“I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”
-Augusten Burroughs, Magical Thinking: True Stories
I think if I had to pick a quote to express how I think about myself, this might just be the one.
I am a broken, frayed-edge, mistake-making human, who mostly means wells. Mostly.
The same could be said for my prayer life.
It is a bit of a mess, full of holes and unfinished seams and raw edges.
Never finished and worn thin in places, but like that Velveteen Rabbit in the garden, it is real at last.
Growing up an evangelical child of the 80’s I struggled for years to have an appropriate and intentional “quiet time.” I tried fill in the blank studies, and fervent prayers modeled after the evangelist I saw during revival season I locked myself in closets, and trekked out to a lone tree stumps in the forest. I knelt, I stood, I laid prostrate. But mostly I fell asleep or felt bored. Which led to feelings of guilt (I must be a loser Christian,) and then feelings of resignation (I must just not be wired to pray well.)
Somewhere along the way in my early adult years I begin to discover that perhaps the problem wasn’t the what – intentional prayer – but the how.
The light bulb began to come on for me in several ways. First I discovered the writings of Anne Lamott, Phyllis Tickle, and Brother Lawrence. I also discovered Yoga and the concept of Active Prayer.
All of these discoveries together solidified the nagging thought that I had pushed down for long enough: I could pray. In fact I had always been praying.
I also found that praying through activity – not just words – felt very meaningful and rich to me. Creating, moving, sharing, helping, – I found that these were all ways that I could pray. I found that I could pray prayers of petition, thanksgiving and intercessions by connecting the words of my prayers (silently or out loud) to intentional actions.
This is something that I now try to impart to my kids – this idea that prayer doesn’t have to look a certain way or fit a certain mold to be authentic. That one can pray by playing make-believe or washing the dishes. That those prayers are just as valid as the ones we pray as a family at the dinner table, or the prayers that we say in church as a community each week.
One of the ways I have begun to pray is through stitching. Through mending, and through embroidery. Very messy, homespun, frayed-edges sorts of projects. I have found that the act of intertwining needle, fabric, and thread can provide a wonderful rhythm for praying. When I mend I can pray for those whose clothes I am mending, or I can pray for the lives of those whose lives have been ripped apart like the hole in my ten-year old’s jeans.
I have also discovered that I can tell stories through my stitching with words and textures, pattern and color, and that some of these stories can be used to create visual reminders to pray. Which is why I began stitching Prayer Flags.
My Prayer Flag project all along has been inspired by the beautiful Tibetan Prayer Flags. I wanted to find a way to create something similar that we could hang in our home that would serve as a visual reminder of what we are to pray for, and to serve as a visual blessing over our home and all those who enter. And so I began to make my own prayer flags using leftover bits of fabric.
In the year of so that I have been working on my flags, I found that this is a great way to teach the concept of active prayer. It is something that can be done in a crowded doctors waiting room, on the couch at home, in an airport, or at the park. I have also found that if I am going to whip it out around kids, I better be prepared to let them help or make their own. Despite (or perhaps because of) this age of technology and going fast, kids seem to be drawn to this slow craft. The idea that they can make words and pictures out of piles of string and scraps seems to touch a chord in almost every kid I encounter.
Truly, any person who can hold a needle or write with a pencil can make these. And if your kids too young to do either, let them help by choosing the fabrics and colors. Encourage teens make their own set for their bedroom, or as gifts for friends.
Prayer Flag Craft DIY
Fabric Scraps (for the basic flag shape you will need
Embroidery Needles (not too thick)
Spare buttons, small fabric scraps, and other bits and pieces (I used small doilies on some of mine)
To get started put your flag fabric in an embroidery hoop.
Then pick one word or phrase that you would like to have on your flag. ( Maybe use the Fruits of the Spirit or a favorite song lyric for inspiration.)
Write this word or phrase it in pencil on your fabric.
Then “trace” the word with your embroidery thread using a chain stitch.
Next, add all your other embellishments – buttons, fabric shapes, old jewelery etc.
While you are sewing say a prayer inspired by your choice of words. Pray those words over your home, over your family, or over someone you know has a need in that area. You can also sing a song or recite a bit of poetry as a prayer while you stitch as well.
Once you are done with all your flags, simply sew them onto a length of twine or ribbon and hang somewhere in your house.
You can make as many or as few as you want.
And remember – this is isn’t about being perfect. There is no shame in wonky letters and rough edges and loose buttons. Prayer Flags – just like prayers – are to be real and authentic.
Want more stitching instructions and inspiration? Visit Sublime Stitching – so many great tips!
Stitching not your thing? That’s okay – there are some other great resources for creative ways to learn how to pray actively (and for all ages!):
The Active Prayer series from Paraclete Press* is full of great resources for adults and kids including:
Praying with the Body by Roy DeLeon (this is essentially yoga as prayer and can be adapted for all ages)
Writing to God Kids Edition by Rachel Hackenberg (elementary kids)
Praying in Color by Sybil MacBeth (teens and adults)
Other great resources:
Read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (adults and older teens)
Make Prayer Beads (Pinterest is full of great links on how to do this)
Watch this 2-year-old sing The Lord’s Prayer – learn to sing The Lord’s Prayer together!
Are you creating A Family Lent box to keep tactile reminders of your Lenten practice in? If so, for this week ‘s theme Pray, discuss these three types of prayers as a family, then have everyone write/draw/create one prayer based on each type to add to the box.
(This is Week 2 of our Family Lent series (click here for Week 1.) Next week the theme is Thanks, so make sure to check back in to see how you and your family can give thanks during Lent.)
Have a lovely week friends,
For more Liturgical Year celebrations check out my book, A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together
*The Active Prayer series is published by my publisher Paraclete Press, however I have received no prompting or compensation from them for suggesting these books – I just really love this series!