by Lacy Finn Borgo
Sharon learned that the most important thing that happened in children’s church was not the lesson or the treats, the most important thing was the conversation. The small gathering of elementary aged children were eager to be with Sharon. She had a few activities to help the children engage with the lesson. But she also made sure that there was time and space where a few evocative questions could lead to honest conversation. In her preparation she stayed close to the Gospel lesson, letting the children lean into the story of Jesus.
Sharon also took great care to make the space safe. Children knew that their words would be honored, that no one would judge them or reject them or tell their stories to others. As a result, in the mere twenty to twenty-five minutes that they were together, the children did have very deep conversations.
One Sunday as the children acted out the scene in John 21, when Jesus cooked breakfast for his friends, Able wondered aloud, “Who is the disciple who Jesus loved?” Rather than offering an answer, Sharon asked, “What do you think it’s like to be a person that Jesus loves?” Able picked up the invitation and began to explore what being loved by Jesus looks like in the life of a nine-year-old boy. For Able, it meant that when he wasn’t chosen for the basketball team, Jesus was sad too. It meant that when he struggled with long division, Jesus would help. A few minutes later Able visited the prayer tent, small mesh tent with a battery powered candle, paper, and washable markers.There he drew a great big heart with himself and Jesus inside.
“We belong to together,” he told Sharon.
When adults are intentional about having spiritual conversations with children, they make space for the child to work out their sense of belonging. Notice that Sharon didn’t do the work for Able. In fact, she couldn’t. Each child has to do their own inner work. However, Sharon could come alongside, she could ask questions that would enable his own searching and finding.
The Trinitarian Community of Love whispers to each child their identity as a beloved of God. Belonging to Love’s Family is a reality that children grow into and spiritual conversations with adults can help.
Tips for Hosting a Spiritual Conversation with a Child:
Begin with moving your body to the child’s level. Sit on the floor if you need to.
Ask an open-ended question. Try one these: Will you tell me a story about something good that happened to you? Will you tell me a story of a very strong emotion you had this week? It could be happiness or sadness or anger, anything. Will you tell me the story of the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
Listen. Watch the child’s body language. Ask questions such as, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “I don’t think I understand; can you help me?” or “Is there anything else you want to say?” Listen 95% of the time, speak 5% of the time.
Repeat back to the child what you are hearing. Ask the child if that is what was said.
Give thanks. Thank the child for sharing with you. You have just heard the tender whispers of the Spirit.
Written by Lacy Finn Borgo, Keynote Speaker for the 2020 CSS (Children's Spirituality Summit), spiritual director, Portland Seminary. Lacy also blogs at GoodDirtMinistries.org