Preparing our children and teens to navigate an increasingly dark and self-destructive culture requires we teach them spiritual survival skills. My two earlier articles provided effective keys to empower them with discernment to avoid deadly cultural toxins, and to escape insidious “counterfeit virtue” traps. If you haven’t already, check out those articles to get a firm sense of the spiritual struggle we are all facing, and some enjoyable ways to morally strengthen our kids.
This article offers you the simplest survival skill of all. You’ll learn some easy gestures that imprint in the mind and imagination of a child that VIRTUES are their superpowers. They are called to fight a, largely invisible, life and death battle for their soul. They need more than just sturdy shoes and a backpack for this journey. They need superpowers.
As an educator and a marketing professional, I can see clearly how evil routinely uses captivating cultural forces to create a tug-of-war between pride and fear to immobilize our souls. Great creativity in reading and entertainment tempts us toward false and destructive extremes. But with strong discernment, the experience of books, media, entertainment, and even the advertising used to promote them, can help souls, young and old, to become more radiant with VIRTUE.
Since so much of the battle takes place in the realm of imagination, (books & stories, videos & movies, music & songs, and the advertising & technology used to promote them, can energize good or evil) we will equip our children to fight and survive in that exact space. Let’s show our children that the imagination is meant to be so much MORE than a playground of the mind where anything can be anything, and truth is whatever anyone wants it to be.
Children can re-imagine what their imagination is. We will pretend it is an invisible training Dojo, or a private academy of spiritual strength conditioning, where we learn to see the unseen … and can experience God’s love in deeply powerful ways. It is where God’s Holy Spirit is a spiritual “Sensei,” who trains in the extraordinary superpowers of virtue. Authentic virtue flows from truth … and the creativity of imagination can richly paint eternal realities in a child’s mind and thoughts.
Developing Everyday Virtue Powers
I speak often about everyday virtues because it is important to think of virtue not as some numinous obscure trait that only perfect or sanctified people possess. Our souls are designed and destined for VIRTUE to be an everyday thing. However, virtue has a developmental quality about it. We begin with our own efforts to be and do what is good, and as we allow the power of grace to animate our thoughts and actions, virtue becomes an interior disposition of holiness. (That’s when it becomes a “superpower.”) Great writers and saints like Thomas Aquinas explain the rich theology of virtue. My focus here is to tap into the simple and practical step-by-step experience of it, so we can guide children and teens. This is the TRUTH: God designed our souls for the freedom of loving and living with virtue, not to be captives of self-absorbed pride and fear. Let’s help children use their imagination to embrace that truth … and the joy that flows from it.
When I was trained as a catechist in the wonderful program called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I learned the profound value of gestures to provide concrete signs of deep spiritual realities that can transform the heart. Examples we can easily recognize are the Sign of the Cross and the pouring of water in Baptism. Children respond to gestures. Just think of all the songs with hand motions that they enjoy.
The Virtue Power Gestures
Below are four gestures to help a child know that embracing virtue as their REAL superpower is not only possible, but has a simple process that anyone can experience. The Holy Spirit is our master teacher, our virtue training mentor, who is available 24/7, and who is only one thought away. This is a big game of PRETEND and yet it affects a child’s soul in a profoundly REAL way.
You may have noticed at the beginning of this article, that I said we were providing solutions for both children and teens. Teens can be part of this imaginative process if you ask for their help in training younger children as virtue super heroes. While they guide a younger child through the fun of these gestures, their own imaginations are empowered as well. And the process is simple and fun … no heavy lectures involved.
Here is the way to do it. (The bolded phrases help you know what to say to a child)
Gesture #1: The Peace Sign.
Explain that everyday virtue begins for all of us as “small-v” virtue. Have the child hold up two fingers as a peace sign. Small-v virtue is the starting point where we work hard to have thoughts and actions of goodness. This form of everyday virtue does help bring peace between us because the goodness we are working hard to achieve often has peacefulness as a result. This kind of virtue can be a bit tiring, because we are doing it with our own strength. As we build some “small-v” everyday virtue habits, the Holy Spirit will always invite us to increase our power with God’s strength.
Gesture #2: Praying Hands
Everyday virtue needs God’s grace to go beyond being a good habit that we work hard at. How do we get God’s grace? Prayer. Use your praying hands in the next step in virtue superpower training. Take a moment to fold hands with flat palms and say some prayers. When we sincerely pray and ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with God’s strength, God always responds. An extra-special way to experience God’s grace and power is to pray for the needs of others. When our prayer asks for blessings for someone else, that builds extra virtue strength in us!
Gesture #3: Big “V” Virtue Hands makes room for G-Force
Prayer unleashes God’s grace. I call it: “G-force,” in our soul. It’s the force to propel us forward spiritually, and builds our moral muscles. Allow the praying hands gesture to open up and form a “BIG-V.” That shows how G-force grace opens up our souls to give and receive the power of God. The BIG-V shows we are open to let God fill us up with His goodness. The G-force is what turns our “small-v” virtues into BIG-V virtue superpowers. One more step is left in our virtue superpower gesture training.
Gesture #4: Superpower “V” Virtue: Reach for the Sky!
We can tell when everyday virtue has become a “superpower” in us when three things happen. First: we don’t have to work so hard to exercise everyday virtue. They really have become part of our everyday living. Second: we notice that this power is beyond our abilities, and we smile with gratitude because God’s strength is enabling us to be a virtue-hero. Third: we feel the genuine JOY of knowing and exercising virtue in spite of whatever circumstances we face. The gesture of both arms reaching for heaven to make the biggest “V” of all is to celebrate and thank God for building everyday virtue super powers us!
How do you know the virtue superpower training is working? Here are a couple examples of how it all works. It’s the difference between trying to be patient (“small-v” starter virtue) and being known as a patient person (everyday virtue superpower). Or picture a moment when you show the virtue of gratitude and say “thank you” to someone because you know you are supposed to, or because a mom or teacher is watching. (small-v starter virtue) Then another time you go when no-one is looking to say “thank you” to someone because you really are grateful and appreciate something they have done … perhaps not even for you. That’s your everyday virtue superpower. The amazing thing is that everyday virtue superpowers come with JOY … a quiet, enduring, no-one-can-take-it holiness kind of joy that shows us, and everyone around us, a tiny glimpse of heaven.
Never forget. Superpowers in a movie or a video are pretend.
Virtues are the REAL superpowers.
Virtues make us holy, and holiness makes us HEROES … forever!
I have the chance to share this series of everyday virtue gestures with children at my parish during VBS each summer, and I’m always struck by what a deep impression these gestures make. It’s like they become a simple road map for a child to pursue holiness. I hope the children in your life find hope and strength in these simple ways to connect with God, and rely on Him to make the superpower of holiness a reality in their souls. Don’t be surprised if they want you to do the gestures with them again and again. That’s great! Repetition and habit is what leads to the interior disposition we are trying to foster. Their tiny virtuous thoughts and little goodness gestures will energize their actions and strengthen their desire for holiness and virtue. The Holy Spirit will take it from there, and they won’t just spiritually survive … they will thrive!
Read the other articles in this series:
Copyright 2020 Cathy Gilmore