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Growing up safe

From the April 21, 2014 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

I was sitting in the sun at our local park, watching parents and grandparents playing in the children’s area with their toddlers. One mom was enjoying the merry-go-round with big brother, but little brother was something else! Having just been liberated into the wonderful world of running, hands held high with joy (and for balance), he made a beeline for the far end of the enclosure as fast as he could toddle.

Having passed by all the playground equipment, this very young man attacked the gate with extraordinary energy, rattling and shaking it in an attempt to get it open. Wise mom stayed put, knowing that it was securely fastened well above his head height, as the playground had been carefully designed to protect the young children who use it. Soon mom came and gathered him up with big hugs, and taught him to enjoy what was around him. Eventually the time came to strap him safely into his buggy, open the gate, and head for home.

At first it was humorous to see such a young child heading for the one thing he shouldn’t be doing! But then it suggested a more serious question. Does this mean there’s some irresistible attraction to what is not good, what is not safe, which can override the natural attraction to good? Or that children are essentially vulnerable and there’s no way of ensuring their safety?

These questions have wide implications—from the care of a toddler to the protection of people of all ages from corruption, abuse, manipulation, and so on. Even watchful parents doing their best to guard their children with parent locks on computers and television sets can’t be around in person all the time to see what’s going on. Is there some random element that makes children’s behavior unpredictable? Or is there something stronger at work that can override such impulses?

While pondering these questions, I kept thinking of Christ Jesus’ words, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). This means that God, our wise, ever-loving Father-Mother, is always present at every single point where a human need seems to be, protecting children’s innocence, purity, and spirituality. In God’s kingdom nothing has ever been created that can seduce, harm, distract, or destroy what God has loved into being and is tenderly maintaining. Even a glimpse of this spiritual fact securely locks the gate of temptation, safely above the heads of those we love and pray for. It locks out ignorance, willfulness, bullying, sensuality, or vulnerability. Mary Baker Eddy speaks of “a divine influence ever present in human consciousness” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. xi), which I have always felt to be a perfect description of the presence and activity of the Christ, or the kingdom of God within each one of us.

Children in a Christian Science Sunday School learn at a very early age that God is Love, and that God is the Father-Mother of all. They learn that this parenting love of God is caring for everyone—themselves and their parents, pets, friends, even others who might not be behaving so well around them. To grow up with this sure sense of God’s presence is the greatest security a child can have.

The understanding of the power of the presence of God, and the presence of the power of God, grows in children and young people as their life experiences change. As they move into wider and more independent spheres, concern is often expressed about their safety; but the consciousness of God is right there within each one of them—even if they don’t fully recognize it themselves. To acknowledge this through prayer is the most important gift one can give a growing child. It defeats the fear that can beset parents. And when trusted, it can bring great assurance of good, which helps young people gain their own confidence in this truth.

When I was in my mid-teens, I attended a summer course for orchestral players. I had been accepted for the course in spite of being two years younger than the normal minimum age, and the fact that the players were more experienced musicians than I was.

On arrival I discovered that everyone was older than I was and a more experienced musician. I quickly felt out of my depth, musically and socially, and was grateful when an older girl befriended me and helped me find my footing. The course was being led by some eminent conductors, and I felt a bit awestruck at the company we were keeping—maybe even staring too hard at these famous people at times.

To grow up with this sure sense of God’s presence is the greatest security a child can have.

One of the conductors, whose name I knew well, had a reputation with women that was not good—although I had no way of knowing this. One evening when everyone was socializing after dinner, he asked me if I’d like to play table tennis with him. People played table tennis out in the courtyard during the day, but in the evening the table was kept in another building. I felt uncomfortable, but didn’t know how to refuse. As we left the main hall and walked through the courtyard toward the other building, he put his hand on the back of my neck.

I felt afraid, and had only a few steps in which to find a way out of the situation. But as we approached the door of the building, I clearly heard the words, “Don’t go through that door.” What was interesting was that I heard those words in my mother’s voice—a voice I paid attention to! In fact it was almost as though my mother were standing by the door barring the way. (When I told my mother about the experience later, she confirmed that she prayed for me each day, but had not been specifically thinking about me at that time. We both recognized that God had spoken directly to me, expressing Her ever-present Mother-love.)

I stopped right in front of the conductor and said firmly: “I don’t want to do this.” Then I turned round and started walking quickly back to the main hall where everyone else was, with the conductor just behind me, apologizing all the way. We were only just back inside the hall when there was a power cut, and all the buildings were plunged into darkness. Torches and candles were quickly found, and it wasn’t too long before power was restored. But I realized that had we not returned at that moment we would have been alone in a pitch-dark building, and no one would even have known we were there.

After that experience my confidence grew. I knew God was always with me. I was able to master the music more easily, and soon experienced the joy that playing great orchestral works should bring. I did play table tennis with the conductor at the end of the week—out in the courtyard with plenty of people around. I felt his apology had been sincere, and was grateful that we had both been protected from wrongdoing. At the end of the course, I returned home feeling happy and strong.

In recent months there have been many news reports from several countries disclosing child abuse by school teachers, celebrities, and religious leaders, and focusing on the distress that decades of silence about it has brought to countless adults. While it’s right that this hidden evil should be brought into the open, it can also point to the importance of genuine spiritual education, based on the biblical basis of God as the creator of men, women, and children everywhere—God, our ever-available spiritual parent. Children are not helpless. We can see their innocence as strong, not weak, when girded by the simple truth that God is good and is caring for them.

Such news reports show that our heartfelt prayer needs to reach out and embrace all children, upholding their spiritual identity and safety as the children of God. The powerful “No!” of God’s Mother-love can speak in consciousness so loudly that there’s no disobeying it. It can stop children and adults in their tracks when needed, guide them to erase unsavory websites from their computers, turn them from even sampling unhealthy liaisons, and remove images of harm from their screens.

The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by him.

Deuteronomy 33:12

And then there is the powerful “Yes!” of divine Love, redeeming even the worst of human histories, affirming Life to be good, leading all of God’s children to wise choices and healthy relationships, and keeping them in the way of His love. For, as the Bible says, “With God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27).

Fenella Bennetts is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher who lives in Ripley, Surrey, England.

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