J.O.Y.

Anyone else familiar with this acronym? For those not in the know, it represented what was supposed to be the hierarchy of needs within certain corners of evangelicalism as it was taught to children.

It went:
Jesus
Others
Yourself

Can we please talk about how toxic and damaging this is?

What this teaches children is that, in the grand scheme of things they don’t matter. If someone else like a parent/caregiver, a sibling, a friend, anyone has opposing needs, it means that that child needs to suppress their own desires/needs for the benefit of the other person. Because: Jesus.

On a surface level, it sounds like a great way to instill an attitude of generosity and selflessness.

But here’s the thing: Developmentally, it is absolutely appropriate for a child to be “selfish”. A child requires a nurturing environment that responds to his or her needs as they arise in order to thrive. Children grow and develop by how they are allowed to take up space, “mess up”, and let their voices be heard. They need to know that they can rely on their caregivers to show up and be present for them and with them.

If a child needs her mother’s attention, but is constantly told, “no”, she will quite possibly develop an insecure attachment that could stay with her throughout life. Instead of being taught that others matter as much as her, she has been taught that she doesn’t matter and cannot rely on others to get her needs met.

If a child is constantly having his toys yanked away from him with the command to “share”, he isn’t being taught generosity. He is being taught that his consent doesn’t matter. His possessions are never truly his. He’s being taught to distrust others who might try to take his treasures from him.

When we constantly tell a child to get in line, stop being so needy, stop being so selfish. To stop, essentially, being a child, because Jesus wants it that way, we’re teaching that child that Jesus doesn’t actually value their wants or desires very much.

Can we toss the JOY acronym for good? Let kids be kids. Let them take up space. Let them be loud, noisy, and messy. Let them be difficult and push boundaries; this is how they learn.

Let them be children without the spiritual abuse of telling them that who they are and what they need displeases Christ.

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