My mom had many moments of desperation parenting! As I have.
In my mom’s desperation parenting of me, she completely changed her focus in ways that I did not understand at the time. I only knew that Mom started telling me daily what she was talking to Jesus about and how he was answering those prayers.
My mom’s telling me of her first-person encounters with Jesus nourished my faith.
And it grew!
No one-time moment of conversion followed, but I became a believer by seeing her relationship with Jesus and following in her footsteps.
Many years later, a similarly panicky scenario unfolded for me. Though my daughter had publicly professed her faith in Jesus at a young age, preadolescence brought a crisis of faith.
In childhood she had experienced God’s nearness in profoundly personal ways, which she was no longer experiencing. Because of this change in her experience, she began to seriously doubt the existence of God.
My own panicky-mom time followed. For about six months I agonized and prayed. My husband and I prayed together for her faith continually. I also prayed with her regularly before bed, after asking her how she was doing. These conversations involved her telling me her frustrations with not hearing God’s voice and not being sure he was real. After that, I told her stories of my own and others’ experiences of the seesaws of spiritual journeys. I even told her the story of St. John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul” experience.
In my desperation parenting nothing seemed to help.
Feeling like a total failure as a mother, I just kept trying. Night after night I prayed with her. She did not pray, but she did not object to my praying with her. But she was used to it, having grown up with nightly family prayer time.
Somewhere during our struggle, I began crying out to God, “Please, Lord! Show her who you are. Don’t leave her in the dark! Show her how real you are. Allow her to see you for you are, as she used to do! This is your beloved child. Do not allow her to wander away from you in her pain. PLEASE show yourself to her!”
At some point, she started telling me she was “doing better,” so we stopped having these conversations. But I kept praying for her.
A year or so later she said to me, “Mom, do you know how I finally knew God was real?”
I was stymied. But I had always wondered.
She explained, “Because when I don’t know what to do, I go to you. And when you don’t know what to do, you go to God.”
A wave of relief and amazement washed over me. God had used me—his broken vessel—to show his power through.
Is God using your experiences of doubting as a child? Or of having a child who doubts? Is there a way you can make that more likely?
Starting young with growing roots deep into Christ.
I love this photo of the boy sitting in the huge tree. The enormous tree seems to be wrapping its arms around him and bringing him contentment. A child this age can’t understand the root system of a huge tree like this. Nor does he know the concept of a child growing roots deep into Christ. But he can know where he feels safe.
Rooting ourselves deeply in Christ makes us feel safe in the arms of God, as this boy feels in the tree. And it can start so early. Praying with a baby who is fussing for a reason we can’t understand. Praying with a toddler over something he feels terrible about. Little ones can learn that Jesus answers their prayers in amazing ways and that he is their ultimate safety.
Writing a talk the other day, I thought about how our children began putting down their roots into Christ at an early age. Inspired by Trent & Smalley’s book The Blessing, we gave one of our daughters the symbol of a young tree. It symbolized how we saw her in Christ, as a child who loved Jesus and sought to live for him. At her young age it was impossible to know all the fruit God would allow her to bear. But we saw the beginnings. We gave her the symbol of a very young apple tree and found a real one to take her picture standing near.
The passage we chose for her was Psalm 1, with an emphasis on verse 3: “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”
As an adult growing roots deep into Christ.
That verse has realized its promise. We’ve seen our child become an adult woman who has an active prayer life and active ministry to the many people God has placed in her life.
Another favorite passage that now fits her and is a challenge for each of us is Colossians 2: 6-7— “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (NIV).
Remembering the traumas she experienced in her young adult life, I am so grateful that her rootedness in Christ allowed her stay safe and know she was in the arms of Jesus. Even when she wondered what in the world God was doing in allowing her to get so sick. Multiple times even when she nearly died.
Growing roots deep into Christ moved her from being a child who played church–preaching to and baptizing dolls and stuffed animals–to a grown up who preaches to and baptizes real people. When she was four years old, we had no clue that it was more than play. But God knew. And he grew those roots and built her up in him.
[photo by martha-dominguez-de-gouveia-567149-unsplash]
Praying out loud with a young baby seems to have absolutely no benefit for your baby.
