An Open Letter to Teachers, Re: Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation (Part 2)

Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_Durer

Wikimedia Commons

By Tina Olesen

In my last post, I proposed that rather than fleeing from reality into meditation, mindfulness or yoga, we ought to help our students learn to deal with life as it is. How do we do that?

Children hear about the things that are going on in the world, no doubt. For many of them, it does cause anxiety.

I was on yard duty in the back field of a North Delta school the morning of the 9-11 attacks. Overhead the massive outlines of planes filled the sky, eerily flying in low as they headed for an untimely landing at YVR.

I instinctively sent up a prayer and turned my attention to the children, who didn’t even seem to notice what was taking place. Over the next few days, I answered their questions as honestly as I could. We carried on with routines, lessons, activities… and though at first it seemed as if life as we knew it would never be the same, things pretty much returned to normal.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Vancouver would soon be the birthplace of a mindfulness program for kids: MindUP, the brainchild of actress Goldie Hawn, who says she wanted to help children cope with the stress of life post 9-11. She worked with psychologists at UBC and piloted her program in Vancouver schools.

Had we been allowed to pray with our students in the aftermath of 9-11, would there even have been a market for such a program?

Here’s where the double standard lies. Christian prayer is banned from public schools, while Buddhist meditative practice and Hindu yoga is welcomed in.

People often instinctively gather to pray in the face of overwhelming grief or anxiety. It is a knee jerk response for many of us. Deep inside, we know that there’s nowhere else to turn but to God.

In the Buddhist worldview, however, there is no God to turn to. Reality is merely an illusion.

In the Christian worldview, reality is created by God. God is sovereign over it and in control of it. Even when everything seems to be out of control, the truth is that God is still in charge. Not only is He in charge, but He is a loving, personal Being who answers our prayers. That’s why prayer makes sense.

People tend to give up on prayer when God doesn’t seem to hear us, or He doesn’t answer the way we want Him to. If God doesn’t behave the way we think He should behave, we despair or rebel.

This shows a lack of humility – we think we know better than God.

True prayer requires an attitude of humility before God. At this time of year especially, I am reminded of the humble attitude of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who responded to the angel Gabriel’s announcement of her pregnancy with, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

How can our thinking about reality line up with the truth? The Bible tells us in Romans:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

As we humble ourselves and, like Mary, give ourselves wholly to God for His purposes, we are given an understanding of who God is and what He is doing: we begin to see reality as created by God.

We have to be continually adjusted to this reality, because as sinful creatures, we have a tendency to think we can be like God, knowing good from evil.

This is the cause of our anxiety. When we forget who God is and think it is all up to us, we worry. That’s why Jesus continually warned His followers not to be anxious. Philippians 4:4-8 says:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

There are a couple of bad habits of thought that cause anxiety:

  • Speculating about the future. We are limited creatures. Jesus said, “…Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
  • Worrying about what other people think about us. The Bible exhorts us not to fear man, but rather to fear (awe and reverence) God.

If we find ourselves speculating or worrying, we can turn in repentance to God and ask His forgiveness, and ask Him to help us think rightly.

Children can learn to pray to the Father through Jesus Christ from a very young age. This will save them a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

 

 

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The Vanity of Self-Esteem

narcissus caravaggio

by Tina Olesen

I’m not really sure who popularised the notion of self-esteem as being an essential need of every human being, but I know who was behind it: the father of lies. It seems to have picked up steam in popular psychology in the 1960s and ballooned from there.

Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, included self-esteem in his “hierarchy of needs” theory which many of us may recall from Psychology 101. What I don’t recall hearing about in that class was that Maslow probably developed this theory out of his work with monkeys. Maslow thought that some needs took precedence over others, such as thirst over hunger. From this idea he developed a theory that when one’s physiological needs are met then other psychological “needs” will arise, and he put these so-called “needs” in a hierarchy of importance. Self-esteem was a “need” placed near the top of what Maslow thought it would take to fulfill one’s potential. His faulty premise for thinking was that self-actualization was the purpose of life.

Not surprisingly, near the end of his career Maslow tipped over into transpersonal psychology. He began to explore the idea of “self-transcendence”. In Toward a Psychology of Being, he said, “We need something ‘bigger than we are’ to be awed by and to commit ourselves to in a new, naturalistic, empirical, non-churchly sense…” Sadly, Maslow completely missed the point that we were made “to be awed by and to commit ourselves” to Jesus Christ.

One only has to look at the example of Christians like Corrie and Betsie ten Boom to debunk Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When sisters Corrie and Betsie were imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, they were often hungry, sick, cold and exhausted. In the midst of their suffering in that horrific place, they displayed remarkable courage, faith, patience, and love for their fellow prisoners. Their lives glorified God and drew people to Jesus Christ, thus fulfilling their true purpose.

The premise for living for the Christian is to exalt and magnify Jesus Christ, not to promote and actualize ourselves. As John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Paul put it this way to the Galatian church: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Concerning ourselves with seeking self-actualization or self-esteem is completely anti-Christian, besides being totally counterproductive. Jesus tells us why: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it… Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.”

It’s quite astounding to see how much acceptance the notion of self-esteem has gained in parenting and educational circles, and how far reaching its influence has been. In the last few decades, “low self-esteem” quickly became the explanation or excuse offered for nearly any kind of bad behavior in a child. She’s pouting? She’s just feeling bad about herself. He’s bullying? He doesn’t like himself so he hurts others.

Parents felt guilty if they didn’t heap enough flattery on their child: “You’ll hurt his self-esteem!” It was as if the child’s whole future hung in the balance if he didn’t gain a favourable view of himself. Some educators began to worry about children getting a poor self-concept if they got a low mark on something or didn’t win an award, which resulted in the equal distribution of undeserved praise. Everybody’s special and everybody’s a champion… really?

Excessive self-consciousness is the bad fruit of the self-esteem movement. This phenomenon is well-documented in social media today. Not only are many kids overly concerned with how they look, but they may spend hours carefully crafting an image fit for their web presence, taking “selfies” that will boost their online appearance. Idolatry of the self is where self-esteem psychology logically ends up.

As a culture, we’ve lost our healthy fear of pride. It seems we’re no longer repulsed by Narcissus. The danger of “getting a swelled head” used to be something people guarded against. Of pride, C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“..It was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began… pride always means enmity – it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.”

Thomas Watson said rightly that “All Christian growth is finally growth in humility.”

Humility isn’t beating yourself up or always talking about your faults – that would just be another form of excessive self-concern. Oswald Chambers accurately observed, “There is nothing more awful than conscious humility, it is the most Satanic type of pride… Jesus Christ presented humility as a description of what we shall be unconsciously when we have become rightly related to God and are rightly centred in Jesus Christ.”

Rather than concerning ourselves with building self-esteem, we ought to be humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” (1 Peter 5:5, James 4:6). Jesus Christ is the definition of humility.

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