I wish I had a camera every time I mentioned that children are capable of practicing spiritual disciplines. The looks of skepticism and “you’re crazy” would make a fun collage on my office wall.
I’m not sure when or why the phrase “spiritual disciplines” became so scary to some. I’m sure church historians or theologians who are way smarter than me could explain it. Or maybe it’s just when I use the phrase in the same sentence as “Let’s do this with children!” that people look at me like I just said my husband is pregnant with twins. But here’s what I tell my volunteers who panic at the thought of asking children to be quiet and still: I know I’m crazy, but just trust God. I promise you’ll be blown away by what He is going to do with your kids.
Brenda was one of those volunteers that had been serving in Children’s Ministry for longer than I’d been alive. Her dedication, commitment & love for our children are inspiring. Then along came this young Children’s Minister who encouraged her to begin practicing spiritual disciplines with her kids. We had many conversations in my office, in the hallway and over the phone about the “impossible” things I was asking of her. She thought I was crazy, and I would just smile at her and say, “I know, but let’s just try it and see what God does.” It wasn’t long before Brenda became one of my biggest advocates to other volunteers who also thought I had lost my mind. She witnessed what God will do in children’s hearts, and she became a spokesperson for practicing spiritual disciplines with children of all ages.
Consider the theory of multiple intelligences for a minute, which suggests that everyone learns in unique ways. A simple explanation of the 8 intelligences:
Word Smart: These children love spoken & written languages. Let them discuss, read, write, listen & debate.
Picture Smart: These children love visual arts. Let them sculpt, draw and make crafts.
Music Smart: These children love music. Let them sing, create songs & learn rhymes.
Logic Smart: These children love to think. Let them solve problems and puzzles and think abstractly.
Body Smart: These children love to move. Let them play active games or act out scripture.
Nature Smart: These children love the outdoors. Let them be outdoors and touch or talk about nature.
Self Smart: These children love to learn alone. Let them reflect, journal or pray privately.
People Smart: These children love people. Let them work and talk with others – a lot!
Now, consider the spiritual disciplines. Every different spiritual discipline is designed to connect each different intelligence-styled person to God. “Spiritual discipline” doesn’t have to be a scary concept when you filter it through that lens. When we teach kids how to practice spiritual disciplines we are helping them find a way to connect with God through a style God created them to learn through.
Let’s teach the Picture Smart child Praying in Color.
Let’s teach the Nature Smart child how to walk a labyrinth.
Let’s show the Body Smart child how to pray with their whole body.
Let’s give the Music Smart child space to write a song of praise.
When we give kids the space to encounter God in ways He created them we are honoring Him and His creation. We are helping them discover & develop a deep & rich relationship with God. A relationship that will often last through the challenges and the ambiguities of life. We are honoring the way God created children and giving them lifelong practical tools.
The Holy Spirit is alive & active in the lives of our children.
This is a whole separate collage of reaction pictures I’d love to have – when I encourage teachers & volunteers to create space for the Holy Spirit to work in kids’ hearts during their time together. This is so nebulous and abstract it’s hard to explain in detail in this post. We’ll explore the specifics of what this looks like in the weeks to come. So for now, let me just says this: Children do not have a Jr. Holy Spirit. The full authority, power & maturity of the Holy Spirit is working in our kids’ hearts. They are capable of interacting with and learning & hearing what the Holy Spirit has to say to them. The best thing we can do is to create the space for them to do that and then shut up and get out of the way. It’s as mysterious a process in kids’ lives as it is in the lives of adults, but it happens nonetheless. The question is will we trust God enough to get out of His way so He can do His thing?
Why teach all the disciplines to all the kids?
Beginning to practice spiritual disciplines can be a lot like training a couch potato to run a marathon. It’s hard & painful & involves a lot of blood, sweat & tears. Some days there is a lot of motivation to practice; some days there is none. Some days you love running; some days you run after the person who made you do this so you can hurt them. And maybe in the end you realize you love running or maybe you still hate running but you’re a healthier person because of the training. Neither outcome would have happened if you hadn’t gotten off the couch.
The same is true when you begin teaching & practicing spiritual disciplines. Some disciplines will click with some kids; others will not and they’ll hate practicing that one. Or maybe they’ll learn to push through the awkwardness and come to love it. After all, no one likes beginning a work out program (unless you’re one of those crazy people). There’s benefit in practicing all of them & challenging yourself and your kids to push through the soreness & difficulty that comes. Odds are your kids will connect with the disciplines that align with their learning style. They may even come to love one they never thought they’d like. Because, yes, that squirmy, ADHD, loud-mouth (God, love him!) can learn to sit in silence with God & love it!
Being Transparent with Your Kids
One of the most important things I can share with you from my experience is that the more transparent you are with your kids, the easier it will be for them. Tell them this will (probably) be hard. And uncomfortable. And difficult. And that is okay! Please if you hear nothing else I say, hear this: please give your kids permission to struggle with this process as they learn and practice. I went to a mindfulness (meditation) class a few weeks ago. I loved it and hated it all at the same time. It was so dang hard for me. I needed to hear from others that they struggled with the same things I struggled with my first time. And I also needed to hear from those who have done it a lot longer that it gets easier.
And since we’re talking about being transparent, I might as well tell you some days this will crash & burn in glorious fashion. Please don’t give up. Acknowledge the reality because they see it too. Laugh it off and try again another day.
Celebrate Victories Big or Small
Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate! Celebrate when they stayed silent for 30 seconds (even though you were shooting for 60). Celebrate when someone finds a discipline that speaks to their heart. Celebrate when you learn a new discipline or when you practice one together for the 40th time. Find reasons to celebrate their progress & growth even when it’s been a difficult process. Celebrate when your adults/volunteers see the benefit of practicing these with kids! Praise God for all the small & big victories & for all the ways He works in your kids’ & adults’ hearts.
Over the course of the next 6 weeks we will unpack several ways we can teach our children to spend time with God through Spiritual Disciplines. We’ll hear from others about their experience, what’s worked & what hasn’t, & practical, hands-on ideas & tips will be shared. What questions do you have that you would like for us to address throughout this series? What has your experience been with your kids or with your volunteers?