The new year is upon us, and over here we are entering the year with a focus on prayer. This being the case, I had to take the opportunity to introduce you all to one of my favorite people when it comes to the topic of prayer. Kaisa Stenberg-Lee over at Kutsu Companions is just a gift with her thoughts, insights, and the resources she provides for prayer. She was so gracious to agree to guest post and share some thoughts on praying with toddlers. I hope you will find encouragement and peace in the words she shares.
‘Childhood is a time of wonder and awe. The world is sensed through fresh eyes and ears. …The capacity for being lost in the moment–absorption– is a capacity that is natural for children and necessary for experiencing a mystical moment. During such a moment, boundaries blur between me and ‘not me.”
-Tobin Hart, The Secret Spiritual World of Children
It is a precious gift and a weighty responsibility to be called to be a spiritual companion to a child. Although I have enjoyed immersing myself in the rich study of childhood spirituality and I have been blessed to get to experience first-hand glimpses into the souls of children, still so much of children’s lives with God remain a beautiful mystery to me. And I like it that way. The mysteries of the ways children and God touch each other keep me curious, in awe, and humble. Being a praying friend to children has been one of the greatest joys in my life, and has formed my image of God, myself and children unlike anything else.
While children’s lives of prayer largely remain mysterious and full of wonderment to me, my beliefs about the ways children connect with God have expanded over the years. We know that God created children for Himself (Genesis 8:2), and that He welcomes little children to His tender arms (Mark 10:16). And in return, children were made for infinite love, connection, and secure attachment. Children innately long for God, and have inborn capacity to experience God in profound, authentic ways. Essentially, children were made to enjoy God’s protective love and cherishing, and their access to God’s lavish love does not hinge on us, adults “bringing children to God.”
With this assurance and faith, it is a joy and privilege to get to come alongside children as companions in their lives with God, knowing that children too, become treasured companions to us in our lives with God. And the weight of this calling doesn’t come from our ability to provide the conditions for children and God to meet, but rather to remove any obstacles that may hinder the full access of the children to the presence of God (Matthew 19:14). More often than not, the biggest obstacles are unbelief, doubt, cynicism, fear or lack of freedom.
In this article I will share a few guideposts that have helped me to accompany children in their lives with God. And finally I will share some fun, simple practices to try with children at home! My encouragement to you is to reflect on your own childhood experiences of God, self, and others as you read.
A Few Tips When Praying with Little Ones (or anyone, really!)
1. Go Outside
An overwhelming body of research shows that most children’s earliest and most profound transcendent experiences have been recorded to be in nature. As we enable children to experience nature and the natural world we let them learn to read the first book of God (i.e. creation), and we nurture their wonder for all of life and God’s world. Children and adults naturally are drawn to encounter their Maker in and through nature. Besides, has there ever been a more crucial time in the history of our world for outdoor play than now? Now that due to the global health crisis even many educational institutions and worshipping communities are looking for outdoor options for gathering, why don’t we as families too embrace the invitation to return to the woods, forests, parks, and beaches as a natural invitation to prayer and worship with children?
Richard Louv writes in his book, ‘Vitamin N,’ the following, “Take a break. Look at the clouds. Listen to the wind. Let the birds do the heavy lifting.” What a lovely reminder of how God wants to meet us in and through His creation. When we and the little ones feel tired and heavy-hearted by the complexities of our lives and this broken world, the birds of the air remind us of Jesus’ words, “Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).
2. Engage the Senses
Studies have also shown that being outdoors helps children to awaken their senses and improve their awareness of their environment. Children explore the world through their senses. This is how they naturally learn and make sense of their environment. It is no different when it comes to their friendship with God. When I pray with children, I encourage a full range of sensorial experiences and sensory engagement. Asking curious questions such as “what smells or sounds make you think of God?” Or ” I wonder if you wanted to show God how you feel by drawing a picture or using watercolors?”
