I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to encourage people that spending time with God as a family doesn’t have to look like this. It should be something that works for your family in the season you’re in. And since God has made your family unique, this probably won’t look exactly the way it does for any other family.
However, this doesn’t mean I’m against family quiet time with God. I love Rachel Turner’s idea of silent prayers. One person chooses the topic for you all to chat with God about, then you all spend a minute (or however long works for you) silently chatting to him.
I first tried this with my god-daughter and her two older sisters at bedtime. I quickly discovered they were going to struggle to ‘chat silently’, so we used cushions to whisper into. We did it for about 15 to 20 minutes, then they went to sleep. The next time I saw their mum she remarked on how much they had enjoyed it, and that they had told her it allowed them to chat with God about things they wouldn’t have prayed out loud about in front of me or their parents.
There are many other silent or quiet prayer ideas, especially when you start looking for exercises that work for non-verbal children. Once you’ve discovered these activities, you may find they also work for others.
I really enjoy Mina Munn’s exploration of labyrinths, especially her felt and marble one. Sew two pieces of felt together, leaving a hole in one corner. Then sew a labyrinth into the pieces of felt, starting at the hole, making sure the width of the labyrinth ‘passage’ is slightly larger than a marble. Push a marble into the hole and sew up the hole. You can then push the marble around the labyrinth. (For more labyrinth ideas, check out: flamecreativekids.blogspot.co.uk.)
I can totally imagine doing this kind of prayer with my family, as it would give those of us who are kinaesthetic something to do with our hands as we quiet our hearts. Other things that work well are playdough and drawing, although it’s possible for me to get distracted rather than focused with more creative materials.
Candles are a good way to gain focus without distraction (once you’ve established who is lighting and blowing them out!) and water is also good. A bowl of water for hand-washing or with a flower bud floating on it can be a way to focus and be still. Being outdoors, especially by the sea, is another option.
Contemplative family Bible reading
I’ve been doing Godly Play and Godly Play-esque Bible stories with my children since they were toddlers. We’ve found the slow way the story is told, along with the space and resources to explore it, work well even with young children. We have a range of stories we do at home, including the baptism story, which we do each year on their ‘baptism birthday’.
This year, a 3-year-old came to play that day, so she and her mum joined in. The 3-year-old enjoyed it so much she asked to take the story home! Her mum (completely new to Godly Play) quickly found a video of the story and they watched it together with her older brother and dad at home. Each time she comes, she now asks for this story. I’m really interested to see how the situation develops.
Personally, I enjoy Bible journaling. This is something my children see me doing, and sometimes they join in. A while ago, when I read them a Bible story, they would sometimes say: “Oh, we know that one!” as if the Bible was something you only read once, learning the story then moving on. We chatted about how the Bible is a different kind of book, and how we find new things in the stories each time we read them.
There is always a different sort of feeling when we hear a story for the first time (we read Lazarus together recently and I realised it was new to them), but there is also a genuine joy when we get an old story out to explore it again.
I definitely recommend going on a Godly Play course as it’s really helped me work out how to do this kind of Bible story sharing at home.
My latest book, GodVenture through the life of Lazarus, is what I’d describe as a contemplative sticker book. It does what all the GodVenture books do: namely letting families use stickers to explore the Bible and pray together. However, this one explores a single story (or two if you include the session on Jesus’ resurrection), so it’s a really slow journey, allowing plenty of time and space for the story to ‘breathe’. I co-authored it with Yvonne Morris, whose open-ended questions are brilliant. And there’s a poster with one or two verses to read each day for 40 days, perfect for families new to contemplative Bible reading to use during Lent. There are also activities to help you explore, ideas for praying together, and ways to include your under-5s, if you have them. The whole book is a lesson in S… L… O… W…