It’s the fifth time tonight he’s come out of his room.
He needed more water first, then he needed to use the bathroom. Then something was making a strange noise outside his window. Then he couldn’t find his stuffed narwhal (which we discovered under the comforter by his feet).
Now he stands before me in the living room, wide-eyed and trembling, because there is a shadow on the ceiling above his head that looks like a T-Rex who is about to eat him.
I try to hide my exasperation and handle him with gentleness. As I steer him back down the hall to bed, I offer to move the nightlight so the shadow won’t be there any longer. He looks up with anxious eyes and says, “But then there will just be different shadows and my brain will make them be scary, too.”
Sometimes I feel powerless against the bogeyman and the shadow of the T-Rex and the giant tarantula in the corner. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell him that these things are not real. They are real to him, and he is afraid of them.
I remember being little and coming out of my room at my grandma’s house to tell her about scary things I saw in the corners of the room, things that made my heart beat faster and my mouth feel dry. She told me it was my imagination playing tricks on me and that I should go back to bed. I remember lying in bed, stiff with anxiety, asking Jesus to keep me safe from my imagination.
My imagination might have been running away with me…but with the right guidance, my imagination could have been part of the solution.
As Catholics, we have a long tradition of praying with our imaginations. Our culture is rich with holy art and image. We can help our children use their imaginations to pray: as they learn to invite the Holy in, it will push the scary out and help them feel safe. Rather than be afraid of their imaginations, they can practice using their imaginations to connect with God.
One prayer technique that can work especially well for this practice is the Circle Prayer. Drawn from Celtic tradition, this prayer reminds us that God’s love encircles us and surrounds us with care and protection.
Circle Prayers are wonderful for young children because a child can easily take ownership of the prayer. While the form is always the same, a child can “fill in the blanks” with the particular fears or worries that are causing anxiety. I have found this technique useful for myself, too, when I am not sure what words to use to pray.
The prayer form is:
Circle me, Lord.
Keep _________ within and __________ without.
Keep ________ near and __________ far.
Keep ________ within and _________ without.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
A parent may draw a circle in the air around herself and the child with her finger as she prays these words, illustrating the way God’s love wraps around us. A child might choose to pray for himself, or a parent can pray for the child, inserting his name in place of the “me.” For example:
Circle Sam, Lord.
Keep light within and darkness without.
Keep Narwhal near and T-Rex far.
Keep calm within and fear without.
This prayer form also works well as an intercessory prayer where we fill in the blanks with concerns we have for another person (“keep healing near and illness far,” for example). Allowing the child to choose how to complete the prayer sends the strong message that his or her concerns are important to God, which encourages more communication and conversation with God. Praying this prayer with our children demonstrates our faith that God is stronger than the worries and anxieties we face, no matter how young or old we are.
With a circle of prayerful protection drawn around him and his covers tucked in snugly, my son settled down to sleep safe from the T-Rex, the light of Christ keeping the shadows away.
Are you familiar with this form of prayer? Would it work with your family? I would love to know how it goes for you if you decide to try it.
Copyright 2013 Abbey Dupuy