Updated: Sep 4, 2019
Spiritual Directors Long time ago, when I started leading children’s and family ministries at a local church in Amsterdam, I wrote a letter to the parents and addressed them in it as “the spiritual directors of their children”. Only years later, I found out that there actually was such a Christian ministry as “Spiritual Direction”. I even ended up getting trained in this ministry, which I now practice. A Spiritual Director tends to her or his own life with God, and accompanies others in their faith journeys by helping them to notice the good, true, and beautiful in their lives and respond to God’s invitation. As I sit with adults and try to attentively listen to the movements of the Holy Spirit in their lives, I often wonder how we could be better at accompanying children on their spiritual paths. I believe that children are not only deeply spiritual, but can also be Spirit-filled homes of the Holy Spirit.
The Otherness of a Child Anyone who has watched a child for more than a minute knows that there is something profoundly “other” about the way they are in the world. I don’t only mean the developmental otherness, but also the spiritual otherness. It seems that children possess some mystical spiritual abilities that they use to relate to themselves, God, and the world, for which we as adults have to work hard. Their ability for wonder, mystery, joy, trust, vulnerability, and presence are like secret backdoors to the realm of God.
Unlike children, I am often prone to ignore my true-self that is desperate to be seen and known and at the same time be totally consumed with self-critique, analysis, and comparison of myself to others. Children cannot reject themselves. They always show up just as they are. Even their bodies tell exactly what is going on inside them. And yet, they are not consumed with themselves either, but are fully present, receptive, and absorbing the world around them. Children remain connected to the truest part of themselves – their souls. I too am trying to stay connected to myself, even when the pain and needs of others feel overwhelming and more important than anything that I am.
The Baby Holy Spirit? Where we often make a distinction between a child and adult’s spirituality is the way the Holy Spirit resides in and works through us. I have never read about the baby Holy Spirit, or the child or teen Holy Spirit in the Bible. There is only one Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who gives himself fully and generously to those who ask of him, regardless of their size, age or experience. When children pray for healing, for example, the Holy Spirit doesn’t heal only a child’s measure.
Perhaps, because of the “otherness” of children’s spirituality, this “sameness” of the power of the Holy Spirit through them is even more evident. Once children hear about the Great Counsellor, the Spirit of Life, the Friend who never leaves us, and the Powerful Healer, they actually believe him and put their hope and trust in him.
The True Director We need to remember that God, through his Holy Spirit, is already interacting with and working through children. And as we learn to recognize and respond to the work of the Spirit in our own lives, we also can learn to help children to do the same – to start recognizing and responding to God’s voice. We watch and listen for the move of the Spirit as the child plays. Sometimes we might be prompted to ask a “divinely curious question” or other times the child might invite us to join his or her play. In the midst of all of this, we learn to listen to the Spirit in us and through the child.
Prayer Tools for Spiritual Children and the Child-like Spirituals
My hope is that the tools that I craft will help children to live out their silent request: "Help me come closer to God by myself", as the religious educator of children, Sofia Cavalletti put it. My prayer is that every child would know how loved they are. And that they would learn to listen to the voice of God, who is Love, and who speaks within.
And for those of us who are adults, my quest is that each resource that I make will be a reminder and a companion on the way of relearning how to relate to ourselves, God and others through our inner-child, freely, authentically and playfully without reservations.
Could it be that as we accompany children in their lives with God that we come to be accompanied by them in ways that we never expected?
Could we learn to follow the Holy Spirit, our true Spiritual Director, together hand in hand with children?
Read more about the prayer tools here.
Part of this post was first written for, and published on Power to the Mama's blog (a platform for Christian mothers in the Netherlands). You can read it in Dutch here, translated and edited by Suzanne Struiksma.
Resources: The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy With Young Children, Sofia Cavalletti
Children's Spirituality: What it is and Why it Matters, Rebecca Nye
Parenting Children for a Life of Faith, Rachel Turner
The Bible, Joel chapter 2 verses 28-32; Acts chapter 2 verses 17-18