Practicing with Children

Meditation, Preschool-Style

Every night, our prayer starts like this:

Be still and know that I am God.

Maybe it started when our litany of God-blesses maxed out into a mile-long list of everyone my son knew: each teacher at his school, every former babysitter, distant relatives he’d never met, all the children in the world.

Maybe it started when we both got bored with rote recitations of all the prayers he knew by heart: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Or maybe it started one late night when I was so tired that I needed to hear the words myself.

Be still and know that I am.

But no matter how we started, “let’s do meditation” has become the nightly plea for my oldest boy’s bedtime routine.

Who can resist that request, even at the end of an exhausting day? So meditate we do.

Be still and know.

Meditation for a four-year old means simply this: a few deep breaths to quiet our bodies to listen to God and a stair-step repetition of Psalm 46:10’s familiar refrain, dropping a word or two each time to shorten the sentence, then building back up again to the full phrase.

Every night as we go, no matter how antsy I am for bedtime to be done and my few precious hours sans-kids to begin, I always find that one phrase will inevitably catch me and do just what the psalmist says: slow me down and remind me that God is God.

Be still.

Make no mistake about it: he wiggles and giggles the whole way through. Months and months of reciting the ancient centering prayer has not magically transformer my preschooler into a patient monk.

But he knows the words by heart, forward and back, inside and out. The Sunday we sang the same psalm at church and his eyes shot up, astonished that everyone else knew his prayer, too? That was one of the rare moments I tucked away to remember for always.

These words have become so close to him, already in his mouth and in his heart. Now all he has to do is learn how to live them.

All I can tell him is that it takes a lifetime.

Be.

So much of my life runs counter to this psalm’s truth. I cringe to admit that a more fitting refrain for too many of my days is Be busy and forget that God is even around. It’s all up to me, right? The kids and the house and the work and the endless to-do lists. Too often I forget to slow down and seek the One that matters most in the midst of it all.

Be still.

So whenever his tousled blond mop of hair squirms under the covers and requests “meditation!” with a grin, I take a few extra deep breaths to slow down before we start. I need this practice as much as he does. Probably even more.

Be still and know.

After we’d been praying like this for a few months, my son decided one night that he wanted to lead. No longer would he wait for my prompts: he knew the words and he was off.

So the tables turned. Now he sets the tone (quicker than mine) and huffs out exaggerated faux-breaths in between each line (a token pause).

But he has become our prayer leader. And that’s important, too. For him to lead and for me to follow.

Be still and know that I am.

Because at the heart of this prayer—this nightly recitation, this meditation on a psalm that has calmed and consoled Christians for thousands of years—there is this single truth: God is God. We need not be. We only need to slow and stop and remember ourselves back into right relationship with the One who created us.

No matter our age, attention span or understanding, these words and this truth can be savored on our lips. My boy reminds me of this every single night.

Be still and know that I am God.

 

Laura Kelly Fanucci is a Catholic wife and mother of two who writes about spirituality and parenting at Mothering Spirit. She is a Research Associate with the Collegeville Institute Seminars at Saint John’s University in Minnesota.

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