Back to School Subtraction

by Christine Sine

by Lilly Lewin

Here in Middle Tennesee public schools started in early August, my friends on the west coast just started the last week of August, and my Michigan and Minnesota friends start school the way we all did once upon a time: the day after labor day. Even if we don’t have kids in school we are all in the season of transition. We in the western hemisphere are going from our summer mindsets into fall activity. How do we get rhythm back? How can we start well or begin again to connect with God even if our schedules are getting busy?  I believe in praying along the way and using every day things I see to help me connect with God and encourage me to pray.

I create prayer spaces for a living, and I often get inspired for my prayer experiences and prayer station ideas by going to the dollar store and places like Target. Jesus used the things he saw everyday and things his followers saw every day to teach lasting visual and symbolic lessons. So why can’t we use things we see everyday to remind us to pray? I believe we can so let’s get creative with this!

One of my favorite back to school prayer tools are subtraction and addition flash cards. You know, the kind that teaches students math facts like 2+2=4  or 6-3=3. You can use these at your dinner table with your family, with a small group, a youth group, Sunday School class, or even by yourself.

You just need to buy a pack of subtraction and addition flash cards at the dollar store or Target, and each person needs a sharpie marker or other pen to use to write on their card.

Everyone gets two cards, one subtraction and one addition.

Have each person (you too) hold a subtraction card in their hand.

Ask your group members or family members to think about their lives right now, think about their calendars, their day, month etc. What things might they need to subtract from their lives that might be getting in the way of peace, joy, creativity? Things which add stress or cause frustration or even sleepless nights, or things that are robbing them of relationships. You can modify this question according to the ages of your group. Give them space to think about this. And you can even give a couple of examples, like subtracting arguing or complaining or subtracting screen time when you could be having a conversation or doing homework. Then ask them “What things do you need to subtract from your life that might be getting in the way of your relationship with God?”  Give them time to talk to God about this. Have them write down on the subtraction card, the things that they want to subtract in order to have more space in their lives and more time with God. If you are doing this with your small group or youth group, have them take home their subtraction cards as a tangible visual aid to remind them of what they need to subtract in order to have a better relationship with God in the days ahead.

At the end of the month, or the semester you might get the cards out again and have everyone reflect on how their subtraction process has gone.  Personally I am in need of subtracting time on my phone checking email and instagram right before bed!

You can check out other prayer ideas and even download an entire prayer experience using school supplies at I also have a great prayer experience using the tables where Jesus sat called “at the table with Jesus” that is a great resource for prayer stations as we head towards Thanksgiving. Both of these kits include prayer stations that can be done all together as in a sacred space prayer room or they can be used individually after a weekly teaching or sermon.

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