how to pray lectio divina with kids
Want to pray lectio divina with your kids?
I had never heard of lectio divina until I started graduate theological studies.
Thankfully I was blessed to study with the Benedictines, who are steeped in this prayer practice (which St. Benedict wrote about in his Rule dating back to 500 AD). So I learned from wise sisters and brothers how to make this “holy reading” of Scripture part of my prayer life. I’ve been grateful ever since.
But here’s the thing about lectio divina. Actually, here’s the thing about 90% of traditional spiritual practices. They require:
- uninterrupted time
- uninterrupted space
- peaceful quiet
With young kids? I have almost 0% of this. So I have to improvise. After years of messy practice, here’s the way we pray lectio divina with the least among us. (In size, not wisdom!)
1. Learn the basics
Lectio divina traditionally includes these 4 or 5 steps:
- lectio (read)
- meditatio (meditate)
- oratio (pray)
- contemplatio (contemplate)
- some practices add imitatio at the end (imitate or act)
Start by choosing a Scripture passage to reflect on. Then read it slowly, over and over, allowing God’s Word to sink into your mind and heart.
- Read: Read the passage out loud.
- Meditate: Read the passage a second time. Listen for a word or phrase that speaks to you.
- Pray: Read the passage a third time. Reflect on how God may be speaking to you through that word or phrase.
- Contemplate: Read the passage a fourth time. Reflect on how God may be calling you to act through the word or phrase that spoke to you.
- Act: Close with a prayer of gratitude and response to God’s invitation.
What I love about lectio divina is the way you can enter immediately into the Word. You don’t need to know everything about the background or history or details of the Scripture you are praying. You don’t need to figure out every theological meaning of the passage.
You simply open yourself up to let God’s Word speak to your life, where you are right now. I’m always amazed at what is revealed.
2. Adapt for age & attention span
Kids are wriggly, whiny, wandering, wondering pray-ers. Like most humans, they find it difficult to concentrate while they pray. So if you want to pray lectio divina with kids, my advice is to start small.
Our family uses this beautiful book to pray a Psalm or two with our kids at bedtime:
For the past few years, I’ve been praying a modified version of lectio divina with our children. They love it and – kid you not – request it many nights.
We start by closing our eyes, folding our hands, and quieting our bodies down with deep breaths – to get out the sillies and make space for a little silence.
- Read: We start by reading one Psalm slowly (3-5 verses). We alternate reading aloud, since it’s lovely to hear different voices as we pray.
- Meditate: I ask the kids what word or phrase “spoke to their heart.” They each speak it aloud. I share mine, too.
- Pray: We talk about how God might be speaking to us through their word or phrase.
- Contemplate: We read the Psalm again. I ask the kids to think about how God may be calling them to act in a certain way. (This step sometimes veers into questions about God, which is fine by me!)
- Act: We close with a simple prayer to say thank you to God and try to grow in love.
3. Learn from your kids
Lately my sons have been wanting to spend time talking about the illustrations that go with each Psalm. I had never thought to include them in our prayer, but now we do a form of visio divina with the pictures, too. I ask the kids what part of the illustration draws their attention, and then we talk about what it might say to us about God.
I want to keep an open heart to how God is speaking to me through my children, too.
Their love for praying with the Psalms inspires my own practice of lectio divina. I want my kids to see me with my Bible – and not just my phone, gulp – so that they know what matters most to me.
Over the past few years, my morning lectio practice has looked like this: I work my way through one Gospel slowly, reading a short passage each day. I tend to do a simpler version of the traditional method:
- I read the verses out loud for the first time.
- Then I underline or note down whatever words or phrase speaks to me (using this journaling Bible).
- I read the passage a second time silently, noticing what God is calling forth from me through this word or phrase.
- I read the passage aloud for the third time, wondering how God might be calling me to act through this word or phrase.
- Then I close with silent prayer about any questions or insights that have arisen during my prayer.
It takes me years to work through a single Gospel, so don’t worry about going slow! There’s so much wisdom that comes from abiding with the Word over time. Lectio divina is a beautiful prayer practice for both adults and children. Best of all, it lets us pray at the pace of our own lives.
Have you prayed lectio divina with children? What tips would you add?
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I’m an Adult Ed. Director, do you mind if I print these steps to explain Lectio Divina to our First Communion parents? This is great stuff!
This is great! I am starting Lectio Divina with my CCD class tonight! Thank you for simplifying this practice (although I believe it is already simple, I’m testing that theory with 9 and 10 year olds!)
I, too, a cradle Catholic just learned about this practice a year ago (Im 48!) from my Spiritual Director and Contemplative Prayer group. I love it! Im hoping the kids will too. Kind of changing things up a bit from the usual CCD lesson plans. Ill let you know how it goes!
I’m so glad you found this helpful, Tina! I look forward to hearing how things go with your CCD class.
Well, I tried. It wasn’t as simple as I thought. But its only the first week! I took a vote on who enjoyed this practice and most of the kids raised their hands (there are 9 of them) so I’m taking that as an ok to continue. 🙂 I’m looking forward to next week!
I think, like anything, we get better with practice — or, in this case, the practice becomes more effective and transformative.
I’m interested to hear more about how subsequent sessions went with your CCD kiddos.
Laura, I usually refrain from commenting on your posts because how many times I can say “OH MY GOODNESS THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER READ!!!”? But seriously, your writing is amazing. I can’t believe you share your wisdom with the world for FREE!
Thank you so much for your encouragement in this motherhood gig. I’m benefitting so much from your blog and your book.
Kaitlin, thank you so much for your kind words! You make my day. 🙂 I’m delighted to hear you’ve enjoyed the book as well. Love your blog!