When Children Won’t Pray

What do you do when you have been praying regularly with your children and suddenly they won’t pray?

It happened to us a number of times. For multiple reasons.

As adults, sometimes we are too angry to pray.

We want time to think about what we are feeling without bringing God into it. Or we may feel that the person asking us to pray is trying to manipulate us to be on her or his side. We could even be right. It happens.

The same thing happens with children. As we know for ourselves, being prodded into praying when we are not there emotionally DOES NOT WORK. Our children may mouth the words we want them to say, but they are still angry. They are not praying. They are simply performing under pressure.

In my experience, talking to them about how God understands our anger and wants to hear from us anyway is worthless. True, but usually worthless in that moment.

We can see in the many angry psalms in the Bible that God wants to hear from us in our anger and despair, but that can be hard for our children to understand.

We need to model it. We need to cry out to God in front of our children. They need to see that we cry to God about daily frustrations. That he is not just there to be thanked and to be prayed to for our important needs. He is there for us for everything.

I wish I had done more of this with my children when they were young.

By the time they were adolescents, I had grown to be able to talk to him out loud in snatches at various times when they were with me. It had become my habit.

Hearing me pray to God out of frustration over their situations gave them a deeper sense of who God is and what our relationship is.

Just think how great it would have been if I could have started that with them as infants and toddlers. They would have known that God is there to be talked to even when we are not stopping our activity to pray and even when we are upset.

I’m quite sure I would not have vented to God about my daughters in their hearing.

My guess is that my modeling of verbal prayers for my daughters would have sounded much more positive than frustrated, because I would have been turning to God in that moment. I’ll bet I would have prayed something like, “Lord, help me and _______ in this difficult situation. Help us to figure out how to do what you want us to do.”

How much better that would have been!

When I pray, I know God works in my heart.

He also works in my heart when others pray for me. The same is true for our children, especially when they hear the prayers.

Bullying Gave my Dad an Opportunity to teach me about Persecution

Bullying gave my dad an opportunity to change my life for the better.

I’m so glad I never had to deal with cyber bullying. I don’t know how I would have handled that. Compared to that, what I went through was not a big deal.

Yet any time a child is shunned, mocked, or picked on by peers is traumatic. Especially when it goes on for months.

My parents assumed I would not be harmed for life by these experiences if they allowed me to learn to trust God.

Fortunately for me, they were right.

But their responses could have harmed me. They could have said it was no big deal to be called names repeatedly.

 

Over-reacting could have been just as bad. I would have been mortified if they had immediately gone to the teacher with my complaints. I needed to vent, but I didn’t need to be babied.

 

Finally, though, girls flushed my underwear down the toilet and pummeled me on the way from the shower to my locker. That day my dad went to the principal and the gym teacher. I’m glad he did.

 

But I’m even more glad that he first used my situation to teach me about standing my ground in persecution.

 

“Persecution” sounds like an over-statement for being picked on for doing the right thing. But I have been permanently blessed by the fact that my dad took my experience seriously enough to encourage me with verses from James 1. He read me verses 2-5 in many different versions:

 

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (NIV)

Day after day.

I remember complaining that I had those verses memorized in different versions because of how many times Dad read them to me.

And I was not being thrown to the lions for proclaiming Christ. I was simply being bullied for obeying the teacher and taking a shower after gym. Stupid, right?

We all hated to shower in front of others but were forced to tell the teacher we had done it in order to get daily points. I chose not to lie about it. My Christian classmates must have felt guilty for lying, so they took it out on me.

How my dad responded to my troubles dignified my experience. He showed me that living my life for Christ in little situations was important.

He showed me that God would bless me through my obedience. And he always prayed with me about it. Every day.

The amazing thing is that now I look back on seventh grade as a time of huge spiritual growth. Thanks, Dad.

When Bible Reading’s a Chore

I used to rush through my Bible reading like a chore. When I remembered it.

It took many years for it to become enough of a true habit to bring me joy—consistently. The good news is that after many years of reading my Bible—even when I sometimes didn’t feel like it—this became a time I now really look forward to. It also became a habit I could pass on to my kids.

