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I believe children have a special and unique ability to be present to the mystery of God and to have an open heart, mind, and spirit when it comes to believing in and wanting to develop a relationship with God. Children have an inner desire to draw near to God, and with the help of sensitive guidance and encouragement from loved ones, are able to listen to the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit. Walking alongside children as we learn to listen for the voice of Jesus in our lives and to love him deeply is a beautiful experience. With all of this in mind, here are six reasons Ignatian spirituality appeals to children.
1. Children can appreciate that God is in everything.
St. Ignatius Loyola teaches us that God is in everything and is everywhere. This is a wonderful concept to discuss and explore with children. While planting seeds in the garden, feeding a pet, or witnessing the change in seasons, discuss the wonder of creation with children. A child recently asked me, “Where is God right now?” I gently replied, “God is here in the car with us—in the air we breathe, in those clouds, in those flowers you see outside in the gardens, and most importantly, God is in you and me. God lives within each person.” I marveled at the expression on the young girl’s face as she contemplated this.
2. Children find comfort in knowing God is always with us.
Ignatius taught that God is always with us, in our very being, in our hearts and souls. Helping children to understand this can be very comforting for them. It helps them to understand that they’re never alone and that God loves them deeply. I encourage children to place their hands on their heart, close their eyes, and picture God dwelling there in their heart.
3. Children embrace imaginative prayer.
When it comes to deepening our relationship with Jesus, Ignatian spirituality encourages the use of imaginative prayer. We’re invited to enter into the scenes of the Gospels. We imagine walking on the hard earth, smelling the aromas flowing out of the kitchen, or talking and laughing in the circle of friends around Jesus. This form of prayer can really speak to those children who love to imagine, daydream, and create stories. Next time you have some children nearby, and the setting is right, ask them to close their eyes and imagine that they’re walking along a path in the woods. They see a man approaching whom they recognize as Jesus. Ask: What does Jesus look like? What’s he wearing? What does he say to you, and what do you say back? After a few minutes, encourage the children to share.
4. Children want to talk to trusted friends.
God loves us and wants to be our friend. Though the term “colloquy” won’t be recognized by most children, it’s important that we encourage children to speak with God the Father and to Jesus. We can also encourage them to speak with Mary or perhaps one of the saints or angels. In so doing, we’re helping to foster a relationship of love, trust, and friendship between the child and the other.
5. Children like that God has a special mission for each one of us.
Ignatius encourages us to know that God has a special purpose for each one of us. This can give great encouragement to children as they try to find their place among friends, within school environments, or even within the family. Parents, guardians, and other loving adults can encourage children to identify and foster the unique gifts given them as they follow their dreams and desires. It’s important to share with children that God has a plan for them that will bring them much happiness and fulfillment, and it might look different from the paths of their friends or their brothers or sisters or cousins. Remind children, “God loves you as you are, and wants you to be you, the best possible you. Keep listening for God’s voice within you.”
6. Children can practice gratitude.
Gratitude is key to Ignatian spirituality. In understanding how much God loves us, we can only respond in great love and gratitude. It’s important to cultivate an attitude of gratitude in children. At each family meal or gathering, go around the table and encourage children to share what they’re most grateful for. It’s good for them to hear what the adults say too! When tucking children in for bed, go over the day’s events and again encourage children to share the things that they’re grateful for—a basic form of the Examen.
How have you seen that Ignatian spirituality appeals to children?
Children enjoy using imaginative prayer to enter into the Gospel stories to have an encounter with Jesus.I’ve found that they appreciate having a structure to their prayer time (“6 P’s of Prayer”) while still having the flexibility in different ways of praying their experience of God throughout their day (Examen).
I’ve been leading our 5th-grade students through a nine-week retreat journey of the Spiritual Exercises for over 10-years and observe how they engage with “praying with scripture” in their daily prayer time. In many ways, children are just as receptive to the available graces of the Exercises as adults!
May I ask what resource you use with your fifth graders? I would like to implement something like this in with my fifth graders.
My children have grown up with some form or another of the Examen, ever since I learnt about it from my work with the FCJ Sisters. Being mindful of the gifts we’ve been given is such an important and useful tool we can nurture in our children and ourselves, to reset or put into perspective, any trouble we may be carrying. Blessed are the children!
Geralyn, What a lovely post. I am so glad that you value the Examen and have introduced it to your children! It is a wonderful spiritual ‘tool’. Sr. Ann Marie Walsh, FCJ (Calgary)