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Children and self-government

From the November 14, 2016 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

Originally written in German, this was published in the November 2016 Portuguese, Spanish, French, and German editions of The Herald of Christian Science.

There is no better way to raise a child than to help the child to think for himself or herself—in other words, to be a truly independent thinker. And there is no better way to be a truly independent thinker than to be a spiritually minded thinker.

Does this surprise you? Do you think, well, perhaps this applies to teenagers, but does it apply to children, too, whatever their age? Mary Baker Eddy gives this specific advice: “Teach the children early self-government, and teach them nothing that is wrong” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 240).

In speaking about humanity, Mrs. Eddy writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures: “God has endowed man with inalienable rights, among which are self-government, reason, and conscience. Man is properly self-governed only when he is guided rightly and governed by his Maker, divine Truth and Love” (p. 106). 

Self-government, reason, and conscience are rights that are spiritually based, and they are ours because we are in truth the spiritual sons and daughters of God. These “inalienable rights” are
everyone’s birthright. They stem from the supreme intelligence, from the one parent Mind (see Science and Health, p. 336), and they promote our freedom and support unending progress. In daily life this is beautifully expressed in independent thought and constructive action.

Self-government, reason, and conscience are rights that are spiritually based and are everyone’s birthright.

As parents have both the responsibility and the joy of working out what is the right thing to do in any given situation or moment, these divine rights that we have been granted are a great support. They are beautifully revealed in the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, and Paul’s letters—for example, in rules like the following: “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (I Thessalonians 5:15). Like a framework, these rights and rules are guidelines that help everyone realize his or her own place in the larger fabric of good.

Let’s take a look at these three “inalienable rights” in the context of educating and raising children:

Self-government: Father-Mother God and His/Her children are one family. Man reflects spiritual qualities because man’s origin is in God. It is this connection that is expressed in a “family sense” between God and His/Her offspring. Every one of us truly has access to everything good because of what we are as God’s children.

To catch even a glimpse of this spiritual truth silences human will, allowing us to listen to divine Spirit. No one can tell us as much as God can. So to honor man’s Godlikeness means to honor man’s capacity for self-government. Knowing that man as the reflection of God expresses self-government frees parents and guardians from the thought that they need to interfere, or else things will get out of control.

Reason: “Reason is the most active human faculty,” we read in Science and Health (p. 327). The ability to reason spiritually is derived from Mind, God, the effect of the all-encompassing divine wisdom. Reason is linked to intelligence, which man reflects as God’s idea; therefore, anyone can express it, whatever his age.

Conscience: Conscience is an inward guide that alerts us to what is wrong and insists on what is right. It is a moral force ensuring that our understanding of the laws of God is put into practice in our daily lives. Conscience is reason’s ally. The voice speaking for human conscience to receive is the voice of the Christ, which leads us away from fear, confusion, indifference, negativism—and toward constructive action.

These three “inalienable rights”—self-government, reason, and conscience—are like buoys in raising and educating children. They are first and foremost a reminder that we can never teach children anything we don’t already live ourselves. Second, the rights apply to all mankind, and they open our eyes to the strong correlation that exists between education in the family and the education of humanity at large. Third, these rights are honored most consistently where humor and joyful gratitude have a home.

If I were to summarize our twenty years of living as a quartet with our children, I’d have to say that the more deeply my husband and I understood God to be the Father-Mother of all of us, and the more honestly we strove to exercise the rights of self-government ourselves, letting humility and humor shape our interactions with our children, the better was our family life. 

Today we continue to support each other’s spiritual progress—and both children in their current roles: one as a dorm resident assistant at college, and the other as a teacher of the five-year-olds in Sunday School. Our daughter and son humbly continue to practice self-government, reason, and conscience in their own individual ways, thereby expanding their own study of Christian Science on a daily basis.

When our daughter, Anna-Zoë, was seven, she was confronted with a moral dilemma. She had made a promise to someone, and because of a change of circumstances she was now feeling that by keeping her promise she might be missing out on something that suddenly looked so much better. We prayerfully affirmed her oneness with divine Love as God’s spiritual idea and refrained from interfering personally. We felt it was our job to claim her God-given ability to express reason and conscience, and let her come to her own decision. 

A few hours later, Anna-Zoë shared with me her childlike insights into the allness of God. She said: “You see, if God is All, everything good will always be here. Keeping a promise is important, and I can experience no loss by doing what is right.”

At another time a few years earlier, our son, Vincent, then four years old, had demonstrated self-government in a huge child-care facility when my husband and I were attending a conference. While forty other children were making a lot of noise, he had gone to bed at his usual bedtime and was sleeping peacefully, like an island in a storm-tossed sea. Though we were not there to supervise him, his innate wisdom had shown him what to do. 

We felt that his wonderful sense of independence and freedom from peer pressure was the result of our collaborative efforts to follow what is right, regardless of what others are doing. This little incident prompted several other parents to approach us, which resulted in a long and healing conversation about self-government in raising and educating children. 

Some years later, when our son was around eight, spiritual intuition led my husband and me to let him stay up fairly late every evening because our son felt he needed more time for reading and less time for sleep. Our prayers led us not to interfere with our son’s self-government. As it later turned out, this freedom and trust gave him ample time to ponder many good ideas and put them into practice.

A friend jokingly remarked, “All education is for nothing, because children will copy what we do nevertheless!” It truly is not so much our words but our example that counts. People may hear what we say, but they’re more convinced by what we actually do. 

As we claim our right to live a self-governed life under a loving Father-Mother God, we cannot do otherwise than grant this same right to our children as well. Peer pressure, media influence, fads, and trends are less likely to influence us as we—families, parents, children—strive to listen for God’s voice.

Originally written in German, this was published in the November 2016 Portuguese, Spanish, French, and German editions of The Herald of Christian Science.

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