Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide for your Child’s Spiritual Formation

Review of Jared Patrick Boyd, Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide for Your Child’s Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, IL: 2017).

“We are defined by our longings, and what we long for is at the root of spiritual formation” (p. 16).

My three-year-old twins both had concerned, sad looks on their faces as they were nearly on the brink of tears—they were lost. They were out hiking with their family and friends when their awful experience happened… not literally, but in their imaginations. They were far from the ones they loved because they wandered off from the group to go look at something that caught their eye.

However, it wasn’t long before the look on their faces turned to joy as they heard someone’s voice calling for them, searching for them. They were no longer alone or afraid because Jesus had finally found them!

As a parent of several young children, I am always looking for resources to use for engaging our children (ranging in age from 3-11) in their spiritual formation. When I first heard about Imaginative Prayer, I was both excited and skeptical. My excitement was due to the fact that it is geared toward children and I have found it a challenge to find good resources developed for that purpose. My skepticism was due to the fact that it was based upon imagination… how does one pray imaginatively?!? And is that legit?

Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised, although I’m still not convinced that this book is technically about “prayer” (or perhaps I have a narrow definition of it). It feels more like “experiential learning” or something similar. That said, it is a brilliant and powerful tool to use to help kids connect with God and understand spiritual truth that can otherwise be abstract. As described above, I’ve seen with my own eyes the impact it has on our kids and it connects just as deeply with adults.

We all want our children to know the basic tenets of our faith and believe the right things, but we fail to realize that focusing on this goal—and this is counterintuitive—is not the best way to accomplish it. Rather, we should work at cultivating in our children (and ourselves) a deep longing for God which motivates understanding and belief.

The second chapter is a “how to” guide for using the book. Boyd insists that the book is “not for busy parents” but an “invitation for busy parents to slow down” (p. 25)—either the editor missed that line, or they don’t expect to have many sales!

To get the most out of the book, one should set aside 30 min a week for the “imaginative prayer” session and 10 min a day for follow-up conversations after each week’s prayer session. Thankfully, he provides several conversation-prompts or activities making this easy to do.

We are unfortunately those “busy parents” and while we constantly work to slow down, the need for survival makes it difficult for us to do so. So, thus far, we have only used the “imaginative prayer” sessions about once a week but have not taken full advantage of the conversation-prompts just yet.

In one case, I have also modified the “imaginative prayer” slightly to better connect with our children. Week 2’s imaginative prayer uses knitting to tell the story and our younger children aren’t as familiar with that as they are with making something out of play-dough. So, keeping everything else the same, I substituted knitting with play-dough and it connected perfectly!

There are six main parts to the book (outlined below), each focused on a particular topic of catechesis with each covering seven weeks of material (except part 3, which only covers six weeks). In total this book provides 42 weeks of material, enough to cover nearly a year.

What makes this book valuable is that kids (and adults) will not only come away knowing and believing, but they will remember it because they’ve experienced it. More importantly, while we all assent to believing rightly, we also consistently act on our longings. This book practically and concretely weds right belief with right longing and is sure to make a lasting positive impact on all who put it to use.

Ben is a husband, father, priest, and scholar with a PhD in Biblical Studies (NT emphasis) from Asbury Theological Seminary. Prior to his studies at Asbury, he completed his M.Div. at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and served with Mission Aviation Fellowship in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He and his wife, Amy, have 4 handsome sons. Ben loves to play music, make (and eat) sushi, dabble with tech, and help his boys navigate life. He currently serves as the Soul Care Community's Editorial Assistant and Book Review Editor.


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