Downtime by Mark Yaconelli

Mark Yaconelli constantly challenges me with his writing. I’m not, generally speaking, a contemplative person. That isn’t to say that I don’t think deeply about things. I very much enjoy thinking, but just being? That’s another thing altogether. Mark’s constantly call to a spirituality that is deep and ever-deepening is much needed in youth ministry and, if I’m honest, in my own life.

After a very busy summer in which I realized that I, my leaders and our students needed time with God, not more stuff to do, I picked up Downtime: Helping Teenagers Pray. I’m fairly familiar with Yaconelli’s other two books Contemplative Youth Ministry and Growing Souls, and I hope to read Wonder, Fear and Longing soon. What struck me most about Downtime is the extent to which it really is a how-to kind of book.

That isn’t to say that Mark’s other books are all theory, far from it. But Downtime has a decidedly “this is something to might try,” vibe to it. This really makes it a great resources to have on your shelf. The first three chapters serve as a kind of introduction concerned with helping us prepare to encounter God. The overall title of this section is “Slowing to the Speed of God,” and I can’t think of a better metaphor for what Mark is trying to explain. It really is about slowing down and walking beside God.

The remainder of the book consists of chapters which outline various prayer exercises surrounding a particular theme. So, for instance, chapter ten talks about rest. Mark starts the chapter out with a story and a question: What if I designed retreats and exercises in which young people were encouraged to pray be sleeping? He then goes on to discuss our tendency to over-schedule retreats. He shares a story about a time when he led a workshop and asked attendees to take a 30 minute nap.

In chapter twelve, Mark talks about what it might look like if we were to view eating as a form of prayer. Once again, this is accompanied by various stories and examples of what this might look like, as well as an excellent discussion regarding fasting and students. This format is repeated for ever chapter in the book and is the primary reason why the book is so helpful.

Although this isn’t a book that I think makes a great introduction to Mark’s ideas (for that, check out Contemplative Youth Ministry) it is certainly a book worth having on your shelf and worth looking at often.

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