the sweet aggravation of teaching kids to pray

Have you ever noticed that young children’s timing is absolutely perfect – for them and only them?

Case in point: they only want to put on their own shoes/coat/mittens when we’re already running 10 minutes late.

See also: they realize they are, in fact, capable of recognizing their own need for the potty when we’re in the middle of driving/dinner/Target/bedtime/church.

Otherwise known as: their internal clocks continue to rouse them right on time, regardless of what daylight savings says.

This phenomenon takes on particular irony for those of us with theological training when it comes to prayer. img_3001

Case in point: my toddler now makes a pitiful plea for his bedtime prayer routine to PLEASE be repeated at naptime (when I used to get away with only a quick story-and-song before skipping out the door for blessed quiet to myself).

See also: the mornings we’re rushing to get out the door to school are the ONLY days that my boys ever insist on saying grace, rather than having me instigate the burdening of their every mealtime with my unbearable requests for them to give God thanks.

Otherwise known as: my preschooler inevitably makes his charming request for “meditation AND a Psalm AND OurFatherandHailMary” on the nights when their shrieking bathtime splash-fest soaks up every last precious ounce of energy and all I want to do is rush through bedtime to collapse on the couch.

Every time, the tired/selfish/cop-out words almost trip tempting off my tongue: no, we don’t do prayer at naptime! no, we don’t have time for grace this morning! no, I am too tired to do meditation!

But inevitably, something stops me – whether that stubborn MDiv, or the years I’ve spent trying to develop my own prayer life, or plain old-fashioned nagging Catholic guilt. Whatever it is, I catch the words and cough them back down my throat and try to ignore the clock/exhaustion/aggravation. Deep breath, refocus, slow down.

Of course we can pray. Even now.

I won’t saintly sugarcoat it to say I’m always glad we do. Sometimes I would still rather have gotten out the door 2 minutes earlier or collapsed on the couch 10 minutes sooner. But beyond any momentary annoyance, I’m always reminded where I want the long arc of our family life to bend: towards prayer, towards peaceful rhythms, towards the God who pulls us back together.

Tonight I’m posting about our bedtime psalm-praying at Practicing Families. My oldest and I started praying this way a long time ago, and I have come to love how meaningful this simple, slowing, centering line of Scripture becomes for both of us.

(Even on the evenings I’m fairly itching to close the bedroom door behind me and be done for the day.)

Every night as we go, no matter how antsy I am for bedtime to be done and my few precious hours sans-kids to begin, I always find that one phrase will inevitably catch me and do just what the psalmist says: slow me down and remind me that God is God.

Be still.

Make no mistake about it: he wiggles and giggles the whole way through. Months and months of reciting the ancient centering prayer has not magically transformer my preschooler into a patient monk.

But he knows the words by heart, forward and back, inside and out. The Sunday we sang the same psalm at church and his eyes shot up, astonished that everyone else knew his prayer, too? That was one of the rare moments I tucked away to remember for always.

These words have become so close to him, already in his mouth and in his heart. Now all he has to do is learn how to live them.

All I can tell him is that it takes a lifetime.

Read the rest at Practicing Families

When and how do you love to pray with the kids in your life? (Even if it sometimes drives you crazy, too?)

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4 Comments

  1. Val on 7 November 2013 at 1:04 am

    I am on the team who leads children’s worship (an actual worship service where we learn about the elements of worship, not Sunday School). I will skimp on other things, but I never skimp on prayer. One element we have that I think is fun and brilliant us a vase of silk flowers, each with a leaf-shaped tag pinned to a leaf on its stem:

    “God, thank you for __________…”
    “God, please help __________…”
    “God, you are wonderful because __________…”

    We don’t have “God, I’m sorry because __________…” but should — those four are the complete set.

    I completely stumped one of my teen helpers last month with “God, you are wonderful because__________…” — she kept coming up with “God, thank you for __________…” responses.

    We all talk about something we can pray about that fits with whichever prayer flower is picked.

    Now, most kids pick a favorite color, but last week the guy who got “Pick a prayer flower” as his “job” was being seriously poky about it. I questioned him, and as it turned out, he was specifically looking for “God, thank you for __________…”

    Those are the moments when you know you — and Jesus — have just won the day.

    I know this is going to sound kinda nuts, but being the kind of person who will abandon all plans to instead sit and talk and pray and minister to a total stranger, I never miss an opportunity to pray. That may mean talking about prayer on the way out the door and praying in the car or whatever, but if someone wants to pray, we pray. Of course, what to pray about always requires discussion. Stallers don’t want that much trouble. And honestly, it’s such a vital connection, I never want to let anyone think for a moment that there is ever any time or place where prayer is not okay. Most of the time being a few minutes late is less important to me than being able to take a few minutes to be with God.

    I find devotions of some kind can sometimes help focus things a bit more before prayer.

    I avoid “dead goldfish” prayers.

    • Laura on 12 November 2013 at 7:49 am

      Val, your comment made me think of a critique I read of Anne Lamott’s new book “Help, Thanks, Wow” – that it failed to include “Sorry” which is an essential prayer, too! Gratitude, praise, supplication, forgiveness – we need them all. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Lydia on 7 November 2013 at 8:11 am

    I was raised (and still am, for now) Lutheran. I love the traditional liturgy that I was raised with, but in our home life, we didn’t do any memorized, recited prayers (although certainly there are many we could have). In our church, it just wasn’t as common as personalized prayers. In my family now, I’m embracing the memorized, recited way – with just a bit of personalized prayer tossed in for good measure in my prayer time with the kids. I find that it helps to get their attention and bring them along with me when they know the responses. It is one of the things I love about the Catholic church – the many memorized and recited prayers that all know and can say together. We do Our Father and Glory Be every morning and night, as well as a few others.

    Lovely post, as always!

    • Laura on 12 November 2013 at 7:48 am

      Thank you, Lydia! I love what you write about the beauty of both memorized and personalized prayers. I think we need both, the words to inspire each day anew and the words to fall back on when we can’t come up with our own. And kids seem to love both, too!

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