Your prayer reaches God, but your baby is too young to understand. In fact, toddlers might loudly say “Amen!” in an attempt to end your prayer and regain your attention. The first time it happens, you may giggle unexpectedly. Unfortunately, Nana love does not prevent it. I have giggled during prayer as a parent and as a grandparent. I also remember that as an older child I thought it was funny when one of my sisters or I was able to make a parent laugh during prayer.
So why do I believe in the huge importance of Nana love prayer with babies? Because babies grow up. And because children learn from us. And we don’t know when God starts to give them his peace through prayer. Maybe from day one.
What is important for us to make time and space for—even when it is not convenient—impresses children as important.
There is no magical day on which they reach understanding. They gradually figure it out. Likely they’ll never know when prayer first made sense to them. If you haven’t been praying with your children yet, I encourage you to try it. Even if you need to talk to God about your feelings of awkwardness privately beforehand, show your children the importance of talking to God out loud together.
Just tell them it’s time to talk to God.
If you are starting a new habit with older children, explain that since God wants us to talk to him regularly, you want to do it together and not just silently. Don’t worry if they shrug or make a face. You’re showing them the importance of prayer through your persistence. God will reward that effort.
I remember that each time one of our toddlers first said “Amen!” in a happy voice after us, we were thrilled.
Did that mean she had any idea she was talking to God? No. She probably just knew her saying it would bring her positive attention. But was she on a path of learning how to talk to God regularly and effectively? Yes.
We were also amazed at how young they were when they first learned to be quiet while we were praying at the dinner table. True, it took significantly longer for them to be quiet for the whole reading of the Bible passage and devotional. And even then, their behavior was not always consistent.
We had to be ready for interruptions for quite a while. But with our infant daughters—as is now true with our active, toddler grandson—we saw them understand quite early the reverence they saw in us during our quiet prayer time.
At first it was hard not to giggle as they tried to engage us to distract us from prayer or devotions. It’s hard not to engage with our grandson when he sometimes calls, “Nana!” and “Gaga!” during prayer. But they will understand in time that Nana love and Grandpa love involves praying with them and for them.
As we persevered as parents, our children learned to respect prayer and eventually to participate.
We’re sure our grandsons will too. The thrill of hearing a child earnestly pray out loud for the first time is something unlike anything else.
What has gone well or been difficult for you in praying with your child or children?
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. 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. And 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. But 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. When children won’t pray, we need to pray for them. Even in their hearing.
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 bullying experience seriously enough to encourage me with verses from James 1. He read me verses 2-5 in many different versions:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 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, even in bullying. 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.
Are you much more comfortable praying silently than out loud?
Do you think others always “pray better prayers” than you do?
Do you feel blessed when others pray for you either silently or out loud?
Do you feel a special blessing when people pray for you in your hearing?
If you answered yes to all of the above, you are like the majority of us. Most of us feel blessed when other people pray for us but not comfortable praying out loud. Praying in front of others can make us feel a bit insecure.
This feeling is so normal that it motivated Jesus’ disciples to ask him to teach them how to pray. It also motivated him to teach them the prayer most of us refer to as The Lord’s Prayer.
Doing anything in front of others can make us feel self-conscious, especially praying. All the more reason to start praying out loud with our children at a very early age—and very simply. If we can remember that prayer is talking to God rather than performing for others in the room, we will all do better.
Children who first hear prayers in simple language—without any special churchy words—will easily learn to talk to God themselves naturally.
Simple prayers thank God for food, for family, for friends. They ask for healing of loved ones. They ask for God’s blessing on us for a scary day tomorrow. Or they praise God for being a loving God and for caring for us.
Such simple prayers just talk to God about the ordinary stuff of life. We can best model talking to God well by talking to him the way we do with our children and our friends.
I wish my parents had always prayed out loud with us in restaurants. The first time I was with someone who prayed out loud before dinner in a restaurant, I was weirded out. The first time my sister prayed with me over the phone felt very strange. I don’t know why.
I know God understands how phones work much better than I do. But I had to be led by others to pray in those ways that were uncomfortable for me at first. So it took a while for me to feel comfortable praying that way with my children, but it took them much less time to learn than it did for me.
Most of us feel less self-conscious with our children than with other adults. So it will probably be much easier than praying out loud with them than with adults.
The main benefit is that it will make it easier for our children to pray naturally. A side benefit is that it will probably make us feel more comfortable praying out loud with adults. Take baby steps, and watch God bless you.
How were you first introduced to prayer? Have you had positive experiences or negative experiences with trying to pray out loud with children?