When I was a camp counselor at Camp Hardtner, the Episcopal Camp shared by the two dioceses in Louisiana, my favorite way of connecting with the children was in cabin devotionals.
Just before lights-out, the dozen or so young girls in the cabin would gather in a circle with their two counselors, sitting cross-legged on the persistently dusty floor. The grit that stuck to one’s legs was a small price to pay for the feeling of cool tile against the skin; this was Louisiana summertime.
My co-counselor or I would light a candle, and send it around the circle. When someone held the candle, she had an opportunity to speak or to pass. We would invite the children to share their “highs and lows” from the day; happy and hard moments that needed celebrating or puzzling over in a small community of others who were looking to make sense of their day, too.
There was always giggling, and there were sometimes tears. The girls treasured the chance to speak and to listen. Afterward we would close with prayers, offering all these heart-spoken things to God.
Fast-forward lots of years, and enter bedtime prayers with a four-year- old.
Our nightly ritual included a litany of family names (“Thank you God for Papa and Granny…), teachers, and church friends. We said the Lord’s Prayer, and a few other regular petitions.
There were lots of new experiences for our child at school — developing relationships with her teachers and classmates, discovering new physical abilities, learning songs and shapes and letters. At home, she was navigating the agony and ecstasy of having a little sister — now big enough to really interfere, but also to play with.
We were struggling as parents to give her tools of faith that would take in all those dynamic parts of a four-year- old’s world. Where does “thy kingdom come” fit into being brave enough to go down the big slide? Where could she see God at work, aside from all the God-blessing of family and friends?
I remembered those cabin time devotionals.
We don’t use a candle, but I started asking her to share with me a “high” and a “low” from her day. I share too, when it’s my turn. Squeezed onto her bed, sharing her pillow, we both look up at the dark room and talk about the good and bad moments we remember from the day.
If you ever put small children to bed, you know they are tiny masters of stalling. Before long, my daughter expanded our “High/Low” conversation to “High-Low-Sad-Funny-Sorry”! How wonderful to hear her comb through her day, picking out the moments she wanted to share with me, before God. We laugh. We snuggle. Sometimes our “Sads” are the same. Sometimes there are surprises.
It’s a simple and pleasant exercise, and its roots actually go back further than my college camp-counselor days. Reviewing our day, remembering with God, is the heart of a practice out of Ignatian spirituality (the Jesuit tradition). In the nightly Examen, we recall the moments of grace in the day, thanking God for our blessings; we remember the sorrows and times when we acted out of something other than love, and ask forgiveness; we might think of tomorrow, and ask God to help us commit to a more loving day.
For centuries, people have been looking for ways to walk more closely with our Creator. We love this low-key game that helps us pay attention to one another and to God.
Here’s how to try it at home:
Play “High/Low” in the car together, whether it’s one on one or the whole family. It works at the end of the day, but also after an outing (“What was your high—your favorite thing—about visiting Grandma’s today?”)
Play “High/Low” at a meal together. Pass around a candle, if that works for your children’s ages or your sense of adventure. How about at Thanksgiving?
Add in “Sad/Funny/Sorry” or new categories that come up.
Try it for a short season, like during Advent or Lent.
Close with a prayer thanking God for the good things, and asking God to help get us through the hard things.
Try an app that will guide you through an Examen.
Also: Send your child to camp! Many Episcopal dioceses have camps, and your church or the camp may offer scholarships if the budget’s tight. The church has wonderful ways to form children as Christians in community.
Get yourself to camp. Lots of Episcopal camps need adult volunteers. Christian community feeds grown-ups, too.
How do bedtime prayers work in your family?