Children meeting Jesus in bedtime prayers
Who knows where children first meet Jesus? Some lifelong Christian friends have told me they learned to love Jesus in the same way they learned to love their parents. Others have said loving Jesus was in the air they breathed as children. But they all remember bedtime prayers with their parents. Bedtime prayers with parents allow children to meet Jesus as their parents’ Lord and Savior and as theirs.
Early prayers will likely be extremely simple. They should be. But they can grow as children’s vocabularies grow. One thing I wish I had done more of when my children were little was praising God first of all. I wish I had emphasized more when they were little how awesome God is. I’m sure they would have been very helpful in thinking of many of God’s attributes to praise him for. But they met my loving Jesus, nonetheless. However we meet Jesus with our children, they will see. And God will use those times.
Children meeting Jesus at mealtimes
Mealtimes are both easy and difficult times for children to meet God. They’re easy times to remember to pray. But they aren’t necessarily easy times to actually see God and his work. It may be too easy to thank him for the food quickly and move on to eating.
I remember as a small child preferring my mom’s prayers to my dad’s because they were shorter. I was not focusing on the prayer much at all. And yet those prayers allowed me to grow up in a world in which honoring and thanking God was normal and expected. I knew it was part of my world being right.
Children meeting Jesus in restaurants?
It’s easy to tell ourselves that we don’t need to pray with our kids in restaurants or when unbelievers are eating with us, “because we don’t want to offend them.” But choosing not to pray then can deny ourselves an important place of witness. And not praying then can be an offense to our children, who might come to understand relationship with Jesus to be optional—or only for times it’s convenient. Besides, God can use those prayers to open others up to the reality of Jesus as they hear us talking to him. As we talk to him as naturally as we do to the people around us, unbelievers can realize how alive God is.
My husband and I have a family we were good friends with—and even traveled with—for years before they became Christians. They were quite open unbelievers, having experienced hurt from the church in prior years. We always asked permission to open our meals in prayer, and they were fine with that. We kept the prayers short but often included thanking God for our friends and praying for their needs, as it seemed appropriate. After several years, the mother and two daughters gave their lives to Christ, and the father grew much more open than he once was. We still pray for him.
What a huge blessing in our lives! But it blessed our daughters too. They saw prayer at meals serve as a witness to others of the importance of Jesus in our lives. They saw God work through that in bringing others to himself.
Children meeting Jesus in moments of crisis
In my life and in my daughters’ lives, crises have been important times we met Jesus. Situations involving tears and long explanations definitely require prayer. So too do times when people are fearful of something about to happen.
Crisis situations often revealed themselves at night during our family prayer time. Or, if they had come up earlier in the day, we certainly prayed about them as a family again at night. Uncertainty about my husband’s job, a difficulty between a daughter and a friend, or a difficult test in school—all were opportunities for us to meet Jesus as a family. Our daughters experienced the living reality of Jesus in those moments even as their parents did.
Children meeting Jesus all day long
Of course, what we hope for is that our children will meet Jesus all day long, as we hope we ourselves do. Though we don’t always see him and certainly don’t look to him often enough, we know he’s there with us. We long for that to become a reality for our children too.
One way I tried to encourage that with my girls was asking them each morning as they left for school, “How can I pray for you today?” Though one daughter often just answered, “That I have a good day,” I usually got much more specific answers. My hope was that as the day progressed, the girls would be looking for God’s work in their daily activities.
So where do children meet Jesus? It all depends on where they are when they look to him.
God sightings: helping kids see him
Years ago, one of our church series focused on “God sightings”–specific places we saw God working. For quite a while we were diligent in asking each other for God sightings during prayer time. It was fun to see our girls recognize God’s work in answers to their prayers. It was even more fun to see them recognize God’s presence in areas we hadn’t thought to pray about. Yet God was blessing us specifically in those areas anyway. Ahead of our prayers. He knew our hearts. We used to say, “Wow. I hadn’t even thought to pray about that yet.” But after a while, we forgot to look for these special moments, those God sightings.
We need God’s reminders.
