One of the great things about explaining theological stuff to kids is that is causes you to slow down and pull out the most essential aspects of the idea – to translate the abstract into something concrete. The next set of our curriculum, Follow Me, focuses on Spiritual Disciplines. We might call this set Being Like Jesus because that is primarily what the spiritual disciplines are about, ways for us to be like Jesus. We will concentrate on 6 different actions that we can all do to be more like Jesus, small acts, small increments of time that we can carve out each day for drawing closer to God. Each week in March, I will send out various ways to approach each of the 6 disciplines curated from a variety or sites and some I may even think up myself.
The first discipline we will cover is Fasting. “Christian fasting is a voluntary denial of something for a specific time, for a spiritual purpose, by an individual, family, community or nation…we fast for repentance, to clarify and intensify our prayers, to ask God for guidance, to purify our hearts before God and ask God to continue the process of purification, or to free up money or resources to give…” Foundational Essay, Practice of Spiritual Disciplines, Lynne Raab, Follow Me Curriculum, Growing Faith Resources 2022.
Though fasting for kids will be different, the idea is the same as it is for adults. In Sunday School we will begin by explaining that fasting has been a part of the people of God since the very beginning, and is used as a way to draw closer to God. What do we mean by that?
For example what if we fast one day a week from computer games, what else could we do with that time? Volunteer at a charitable organization? Go out and clean up a stretch of park or roadway? Write cards to people in our community that are unable to get out and might be lonely? Clean up the yard of an older member of our community who has a hard time doing that kind of thing? Invite a family that we don’t know all that well over for dinner?
If we decide to fast from some particular food item, what else could we spend that money on to help someone else? We could just give it to a food bank. We could save up to contribute to Living Water to bring wells with clean water to places where clean water is scarce. Or contribute to Reading the 5,000 – books Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church will contribute to our community.
There really isn’t wrong thing to fast from EXCEPT to use it in a self-serving way, like to avoid eating broccoli or to lose weight. The idea is to put something down, something worldly so that you have time and/or resources to pick up something spiritual, something to draw your family closer to God.
The Second week we will cover Prayer. Prayer is probably the spiritual discipline most closely associated with religion in general and the Abrahamic faiths in particular. All of the major figures in both the Old and New Testaments had very active prayer lives – it is after all how we communicate with God.
I would like to think that most kids who spend any amount of time in church- even the very young ones have a rudimentary concept of prayer, I also suspect many have fairly active prayer lives – short sweet thank you God prayers, or please help me God, or maybe even God I’m so confused or sad. It’s almost hardwired into us. But that being said, as we grow up a bit, we start feeling self-conscious about prayer, like if we don’t sound like St. Francis of Assisi it won’t count.
One of the simplest ways to encourage prayer with your children is simply to pray with them as part of your bedtime ritual. And to help your kids know that it doesn’t have to be fancy, just pray with and for them. For years and years I prayed a simple prayer for my daughter as I put her to bed. I began by thanking God for her, I thanked God for specific attributes, like health, happiness and kindness. I asked God to help her have a good night’s sleep and to wake up in the morning feeling rested and refreshed, full of God’s love and ready to reflect that love to everyone around her. Then if you know there are precise things that were great about their day or that are concerning your child this is the time to include those, or you might ask your child to ask God for help with those things. Finally, I would ask God to bless her and keep her close. The key is repetition, being yourself, being fully present while you do it and being timely, adding things that were important that day – both the good and the bad
The third week covers Listening for God, again an activity which will probably come more naturally for your children than for teens or adults, because as a rule they are much better at being “in the moment.” Being in the moment sometimes needs a little explanation.
Once upon a time there were two people discussing a very, very cold morning and its effects on their windshields. While they both had a lot of ice that built up as they were driving, one of the drivers complained bitterly about what a pain in the neck scrapping it off had been TWICE and the other marveled at how you could literally watch the ice crystals forming on the windshield while you drove. One was tuned into to listening for God in the small things better than the other. Kids are like that when we give them a chance to slow down and appreciate the amazing world God has given us.
Listening for God is no less prayerful than praying – it’s just the other end of the communication. There are many ways to listen for God, reading the Bible is one of the classics. In fact we have a big fancy church word to describe it – special revelation, that God reveals God’s self through the Bible, through the people inspired to write the Scriptures. There is another kind of revelation that describes how God reveals God’s self through nature, general or natural revelation, as described above in the icy windshield example, or breath-taking sunsets, majestic mountains or prairies that seem to stretch out to the horizon. One of the exercises I personally have been trying is meditation or mindful walking and breath prayers which I will describe in more detail in later weeks.
Embrace Simplicity is the discipline we will cover the fourth week. When the pandemic first began one of the positive things that happened was that everyone literally slowed down, we were forced to embrace a simpler life style – absolutely no choice in the matter. We spent more time with our families, we did quiet things like walking, when we walked we noticed how many birds were singing and how loud they sounded. Embracing simplicity isn’t necessarily about paring your belongings down to only the most essential, or “only those things that give you joy”, though that might be a result, rather it’s about focusing on what is truly important in your life and doing you best to eliminate the blah blah. “When we embrace the spiritual discipline of simplicity, we choose to shift our focus away from our possessions, money and thrilling experiences. We focus on treasure that lasts: our relationship with God through Christ, and God’s work of transformation within us.” More specific ideas for embracing simplicity to follow.
The fifth week of Lent covers Unplugging. Unplugging can be a form of fasting. It means literally walking away from electronic media or devices for a specific period of time – either some stretch of time each day (no sleeping does not count), one day each week, a weekend or for the really committed a whole week, or longer. This becomes a spiritual discipline when we do it for a spiritual purpose – to draw closer to God with the time we have created.
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