My name is Poppy Winks; I’m a proud Yorkshire Lass, a habitual tea-Drinker, an injustice-fighter and a (cheesy) pop music lover. I am also a Trustee for GFS in England and Wales, a Girlguiding Leader and the Youth Development Worker for Nidd Valley Methodist Circuit.
I have always struggled with prayer. I think it might stem from the fact that, even though I was brought up in Christian home, my family also struggle with it too. I was never the child who kneeled beside my bed to pray, mainly because I had a bunk bed though, I think. As I got older I stopped even thinking about praying, I put it to the bottom of my to-list. I convinced myself it isn’t a necessary part of being a Christian. I know, I know…
When I left university, I was an Intern at Christian Aid for ten months; and in these ten months I saw just what prayer can do. I spent time with people who had done everything they could to try to right the injustices in the world. They had raised thousands of pounds, and signing every petition that had passed in front of them. But instead of feeling powerless, like they aren’t making a difference; they turned to God. They knew that God, felt their frustration, wept with them and then filled them with the fire to carry on.
While I was Christian Aid, I finally realised that prayer didn’t have to feel like a burden. That praying was my time to tell God the things I felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone else about it. I starting to feel more willing and able to take ten minutes out of my day, just to be with God and listen. However, there is a massive difference between being comfortable praying and guiding young people in thinking about prayer.
When I accepted my current job, I had around four months before I started the role. In those months, I devoured every book about young people, especially on working with those in churches.
The majority of these books talk about the importance of prayer, and encouraging young people to have good prayer life. But none of them broke it down; how do you pray? Prayer is often difficult for young people to comprehend, I find. I mean, up to the age of 21 I found it difficult and I still don’t find it easy. You’re asking questions, and not feeling like you’re getting a direct answer. You’re suffering and not hearing a voice of comfort; or your ‘shopping list ‘prayer isn’t listened to, and if it is how do you know when it’s not acknowledged.
Then last year I read Miranda Threlfall-Holmes book ‘The Little Book of Prayer Experiments’, and it changed everything. It answered not only the how but the why, and even, sometimes, the when.
Since then I have tried a number of the prayer experiments in the book with a few of my youth groups and I’ve done them myself too, of course. My favourite, and the young people’s favourite too, was the prayer den experiment.
In Threlfall-Holmes’s book she says that the experiment takes the idea of a small prayerful space to the next level. Our young people began with choosing a corner of our youth room with their partner. Some used a wall, others moved furniture around, one group even tipped over the sofa and used the space underneath it.
We then had a huge bag of sheets and decorations, and the young people brought some of their own bits including fairy lights, camouflage coverings and wind up lanterns. It was at this point I wondered if I had mistakenly said we were going to be recreating a Bear Grylls mission, but never mind.
Our young people spent near on fifteen minutes creating their masterpieces. There was almost silence as they worked as a team to assemble their creations. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t hear some huffing and puffing, and a few cross words, but that’s young people for you.
Once they had finished, and their dens had of course been judged on beauty by one of our leaders (the young people were desperate to know who’s was the best). They got inside their dens, made themselves comfortable and we began. Saying we began, insinuates that their prayer was led, but all we did as sit in absolute silence for fifteen minutes. Some young people had some colouring sheets to help them focus their minds, but the others just did their own thing.
Now if you have ever done youth work, you will know how rare it is to have fifteen minutes of complete silence. Usually we can’t even manage that during a film, or when silence is the preferred thing. But as that moment, with fairy lights casting a glow across the room, I could see what prayer is. I could feel God in that moment. I had managed to help young people to listen and hear God in a way I never could do when I was their age.
Once our young people emerged, stretching and yawning, I asked them what they thought. The consensus was that this was something they wanted to do again, and that they even liked the sound of having a permanent prayer den in our youth room.
Fifteen minutes of dedicated time with God, and my young people were already more willing to make time and space for God in their life.
I mean, that’s exactly why I do what I do, isn’t it!