In the adventure of raising my four teenagers and working with the adolescents in my parish, I have come to realize that these young adults are really quite spiritual… they just don’t always realize it. They struggle at times with the concept of prayer and how to feel a closeness with God. If you ask an average teenager what prayer means, they may list the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary or perhaps they’ll talk about “counting their blessings” or asking God for help with their troubles. Yes, these certainly are excellent ways to pray, but this is just the tip of the iceberg in developing a prayer language.
If prayer is a means of knowing God more intimately, then teens need our assistance in unpacking the myriad of ways they can do this. It’s important to remember that there is an abundance of ways to invite teens into prayer that utilize a variety of modalities and styles. Giving teens a multitude of options will help them tap into their own unique style of spirituality and their time spent in prayer will be fruitful and meaningful.
Music is a perfect place to start. There is a wealth of contemporary Christian artists who produce music that appeals to teens. I can recall someone once saying to me “those who sing, pray twice.” Introducing teens to popular, relevant music is the perfect way to help them recognize God in their everyday lives. Certainty they spend a great deal of their time plugged into music; why not expose them to music that speaks to their souls?
I took this concept one step further with my son. I was leading a Confirmation retreat and asked for his help in creating a DVD of images set to a contemporary song entitled “The Voice of Truth” by a band called Casting Crowns. He spent over twenty hours choosing the perfect images to match the words of the song. As he worked diligently on this project, I knew that he was indeed engaging in a form of prayer. The process of listening to the lyrics to select the perfect images was allowing the truths of God and of our faith to sink deeply into his heart. He was connecting with God and developing the intimacy our souls crave.
If you know a teen who is interested in visual arts, ask them to create a collage of photos or pictures that portray the “wonder and awe” of God and His creation. Or perhaps they can create a piece of artwork that represents a special word like “grace” or “mercy.” Encouraging teens to engage in process-oriented prayer experiences can help them develop their unique style of spirituality and create moments of encounter with Jesus Christ.