The people of Israel were like us. For a while they noticed God’s blessings and talked about them. Then they forgot. God knew that would continue to be true, so he used a pile of rocks to help them remember:
21 [Joshua] said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4: 21-24)
We don’t live in a rocky country with a huge pile of rocks to stand as a national memorial. In fact, conservationists tell us that we might cause problems in certain habitats when we do leave piles of rocks behind to show that we have been there. So, what reminders can we set up for ourselves? More importantly, how can we point our children to the ways God is working in our lives and in theirs?
Not all reminders need to be physical.
Our traditions can be reminders. Even our daily habits can be reminders of who Jesus is and what he did for us and continues doing for us. Praying before meals, reading the Bible together as a family, praying for each other during the day–all these behaviors God uses to remind us and our kids who he is today. Can we ignore these reminders? Obviously. Did the Israelites sometimes walk by those rocks without thinking? Absolutely. But God does call us to create our own reminders and our own ways to tell our children about who Jesus is and that he is an active part of our lives today.
We need to be living reminders of the reality of Jesus Christ.
God told the Israelites they needed to love him with all their hearts and talk about him continually with their children (Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV). In the same way, he tells us that we need to season our conversations with the reality of Jesus Christ (Colossians 4:6 NIV). To our children, we are the most powerful reminders of Jesus they have. We need to make intentional choices in being those reminders. My husband and I chose family prayer time before the first person went to bed. For us, that has been a lasting legacy for our family–and a powerful stimulus to our faith.
I challenge you to choose either family prayer time, talking to your children daily about God sightings, or some other special tradition to become your spiritual legacy in conveying the living reality of Jesus Christ.
Weirdest engagement ever?
I know my parents did not have the weirdest engagement ever. But it seemed like that to me when I was growing up.
For one thing, my dad was exactly ten years older than my mom. We used to laugh at our parents that our dad could have babysat our mom.
But the weirdest part was how they met and decided to get married.
The story they told us is that one day my dad’s friend, the only other unmarried seminarian in his class, suggested my dad get a date for the upcoming wives and girlfriends tea at the seminary. My dad’s friend had a girlfriend he wanted to bring, and he wanted my dad to keep him company.
My dad gave the obvious objection: he wasn’t dating anyone at the moment.
His friend had an easy answer, “Ask Mary LaGrand. She’s great. She’ll be up for it.” My mom was a student in a college class he was teaching, and he thought she would be the perfect person for my dad to ask.
Dad was game. As it turned out, Mom was too.
She told us later, “They never let women inside the seminary. I had always wondered what it was like. So I jumped at the opportunity. It sounded fun. And I knew Frank and thought he was fun.”
For some reason we kids never found out, Frank and his girlfriend never showed up that afternoon.
And the event really wasn’t called “The Wives and Girlfriends Tea”–it was “The Seminary Wives Tea.”
As could have been predicted, the other seminarians and their wives saw my dad’s entrance with my mom as an announcement. They teased him about “holding out on us.” I met one retired pastor decades later who still refused to believe that was my parents’ first date.
That day as they were leaving the tea, my mom said to my dad, “You owe me. Big time.”
He laughingly agreed: “What do I owe you?”
That dinner with its four hours of conversation changed my parents’ lives.
My mom’s version of it: “He knew where he was going and what God was doing with his life. I wanted to go too.”
They evidently had quite a few more dates in the next two weeks before deciding to get married. But they chose to marry in six months, despite the fact that my mom had just finished her junior year of college and my dad was heading overseas to study at the Free University in Amsterdam.
Over the years I asked to hear that story many times, amazed that my rich-girl mom chose to marry my farmer-turned-student dad because of how impressed she was with the calling he was answering from God. She saw the reality of Jesus Christ in his life.
Her other suitors had sought to impress her with their own merits. My dad had pursued God. That had captivated Mom. This “weirdest engagement ever” led to a long-distance relationship and Mom’s following Dad across the ocean to marry him—far from friends and family.
Though they experienced some predictable difficulties of such a marriage choice, we children always saw our parents united in their desire to answer God’s call on their lives: during almost sixty years of marriage and ministry. Praise God!
“Fartie Artie!” taunted Arthur’s classmates countless times a day after his tragic mistake.
The story was that one day when home alone after school, he had been playing with matches and accidentally caught the curtains on fire. He had burned his home down. And now the bullies taunting him would not stop.
