What do the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin, Texas and Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia have in common? Both are offering coloring books as stress relievers. According to a New York Times article on November 21, 2016, “…the Four Seasons Hotel Austin in Texas started allowing guests to request coloring book pages and crayons at the front desk and offering groups an “Inspiration Station” stocked with crayons and coloring pages of mandalas.” A quote from The Washington Free Beacon describes the”Stress Busters” offered during reading week at Virginia Military Academy. The article quotes VMI as saying, “This is an opportunity for cadets to unwind and relax before studying for finals. This event often includes stress reduction activities such as yoga, therapy dogs, coloring book stations, card/game stations, and grab-and-go snacks to take with you on your way to study!”
In spin-off articles about the coloring books, some sources talk about coddling young adults and turning adults back into children. These were not sympathetic comments, but snide and dismissive.The words idiocracy and coloring books have been used in the same sentence by other disdainers. I don’t know about the possible negative consequences of coloring for business men and women or future American military officers, but I do know that becoming more childlike and playful in my prayer life has made me a better pray-er. A better pray-er is not necessarily a person who can articulate elegant prayers to God or who gets exactly what she prayed for. I mean a person who has become more childlike and vulnerable and less judgmental about their own or others’ imperfect and shabby prayers. Praying with pen and colored markers or pencils in hand—what I have called praying in color—has helped me to focus, sit still, and pay attention in prayer. I doodle and color as a way to invite my body into the prayer and to create a time and space where I am less distracted, less likely to give up after a few minutes, and more likely to listen for the “still small voice.” If this is a return to childhood, then I’m all for it. I like to think this practice is not childish, but that it helps me to be childlike. In Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” NRSV
So if you are looking for an inexpensive gift that encourages both childlike and prayerful behavior, consider buying the coloring book/prayer primer I drew and wrote this year. Pray and Color (not to be confused with the original Praying in Color) has 32 coloring pages designed as templates for prayers. The beginning of the book describes 14 different ways to pray using the pages. The retail cost of Pray and Color is $14.99, but many stores offer it for less. It could be a gift for male or female, teenager or adult. Combine it with some personalized colored pencils or markers and a black roller ball pen. (I often like to draw additional lines or marks.) If your gift recipient is allergic to pastels, then create a bold or earthy palette of colors for them. To purchase from Amazon click on the book cover.
Below are two examples of prayer forms and coloring pages. Most of the templates can be used for a wide variety of prayer forms. To the right of the book cover is Praying Your To-Do List. Both the empty template and a partially completed colored prayer are included. Our daily activities, the things on our “to-do” list hardly seem worth prayers. But think of the opportunities we have for both frustration and compassion during the day. Before we call the phone company or buy an unwanted gift for someone, offering those tasks in prayer just might reframe the day as full of opportunity rather than drudgery. Some of the other things on the to-do list are chances to say, “Thank you” or “Help” or “I’m sorry.”
The blank and colored prayer pages below are an example of a “Hodgepodge” prayer. On the coloring page or template I offer up anything on my mind to God: feelings, intercessions for others, gratitudes, questions, hopes, frustrations, sorrows, prayers for myself….