Andrew (our 7-year-old) still struggles at times with feeling afraid at night when it is time for bed. We pray together, enjoy a few snuggles, but as I leave the room I can accurately predict the words, “Mommy, I’m scared” will follow.
Ever since Andrew was young (3 or 4) we have been leading him to interact with Jesus by first reflecting on appreciation (things that make him smile) and then asking what Jesus wants him to know. At times the results have been successful and led him to peace, but this pattern is not consistent. More often than not, Andrew does not land in the peaceful place I had hoped for. I recently discovered one of the reasons this was happening. Andrew shared how he cannot tell if the thoughts in his mind are his thoughts or Jesus’ thoughts. This confusion is a common problem for children as well as adults, so let me paint you a picture.
A couple of weeks ago after we walked through the process together, Andrew said: “Mommy, I can’t tell if Jesus is answering me because I keep saying in my head what I think Jesus is going to say.” I asked for an example, and he shared that when He asks Jesus “What do You want me to know?” Andrew says in his head “You don’t have to be afraid,” but this answer is not followed by peace. Andrew said he tried not to answer for Jesus, but he couldn’t stop his brain from responding.
I knew there were a few options for how to approach this. I considered explaining “mutual mind” and how sometimes our thoughts are in sync with God’s thoughts, to the point we cannot fully discern whose words are whose, but if the result is peace, it is more likely our thoughts are in tune with God’s thoughts. After-all, He is the Prince of Peace!
Another method is spending more time remembering God’s gifts (appreciation) and focusing on how it feels when we receive a gift from Jesus. This, over time, can help to “separate” what may be our thinking from God’s, and also help us notice some of God’s thinking in our mind and spirit. Focusing on relational circuits as the big goal and less about God’s thoughts can also take some pressure off. The Shalom My Body exercises are a great way to jumpstart your relational brain.
Ultimately, I knew I needed Jesus’ wisdom on how to coach Andrew, so I asked Jesus quietly in my head and listened for His response.* The thought that came to my mind was to encourage Andrew not to try to “hear” an answer, but instead notice if a picture or a feeling comes to mind after asking Jesus.
We tried this approach, and much to our delight, it worked! Andrew noticed that when he asked Jesus, “What do you want me to know?” he had a warm snuggly feeling–how he feels when he snuggles with me or with his favorite blanket. At this point I observed his whole countenance change as he grabbed his special blanket and relaxed into his bed; a smile turned up the corners of his mouth, and he closed his eyes. I pointed out that Jesus’ answer could be the warm, safe, snuggly feeling. A few minutes later he was ready to go to sleep, and he affirmed he was prepared for me to leave his room. I didn’t hear another peep out of him till the morning.
The next couple of weeks, we repeated this interaction nightly at bedtime. Andrew told me he was scared, and we talked to Jesus, although now I started having him focus on his previous “snuggly feeling” as his appreciation memory. When He asked what Jesus wanted him to know, the “snuggly” feeling grew stronger, and he said it felt like snuggling me and his special blanket at the same time. Andrew quickly calmed down and was ready for me to leave the room while he drifted off to sleep. He is now having some nights when he doesn’t call me into his bedroom to pray with him, and soon I anticipate he will have the confidence to initiate this interaction with Jesus on his own.
Personally, there have been seasons where I was trying hard to listen and hear an answer from Jesus, and it felt like I was also predicting what Jesus would say. When this happened, I struggled to notice God’s peace and presence. In my interactions with Jesus, I have learned to follow the peace. As my husband likes to say, “Peace is God’s signature.” So, if the result is complete peace, and the thoughts line up with God’s character and Scripture, then I can assume these thoughts are likely a response from Jesus. (It also helps to find confirmations or cautions from trusted friends.) If I cannot make a distinction, I continue pressing in to see what else Jesus wants me to know, but instead of playing tug of war in my mind, I only focus on God’s gifts and remembering God’s presence.
Is there something you need to hear from Jesus, and somewhere you need to enjoy His peace? Start with an appreciation memory, then invite Immanuel to show you what He wants you to know from there. Anytime you lose your peace or the interactive awareness of Jesus’ presence, return to your appreciation memory thinking about God’s gifts and goodness. It can also help to have a friend walk you through this process, and when you lose your peace, continue pointing you back to the last place you had peace and had an awareness of Jesus’ presence. (Share Immanuel is a resource designed to help you walk yourself through this process. A friend can also use it to walk you through the process.)
*When walking children through the Immanuel process, especially young children, it is essential to start with and maintain an Immanuel connection yourself so that you have Jesus’ peace and perspective so you can then help the child walk through their process.