What if our retreats and summer camps taught teens how to pray on their own? What if we taught them how to do it, offered them some practical tools for help, and then gave them space to give it a try for a few days? This blog post is about a tool that I recently employed to do exactly this.
At many retreats and camps I’ve attended and led, it has been a tradition to start the day with a brief morning prayer, a 20-30 minute meditation and then Mass, followed by breakfast. It’s quite a holy morning! But something about High School teens sitting through more and more talks bothered me…It is true they need and crave for content, but they also hunger for quality time alone with God.
So I changed things a bit. The result was exciting!
At the introduction to the camp the first evening, I told our group of 20 High School boys that us leaders wanted them to experience praying on their own, and then we would talk about that experience. Every morning we would wake them up at 8 AM, they would then get changed into sports gear, say a brief morning prayer by their bed, by a statue of Mary, or in the chapel. Then they would proceed to a personal meditation for 10-20 minutes in the chapel. After that, they go to breakfast, getting their food on their own, and also praying a blessing over their meal on their own.
Each one went at his own pace. Some left the chapel earlier than others. A few occasionally stayed for up to 30 minutes. It was neat for me to see how much time they spent reflecting, praying, listening to God.
The first day they felt awkward leaving on their own, so after 30 minutes they all left in mass. The second day, they also took their time, but this time it was their choice. One young man got up and left after 15 minutes, telling me later he thought he’d be the brave first one to leave so others would then follow. However, no one followed!
It’s also important for you to know that I also first taught them how to do a Christian Meditation (a Christian Meditation is all about conversation with God, whereas Eastern Meditation is about oneness with the world). On Monday, we all went to breakfast first, then had a 30 minute talk about Christian Meditation: motivation, why and how to do it, difficulties. After the talk, they tried it. The remaining 4 days they were on their own.
This is also very important: I also prepared some prayer sheets for them. It followed the 4 c’s: concentrate, consider, converse, commit.
Concentrate: help them forget about the world around them, focus on Christ, and ask for the gifts of faith, hope, and charity.
Consider: offer them a passage from the Gospel or New Testament, and also 3 different brief reflections they can read through.
Converse: offer them a heartfelt written prayer to Jesus they could pray to show them what conversing with Christ is like.
Commit: suggest a commitment for the day based on the theme of the meditation.
Needless to say, the prayer sheets were a hit. They all went through these, and it helped them pray. Sometimes they didn’t need it, which is just fine! If they can pray on their own without these sheets, God’s will be done!
If you’d like to see the prayer sheets I made for them, you can download them here:
Most also liked the freedom to go at their own pace, especially since most teens are groggy in the morning. Some forgot to say the morning prayer at times, so that became a good topic of conversation.
They actually did the same for a brief night prayer: everyone prayed on their own.