Joe Stowell writes in “Sweeter than Honey” that he reads his Bible until he finds something the Lord is telling him for that day. That seemed like a great idea but a little impractical with the many things in my life. Until I tried it.

When I first read of Stowell’s practice, I was reading Leviticus. The next morning I skeptically said to God as I began, “Good luck, Lord. I’m in Leviticus.”

God amazed me. The text I was reading detailed all of God’s requirements for the regalia of Aaron as God’s new high priest. It suddenly hit me that Aaron was between 85 and 90 years old when he began the career that defined his life.

That realization was extremely relevant to me. I was beginning a new phase of life, after forced early retirement from a job I loved.

I have been a teacher my whole life. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE teaching. Being forced to leave my college during a downsizing caused me great grief. And the state of the academic market made me realize my full-time teaching days are over.

I knew I should not think of the past years as the best years of my life. But it was tempting.

God encouraged me through this text to see the enormous possibilities of how he will bless me and use me in the years ahead. If I am looking to him. Reading my Bible regularly is a huge part of this. This blessing came through my reading of Leviticus. Go figure.

Try asking God to speak a meaningful word to you for the day through your Bible reading. Think of the times God has given you delight through his Word. Were they times in a Bible study, in a worship service, with friends, or alone during a time of deep struggle of trying to find God’s will? Or sharing Bible stories with your kids?

Sometimes it’s tempting to think that we only need the Bible during special times or that he only speaks to us through it occasionally. But what if every day we honestly ask him to speak a word to us that day? What could happen if we listen for that?

My experiences are not usually as dramatic as on that jolting day in Leviticus. But I have found much more consistent daily encouragement since I started looking for it.

What has been your experience with private devotions? Frustration? Blessing? Or some of both?

My “unforgivable” nightmare-God’s unshakable love

When I was a child of maybe ten, I heard a sermon about “the unforgivable sin”—the sin against the Holy Spirit.

I don’t remember my response to it in the moment. But evidently the horror of the idea sank deep into me, creating a nightmare.

In the middle of the night I rushed into my parents’ bedroom crying and asking for their help. In my dream, I had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. I was sure I was going to hell.

Both my mom and my dad were very comforting, assuring me that I was going to be fine.

Because God’s love is unshakable.

They kept explaining that it was not possible to commit a sin like that while sleeping. I was not convinced!

Finally, they explained it in a way that made sense of my fear. If I had committed the unforgivable sin, the Holy Spirit would no longer be working in my heart. I wouldn’t care if I’d sinned or not.

My fear of having sinned unforgivably showed that the Holy Spirit was in my heart and working.

I left my parents’ room that night greatly comforted by their love and by the love of God.

I learned that night that nothing in heaven or on earth could separate me from the love of my Father in heaven.

Jesus expressed this love in his sacrifice Jesus for me.

What I did not learn until perhaps a decade later is that what I had thought was the middle of the night had only been perhaps 11:30 p.m.

My rushing in on my parents had separated them in the heat of a very intimate moment. Talk about committing the unforgivable sin!

My parents’ loving response to me despite my more-than-awkward interruption of them turned out to be a wonderful analogy for me of how much our God loves us.

Even when we do really stupid things, really inappropriate things, or cause others lots of pain, he will not leave us:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39 NIV)

How do we convey this powerful love of God to our children? I’m guessing most of us will never be interrupted in such a moment by our children.

So how do we find moments to convey to our children God’s unshakable love for us—convey it in such a way that they take it with them as permanent knowledge?

Do you have a memory of an incident that gave you a special opportunity to share the powerful love of God with a child? Or a moment your parents shared it with you?

My unforgivable nightmare/ God’s unshakable love

When I was a child of maybe ten, I heard a sermon about “the unforgivable sin”—the sin against the Holy Spirit.

I don’t remember my response to it in the moment. But evidently the horror of the idea sank deep into me, creating a nightmare.

In the middle of the night I rushed into my parents’ bedroom crying and asking for their help. In my dream, I had committed the sin against the Holy Spirit. I was sure I was going to hell.

