It’s difficult to slow down, especially when, like my 9-year-old son, you live with anxiety. His mind is a constant swirl of what he thinks he should do and what might go wrong. Fortunately, I’m perfectly suited to be his mother, as I, too, suffer from anxiety. I’ve taught him a few tools, such as exercise and journaling, but over the summer, along with his 7-year-old brother, I taught him the best tool of all — prayer.
One Sunday, after we brushed our teeth before bed, I invited them to try a new bedtime ritual. We sat criss-cross on the floor in a circle. When I lit a candle in the middle of us, they knew it was a special and sacred time.
We started with Psalm 23, reading it aloud, each taking a turn to read a line. It was the first chapter of scripture I learned. As a child, the verses comforted me when I tried to fall asleep, and as an adult, I found solace in the prayer when I didn’t have the words to pray. My sons are familiar with the Psalm, as I have prayed it over them, aloud, during illness, bouts of nightmares, or when they are beyond reason or comfort.
Each evening, we’d focus on just one verse of the scripture. “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I lack.” We’d repeat it in our minds for three minutes, reflecting on these two questions: What does it mean? What images come into your mind? After the timer I had set chimed, we’d share these thoughts together.
The first night and even the second, the silence produced a bit of silliness in the boys, as it was new and different. Yet, on the third day, we started to fall into a quiet rhythm until by the end of the week, we had worked up to six minutes of silent reflection — and they had memorized the entire Psalm.
On Wednesday morning, my 9-year-old curled up with me on the couch. “Mommy, I’ve been sleeping really well the last few nights,” he told me as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. “I think it’s because we’ve been praying together before bed.” I didn’t disagree and kissed the top of his moppy head.
On Friday, our last day with this Psalm, we sat down at the kitchen table to create an art project. We wrote the words of the Psalm neatly, slowly, and then added our own illustrations. The boys wanted to hang them in their rooms. We spent more than an hour drawing and talking about the Psalm together.
I explained how a shepherd would use his staff to guide the sheep and the crook on the end of it to rescue sheep stuck between rocks. “Does the archbishop at the cathedral carry a staff because he’s our shepherd too?” my oldest asked, connecting the symbolism in our Church. We imagined what it would be like to eat a fancy meal in front of our enemies. My youngest imagined his “enemy,” a ninja, watching him eat. He drew the ninja with tears running down his cheeks. “The ninja is so hungry that he is sobbing,” he explained. “I might show mercy on him and give him some beef jerky.”
Through the artwork and the conversations, God’s word came alive! I’m reminded of Jesus’ words “out of the mouths of babes” and know that God strengthens my own faith through these moments with my children.
Today, my oldest has a writing assignment from his Catholic school: write about a time you felt close to God. He’s writing about drawing pictures from Psalm 23. “My picture had a stream, and beside it was a shepherd and sheep nibbling on grass. I love it. Just imagining it made me feel close to God.” I couldn’t agree more. Although my son and I will always suffer from anxiety, God is showing us, through each other, how he uses it to show us both how to have compassion for each other and others who suffer in life. Looking at my son’s words, I know the Psalm rings true: “He restores my soul.”