Psalm 34:1-4 (MSG)
“I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise.
I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out.
God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears.”
We stand on the cusp of another transition – summer activity into school year madness! The summer is behind us, full of the done and the undone, new memories made, new people met, hopefully some new growth. We look over the edge of the end of August to the beginning of September, knowing many of our kids have already started their school year activities in sports or band camp or academic prerequisites. We’re scurrying to calculate schedules, pick up school supplies, make sure shoes and clothes fit, and lunches are managed.
When was the last time you breathed?
Slow down. Place yourself in your seat in a neutral position – no body strain anywhere. Focus, relax your forehead and your jaw. Roll your head a bit and shrug your shoulders to loosen your neck and back. And just… take a long, slow breath in… and then slowly, let it out again.
Do that a few more times. At the end, wiggle your fingers, hands, feet, toes, body just a little bit to maintain the relaxation.
There, now. Did all your problems go away?
Of course not, silly. But you’re better able to handle them now, and maybe even more clear-minded than a moment ago.
Why? Because we are more than just our brains, we are also our bodies, and most importantly, God is in the breathing spaces.
Did you ever think about how often the Scriptures talk about breath and breathing? Approximately 79 for “breath” in the NIV – 10 before we even get out of Genesis. Breath has to do with life and living in the Spirit. Breathing is how we live. Breathing is how we receive the Holy Spirit. Breathing is how we get Scripture from God. Loss of breath is how we die.
Do you take time to breathe? Do your kids? Have you modeled it for them?
Here’s a couple ways to get started – more resources on Prayer and Family Devotions to follow in coming months!
Breath Prayer: First, choose a word or brief phrase to repeat in one breath. Now, if it’s a phrase, say one part on the inhale and one part on the exhale. For example, invite your children to think in their minds or whisper to themselves Psalm 56:3. Next, on the inhale, think or say “When I am afraid.” Then, on the exhale, think or say “I will trust you.” Repeating breath prayers is a meditative practice that can be done with children of almost any age.
Scripture Prayer: First, choose a Bible verse and use it as a prayer to begin and end each day with your children. Try John 3:18, Psalm 46:1 or Romans 15:13. Additionally, it may be helpful to have it posted by their bed to read together.
Centering Prayer: Pray silently in this way to empty the mind and become open to God’s presence. Young children can struggle to sit quietly and still since their bodies often desire movement and activity. Therefore, two to five minutes can be plenty for young elementary children to start with. Now, for older children, try up to ten minutes once they’re acclimated to the practice. First, invite them to close their eyes and imagine that they are standing in a forest along the side of a stream. Second, explain that when a thought comes into their minds, they can imagine the thought landing on a leaf, floating down onto the surface of the stream and away until it’s out of view.
Prayer through Movement: There are several ways to pray with kids that teach how their minds and bodies communicate with God. So, try this simple prayer below, especially useful for the kinesthetic learner. Additionally, yoga and dance are great options that can be done with children of all ages.
(3 deep breaths)
God, you are above (reach toward the sky), below (touch your toes), inside (hands to heart) and all around (big arm circles).
I worship you (reach toward the sky), and give my life to you (touch your toes).
And I love you (hands to heart) with all that I am (big arm circles).
(3 deep breaths)
Five-Finger Prayer: Developed by Pope Francis, this prayer practice assigns each finger something to pray for. The thumb is for those closest to us. The index finger for those who teach, instruct and heal us. The middle finger, our tallest, is for our leaders. The ring finger, our weakest, for those who are weak. The pinky is for ourselves. Go through one hand, or even two, as needed until we feel our prayer is done. And if we get stuck, we can always ask the Holy Spirit to pray for us!