Both my mom and my dad were very comforting, assuring me that I was going to be fine. Because God’s love is unshakable. They kept explaining that it was not possible to commit a sin like that while sleeping. I was not convinced!

Finally, they explained it in a way that made sense of my fear. If I had committed the unforgivable sin, the Holy Spirit would no longer be working in my heart. I wouldn’t care if I’d sinned or not.

My fear of having sinned unforgivably showed that the Holy Spirit was in my heart and working.

I left my parents’ room that night greatly comforted by their love and by the love of God. I learned that night that nothing in heaven or on earth could separate me from the love of my Father in heaven. Jesus expressed this love in his sacrifice Jesus for me.

What I did not learn until perhaps a decade later is that what I had thought was the middle of the night had only been perhaps 11:30 p.m.

My rushing in on my parents had separated them in the heat of a very intimate moment. Talk about committing the unforgivable sin!

 

My parents’ loving response to me despite my more-than-awkward interruption of them turned out to be a wonderful analogy for me of how much our God loves us.

Even when we do really stupid things, really inappropriate things, or cause others lots of pain, he will not leave us:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 37-39 NIV)

How do we convey this powerful love of God to our children? I’m guessing most of us will never be interrupted in such a moment by our children.

So how do we find moments to convey to our children God’s unshakable love for us—convey it in such a way that they take it with them as permanent knowledge?

Do you have a memory of an incident that gave you a special opportunity to share the powerful love of God with a child? Or a moment your parents shared it with you?

Meeting Death with Little Ones

The last time my dad spoke was in joy over seeing his new great-grandson. A few days later he was gone.

Now my mother has died. It took some time for it to sink in that I will never, ever be able to talk to them again—until heaven.

How do you explain death to a little one? We hardly understand it ourselves.

What a shock. The person is alive one day and then suddenly not alive anymore.

And the Bible says so little about our heavenly interactions with others.

So how do we help our little ones understand death when someone near them dies?

Each of our daughters was almost two years old when a grandmother died.

First one great-grandmother, then another, and then the adopted grandmother who lived next door.

These deaths seemed only negative at the time, since we were not ready to lose these special people. We even joked that we had better not have another child–not wanting to lose another grandmother when that child was two!

But the passing years have increased my gratefulness for the timing of those deaths. Each of our little girls learned early how to say goodbye to a loved one who had died.

People sometimes warned that our children would find it traumatic to go to a funeral home. We found, however, that our girls were not traumatized at all.

Though initially surprised by adult expressions of grief, they learned that death is a normal part of life. They needed to be taught to handle it well.

Though they still missed their special grandmothers, they experienced no trauma from the public grieving process.

Most importantly, they learned that Jesus went to prepare a place for us to live with him after we die. They knew their grandmothers loved Jesus and went to be with him and that we would join them someday.

One of our fun family stories is of our little one informing visiting relatives that Grandma would not be able to go out for lunch with us that day, because she was still in heaven.

I had explained to her when Grandma died, that it meant we wouldn’t be able to see her anymore because she had gone to heaven to be with Jesus.

What I had not realized was that she would think going to heaven was like Daddy going on a business trip. When her time was done, she assumed Grandma would come back.

I thought of that story again in a different way when that same daughter brought her fourteen-month-old son to my mother’s death bed to help me grieve her passing.

Though he is too little to understand it much, we both found it precious to see him wave to his Great-Nana and say “Bye, bye.”

He did not know enough about death yet to be sad, but he knew enough to give her a respectful farewell. It was good.

 

 

What A Wrinkle in Time gets right

What A Wrinkle in Time gets right is that scripture is essential in the lives of children. And that parents need to bring scripture directly into their children’s lives.

Meg’s dad may not have been adept in his use of Romans 8:28 with her. Especially since she was angry at him for botching her tessering and causing her so much pain.

Romans 8:28 is probably one of the most often poorly used Bible passages, and Meg’s dad’s use was no exception. Meg needed time to recover physically and emotionally before hearing this scripture from her dad. She was angry and needed to simmer down first.

