My husband and I are facilitating a Wednesday night group at our church during Lent. The focus: Prayer! We were given free reign – no guidebook, no agenda to follow. This is fun and freeing – but also carries a lot of weight! Thankfully, my husband is a teacher. He knows how to go with the flow and adapt the plan when the conversation takes an unexpected turn!
Early last week, we sat together in our basement to discuss how to focus our time during these 5 weeks. Prayer seems simple. The goal is to make it a more active part of daily life. Yet there are a surprising number of directions we could take, and countless ways to approach prayer.
As my husband and I were talking, my 10-year-old came downstairs to say goodnight. He asked what we were doing, so we told him. It was well past his bedtime, yet he sat down and questioned us: What are you going to talk about? What prayers will you do? He offered some suggestions. So, I let him stay up and talk it through with us – I mean, how could I not?! Maybe it was a ploy to stay up an extra 15 minutes! Regardless, the gain was real – we had meaningful conversation about real life prayer.
Wednesday comes. This is Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent, and the start of our 5-week study of Prayer. Our kids typically join the youth in the basement for their own faith formation time. But on this night, our son had a vested interest in the adult class and asked if he could join our group. Again, how could I say no?!
We spent the first half in discussion and in the Bible. For the second half, we tried the Lectio Divina prayer practice, which literally means “divine reading.” This is an ancient practice of praying the Scripture – listening to the text of the Bible as if in direct conversation with God. The Lectio Divina typically follows four steps. Here is how we led it…
- Lectio – Read the text multiple times, and find the words and phrases which stick out most for you.
- Meditatio – Meditate, mull over, and “chew” on the words. What does the text mean for your life today?
- Oratorio – Open the heart and engage God in conversation. Express thoughts to God.
- Contemplatio – Release the work of the previous steps and rest. Let go of thoughts and feelings and enter into a still place where God will meet you.
Guided by the book Praying in Color (Sybil MacBeth), we suggested the group try drawing and doodling as they prayed. It was optional – they could also write their responses. So we began – the group followed the steps as instructed, my son included. Our final twenty minutes flew by. We had only a few moments to debrief the experience, then ended the study and ran off for worship. I grabbed my son’s Lectio Divina paper. He tried to pull it back, saying he wanted to throw it away! I saw something in his eyes – fear maybe? We didn’t have time to discuss, but I knew I could not let this go. I held onto the paper, promised I would not look at it and that we would take the time to talk together later.
Later came that same night at bedtime. My son told me in the quiet of his room that he didn’t want anyone to see his paper because he had done it wrong. I stared at this kid, seeing my own guilt reflected in him. We face the same struggles – trying to be perfect, do the right things, and exceed the expectations set for us. Oh, how I yearn for him to have freedom from these thoughts!
I told him there was no “right” way for prayer – that was the whole point of the exercise! Whatever he did during the Lectio Divina was the absolute perfect prayer for him at that moment! So he showed me his drawing. It was perfect. He definitely understood the intent of the prayer time we had designed for this small group. I was proud of him, yet saddened that he felt any embarrassment about the way he experienced this time of prayer.
To be very clear, I did get his approval to share both this story and his Lectio Divina drawing. His experience is a lesson for me – maybe a lesson for you – and likely something I’ll need to fall back on often with my dear son as he continues to step forward in his own faith journey. There is no right way to do prayer, there is no right way to live out faith. What a blessing for a diverse world filled with uniquely created children of God – my son and I included!