By Melanie Cave
We're all heard it said that children thrive in routine. Knowing there is a predictable pattern to life reduces anxiety and enables cooperation and participation. But how do we create spiritual routine, that doesn't get religious or boring? How do we invite children into spiritual disciplines and have times of family prayer or worship without it being a chore or a battle?
Let them join in your Personal Routine. I find that children want to do what you think is fun. My children will have seasons of coming down into our lounge in the morning where I am praying. I will only wake my children or ask them to join me if they specifically ask me to, but often if they get up and realise I'm already praying, they simply come downstairs and join in. (I was surprised as I expected there to be demands for early breakfast or television, but they seemed happy to accept that this was the routine, and Mummy's time with God.) I will usually have worship music playing and be journalling or reading my Bible. So we made a special fuss of buying each child their own journal ( a blank notebook) and a pen with 4 colours in it, and they sit on the other sofa and draw or write pictures they have from Jesus in it. My son who can read, also has his own Bible, while as my preschool children have picture bibles like the "See with me Bible" or the "Toddler Bible". I make it clear that its not a time for me to read the Bible to them (In our house, they are read bible stories at bedtime), but they can show me what they've drawn, written or read at the end of the time.
Flow with the Spirit in the Moment. Its great for your children to catch you in the act of your spiritual disciplines, but there are many aspects of your faith that they will not see or understand unless you make a point talk to them about it or invite you in. When you are having a bad day, or they are, take those opportunities to verbalise- "Wow, this has been a really difficult day! I'm going to put some worship music on and choose to focus on Jesus, so I can re-connect to God and receive more peace. I really need God's help now." or "When I have a difficult conversation at work, I can feel stressed and angry. It helps me to take a walk outside by the canal and speak out to God some of the things I'm thankful for. That's the best way for me to praise and shift the atmosphere around me. Fancy coming for a walk with me?"
There are many times, when we might feel we are barely managing ourselves and we don't want to invite our children into our doubts or worries or difficult conversations with God, and that is OK! We simply need to make choices to invite our children in where we can. In the same way we will teach our children to change the oil in a car, or how to hard boil an egg, we need to teach them the spiritual skills of prayer, worship, bible reading, shifting our atmosphere, intercession, serving, meditating on God's work, soaking in God's presence, and many more. Sometimes these things are learned in the heat of the moment, and other times we purposely set out to teach or coach. Both ways are important!
Make Family Worship and Prayer Playful.
Over the dinner table, we have asked a question like "what was the highlight and lowlight of your day?" (We call it High-Low.) We go round the table and everyone gets to share. Its not a big step to turn what has been shared into prayers of thankfulness or intercession.
Play silly games- we turned our Twister mat into a prayer game- If the spinner says to touch a red, then do it and say something you're thankful for. Touch a green and say a prayer for a family member. Touch a yellow and pray for someone in another country. Touch a blue and listen to Jesus- how does he want to encourage the person next you.
We love a good Worship Dance Party in our lounge. We play lively worship music like Hillsongs' "Young and Free" or Dougie Dug Dug, and dance around the lounge. Often ballet costumes, fancy dress, musical instruments or streamers get brought into it.
Light a candle and have communion together as a family- you could let the children help you make the bread, or lay the table, or include teddy bears ( for a teddy bears picnic communion- let your children explain to the teddy's what's happening, etc).
The joy of all of this is that in the playfulness you will often get more authentic and joyful prayer and worship, it will challenge your own religious behaviors and you will learn more and more how to flow with connecting with Jesus in the often chaotic and creative conversation with children.