Our soon-to-be 3-year-old granddaughter is an inspiration whenever she visits.
The other night my wife asked her if she would like to say her prayers.
They began calling out each person’s name: Daddy, Mommy, Papa, Nana, and the list kept growing and growing.
Finally, when they said amen our granddaughter looked up at her Nana and reminded her of something important.
“We didn’t pray for me.”
We can learn something from the wisdom of a child.
While it’s great to pray for others, oftentimes we forget to pray for ourselves, which in many cases, we need more prayer than the person we are praying for.
One of the wonderful qualities possessed by babies and young children is that they are unaware that a cycle of life even exists. They simply are present to wherever they happen to be right now, and they don’t give much thought to the past or future. Being around them reminds us of the joy that comes from living fully in the moment.
There are many ways we can instill the value of prayer and meditation. Since children tend to learn just as much, if not more, by observation and imitation, rather than by instruction, we can teach by example.
By following our practice, we show them that meditation and prayer are part of daily life. Even if they appear to resist, they will come to understand meditation’s and prayer’s importance in maintaining their inner health if you treat it as something that is as important and as essential as eating well and keeping proper hygiene.
Little children are not the only ones that can benefit by learning prayer and meditation; preteens and teenagers can also benefit from learning the skills necessary to calm their minds and spend quality family time meditating together. We may be able to introduce them to the concept of closing their eyes and taking inner journeys by listening to visualization CDs, or you may be comfortable enough to guide them through a visualization of your own.
Creating a time of quiet listening in the middle of guided imagery helps them know that they can be silent and go within whenever they choose. You might want to sit together and hold hands, creating a deep bonding ritual that may become everyone’s favorite part of the day.
By discussing afterward, you can discover how your child experiences his or her inner world. By teaching children how to create with their minds and how to access the stillness within them, you are giving them tools that will help them create the best lives possible.
As grown-ups, we often approach children with ideas about what we can teach them about this life to which they have so recently arrived. It’s true that we have important information to convey, but children are here to teach us just as much as we are here to teach them.
They are so new to the world and far less burdened with preconceived notions about the people, situations, and objects they encounter. They do not avoid people on the basis of appearance, nor do they regard shoes as having only one function. They can be fascinated for half an hour with a pot and a lid, and they are utterly unself-conscious in their emotional expressions. They live their lives fully immersed in the present moment, seeing everything with the open-mindedness born of unknowing. This enables them to inhabit a state of spontaneity, curiosity, and pure excitement about the world that we, as adults, have a hard time accessing.
Yet almost every spiritual path calls us to rediscover this way of seeing. In this sense, children are truly our gurus.
Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 21:16. “Yeah, have you never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou has perfected praise?”When we approach children with the awareness that they are our teachers, we automatically become more present ourselves. We have to be more present when we follow, looking and listening, responding to their lead.
We don’t lapse so easily into the role of the director of activities, surrendering instead to having no agenda at all.
As we allow our children to determine the flow of play, they pull us deeper into the mystery of the present moment. In this magical place, we become innocent again, not knowing what will happen next and remembering how to let go and flow. Since we must also embody the role of loving guide to our children, they teach us how to transition gracefully from following to leading and back again.
In doing so, we learn to dance with our children in the present moment, shifting and adjusting as we direct the flow from pretending to be kittens wearing shoes on our heads to making sure everyone is fed and bathed.
John W. Cargile, Msc.D, D.D. is a licensed pastoral psychology counselor. He is a member of the National Educational Association and Alabama Educational Association. E-books, reference material and study programs are available at his website. He is the author of a new novel, The Cry of the Cuckoos. You can contact him at email@example.com. All conversations are confidential.