The #1 outcome in predicting whether a child is going to do well is not education, it’s not money, and it’s not home. It’s whether or not they have an adult to put their arm around their shoulders and say, “I’ll walk this walk with you.”
If you could give just one gift to every child in the world, what would you choose?
Clean water? Medical care? Food for kids living in poverty? Access to the gospel? Shelter or education? Eradication of poverty? It would be great if we could choose “all of the above!”
What choice would you make to have the greatest impact on a child’s resilience and future? Be careful. The answer is not as obvious as it seems. One factor is significantly more impacting than any of the others. In fact, in many cases, it creates receptivity to the gospel. The most significant factor in a child’s resilience is a strong relationship with a caring adult. Even in the presence of a significant number of risk factors—poverty, hunger challenges, disease, lack of education or even family ties—having a close relationship with a loving, caring adult can help develop the strength a child needs to face significant threats and overwhelming challenges.
In March 2015, Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child released a study that stated, “Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.”
Children who end up “doing well” are children who had resilience built into their fiber by a loving, caring adult.
The Harvard Study on resilience found that there was also a common set of characteristics that predispose children to positive outcomes in the face of adversity:
- The availability of at least one stable, caring, and supportive relationship between a child and an adult caregiver.
- A sense of mastery over life circumstances.
- Strong executive function and self-regulation skills.
- The supportive context of affirming faith or cultural traditions.
Think about it. The church offers all four of these resilience builders to kids facing challenges. Times have so radically changed that the church can no longer assume that parents are these “loving caring” adults in children’s lives. We need to ask the hard question, “What about the 100+ million kids in America who have no loving, caring adult at home? Where will they find acceptance, guidance and affirmation?
Be sure of this: Children without spiritual mothers and fathers are orphans when it comes to their personal faith. God clearly states His heart towards them, and His desire for the church to be spiritual fathers and mothers to such kids.
We can get this right! And in many places we are already the loving, caring adults in kids’ lives.
Think about the distinctiveness the church is already bringing to this issue:
Was someone there for you? Was there a certain person who sweetened your days as a child? Someone whose name you may have forgotten, but who made you feel noticed and special? Someone other than your parents?
Who taught you the Bible, encouraging you to gain mastery over life circumstances through its wisdom? Did you learn from examples like Esther, Daniel, David, and Goliath? Did their lives inform your pathway? Were you taught to master impulses that were potentially self-destructive and sinful, and surrender your life to a better more self-regulated, Spirit-informed way? Did your faith community affirm and support your decision to live a more resilient life?
The formula for resilience is in the church’s DNA! Take a troubled kid, add a loving, caring adult and a gospel-based supportive biblical community and the troubled kids of the world will then be guided into another life path.
The presence of a loving, caring adult in a child’s development is being raised as one of the most pressing needs for today’s children across the globe. Both the faith sector and secular experts agree on the importance of this missing factor in many kids’ lives.
In a recent study by Barna on youth who were classified as resilient disciples from the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine, 77% reported that “When growing up, I had close personal friends who were adults from my church, parish or faith community.”
We are loved into loving Jesus.
Take a moment to think: is there a child in your life who is picking you? Someone who hangs around your home uninvited? A child at church who comes alone without family? A kid who acts out or who is a loner? Why has God brought that kid into your life or to your attention?
Got a name? Good. Now ask God, “What would you have me say to this child? What would you have me be to this child? Is there a special role for me to play in this child’s life?”
“But,” you protest. “I don’t even like this kid!”
Right. And understand, that kid might not be that crazy about you either. But feelings follow action. Walk this child’s walk for a while. Start to understand this child’s life. In time, you are apt to become the loving, caring adult who can potentially make a lifetime of difference for that child just by walking that walk together.
You probably won’t end poverty. Nor will I. We can’t eradicate every disease or end hunger. We can’t keep families from dissolving, but there is something we can do that mitigates whatever problem a child is facing. We can be there. We can be the steady presence of the loving, caring adult.
Through us, children can see what matters the most—the care and love of God and His Son—who gave His life for our sins.