I must’ve been about ten when I first tried to use “the Force”. I stood in my backyard with focused determination and tried to lift sticks off the ground with my mind. I’d just seen Star Wars, and I BELIEVED it was possible to tap into the Force, even if I couldn’t find my own Jedi Knight to train me.
Over the next few years my peers and I would change. We’d be swept into that time of insecurity and self-consciousness. The subtle battles for social power would intensify. In “junior high school” I was shy and pretty much irrelevant to the popular kids, even though I secretly wished I could be one of them. I felt pulled into the mainstream ideas of the good life, while sensing deep down that it just didn’t fit with who I am.
It’s a story many of us know well, and we lament the difficult passage our own children may have to take as they make their way to adulthood. We pray they’ll get there unscathed – without eating disorders, social shaming, long-lasting blows to their self-esteem, alcohol poisoning or worse. We talk in terms of identity formation, “individuation” and peer pressure. And, yes, that’s all a part of it. But, so many of our discussions fall short of something much more primal: Power.
POWER. Isn’t that what it’s all always been about? Isn’t that what Elsa’s ultimate struggle came down to? Embracing her power and learning to work with it for the greater good? The “Force”, Ninjas, magic wands, who has to be “It”, and who gets picked first to play all harken to the age old power plays that have been working themselves out since the beginning of time.
Throughout history, wars have been fought over power. Entire groups of people oppressed, persecuted or killed because of power. And, it’s no coincidence that the most brutal wars on the planet use as their instruments of subversion the rape of girls and the forced conscription of boys as child soldiers. Horrific distortions of power that take traditional gender roles to a sick extreme become incredibly effective weapons.
In the U.S today, we have our own distortions related to power. For one, girls learn early on that they can feel powerful if they’re pretty and, soon thereafter, sexy. Unfortunately, striving for sexual attention from boys has NOTHING to do with sexual fulfillment, and can actually work against healthy sexual development. Another ironic twist that comes with distorted power.
Seeing the possibilities for distortion, I’m convinced that it’s not enough to teach children to find their power. We need to show them how it feels to use their power for Good. In our Warrior circles over the summer, we talked about the Power Flows - how you can use your power to put other people down or you can share your power for the good of all. Everyone – even the youngest amongst us – can recognize the difference between a bully and a hero. Most children would rather be a hero any day.
It wasn’t until early adulthood that I began to conceive of power as something on its own that’s big and overarching – something that moves within us, through us or between us. I felt it in my backyard when I was using the Force and even as a small child with my heartfelt prayers alone in bed. But, if I’d just had a Jedi Master to guide me in the ways of power, maybe I could’ve seen the power plays for what they were in relationship to my peers, and things would’ve been smoother for me during those in-between years.
So, what is REAL, LASTING power? And, how can children learn where to turn when they need to come back to their source?
While some of us have religious traditions to guide us in the ways of power, I’m not sure that’s enough in these times when religion and culture and the everyday are so often separated. People need to use a lot of discretion in real life situations. It’s got to be internalized, heart and soul felt, personal.
Such big, important questions that theologians have wrestled with don’t deserve pat answers. They DO deserve conversations with our children – conversations that have an open-hearted spirit of discovery – conversations that acknowledge the ways that Power shows up.
Real Power shows up in many forms, and we can start by recognizing it and helping our children to do the same. We can joyfully acknowledge acts of kindness, celebrate accomplishments born of hard work and courage, breathe in the peace and inspiration that comes from finding animals in the clouds or listening to the wind. We can listen to the quiet sounds of the Woods and notice that this one precious, humble life is a part of a beautiful cycle that is so much greater than any one of us could ever be by ourselves.
I knew it at the age of ten and even before. In sweet, precious moments I see my kids knowing it. Most children believe that they have the power to make magic. If we could just foster that faith as a source of real, enduring power that lies within, well, that could be the start of something pretty important.
As the in-between and teen years come, we can KEEP talking about real, enduring Power. We can hold fast to an unwavering belief that that Power is there within them, even when they can’t see it for themselves. Power to move mountains - power to find peace – power to change the world. Afterall, we are all Jedi Knights in the making. With a little Jedi training and a lot of encouragement, our children may come to know the Force in all of its fullness and use it for Good.