The Gift of Eyes and Ears

Excerpted From
Spiritual Conversations With Children
By Lacy Finn Borgo

When we accompany a child in their life with God, asking questions acknowledges the autonomy of the child—the child’s ability to perceive, reflect and respond. Asking open questions also communicates care and curiosity and trust in the child’s own knowledge.

Invitation takes the form of “divinely curious” questions. Under guidance from the Spirit the adult is prompted to ask these questions. Divinely curious questions are similar to these: Was there a time in the last week when you knew God was near? or When did you experience something beautiful or good or true? or Can you tell a story about when you felt angry or afraid or happy?

The three transcendentals of goodness, truth and beauty are often the gateway for seeing the action and presence of God and for acknowledging it. When goodness or beauty cannot be recalled, an adult can help a child connect with God through other means, knowing God is present in the child’s pain and sorrow, which may be their truth at that moment. As the Spirit is the prompter, questions such as these provide the opening children need to begin to explore and express their inner lives. Additional questions that might invite a child to share are:

What is one thing you are thankful for?
How does a special person or creature in your life make you feel?
A question I have is _______?
Something I want to remember when I grow up is _______?
I wonder about _______?
I feel _______ when _______?
I am thankful for _______?
Something I have trouble with is _______?
Sometimes I feel _______?
When I’m at my best, I am like a _______?
Something I want to remember about today is _______?
Something I am grateful for is _______?
What do you say to God?
What does God say to you?

It’s important to remember that these questions are invitations, not tools for an inquisition. Like all invitations, one or two are offered and followed by space in the form of silence and attentiveness. The soul of a child must sense safety and freedom in order to emerge and engage. Silence, attentiveness, and generous openheartedness will communicate that safety and freedom.

For many children, thinking about existential questions is entirely natural and part of what they ponder on a daily basis. These children only need a simple invitation. They welcome the chance to process their thinking and feeling with a listening adult. A helpful question might be something like, Is there anything on your heart you would like to talk about?

It is important to remember that as children explore their questions, they may confess doubt. When a child expresses doubt it can be unsettling for the adult. However, doubt is part of the ebb and flow of children’s spirituality. Children are remarkably free from religious certainty. There is fluidity as they construct and deconstruct their perceptions, understandings, and beliefs. A listening companion to a child can be a faithful witness and a sacred conversation partner as this process takes place.

Once the invitation has been given and children begin to share their inner world, whole-person listening opens up. Listening deeply to children is an exercise in patience and surrender for the adult.

When adults listen to children, our natural inclination is to try to make the meaning for the child. This is decidedly unhelpful due to the fact that we don’t have access to all the information or insight into what the Spirit is up to in that particular experience. What a child shares with us is incomplete, it is a glimpse of their life with God, not the whole picture of the experience. If we push our interpretations or good advice onto the child, we may suffocate the child’s voice and agency. We may drown out their hearing of God.

The adult must practice the discipline of silence as well as the art of clarifying questions like Can you say more about that? or I’m not sure I understand; can you try explaining it to me? Questions like these can help to open up the conversation, to allow space for the child to process and hear their own thinking. Children may share a painful or confusing situation, which may trigger our adult urge to fix or save. The adult listener can communicate compassion with phrases such as I can tell you are hurting/confused/afraid, and I’m sorry.

In allowing space for silence and resisting the urge to fix, adults allow Creator God to interact with God’s created being, the child. When these authentic and tender conversations occur, we then create the space for the child to bring their hurt, pain, or confusion to God.

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Excerpted from Spiritual Conversations With Children by Lacy Finn Borgo. Copyright (c) 2020 by Lacy Finn Borgo. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL.

Lacy Finn Borgo
Lacy Finn Borgo

Lacy Finn Borgo teaches and provides spiritual direction for the Renovaré Institute, for the DMin. in Spiritual Direction at Fuller Theological Seminary and at Portland Seminary. She provides spiritual direction for adults through and provides spiritual direction for children at Haven House.