Children often model the behaviors of those around them and absorb what they see in their surroundings. If they witness parents and other family members joyfully and lovingly nurturing a relationship with Jesus, then there is a greater chance of them also doing this. Here are some suggestions for nurturing an environment of silent prayer.
Prayer Space in the Home
Set up a special prayer corner in the home that is dedicated to quiet prayer and contemplation. The prayer corner can have a table with an icon or cross, a candle, and the Bible. This should be a beautiful and calm space that is known as the place where family members go to pray quietly in the home.
Together with your child in the prayer space, sit comfortably and light the candle. As you do so, perhaps you can remind your child we light the candle to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world. Open this time of prayer, quietly inviting the Holy Spirit to be with you and to speak to your hearts. It’s good to remind children that God speaks to our hearts in the silence.
The length of silence may depend on the age of the child, but don’t underestimate a child’s ability to sit with reverence in the prayer space, taking time to dialogue quietly with God in his or her heart. Remember, the child is no doubt watching you, so model prayerful behavior by sitting calmly, peacefully, and with a gentle smile on your face. This is a lovely, intimate moment.
After a time of silence, slowly read a passage from the Bible with your child, allowing each word to sink in. Choose a short passage, which keeps it simple and attainable, and repeat the passage a couple of times. Sit in silence for a moment. Then gently ask some “wonder” questions about the Bible story, such as, “I wonder how Jesus felt. How do you think Jesus felt?” or, “I wonder what it was like for the shepherd boy. What do you think it was like?” Asking questions like these encourages a child’s innate sense of wonder and imagination. Allow the child to ponder these questions in silence.
Beauty and Creativity
Children are usually very tactile. Praying in silence can also take the form of children drawing or painting an image, particularly if this takes place after having read something from the Bible. Perhaps the Word has sparked something in children’s hearts, which they’re able to draw or paint in the quiet. If the child is a bit older, encourage writing down any thoughts that come to mind or heart. Perhaps your child might like to write a letter to Jesus or Mary or a favorite saint. After all, we are trying to help build a relationship.
When the child is finished with his or her drawing, painting, or journal work, encourage your child to clean up the area in quiet, so that it’s ready for another day. Keeping things in order helps children in their development and also keeps the prayer space beautiful and inviting. Beauty is a way of helping children draw closer to God. In the silence, children can be encouraged to think of all the beautiful things they have in their lives, for which they can thank God.
Keep a small collection of age-appropriate spiritual books near the prayer corner. Reading from one of these books may be another way of leading children into a time of silence. I suggest starting with Shhh…God Is in the Silence to remind children of how loved and precious they are and that God lives in their hearts.
Silence in Nature
Silent prayer doesn’t have to be limited to a prayer corner in the home. Nature is a wonderful way of connecting children with God. The next time you’re outdoors, invite your children to sit in silence to talk to God in their hearts. After some minutes of silence, invite your children to share some of the things they heard: the wind rustling in the trees, birdsong, water running, or a car whirring past. This reflection will help children contemplate the beauty of nature and find God present in all things.
To conclude, keep silent prayer simple. Trust that the Holy Spirit is at work in children’s hearts and that their innate sense of wonder and awe, curiosity, and openness will provide an open channel for a holy encounter.