Prayer, but not as you know it

Beth Barnett is surprised – and happy – to discover new things about prayer…

When our boys were little, we went to a church on Sunday evenings that was designed for teenagers. It was held in a high-school gym, with bright lights on the stage, while the congregation was in semi-darkness. There was half an hour of lively music; then about half an hour of talking; then cakes and biscuits were served at the end. In our family it was known as ‘Supper and Dancing’ church, because the gym had a highly polished floor, and our quirky little family would dance at the back, in the semi-darkness (we pretended no one was watching us!). We’d hold hands with one of the children, spinning around so fast that their feet came off the ground, with them flying out in a circle; we’d throw them in the air and catch them and dance around and jump up and down, wearing them out. Then they would settle, and snuggle on our knees or draw, during the talk.

One night, lying in bed, my 6-year-old son asked a curly question about God that I didn’t know how to answer. After a bit of wondering together, I said to him, ‘I think you should pray and ask God about that, and see what God says. God has ways of helping us see answers when we need them, or of taking away our worries about the questions if it’s not something we really need to know.’

My son thought for a moment and then asked: ‘So do you think I should talk to God?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘OK,’ he answered, ‘because that’s the main way I know of praying… that – and dancing.’

So, it turns out, my little boy knew that prayers could be words, or prayers could be dances!

Perhaps your children have been dancing their prayers, or crying their prayers, or laughing their prayers, as well as speaking their prayers.

My son is a strongly kinesthetic (action) learner. I guess I’m not surprised to discover that he’s also an action pray-er. As parents it’s good to keep our eyes and ears open to notice how our kids make their way in the world, and to affirm and encourage them in their strengths. If your child isn’t a wordy person, they may not enjoy wordy prayers.

There are lots of ideas for praying that use other modes:

  • lighting a candle (a very traditional way but one which children treasure);
  • getting some action figures and asking your child to ‘play act’ with the figures and ‘show God how you’re feeling about this situation’. Check when they’ve finished and add an ‘Amen’;
  • choosing a special object that represents your prayer. When my son was struggling with sleep and scared of the dark, I gave him a small plastic owl that reminded him that God was watching over him all through the night, like a wise, wide-eyed owl;
  • asking: ‘How are you feeling?’ Pray it with a:
    • jump (Yay! Thank you God!);
    • run (Help us find a good way.);
    • stretch (Help us find hope in this situation.);
    • curling up a as a ball (We are sad or sorry and we need your comfort.); or
    • shake (Sorry – please shake it off and help us start again.).

Beth is currently undertaking doctoral studies in the area of New Testament examining the constructs of maturity in the letters of Paul. She has held pastoral roles in Baptist and Anglican churches and been a long-term volunteer in the missions of Scripture Union, for whom she is a freelance resource writer and trainer. She teaches units in Children and Families Ministry and Biblical Studies at Stirling College, as well as guest lectures in other Melbourne, Australia, colleges. Internationally, she is a writer and facilitator in the Child Theology Movement.

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