Talking to Kids (about God)

After a few months of meeting together my spiritual director made the observation “you seem to see God a lot through your son.” I had talked to him about how I had learn to see the wonder of sacred art through my sons fascination with these things in the church. I had explained the profound wonder I felt at being able to be a part of bringing life so full of personality into the world. I had explained how the most sacred times in my day were when we walked around gardens together and that I felt humbled by the way my son imitated me in my devotion, wanting to kiss the icons on our wall before going to bed. My son created a sacred space. He offered a powerful mirror that showed me the good (and bad) in myself and a looking glass that helped me see God in unexpected places…. ever since he was born, my son has been a huge part of my spiritual life.

Now that Liam is older, however, our approach to spiritual things has changed a bit. Now we actually talk about things. He’s not content with me singing the Trisagion hymn while I rock him to sleep, or my recitation of the Benediction of St. Francis over him when I leave for work. Now he actually likes to approach things on his own level which as a boy who is not quite three yet, is fairly simple. Our spiritual life has together has moved from being about my spirituality to being about his spirituality.

This shift is arguably the best blessing so far.

Here are five things that have helped me in this transition:

  1. I started to pray with, not at, my son: 
    This shift happened most noticeably as he began to tell me he didn’t really like it when I prayed long written prayers, but he would light up when I prayed personal prayers that connected with him and that he understood. 
  2. I used materials made for kids to help me talk at his level:
    I recently started using Little Visits at Bedtime with my son, instead of my own prayer books. This is a book that is a continuation of a series that my own parents read to me when I was young. It offers little stories and some questions and short prayers. What I have really liked about the book is that it allows me to have conversations with Liam about the things he’s thinking about. It’s been amazing how this little book has helped me start some really amazing conversations with Liam that I would never have thought to have had on my own. I am a PhD student in theology so I know a lot about how to talk about God… but I don’t know much about making the conversation connect with toddlers. This book has helped.
  3. I had my son help me with my prayers:
    Every night we pray the Lord’s Prayer together. Over time Liam has taken over. At first he would say the last word of each line… then slowly I would just say the first line of the prayer and he would finish it. 
  4. I listened 
    My son has a lot going on in his mind all the time. He has thousands of questions about how the world works and a lot of theories about life. Taking time to listen to his concerns and repeat what he is saying has helped me understand how he views the world and has given us great moments of reflection together. I am not just talking to him about God… he is also talking to me.
  5. Imagination is powerful
    Liam loves to imagine. If he sees a picture or an object it instantly comes alive in his mind and becomes filled with a story. This has led to a lot of amazing conversations. Over his bed I have a number of icons. Every night he loves to talk about each of them in turn, asking about the stories and noticing new details. I have also found that using images in talking about theology is great. He can understand imaginative images and stories much more then he can comprehend theological formulations.

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