But the passage was spot on from his perspective:

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

He had just rescued Meg from the stunningly hypnotic power of IT and enabled the trio to find a way to rescue Charles. He was trusting that he was called by God and that God would use even negative events to serve his overarching purpose.

We may not approve of Madeleine L’Engle’s unorthodox ways of incorporating scripture into her fantasy characters’ lives. But we need to admire a father who calls his daughter’s attention to scripture in times of crisis.

I sometimes got pretty tired of my dad’s reading James 1 with me when people picked on me in junior high. My daughters have also admitted that they sometimes had a hard time relating to the scriptures I shared with them when praying through difficulties.

But James 1 stuck with me. At one point I had it memorized in several versions. It is still one of my favorite passages.

A daughter I shared countless passages with during her struggles came to me a little later with a request: “Mom, can you write down for me all the Bible passages you’ve shared with me?”

What? Why? How am I supposed to remember them all?

I hadn’t even known at the time that the passages had helped her.

I knew she had a friend going through extremely serious struggles. It turned out she wanted to write these passages on index cards for her friend. She wanted to comfort her with them as they had comforted her. God’s use of his word in my daughter’s life, even when I hadn’t known it, amazed me.

I’m sure that by the end of the novel Meg’s dad would also have heard a much more positive response from Meg on Romans 8:28. By then Meg saw how everything did work out and that the negative event was a powerful learning experience in the triumph.

Meg would have seen with twenty-twenty hindsight that her dad had been seeing with eyes of faith. The tricky thing is that eyes of faith require faith–and have no proof.

How scary it is to speak words of faith into our children’s lives, when we really don’t know how God will work. We just know he will.

Missing: Unconditional Love

My mom realized her five-year-old was missing unconditional love the day she asked her, “Mommy, will you still love me if I go to prison?

Energetic, enthusiastic, full-volume—my little sister had a knack for getting herself into trouble. Sometimes she may have deserved it. But generally she simply had more energy or volume than adults wanted her to have.

Vases may have gotten in the way of her energetic movements. Adults may have stopped napping at the sound of her arrival in the house. Things may have fallen over during her exciting games. Adults may have said their ears were hurting from her excited yelling about whatever she was doing.

But at first my mom failed to see that my sister was assuming her frequent punishments and reproofs proved she was a bad person.

Probably many of us do that as parents. I know I did—and only realized it much later.

Fortunately, my mom’s wake-up call allowed her to change her mode of parenting my sister.

—”Mommy, will you still love me if I have to go to prison?”

—“What do you mean? You’re not going to prison.”

—”But what if I do? Will you still love me then?”

—”No, Honey, you will never go to prison.”

—”But what if I do?”

—“You won’t ever go to prison, but I will still love you if you do.”

—“Really?”

—“Honey, I will never stop loving you. If you ever go to prison, I will visit you all the time. I promise.”

—“Okay, good.”

That day my sister felt better, feeling unconditionally loved, while my mom felt terrible. My mom realized she needed to completely change the way she responded to my sister when upset. In those moments, she needed to talk about the problems of my sister’s behavior in ways that focused on the behavior rather than on her person.

Mom began to talk about how Jesus loves people in prison and loves all of us, regardless of our behavior.

She also noticed two poison words she had been using a lot with my sister: “always” and “never.”

 

I wish I could have learned that lesson then for all my future relationships. Unfortunately, I needed to learn the same thing the hard way. Though I never had children assume they would go to prison, I’m sure I sometimes made mine feel that they were worthless.

What Mom needed to focus on with my sister—and I needed to with my daughters—is how much God loves us. No matter what.

 

Anyone who knows my sister now would have a hard time believing this story. Yet if my mom had allowed my sister to grow up feeling worthless, I’m sure she would never have become the powerful Christian she is today.

Even when we mess up as parents, God forgives us and can bring our children to forgive us too.

Praise God!

When God is Silent

What happens when God doesn’t answer our prayers? The Bible tells us that God always hears us, but sometimes we get absolutely no response to our prayers. God is silent.