3. Connect through Play
Play is children’s native language and the way through which they give and receive love. Child-parent attachment therapists encourage parents to build safety, trust, and connection with their children through play. God made children, and surely, God too knows how to speak “the language of play.” As you observe children’s play, you learn what their natural, preferred way of connecting is. Welcome this as a pathway to prayer. For example, children who enjoy making and creating things, most likely will naturally enjoy praying through art and crafts. We honor children’s unique developmental gifts and needs when we are willing to “relearn” their language of play alongside them, and join them in play as spiritual companions. This communicates the important message that they matter, just the way they are right now, to us and to God, and they don’t need to become “mini adults” in order to speak with God.
4. Embrace the Mystery
Finally, as I wrote earlier, there is a lot of mystery around the ways God and children come to connect and share their hearts with each other. While we can be eager to get peeks into the children’s lives with God, we won’t ever fully come to know or understand them. My encouragement to adults who accompany children in prayer is to be faithful in nurturing our own lives with God, remember our childhood faith, and cultivate curiosity, faith, and wonder in order to make space for the praying children in all of the sacredness that they deserve. Rebecca Nye, a theologian and researcher in childhood spirituality writes the following:
“We need to take a generous, trusting attitude to what may constitute prayerful activity for children. It may look as if a child is just doodling or idly rolling balls of play dough or gazing blankly out of the window… but in these moments God and the child may be in deep communion.”
-Rebecca Nye, Children’s Spirituality
Listening Prayer Practices
As I promised, here I share 3 simple listening prayer practices to try with children. (I encourage you to first try them on your own, and only after that invite children to join you).
1. “I-Spy God” Game and Journal
Play “I spy with my little eye…” like you would spy for a color, something shiny, etc. But instead of those spy for God! Remember, God is good, true (just), and beautiful. What do you hear that makes you think of God? We might find God in a smile of a stranger, a beautiful sunset, or a favorite song. Use all senses (taste, smell, hear, see, touch) and spend time “spying for God”. This is a good game to play over a longer period of time, and it awakens us and the child to wonder and mystery of God revealing Himself to us through so many things every day when we just start looking for Him.
I also encourage you to create mini journals or “I Spy God” books where you can draw or write your findings. This could become a lovely bedtime rhythm of sharing and talking about all the ways how you have “spied God” during the day.
2. Nature Treasures
Go outside for a walk or play in your backyard. Any amount of outdoor space will do, and if you have to stay indoors you can look for pieces of nature even inside the house (fruit, pets, flowers, plants…)
Wonder about and pay attention to your surroundings. Remember that God is with you. After a while, notice what you see that you think is beautiful or interesting. Get closer to your nature finding and look at it closely. If you can touch it, smell it, and perhaps (if it’s safe) even taste it.
Become quiet and notice what you feel inside your body as you look at it. How does it make you feel? How does God feel when He looks at it? Together with God, wonder what it might say to you if it could talk. And what might God say to you through it?
Maybe you want to bring your nature treasure home with you and place it in a special place for you. Or you can draw it at home if you cannot bring it with you.
3. Breath Prayer Stones
Go outside and find a comfortable place to sit on for a moment. Settle down and close your eyes. Feel the air on your cheeks. Take a deep breath in and out. Imagine God blowing His breath of life and love into your nostrils. Take another big deep breath.
Then imagine God asking you, “what do you want me to do for you? Silently, in your heart tell God in a word or a few words what you need or hope for.
Use this little prayer and repeat it to the rhythm of your own breath. For example, “God, help my brother and I to be nice to each other” or “God, heal my grandma.”
After a while find a smooth rock and paint or draw your breath prayer on the rock. You can place this prayer stone somewhere special in your room or home, so that it can remind you to pray your prayer again later.
Many blessings to you as you playfully and faithfully accompany children in prayer!
Find more of my resources for praying with children here: http://www.kutsucompanions.com/praying-hands
Shop my tactile prayer tools on Etsy at:
Sign up to my mailing list and get your free e-guide “Children Love Silence” here: https://www.kutsucompanions.com/blog-1
Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together by Lacy Finn Borgo
Children’s Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters by Rebecca Nye
The Secret Spiritual World of Children by Tobin Hart
The World Is Awake: A Celebration of Everyday Blessings by Joseph Bottum and Linsey Davis
Maybe God Is Like That Too by Jennifer C. Grant and Illustrated by Benjamin Schipper
Grandad’s Prayers of the Earth by Douglas Wood and Illustrated by P.J. Lynch