Mixing things up today with a guest post from the amazing Suzetta Nutt! I’m grateful for her introduction to Come to the Quiet.
Come to the Quiet
Encountering God through the Spiritual Discipline of Silence
Not too long ago someone asked me, “How do you think children will remember you?” Great question for a children’s minister, but one I had never considered. As I thought about it, this scripture immediately came to mind.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
These words have shaped my ministry with children in ways that continually amaze and challenge me. These words laid the foundation for change and gave us the courage to try something new that seemed unlikely – entering into silence with children.
We live in a noisy, chaotic world. Sometimes it seems there is no place in our world today for these words of the psalmist. We struggle with finding ways to enter the quiet, devoting time to prayer and studying God’s Word. If it’s hard for adults to practice these spiritual disciplines, is it possible for children to enter God’s presence and fully embrace these ancient words?
Can a wiggly, headstrong three-year-old be still and know?
Can a cool, tech-savvy fifth grader be still and know?
Can children, even very young children, intentionally depend on the power of God to do within them what seems to be impossible?
The answer, quite simply, is yes!
I spend a lot of time wondering how God views the lives and hearts of children and what response must come from our faith community as we share life with them. How do God and children interact with one another?
One of my favorite answers to this question comes from theologian Rebecca Nye who defines childhood spirituality in this way: “God’s ways of being with children and children’s ways of being with God.” In her book “Children’s Spirituality: What it Is and Why it Matters,” she says, “God and children, regardless of age or intellect, have ways of being together because this is how God created them.”
This definition is inspiring and delightful. I love the idea that God initiates relationship with children from their birth!
Recognizing that God is in charge of the spiritual work in a child has been a freeing concept for me and my ministry team. It makes the practice of spiritual disciplines natural and life-giving as we are the church with children. Spiritual disciplines bring us into God’s presence and require regular practice, training and intentionality. Disciplines are woven together, and it’s often hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Practicing these disciplines is transformative, both individually and collectively, and silence is uniquely intertwined in many of them.
Today’s culture tells us it’s almost impossible for children to willingly and successfully enter a time of quiet, but we’ve found the opposite to be true.
Wednesday night class was one of our most challenging gathering times. We worked hard to prepare meaningful learning experiences for our children, but in spite of our best efforts, it wasn’t very successful. One night while teaching the 4th and 5th graders we had an interesting conversation. I confessed how tired I was and how it had been hard for me to decide what we should do in class. I even shared with them that I would really have rather been at home. Right now you’re probably thinking that wasn’t a very smart thing for the children’s minister to say, but these children are my church, and my relationship with them is rooted in honesty as we mutually share our faith journeys. My confession opened the floodgates of conversation, and I was surprised by what they had to say.
“We didn’t have recess today.”
“My class couldn’t talk at lunch time.”
“I haven’t been home yet today.”
“I haven’t had dinner.”
“I wish it was time for bed.”
We were all feeling the same thing: stressed, tired and wishing for a better way. Their voices touched my heart and sent me to my knees in prayer asking God to help us discern what we needed to do differently. Silence was the word that kept coming to my mind and heart during the following week. We needed to learn how to be still and quiet together. It was difficult imagining more than 60 elementary children willingly practicing the spiritual discipline of silence, but I decided to give it a try.
The following week we met as usual, but before we began our time in God’s Word I asked the children if we could be totally still and quiet. I’m pretty sure everyone in the room thought I had lost my mind! I wasn’t sure we could do it, and I was nervous, but for about 30 seconds we were able to sit in silence.
Those 30 seconds felt like an hour! We were all self-conscious, but despite our discomfort we decided to try it for a year and see how God shaped us through this practice. It was fascinating to see how practicing silence together changed us from the inside out, which is how spiritual transformation works. We began to develop a new language of spiritual formation just from this one small change. We talked about the work of becoming spiritually disciplined and how it requires regular practice. And practice, we did, every week!
Our initial 30 seconds became seven minutes by the end of that year. The children were active participants in deciding how long they would practice silence, and it changed from week-to-week. Some weeks it was a shorter time, while other weeks they chose to enter the quiet for longer periods. We learned sometimes God’s voice can only be heard when you’re listening carefully. We also learned that our friends and neighbors have things to say which requires intentional listening. After the first year ended, we found we didn’t have to practice the discipline of silence every week. Instead, we had a collective memory of silence within us, and we found it easier to come to quiet each week.
Even as I write this blog post, I find myself marveling at how God takes our efforts, simple as they may be, and creates something new. Our children live in the same world we do. Sometimes that world is full of goodness and mercy, and sometimes it’s full of heartache and pain. They need to know God, not just know about God, and in that knowing, trust God is at work in mysterious ways that cannot be explained. Children, like adults, need spiritual practices and spiritual language which will give them hope, courage, gratitude and strength as they face life.
As the church, we want our children to walk in the way of Jesus, to live their entire lives for God, expressing their faith beyond the walls of the church building. Practicing the discipline of silence is a good way to begin.
Be still and know that I am God.
Join us on Thursday for a sample lesson plan to introduce this Discipline with your children.