The first weekend of October, I went on a Uniteen retreat. Uniteens is the program for middle-schoolers in Unity churches. My church just got our Uniteen program started up again and I am one of the leaders. I must admit I had doubts about going on the retreat. I have been and will be traveling a lot more than I usually do and this trip at moments felt like too much. I ended up going though and it was AMAZING!!
From the moment we broke out into our “family groups” and I got to know some of these kids I was just in awe. These kids were the most open, respectful, fun, confident, compassionate, and well-adjusted people (I said people, not kids) that I’d ever encountered. The weekend was absolutely joyous! Out of about 70 kids I only noticed a handful that were not completely with the program (which is all about love) and even those few kids had moments of being loving.
When I think back on my own church experience in middle school, I don’t remember this kind of loving atmosphere. I remember never quite fitting in and moments of wanting to crawl under a rock or out of my skin. On this retreat, even the kids who “didn’t quite fit in” were thrilled to be there and seemed to love every minute of it.
In Unity we stress the power of making time for meditation and silence. We also encourage looking for God everywhere and in everyone. Kids are introduced to meditation in the Unikids program and those practices continue. With that being said, of course meditation was part of the retreat. On Saturday night we did something called a Night Walk. We were instructed to link hands and walk the path through the woods in complete darkness and silence to the chapel. I was thrilled by this. I just knew it would be such a powerful spiritual experience. Instead, I had three kids behind me who just wouldn’t stop chatting. I shhhed them 3 times before giving up. I wasn’t going to break my silence to actually talk to them.
As we neared the end of our walk one of them said “why are we doing this anyway?” It was then that I realized I hadn’t been spending the weekend with miniature enlightened souls, but kids. The fact is kids are kids and they just want life to be as fun and easy as possible. True spiritual understanding doesn’t typically come until you’ve been in the game for a very long time. We can’t expect our children to receive divine revelations during meditation or to even understand the true meaning of scripture. But we can give them tools that can help them navigate life and perhaps lead to spiritual growth later on.
What I love about Unity kids is that the tools they have been given seem to make them better able to take responsibility for their lives and choose positive ways of living and being. They carry no guilt, shame or burdens from being told they are miserable sinners. What they do carry is a divine light within them that they are well aware of. They know that what they put out into the world comes back to them. It seems they at least shoot for putting out love. They know that their thoughts matter and they seem to think in a positive manner.
I often wonder about the relevance of church and Unity in my daughters’ lives. My girls love to go to church, but is it really necessary? After attending the retreat, I realized I should and will make it a priority for them. Mark pointed out that maybe the kids were good because they come from good families (Unity people are pretty awesome). That is true too. I could teach all of this stuff to my girls at home but there is something really powerful about being with a group that proves this kind of love, acceptance and positivity really does exist!