As a child, I loved “popcorn prayer.”
It’s what my church called it when many people in a group just popped out little prayers spontaneously. Some people prayed longer prayers–even as part of popcorn prayer–but the idea was to have them be brief. I loved it because I could join in with the grown ups. This way I felt less awkward about praying out loud with others.
The great thing about popcorn prayer is that no one has to perform a beautiful prayer. It’s sort of not allowed. People can pray as frequently as they want to, but they need to give everyone a chance to join in. My daughter does a kind of popcorn prayer with her toddler. While she prays out loud, he adds in people and activities he’s thankful for or people he wants to pray for. At first it surprised me to hear him talking during our prayers. But when I realized what was going on, I thought it was beautiful.
Popcorn prayer usually gets easier as kids get older. We used to do it as a family in the car before each trip. But unplanned occasions for popcorn prayer can be when someone is upset or scared about something coming up. Sometimes these occur with hurting friends after church as we gather, having heard the pain. At home before meals could even be considered popcorn prayer at our house, as each person adds a little bit to the opening prayer.
But much more common for us are arrow prayers: those little “Help me, Jesus” prayers.
Those are probably the prayers we pray most frequently. A child cuts herself badly, our car is sliding on the ice, or someone shares something beyond awful that we do not know how to respond to appropriately. We call out for Jesus’ help and continue to ask for it as the crisis continues. Our children may not think to pray to Jesus every time something scary or unexpected happens. But they can learn to. A close friend shared with me her joy in learning that her teenagers had cried out to Jesus as they saw a falling telephone pole start to crash onto their stranded car. Her joy came first at her gratefulness for Jesus’ saving her children from sudden death. But her spiritual joy came from seeing her children know where to turn in danger. My friend has prayed with her children faithfully and now rejoices to see them own their faith.
My mom too had taught me to pray whenever I was scared or uncertain what to do, like when trying to befriend an ostracized schoolmate. I don’t think I remembered her advice often as a young child, but eventually I learned. Praying with my parents was initially much more comfortable than praying on my own.
Vivid memory of arrow prayers.
My personal first searing memory of shooting lots of arrow prayers at God was during a stay at a friend’s cabin in the woods hours from our house. Spending the weekend with a new friend and her parents, I did not expect to get my period and horrid cramps. At thirteen, I was too awkward with the facts of life to explain the situation to my friend’s crusty old mom. So I visited the outhouse frequently, curling up and crying out to God in pain. I did NOT want to have to ask my friends to drive me back home because of my pain. I also knew nothing yet about pain relievers for this distress.
Oddly, I remember a clear sense of embarrassment that I was praying to God about such an intimate matter. It makes me laugh now to think about it, since God’s the one who created my body. But thirteen-year-olds are young. I also remember God’s answering those prayers–not immediately–but much more quickly than was natural. It’s now clear to me that God used my little crisis to teach me the reality of my dependence on him. My pain made me see that dependence and cry out.
Attempts to grow.
Decades later, I’m trying to increase my arrow prayers during my time with my grandson. For example, instead of just kissing it to make it all better when he hurts himself, I’m trying to pray for healing or thank Jesus for healing in that moment. I figure the more often he hears me pray with him, the more natural it will become for him. That certainly continues to be true for me.
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.
Sharing food together as a family does not need to wait for special occasions or for elaborate preparation.
It might be food from a box or take out—or leftovers. It may only involve one parent and one child–whoever is home for that meal. No matter what, eating it together while talking adds value for us all. Especially for our kids. It’s a kind of family communion. Does it feel like family dinnertime belongs to another era? Maybe with June Cleaver and Leave it to Beaver? Or that it’s something for special occasions?
But how do we connect with the whole family if we rarely see everyone in one room looking at each other?
Can it work when older children have late sports practice? What about if one parent nearly always has to be at a job during dinnertime? And what if kids are big enough to protest that they don’t want to eat with the whole family?
Family dinners are not always a joy, but they don’t have to be pure joy to be family communion.
