By Sumi Loundon Kim
I once asked a university psychologist which undergraduates survived crisis better, be it the onset of debilitating depression, addiction, a car accident, or death in the family: those who’d grown up with a spiritual path, or those who didn’t? Without hesitation he said that students with a spiritually grounded childhood, whether they continued with that or not as young adults, not only got through their crisis but also personally grew from it. He said that these students had a language to articulate what they were facing—a framework to create meaning from their experience.
When I picture dropping my children off at college some years from now, I reflect on this psychologist’s observation. No longer in my direct care, my son and daughter will need to navigate choices and challenges on their own. What can I do for them now that increases the likelihood they will not only survive but also thrive? Perhaps one life skill, beyond teaching them how to drive, look after their health, or manage money, is the gift of spiritual fluency. Indeed, in groundbreaking research, Columbia University professor Lisa Miller confirms that a positive, active relationship to spirituality in childhood significantly reduces depression, substance abuse, and risky behavior in the teen years. Moreover, childhood spiritual development lays an essential foundation for resilience, character, identity formation, healthy relationships, and flourishing in adulthood.
Many of us intuit that our children will get through life’s difficulties—disappointment, illness, and loss—if we ensure that they have certain abilities. And we hope not only that they’ll be resilient but also that over the years they will develop into mature, loving, and thoughtful people who give back to the world. However, these skills—such as self-reflection, finding meaning and purpose, clarifying values, and living from wisdom and compassion—aren’t necessarily taught in school. Sometimes, in trying to instill these in our children, we discover that we ourselves could benefit from spiritual development. Or, we find that we no longer agree with our childhood tradition, but we have little with which to replace it.