Naomi Graham suggests you try a variety of approaches to praying
When we picture someone praying often we immediately picture someone speaking out their prayers and saying amen. Whilst God loves to hear our prayers, and it can be really helpful to say them out loud, we can also pray without words.
I work for Growing Hope (www.growinghope.org.uk) as an occupational therapist for children who have additional needs in my local church. I recently came across a little boy, Micah*, who was really struggling to join in within sessions. He’s aged three and uses some sounds and very few words. Each week he would come to his sessions and would become very agitated: he would throw toys, try and run away and would often scream and cry. His mum would often become distressed and would shout to try and get him to do join in with some of the play activities that we had available. Each week I was trying lots of different strategies from my occupational therapy tool kit, but to no avail.
Then, for the final session, I decided to take a totally different approach. I called his mum beforehand and we agreed that we would not say or do anything in the session unless Micah made a sound or chose to do something first. I took out all of the objects from the room that Micah could throw, and kept the trampoline, swing, and a safe space with some blankets in the corner. We came into the room and mum and I sat down letting Micah explore. As Micah explored I showed his mum an approach called intensive interaction. As Micah crawled and ran around the room and made sounds, I echoed his sounds and his movements in order to create connection with him. Micah noticed and seemed to then change what he was doing as we started to play together. I then took a back seat and encouraged his mum to try the same. I then saw for the first time in all our sessions Micah laughing and playing with his mum and them connecting as they listened to each other - all without words.
We have a God who loves to connect with us in many different ways. He’s created our incredible brains which take in and process the world through our senses – the way we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, move, are aware of our bodies and feel internally. We can connect with him through each of these senses in a deep way that doesn’t require us to use words.
This can be as creative as you’d like it to be.
We can move and pray. This could include building a tower of blocks and as we knock them over praying that God will make us bold and courageous like Joshua. It could be dancing for Jesus, running and jumping our thank you prayers. It could be running around the room and freezing to be still and connect with God when the music stops. It could be being swung in a blanket like a hammock or lying under a parachute and feeling the breeze on your face. It could be climbing a hill and using our bodies as a way to pray.
Play and pray
We’ve been thinking about not using any words, but sometimes I find that people like to use words themselves to provide a commentary to what is going on. That’s completely okay if that works for you and can be a helpful way to frame the prayer activity. One way that this can work really well is through playing and praying. We play with our children or enable them to play everyday. This can be a way to bring God into the conversation and enable connection with him. You might be playing with cars and praying ‘God please help us to know you’re with us wherever we go’. You might walk past the mirror and say ‘Thank you God for the way you’ve made us’. You might be playing with a cash till and asking God to give your family what they need. There are so many different ways we can give this a go.
This is one way that lots of children like to pray. It can work really well because it involves pressing an audio record button (like the child’s tool, Big Point buttons) on which you record a prayer such as ‘Jesus thank you that you keep me safe’. You can combine this with a movement activity or a calming activity. For example, wrapping yourselves up in a blanket and remembering about how God looks after us and hems us in like in Psalm 139. If you’re six months or 100 you generally can have support to press a button and you can use this to speak your prayer out loud to God, even if you aren’t able to use verbal words yourself.
The possibilities for praying without words or by using lots of our senses are endless. You can have different pictures and choose to pray by picking a picture (we had a 17 year-old in our church who joined in with prayer time like this). You could use stickers on a map to pray for the world, or on a dolly to pray for healing. You could use body lotion and massage your hands as a way of spending time with God. You could blow and pop bubbles to send prayers to God.
God loves to connect with us and interact with us in so many ways, just like with Micah, you could choose to do something differently this week to enable that connection.