Neither were they when I was a child. I’m sure my mind chooses not to remember the less fun times. And they certainly do not require the whole family to be there for them to be valuable. But coming together as a family for supper provides built-in connection and communion, plus the opportunity for spiritual time as a family. In my birth family and in the family I parented, we had prayer time before and after dinner. And we had Bible reading–or Bible story reading–after dinner. Sometimes I know those dinners were a chore, but they provided inestimable blessings as well.
Chances are your household enjoys fewer family dinners than you did growing up and far fewer than your parents did growing up.
It’s a blessing that our culture lets us easily connect online, with people nearby and with friends and family who live far away. Whatever device we choose, we can allow our children to see faraway people regularly. Yet this continual connection to the internet can also be a curse. It’s not limited to just loved ones. Mealtimes these days are typically interrupted by repeated dings, connections that are immediate but not really urgent. Or by something we’re watching—either as a group or solo. Complete strangers, Facebook “friends” we hardly know, and even celebrities can clutter our lives and interrupt the times we plan to spend with our families.
Is dinner something you just need to power through with as little hassle as possible, or is there time to enjoy it?
For me and my husband, dinner times with our children grew from being a bit of a pain—when one parent had to stand holding a baby—to being positive events. But I can hardly overestimate the opportunity those times gave us to bond and to read the Bible as a family, discussing our questions together. Sometimes the kids had questions we parents needed to check out. Continuing the process even with a parent or children unable to be there was important for us.
One of my favorite memories of my own mom is of her laughing so hard at the dinner table that she needed to get down onto the floor to avoid falling off her chair. We called those “Mom with her paws in the air” moments.
What are your memories of dinnertime as a child? What is dinnertime most frequently like for your family? Do you grab dinner as you get time? Or do you eat together often? Have table-time devotions worked for you as a family? Could they?
All three of my adult daughters have commented at some moment that the best thing we did as parents was to have family prayer time.
Does this mean they always felt that way, or that it never felt like a chore to fulfill? I’m sure not. I know we parents often felt family prayer time was something we needed to power through in our exhaustion.
But our little girls experienced some of their best answers in response to family-time prayers. They often also found that time at the end of each day to be a bit of comfort . As a family, we shared concerns together we never would have otherwise.
We sort of stumbled onto it, but we came to value it highly. When our oldest first began talking, we started praying with her at her bed before saying goodnight. Like lots of parents.
My husband and I made a point of both doing this together with her.
That is probably the conscious decision that turned it into “Family Prayer Time.”
We started with very simple “God bless Grandma and Grandpa G.” kinds of prayers. She was an early talker. At two she was praying that I would have a baby sister for her. Then one day she got suspicious: “Mom, you and Dad aren’t praying too, are you?” I had to admit that we were not praying for that yet.
When she did have a little sister, we started having prayer time together in the little one’s room. In early years, it was the youngest who went to bed first. So we prayed together in her room.
Eventually, predictably, we parents began going to bed soonest and called for prayer time when we were ready to head to bed. By then we were so much bigger and older that we preferred the comfort of the family room.
When the girls were teens, prayer time usually took 15-30 minutes. But sometimes it took long enough for a parent or siblings to become impatient and wonder if the time were worth it. During this time I’m sure having to do family prayer time was often an annoyance to our older, busy kids.
One interesting fact, however, is that I have no memory of the girls complaining about prayer time. Church, yes. Baths, yes. Vegetables, yes. But never prayer time.
I asked one of my daughters recently if she had ever resented it. She was a bit surprised by the question: “No. It was just always something I thought was normal.”
The rewards have been tremendous!
We now see our grown daughters take their needs to Jesus regularly. We see them pray with others. And we have even learned of their leading others to know who Jesus is.
All became comfortable praying out loud with others at far younger ages than my husband and I did. We believe this is because of family prayer time.
Is there a version of this that could work in your home? Or do you have a different prayer tradition that blesses you and your children?
[photo by jordan-whitt-1453271.jpg]