquaintances on social media, the successful person, the desirable person or the person-who-has-all-the-answers. This conversation about the body, relationships, and sex depends on us communicating with our children that they don’t have to make themselves in the image of any person to find value. They are made in His image. Every child is made in Love’s image, and from this source, his or her inherent and unchanging value is established. He or she is a walking, talking, breathing imager of God whose very existence shouts, “God wanted me and so He made me, and I look like Him!”
Go to our downloadable conversations to find a list of the ways that your child(ren) reflects the image of God. The pdf will be sent to your inbox (check in your “promotions” box or spam if you don’t see it soon!). Print one per child and have each child circle all the ways that he or she reflects the image of God. Print one for yourself and do it with them!
It is so crucial to spend time on the question of personal value in your conversations with kids. As a therapist, I sit with adults, including Christian adults who wrestle with and grieve this question of, “Where does my worth come from? Do I have value?” I often struggle with these questions myself. This is a big question for adults to tackle – imagine the tug-of-war inside a child. What if you and I can be guides for the children in our lives so that they do not have quite the same wrestling match ahead of them? What if our conversations and our behavior towards children and each other consistently reinforced that each child’s value is unchanging and uncontested because they were created in and reflect the image of God?
Even so, flourishing won’t follow unless this conversation includes the value of others. It is one thing for kids to know the source of their own value – but real flourishing results as they appreciate and affirm this value in others as well. When our kids can recognize the God-imparted value of each and every person they encounter, they will be living more consistently in the vision of what we were made for and really long for, the eternal love of God.
We flourish when the primary focus of our lives is to be in loving relationship with God and others.
To help you have this conversation, we want to introduce a term that is likely new to you, the personalistic norm (Wotyla, Love and Responsibility). My autocorrect doesn’t even know how to handle this phrase, although it isn’t new. The personalistic norm states, “The person is a good toward which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” C. S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory) makes this applicable by saying it another way, “…it is with awe and circumspection proper to them that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
Remember the worksheet you printed out and had each child complete? Try exchanging papers or print new ones and circle the ways you observe the reflection of God in each other. Have fun sharing with each other how you see God’s image reflected in someone that isn’t you.
We can guide children to a heartfelt understanding that human value is found in these two truths: that he or she was intentionally created by God and images Him in a way that only he or she can, AND that every other person possesses the same value, imaging God in an equally unique way. The result of these efforts will be the very important groundwork on which the rest of the conversation can be built.
To keep learning and absorbing how you can do this for the kids in your life, we want to invite you to explore our website, podcast and other resources here.