Coming to faith later in life, Kate Orson had to learn how to pray with her daughter
As parents it’s our job to be there for our children’s emotional highs and lows, but also to shine the light towards the most perfect parent there is; our heavenly father. How can we do this in a way that is naturally woven into everyday family life?
Last year as a new Christian with an already ten year-old daughter I wondered how to introduce prayer into our home life. I hadn’t grown up in the faith, or been part of a Church so had never had prayer modeled to me. At my daughter’s age I was worried if I pushed too much change too quickly it would put her off and she’d rebel.
By planting a few ‘prayer seeds’ here and there I gradually found my way. We now pray before mealtimes and I’ve sometimes used difficult times to offer to pray for her. For example when our cat went wandering for nearly 24 hours, a prayer brought her back within 10 minutes!
One source of inspiration for me was Molly Hodgin’s new book ’The Weekly Prayer Project For Kids’, which introduces children to prayer through weekly journalling activities.
I interviewed Molly to hear about how prayer can be as natural a part of home life as sharing meals and conversation.
As Molly wrote her book she involved her children in the writing and planning. Molly said, ‘’I have a seven year-old and a nine year-old and we had some really good discussions about it as I was writing it. My older one was really interested and it raised a lot of questions about things I thought I had explained to him, or things I thought had been explained at church. I realised he did not understand those things, so it opened up conversation about what prayer really is and why it’s important.’’
What becomes clear to me as I talk to Molly is that even for families who have grown up in the church the importance of prayer can be neglected. ‘’Maybe in some churches it does get explicitly said, but I grew up in a Christian family and went to a Christian school and I don’t think anyone ever explained it to me. Finding that as an adult was a game changer for my relationship with Christ. I wanted my children to have that earlier.’’
One of the most effective ways we can teach our children is simply by modelling. One simple shift that Molly has is to pray out loud. ‘’I tend to pray in my own head. I pray throughout the day. I have small conversations with God. For example, when I’m driving, I’m just kind of talking to him in my head. I have made more of a conscious effort to do that out loud and I think that’s the best way for kids to see what that relationship can look like. I felt self-conscious at first but the more I did it the more natural it felt.’’
God isn’t a vending machine
Molly says that oftentimes children think that God is like a vending machine, that we ‘’say the right prayer to get a prize.’’ She made sure to help her kids see, ‘’that you can talk to God. You can tell him about your day. You can tell him a joke, you can tell him a funny story that happened. You can tell him things you are worried about or things you want and need, but you can also be thankful for things to him. Just like you would with a person. It’s a relationship you are building conversation by conversation.’’
One of the hardest things for us as parents is those moments when our children are dealing with challenges that feel outside of our control. Maybe there’s been a friendship falling out, or struggles with schoolwork. Sometimes these situations call us to intervene with practical solutions. At other times, there’s not much we can do but simply hand it over to God. Praying together about the hard things can be a powerful reminder that though we may sometimes feel small and helpless, God is always in control, weaving our challenges for good in our lives.
God has a bigger perspective
One thing that does feel tricky is explaining to children that while we serve an all-powerful God, he may not always answer our prayers in exactly the way we’d like him to. Molly says, ‘’We do talk about how we see this tiny sliver of what’s happening but God sees the entirety. While we might be praying for something because we think it might be best for us, he knows what’s going to happen five years ten years down the line. Sometimes prayers just aren’t answered the way that you think they should be. Sometimes it’s a no, sometimes it’s a yes, sometimes it’s a wait, because God knows what we need better than we do. I have talked to my kids about that, and that’s a hard one for kids to understand. One thing that has helped is to write down what we have been praying for, then come back and see how those prayers were answered. Hindsight is clearer. It can feel like a prayer wasn’t answered but when you look back it turns out there’s so much evidence that the prayer was answered in a different way than you thought it would be. This can be helpful for children to see that invisible hand moving in their lives making things better.’’