The topic of this blog post was requested by a Unity congregant.
The fall off of people identifying as part of a spiritual community as a daily or weekly part of life is on the rise. With social media being the main outlet for interacting with one another, we are seeing an epidemic of loneliness in our culture not just because of social media, but it is the emotional state created when people have fewer social contacts and meaningful relationships.
Being a spiritual leader for over 15 years at the Unity Spiritual Center in Boulder, Colorado, I have observed the ebb and flow of attendance in our center and have spoken to other church clergy and we have noticed a decline in young family participation in our youth departments. In fact, some young parents leave their children home and still attend church on Sundays.
I personally find this alarming because our young people are growing up in a world many of us can’t really understand. The fast pace of life for parents and children, with many children being raised by two working parents if they have two parents at home at all. The loss of time interaction between child and parent has diminished substantially as well as children just being kids and experiencing the adventures of getting dirty and playing in nature and discovering the sound of God in nature’s songs. Media, laptops, I-pads have taken the place for nature in many kids lives and I don’t think parents realize the detriment of this pattern for their children’s future until their children have matured and grow up and start having problems around freshman year of college. Yes, there are warning signs in their younger learning and through high school but most problems show up when they leave the nest and go on their own. The new town, the new school the new dorm room, new roommate, and then they are faced with the rude awakening of the astronomical amount of school work expected of them. Then they discover they have to fend for themselves with their limited communication skills for speaking with others, due to their lack of practice because of all the screen time in their childhood and now realize they don’t know how to express what they need and want in this world and in the worst case scenario, they don’t know how to ask for help when they are in danger of others or themselves.
These kinds of pressures are addressed in church youth groups. These groups are designed to spiritually hold and cultivate a relationship with other like-minded peers and build a foundation with their relationship with God, Source, Spirit, the Divine, whatever word makes you feel held and they learn how to lean into that greater energy. The youth learn to access this greater power through prayer, meditation, dreams, following their intuition etc. They are taught that they are never alone and they grow their faith in Divine consciousness and in the unseen realms of life and start to discover who they are and why they are here. There are life-long friendships made that are also going off to college at the same time as your child, where they can connect by picking up the phone, if they are not attending the same school and speak their shared spiritual language which supports a safe place for each one of them to express themselves honestly about their loneliness, their fragilities, their hardships and their joys.
I know I am very passionate about this topic and it’s because I am a mother and if I could do anything to protect my children from hard times or harm I would and I will and I know most parents feel that way.
This is an example of why this topic is dear to my heart. Quite a few years back I performed a memorial for a young woman that shaped and changed how I handle young people when they enter my church on Sundays.
This young lady had been attending C.U., which was in a different state then where she grew up, she had struggled with depression and anxiety issues and started taking pharmaceutical drugs and became addicted, and ended up taking her own life. I had met this young woman on a Sunday when she was shopping around for a church, she came every once in a while, but there wasn’t really a way for her to plug in with other young people at our church at that time. “Next Generation Unity,” is a group we have now for ages 18 to 30 but we didn’t have that group then. However, I’ve always wondered if she had, had the ability to articulate that she was in trouble and had the ability to ask for help, how things could have been different.
I will never forget when her parents contacted me and told me what happened and asked me to do her memorial. I was shocked and devastated to hear the news, I also was surprised to hear that she had shared with her parents all about me and sermons she had attended. That really stood out to me, how could I have missed the signs when I spoke with her briefly, I wished I had picked up on her mental anguish.
The day of her service she was laid out in a casket positioned just below my podium and I was 7 months pregnant with my third child and my hormones were off the charts. There were two large pictures of her on each side of the funeral parlor, looking just the way I remembered her, she was all dressed up looking beyond gorgeous on the previous new years with a shiny gold head band on her head that read “Happy New Year 2007,” with a big smile on her face.”
I tried not to look at her while I performed the memorial but I couldn’t stop looking down at her, it just looked like she could wake up at any moment. She looked like she was sleeping and she reminded me of my daughter who was around 11 years old at the time with her pale skin and her blonde hair. I performed the entire ceremony with tears running down my face and a knot in my throat, my heart broke that I couldn’t have helped her and it broke for her parents in a way that words could never communicate. I was in no condition to be performing a service like this in the state I was in. But the question is, is anyone really in the right state to be performing services such as these, ever? I have never really been able to shake that service from my psyche to this day.
With suicide rates on the rise up 33% in young people in the last 20 years, I feel it is in clergy’s hands to remind parents that there is a place for church or spiritual communities in young and all people’s lives.
If the label, church, is stopping you from going to church these days and bringing your children on Sundays, I want to remind you that today’s church experience is very different from yesterdays. I implore you to ask yourself a few questions. What does the word church or spiritual community mean to you? Could you or your family benefit by taking an hour a week and spending that hour together? Could it empower or help you by inviting this greater power of love from this Universe back into your lives for healing and re-direction right now?
Would it help your family to invite like-minded people into your lives for deeper connection and community?
If the answer was yes to any of the above questions, I encourage you to look up a church or spiritual center near you and plug your children into their youth departments. You will never regret that decision, no age is to young and no age is to old.
This is a blog post from one parent to another! God Bless You!
The above italicized portions in the above blog are from a Loneliness article from The Week Magazine.