A Spiritual Practice for Your Kids
I sat in church this past Sunday morning and listened as my pastor, Jarrett Stevens, interviewed one of his mentors and spiritual directors, Ruth Haley Barton.
Ruth is the founder of the Transforming Center in Wheaton, IL and the author of several books about rest, rhythms, and awakening to the presence of God’s spirit in our Christian life. She was at our church to kick off a new series called “Blessed Rest.” Throughout the interview, Ruth talked about her own experience working in church ministry, pushing herself to the limits and burning out in her early 30s.
That burnout caused Ruth to withdraw from vocational ministry for a time. During that time she began learning more about rest being a gift from God that comes out of the nature of who he is.
“Isn’t that so cool?” she asked “When we participate in rest, we participate in the very nature of God.”
At the end of the Sunday church service, Ruth provided everyone with a few practical tips for incorporating rest into their daily lives. As she listed off the ways in which we, adults, could increase our awareness of God’s presence through rest, I couldn’t help but notice she left out one crucial audience that existed in our church— the kids! How could parents practically help their kids engage with God through rest?
I have spent the last five years working and serving in various roles in kids’ ministry, and through it, I have learned more about God, more about myself, and more about the tiny humans we like to call “kids.” As I’ve grown in my awareness of how kids learn, what they are capable of, and the gaps in my own spiritual development, I have wondered— how can we teach kids better? How do we teach them truth, while also helping them sit comfortably in the middle of mystery? How do we get them comfortable with doubts and questions, while also helping them know God is always near?
These questions cycle through my mind at a near constant rate, and while I’m still fairly new to practicing silence, rest, and sacred rhythms, I have seen their fruit in my own life, and I’ve begun to see glimmers of the fruit they can produce in a child’s life.
Silence takes us to the place that is beyond words where we sit, just as we are, with God, just as he is. It’s a place where we are comfortable knowing him without having to know everything about him.
My vision for the next generation is that it would be one filled with true awareness and tangible experience of the Holy Spirit. I see a generation that isn’t crippled by doubt, but propelled by it. I want kids become adults who love God with their whole hearts, souls and minds. I think engaging them in the practice of spiritual silence could be a good first step.
I’ve outlined a few tips and a short practice for leading your kids into a time of silence and rest.
And I know you might be thinking, “Rachel, you’re crazy. This is impossible.”
But trust me. I’ve already tried it twice with a mid-sized group of K-5th graders on a Sunday morning. The first time, I had them sit silently with their eyes closed for one minute at the end of the Bible lesson. At the end of the minute, they opened their eyes and wrote or drew a prayer to God. The second time, my husband, Dan led them through some deep breathing before he entered into prayer with them. Afterwards, we continued those deep breaths so we could meditate on our memory verse.
Each time I was blown away by the kids’ willingness to participate and the palpable movement of God’s Spirit across the room. Children are ready for those “deep” places with God. Let’s create space for them there.
Tips for Leading Your Kids into the Spiritual Practice of Silence
Start with Grace.
You’re busy! You have kids. There are games and practices and lessons and all sorts of meetings. It takes time to set boundaries, establish rhythms, and draw awareness into how much is too much and what you should all be saying yes or no to. So start with grace. Set a realistic goal of doing this practice once, maybe twice a week. Remember, as Ruth said, rest is meant to be a gift so don’t treat it as anything else.
Pick a consistent time of day or day of the week.
Consistency is important for children of all ages, but especially those in the early childhood years. This will also help you establish a rhythm as a family.
Invite your kids to participate in the following practice:
Let your kids know that you’re going to take a minute to sit in silence.
Affirm any objections they have. You might say: I know, I know! It sounds awful, but there’s a reason we’re going to do it.
Tell them about what you’ve been learning. It’s important for you to model that walking with and learning from God is a lifelong relationship. You might say: I’ve been learning about how sitting in silence helps me become more aware of God’s Spirit and in tune with his presence, so I want you to do it with me today.
Invite them to close their eyes and take a deep inhale. Exhale slowly.
Repeat this inhale and exhale 1-2 more times.
Let your kids know you’re going to set a timer for 1-5 minutes (choose a time that works for you and your family). Make sure the timer doesn’t make any drastic noises when it goes off. Maybe just use the vibrate mode on your phone or watch.
This time is for you just as much as it is for your kids. Notice any need you have to open your eyes. Notice what your mind does. Notice any need to control or direct your kids during this time and then release all those thoughts and impulses to God. See this practice as a way for you to continually surrender your kids to God, trusting that he has them in his arms.
When the timer goes off, invite your kids to open their eyes. Ask them if they had any thoughts about the experience. If they do, listen. And if they don’t, that’s fine too.
You can light a candle at the beginning if you have one. Candles are often use to symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit in a practice-based faith.
From time to time, you can add scripture to this practice by choosing 1-2 verses and reading them before you practice silence. Invite your kids to meditate on the words in whatever way they want to. They can notice how they feel, notice what pictures come to mind, or notice nothing at all.
The important thing to know here is that there is no assignment. This is just being with God. As Dan said to the kids on Sunday, their open hands and closed eyes are already a simple prayer of I’m here.
If you are interested in learning more about connecting to God through silence and solitude before you lead your kids through such a practice, check on this post on Breath Prayer or pick up Ruth’s Book Sacred Rhythms or Invitation to Silence and Solitude.
What we teach our kids comes from an overflow of what God is doing in us. Let him meet you in silence this week.