This post is part 4 of a 4-part series on faith formation in children. It features editors and contributors to the newly released book Along the Way: Conversations about Children and Faith. Thanks to Dana Kennamer Pemberton, Ron Bruner, Ryan Maloney, and Suzetta Nutt for sharing some of their insights in this blog series.
We live in a noisy, chaotic world.
At times it seems impossible these words of the psalmist can have any place in our culture today. Family life is busy and demanding. Even in our churches we struggle with finding ways to enter the quiet, devoting time to prayer and studying God’s Word. So if it’s hard for adults to practice these spiritual disciplines, how can children enter into God’s presence and fully embrace these ancient words?
Can a wiggly, headstrong three-year-old be still and know?
Can a cool, tech-savvy fifth grader be still and know?
As a children’s minister, I spend a lot of time wondering how God views the lives and hearts of children and what response must come from our faith community as we share life together. We know God values the presence of children because Jesus welcomed them (Matt 18:5). We know God values their voices because the lips of infants and children sing God’s praises and silence God’s enemies (Ps 8:2). We know Jesus cherishes the hearts of children because he says we must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3).
Important questions come as a result of these wonderings:
- What implications do these biblical truths have for our church?
- What practices transform children into the image of Jesus?
- What is the spiritual capacity of children?
One major component in the life a believer is the practice of spiritual disciplines. These disciplines are many and varied, and children are fully capable of embracing the hard work required to live a spirit-filled and formed life. Let’s look at two disciplines: silence (or coming to the quiet) and prayer. Each of these disciplines can bring us into God’s presence. Each requires practice, training and intentionality. These disciplines are woven together, and it’s often hard to tell where one ends and another begins.
Richard Foster writes extensively on spiritual disciplines and says that “prayer seeks to usher us into the loving heart of God. As we pray the words, we are going beyond the words and into the reality which the words signify.” 
Can prayer and silence form a child in this way? Can children intentionally depend on the power of God to do within them what is impossible? Can children be transformed into the image of Christ?
The answer, quite simply, is yes!
The path to practicing the disciplines of silence and prayer with children has been a journey of obedience in my faith community. I believe with all my heart that this generation of children will be called to do something they cannot do unless they can hear God’s voice. This belief shapes our gathering times and how we are the church together.
We started with simple ways of learning to be quiet and praying together, which then helped us move to a deeper understanding of what it means to be still before God. As we worked, we began to see how God was shaping and forming us into different people, giving us a new language, a spiritual language which opened our hearts, minds and souls to God’s work around us. This simple act of coming to quiet helped us to find new paths of dwelling in God’s Word, serving one another, welcoming the stranger, and offering hospitality.
It’s not always easy work, and we readily acknowledge this fact with the children. It’s often messy. Actually it’s almost always messy, but as God’s children have known throughout the ages, God is in the mess.
As we look at how children join God in relationship, it’s helpful to have an understanding of how children and God interact with one another. Noted children’s spirituality scholar Rebecca Nye defines children’s spirituality as: “God’s ways of being with children and children’s ways of being with God.” She continues:
This definition helps us to remember that children’s spirituality starts with God – it is not something adults have to initiate. God and children, regardless of age or intellect have ways of being together because this is how God created them. 
Years ago when my daughter Lauren was in kindergarten, her Bible class teacher asked the children to draw a picture of God and name three things they knew of God. Her response offered a glimpse into a loving, authentic relationship. Lauren’s picture was simple, showing God’s long arms and big hands, and her ideas were revealing:
- “I think God is big.”
- “Heaven is like home.”
- “God takes a nap all day.”
Her third response puzzled me, and I asked why she thought God slept all day. Her answer, “Little girls who have seizures during the night need to know that God is awake.”
These words pierced my heart as I realized her journey with God was as personal and meaningful as mine. She didn’t yet cognitively know the promise from Ps 121:3-4, but she knew it in her heart and soul.
He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
She knew God was with her during the long, frightening nights, and she explained God’s comforting presence in the only way that made sense to her.
“God and the child get along well together.”  These words make my heart sing every time I read them. Recognizing this truth is foundational to being the church with children.
As the church, we want our children to walk in the way of Jesus, living their entire lives for God, expressing their faith beyond the walls of the church building. Practicing spiritual disciplines isn’t the only way for children to be transformed into the image of Christ for the sake of the world, but it’s an important avenue to explore.
May we have wisdom to ask thoughtful questions and courage to act on the answers as we journey with our children through God’s story.