by Mindy Durias
I am pretty new to contemplative prayer, but not new to faith. I have spent more than half of my life seeking God and learning about Him. But two years ago I was introduced to contemplative prayer.
To be honest, I struggled with it at first.
I found that there were obstacles in my own heart and mind that got in the way of me embracing solitude, silence, and stillness before God.
- Fear that I wasn’t doing enough, a wrong perception of what I was doing;
- Doubt that there would be any benefit, anxiety wondering what might be stirred up.
- And most of all doubt that with my busy life raising five kids I could make room for this way of spending time with God.
However, I was so intrigued by the idea of it that I continued thinking and reading about it, even sporadically trying out a few different prayer practices.
I did not realize it at the time but I was saying “yes” to God. Even with the inconsistent time I spent in contemplative prayer, God was clearing away all my fears, doubts, wrong perceptions and anxieties. God was introducing Godself to me in a new, very personal way.
After the first year of getting my feet wet, I began considering how I might share this with my children.
I have five children, ranging in ages from four-fourteen years old. I had just begun to recognize the treasure that contemplative prayer was becoming in my own heart and was curious if this way of praying would be possible for my children to engage in.
From the very beginning, I was apprehensive. This was unlike anything I had done with them before. We had sought to understand scripture together, prayed, memorized scripture, talked about God and created opportunities to serve Him. But this was to be totally different. I realized that contemplative prayer would not be teaching them more about God, but it would be introducing them to God.
Lectio Divina, meaning “divine reading” or “sacred reading” is an ancient practice of praying the Scriptures. This was the first contemplative prayer practice that I taught them.
Day after day, I was amazed by how quickly they were able to enter in. It dawned on me that they did not have the heavy burden of anxiety, fear, and doubt that I carried coming into contemplative prayer. Nor did they feel compelled, as I so often do, to interpret the text they were hearing. Their hearts were ready to receive God just as God is.
In truth, as I led them in Lectio Divina and heard them respond to the living Word of God spoken to them, I was humbled. They would say things like, “I hear God saying I love you, I am with you, don’t fear, you are mine, you belong, rest in me, you do not have to try harder…” My own heart was healing as they affirmed these things which, as it turned out, I really needed to hear.
They were enjoying Lectio Divina so much that I decided to teach them Breath Prayer. Known as the “Jesus Prayer” or “Prayer of the Heart,” early practitioners would repeat to the rhythm of their breath the phrase, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” In time, the prayer was shortened to, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy” or simply, “Jesus, mercy.” These words, or other similar words of your choosing, are repeated silently within.
Being a completely non-verbal way of praying, I was curious how they would do. Once again, they jumped right in! Yes, they had things that would distract them from time to time, mostly things in their physical bodies-the pulsing energy of a child that I wish I still possessed. But much less so than I would have thought. I realized that as children they don’t have the on-going to-do list in their head shouting at them to be productive. During Breath Prayer, they were not wrestling in their minds with the demands of life. This, too, served as a teaching tool for me.
For several months, we would do Lectio Divina followed by Breath Prayer. To be truthful, it was not always great. Not because of them, however. In hindsight, I can see that the days when it was particularly difficult for us to enter into contemplative prayer usually were the result of where I was at. I was setting a negative, rushed, closed, tone to our time. If they were struggling to engage in the prayer practice that day, it was because they were following my lead. Such is the mirror of parenting.
At the beginning of this year, I decided to teach them Centering Prayer. This prayer practice is grounded in a relationship with God, through Christ, and is a practice to nurture that relationship. It facilitates resting in God. Centering Prayer offers a way to grow in intimacy with God, moving beyond conversation to communion.
I thought this to be a challenging step to take, simply because I had heard that it can be the most difficult of contemplative prayer practices. It requires a letting go of yourself that I was not certain children could appreciate or understand. However, I felt that we were all ready to give it a try.
We had practiced listening to God through His word and responding in faith with Lectio Divina. We had quieted ourselves and connected with God’s constant presence and grace towards us in Breath Prayer. It seemed we were ready to at least attempt to be still and sit for an extended time with the divine presence that dwells in each of our very hearts.
I spent a few days introducing Centering Prayer to them, allowing them time to think about it and to ask questions. We began slowly. First sitting for five minutes, then eight, then ten. Currently we sit for eighteen minutes. When we debrief after our prayer times, I regularly hear words like, “Centering Prayer is my favorite,” or “Was that really fifteen minutes? It seemed like two!”
What I am realizing is that children have no trouble at all resting in God’s presence. They have no preconceived notions of what God should be like or expectation for God to speak. They are comfortable with God’s silence and just love the chance to curl up in God’s lap and be held. They are comfortable with the lack of need to do anything or say anything in these contemplative prayer practices; because they feel no need to perform for God or say anything to please God or others. They do not have any deep wounds that they are concealing from God or fear that God will not love them just as they are.
Oh! If I only I could be more like my children! Isn’t this precisely what Jesus taught? That we should become like little children–who are neither afraid of God nor doubt God’s all encompassing love and acceptance. I am certainly seeing with fresh eyes that to become like a child is not a digresson. It is a progression toward intimacy and union with God.
Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.