“Religiously aware adolescents who feel connected to a higher power are 40 percent less likely to abuse substances, 68 percent less likely to battle depression, and 80 percent less likely to engage in at-risk sexual behavior.” It surprised me recently to read this information on RealClearReligion.com.
The statistics come from the work of Lisa Miller of Columbia University. She is quoted in an article, “Spiritual IQ In A Secular Age” by Betsy VanDenBerghe, and carried on Real Clear Religion during the last week of April, 2016.
My experience makes this information seem plausible. Still I was surprised to see it because up until the 1970s or thereabouts adding spiritual aspects into this human developmental research was viewed skeptically if not with outright hostility. In particular, influences from “the Christian church” were dismissed or denigrated.
And, today in some respects, the resistance to religion as a positive force in human development seems even stronger. Think of calls for the removal of “In God We Trust” from American currency and the Ten Commandments from public spaces; the prohibition of prayer at public events; the legalization of abortion; and the widespread claim that morality is relative and only subject to personal choice.
It is no wonder that Millennials and others are falling away from the church in significant numbers when such negatives are arrayed against their training five days a week. The above article does not, however, promote any particular religion. Specifically, it does not stump for Christianity. In fact, the article’s studied neutrality in that regard makes it all the more interesting.
Lisa Miller writes, “It is scientifically plausible that human beings, particularly teen agers and young adults are wired for transcendence and possess inborn spirituality that must be used – or lost.”
Christians can correlate such insights with theological beliefs the Christian church has held through the ages. For example, the Apostle John writes of the incarnation of Jesus, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Every person! Methodists and others would call this “prevenient grace” – the grace that goes before and is actively drawing each person toward God even before the attraction is personally recognized and saving grace is offered.
But how should this prevenient grace be nourished in children? Blessed are the children who hear their first prayers at Mother’s knees, or sit on father’s lap even before understanding develops to hear the Bible read daily with the family. Also blessed is the teenager who is sent off to school day after day with a short parental prayer recognizing that God is over all.
Even doubly blessed are single parents who must shoulder the load of the religious training of little ones alone but who do it resolutely.
And blessed are children and young people who receive the benefits of regularly meeting in a company of Christians who gather weekly to worship God. We might say in secular terms, “to feel connected to a higher power.”
Add to these bedtime prayers and easy discussions at meal time. These practices will develop easily with parents who have a heart for God. “Out of the heart the mouth speaketh”.
It’s encouraging to be reminded from outside the Christian community that children and adolescents have an easily-awakened sense of the transcendent. For Christians it’s an encouragement from a secular publication from work at Columbia University to nurture in children a Christian awareness of God in Christ, and his call to salvation and discipleship.