Arthur was two or three years older than I was, so I had been unaware of his existence before this event. But now I continued to notice taunting classmates evacuating whatever table he sat down at for lunch.
My second-grade self felt horrible for Arthur in his shunning. I worried to my mom about it. I was afraid Arthur would never feel he belonged again.
She asked me a question I had never thought about: “What do you think Jesus would do if he were a student at your school?”
I grudgingly said, “He would probably go sit with him.”
But Jesus would have been a boy and would have probably known Arthur.
“But I don’t even know him.”
Mom agreed and was quiet.
Then a bit later, “Do you think it would be okay with Jesus if I took my little sister with me?”
Mom assured me that she thought Jesus would approve. Fortunately, my first-grade sister was good-natured and very willing to accompany me on this mission.
The next day when we sat down across from Arthur and said, “Hi,” he ignored us except to move as far away from us as possible. This was NOT part of our plan.
My mom assured me that it did not mean our joining him was the wrong thing to do. She encouraged us to give him time. So we did.
I’m not actually sure that Arthur ever spoke to us. After all, girls our age definitely had cooties. Everyone knew that.
But after several days of our odd lunches, a couple of my friends joined me and my sister. Later a couple of his friends joined him.
After a few days of our segregated groups eating at the same table, I decided our task was finished. I never noticed bullies taunting or isolating him again.
Maybe that would have happened naturally in the same number of days—just because kids would have gotten sick of teasing him. We will never know.
I certainly never had a chance to tell Arthur or anyone else that the reason we were joining him is that we were trying to be like Jesus. They will never know.
But my mom’s question for me and her quiet encouragement of me and my sister in our mission taught us a lot about the character of Jesus.
She taught us that Jesus does not shun people who feel like losers. Jesus does not taunt people who really mess up. He loves us all and wants us to show his love to those around us—especially when they mess up.
As a budding eight-year-old atheist, I traumatized my parents by throwing over Christianity.
Ours was an overtly Christian household, with both parents having the gift of evangelism. And my dad was a pastor. I had definitely believed when younger. But the influence of an excellent third-grade teacher—a strong humanist—changed that completely.
One night after family devotions, I announced to my family, “I don’t think I can believe all that stuff. Mrs. Allen says there is no God. People just created the idea of God as a crutch to lean on. He’s only an idea for weak people.”
My parents were shell-shocked. My dad spent countless hours explaining to me all the proofs of the reality of Jesus Christ. No dice. After months of frustration with my stubborn disbelief, my mom—in her desperation—decided to do the only other thing she could think of.
She began sharing with me daily examples of her prayers to Jesus.
She also shared how he was answering them. Bingo. I don’t remember what she was praying about most days. Certainly things in her kids’ daily lives. Probably about how yucky she felt while pregnant. I know those are the kinds of things she asked me to pray for after I grew up.
One answered prayer stands out hugely though. That day she ran into the house over-the-top excited because her dentist had prayed to receive Christ with her. We all knew she had been praying for him. She knew he had tough stuff in his life, but she also knew she couldn’t take up appointment time to talk about Jesus with him. On the day of her excitement, he had told her that he had purposely scheduled no one after her, so he could ask her more questions.
It turns out he and his new wife were going through a really rough time with their newly blended family—three teen-aged daughters. Mom’s joy had attracted him. He wanted that for his family. Later the whole family became Christians after my parents met with him and his wife together.
That day I saw the reality of Jesus Christ in the power of my mom’s personal relationship with him.
I now see that she had finally resorted to what the disciples did as the first ones to introduce others to Christ. She told me about her daily companion and Lord of her life. I had no moment of sudden realization–simply gradually returning to believing in Jesus Christ. I’m sure my parents wondered for a long time whether my faith was solid or not. I can’t tell you a time either, but I know Jesus spoke through my mom’s uncertain words to me.
I know many parents and grandparents want their children to know Jesus Christ as Lord. But sometimes they’re unsure what to do. They feel they don’t know enough. Or they feel not good enough to be the best examples.
What has nurtured your faith in the most noticeable ways? Is there an eight-year-old atheist or some other child in your life you could share that experience with?