This past week, my youngest child turned four.
Though every age of a child's development is special, to me, the age of four represents a unique transitional phase. At this stage, children leave behind their babyhood to become so much more independent in actions and expressions, while still retaining their special childhood innocence.
Ever since she was a baby, my daughter has cherished various childhood comforts—like her plush, favourite blanket or her special pacifier.
But waking up on the morning of her fourth birthday, she proudly announced, "Today, I am four! I am really H-U-G-E now!" She proceeded to inform me that now she would no longer need any of her childhood securities.
Parents of young children know how emotionally attached they can become to these soft toys or blankets. According to studies, almost 60% of children have some security object and most psychologists consider them to be beneficial in children's development. These comfort objects dispel a sense of anxiety and comfort them when they feel alone or scared. They are often used as "transitional objects" helping to provide a healthy relaxation of the bond between parent and child, encouraging the child to become more independent, adventurous and self-confident.
Some older children, though, have a hard time letting go of their childhood securities and treasure them well into adulthood. They don't see these objects as transitional, but actually begin attributing essential powers to the comfort article itself. Rather than reminding them of the warmth of their home or the love of their parents, these object become something that they rely on as a support. To them, these comfort objects are no longer a representation of security, but a crutch, making them more needy—something that they can't fall asleep without hugging, or overcome a tense situation without tenderly embracing.
My daughter's words on the morning of her fourth birthday, made me think about whether as adults perhaps we also hold on to some "spiritual security blankets." These spiritual security blankets can sometimes be positive or empowering, but sometimes serve only as a crutch, where we neglect to see our deeds within their greater context and attribute unnecessary importance to the deed itself.
Take the daily ritual of prayer, for example. Prayer is meant to reinforce within us our bond to our Creator. It is meant to achieve a sense of comfort that whenever we are in need, whenever we are in pain or trouble, we can call out to our Parent, who always hears us and watches over us, with infinite love and goodness.Do our words or actions give us a wrong sense of security--that we have fulfilled our obligations, while really missing out on the deeper, essential connection?
Yet, how often does prayer become a security blanket in a negative sense, where we no longer work on cultivating our connection to our Creator, but attribute significance to even words recited by rote, in a hurry, without any meaning or feeling?
While I'm not suggesting that the action of prayer itself has no merit, or that we should stop praying or doing any positive acts that lack the emotion. Each and every mitzvah performed even without the proper intentions is undoubtedly still positive and worthwhile.
But what I am suggesting is that when these rituals are done without thought or meaning, we're losing out—we've got the body of the mitzvah, but without its soul and essence. Is it any surprise then that rather than finishing off our prayers with a renewed faith and assurance that G‑d is watching us and doing what's best for us, that the empty words leave us likewise feeling empty? Almost like eating a high caloric meal with little nutritious value, do the words give us a false sense of "fullness", while being spiritually unnutritious? Have we just engaged in a holy, spiritual act, or an empty one that assuages our guilt and promotes a misplaced sense of spiritual connection?
Or take another very common example of our daily interactions with our loved ones, our spouses or our children. How often do we greet our children with mechanical endearing words but without really giving thought to the bonds of our relationship? We nod encouragingly to them as we automatically ask them about their day, or we give them a peck on their cheek as they run out the door in the morning, while our minds are busy with other "important" things. We might feel a comforting sense of connectedness, but do our words or actions give us a wrong sense of security--that we have fulfilled our obligations towards them, while really missing out on the deeper, essential connection?
Security blankets are great for children. They comfort them and make for wonderful transitional objects along a child's path towards maturity and independence.
But perhaps as adults it is time to re-examine our daily actions, rituals and relationships and rediscover their intended meaning--rather than merely retaining them as a comforting security blanket.
Do you have a spiritual security blanket? Does it fill you with empty spiritual calories or does it empower you to reach a greater spiritual awareness?