“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
A few years ago, I read these verses and they challenged me in a new way. A yoke is not a word or item that finds its way into our current conversations, but the concept intrigued me. A yoke joins two animals together so that they move in the same direction. Jesus reminds us in Matthew that his yoke is easy and light. I can’t imagine that light here means the opposite of heavy or that easy is the opposite of hard, but rather well-suited, fitting, and appropriate. When my direction feels wearisome and ill-fitting, am I actually yoked with Jesus or am I yoked with other things that will never feel easy and light? As we struggle with feeling weary and burdened right now, our students are experiencing similar struggles. Finding ways to connect with students spiritually is more challenging than normal, but might be more important than ever.
This post offers ideas for facilitating spiritual formation in the online classroom. The video of the online session is here. I am appreciative of Houston Heflin for providing the four categories I used to organize the suggestions.
Share a Message: Encouragement, Blessing, Song, Prayer
As students “enter” the online classroom space, select a song with or without visuals to play. This simple practice helps calm the spirit and focus each person’s heart toward God.
There are many ways to collect and share prayer requests. Other ideas are in the final section below under “assignments.”
- Create a google form for students to submit prayer requests just to you as the instructor.
- Provide a space in your Canvas course where students can write prayer requests for you and classmates to see.
Offer readings to your students that they can read on their own or video yourself reading Scripture or other spiritual content.
- Divine Hours: Pray The Divine Hours
- Daily Devotionals (this is a Lenten calendar through Easter): The Lent Project
- Lenten Practices (many of these are appropriate for times other than Lent): 40 Simple Practices for Lent
- A chapter of Proverbs a day (read the chapter that corresponds with the day or the month)…provide guidance by asking questions about which proverb(s) seems particularly relevant for today, etc.
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
- Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon
Encourage students through a personal video. Consider incorporating someone (or something!) in your house into the video. Have your child read a scripture. Include your spouse or other family member into a reading or prayer. Hold your pet as you talk. Humanize the online space as much as possible.
Begin a synchronous class session with a roll call question. This allows for connection between the students and you and with each other before diving into content. Roll call questions can be serious or light-hearted! “What is something in the space you are in currently for which you are grateful?” “What is the weirdest thing you’ve done today?”
Lead A Guided Experience
If you schedule synchronous times with students online right now, you might consider leading them in a guided spiritual experience.
- The practice of Examen is one that can happen alone or within a group. For more details about this practice, see this link. Appropriate questions include:
- When did I feel close to God today? When did I feel far from God?
- When did I encounter God today?
- When did I live up to my calling as a disciple of Jesus today? When did I not?
- Guide students to create a Gratitude and Loss list.
Coach Them In a New Practice
In this time of uncertainty, students might benefit from some new practices. Choose a practice that you’ve found spiritually meaningful in the past or currently. Here are a few ideas:
- One word prayers
- Lectio Divina
- Visio Divina
- Threshold meditation: this practice helps center oneself with four statements through four breaths
- With one breath say what you are currently leaving
- With the next breath say what you are coming to
- With the third breath name what you commit to
- With the fourth breath commit to being present in that moment
- Breath prayers
- “Lord Jesus Christ… have mercy on me, a sinner.”
- “When anxiety is all around me… your comfort gives me joy.”
- “Open my eyes… to see what you want to teach me.”
Give Them an Assignment
- Prayer request “assignment” in Canvas… (obviously not required) Example from Cliff Barbarick
As a professor, I care about how students are doing in my class, but I also care about other parts of my students’ lives. If you would like for me to pray for you in some way—class related or otherwise—you can use this space to share your request privately with me. I’m the only one who will see what you submit here, and you can submit requests as many times as you like. (If you have already submitted something, you can click on “Re-submit assignment” and add another request. Your earlier submission(s) will remain available to me.)
- Create a discussion post
- Write a prompt asking students to share their own practices of what is working for them or helping them
- Create a discussion post for a gratitude list
- Create a hashtag and post to a social media platform that everyone can follow together (pictures on Instagram is good for this)
- Read a scripture and re-tell it
- Memorize a scripture together
- Reflection assignment about this drastic change to their education and how it has shaped them
- Fuller Seminary is offering spiritual formation lessons free of charge through June
May God bless you as you teach and guide your students. May you be yoked to Jesus.