My friends and family have often heard me complain that I wish God would send a banner down from heaven to tell me what to do. I always feel certain that I want to do God’s will. I always believe I just need to know for sure what it is. But God has never worked that way for me.

However, I have had a few crazy stories of God answering my prayers instantly in the way I wanted him to.

Like the time early in our marriage when our washing machine sometimes worked for the spin cycle and just as often did not. Two mechanics could find nothing wrong and suggested we buy a new machine.

We did not have extra money to spend on a washing machine, especially one we might not even need. But I was sick of having to wring clothes out by hand and have them in the dryer for what felt like forever.

So out of exasperation I prayed that God would please make the machine either never work properly again or never malfunction again until we needed to buy a new one.

Ten minutes later the machine worked perfectly, as it did consistently for six more years. Wow. Sweet! If only I could always get God to answer my prayers like that.

Unfortunately, too often it feels uncertain whether God is answering or not. When a friend is struggling in a marriage or a loved one is gravely ill, God can even seem to answer with positive signs and then follow with negative results. Or sometimes nothing changes at all. The waiting can drain me and make me feel angry at God.

Too often I identify with C. S. Lewis’s description of pounding at the door of God and feeling that God heartlessly hears and ignores the pounding.

What these experiences show is that often God wants me to listen to him in a new way. Usually my waiting and listening produce growth. When I actually keep looking to God during my waiting.

Then, during my waiting he often produces a much better answer than what I had originally requested.

For instance, I didn’t know that my daughter’s struggles in her school would lead us to switch her to a far better school for her.

We never would have considered doing that if God had answered our prayers by simply fixing the bad situations.

Years later, we prayed that God would end the continuing crises in my family. He didn’t, but I saw huge personal growth. My growth came through my stronger dependence on God and my sense of peace about his plans for my life.

Often when God seems silent in my life, he is actually saying to me, “Be still, my child, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

 

 

C. S. Lewis Tells us to Fake It.

“Let’s pretend!”

As children, many of us have reveled in games of pretend. C. S. Lewis writes in his chapter “Let’s Pretend” in Mere Christianity that as we grow in our walk with the Lord, sometimes we need to fake it. He says it about growing spiritually. Could it also be crucial with our parenting?

That idea is jarring and smells of the worst charge against Christianity: hypocrisy.

Until we think about what he really means by this . . . .

Think about babies. We talk to them immediately–telling them how much we love them, how cute they are, etc. We never, ever think, “I’d better wait to talk until my baby initiates the conversation. He doesn’t know what I’m saying yet anyway.”

No.

We start off pretending they know what we’re saying, and eventually they do. In the same way Lewis tells us to act like nicer people than we actually are. Sometimes we need to act loving to our children when we don’t feel up to it.

By doing this, we can allow the Spirit of God to shape us into better people. We grow into the people Jesus wants us to be—by pretending we already are.

How can this work with our spiritual growth?

If you are like me, your devotional life has its ups and downs. One day you feel super motivated to read your Bible. Other times you feel stuck and not at all motivated. Feelings vacillate.

Unlike our feelings, God’s promises are secure. The more faithful we are in reading his word, the more he will bless us through it.

But we need to remember not to read the Bible out of guilt.

God wants our hearts—not feelings of guilt or shame.

I love that in Jesus Calling Sarah Young reminds us not to feel ashamed that our minds wander. She says God knows we are that way, because that’s the way he made us. We just have to work at getting back on track. Just like with making time for reading the Bible.

What if you plan now for a time to read the Bible tomorrow? Even if it’s only for five minutes. Then write yourself a note somewhere to help you remember.

Choose a time your house is usually quiet. Preferably before you check your phone or go online. For me, deciding to spend this time before checking for messages allowed me to be much more consistent and enjoy devotional time much more.

But we need to be careful not to beat ourselves up about missing planned times with God. Just keep moving forward.

Give it a try, and wait for God to bless you abundantly with a strong sense of his presence in your life. Your child will notice that too.

I’d love to hear what has worked for you and what has been problematic or frustrating.