pray more than a shopping list

Either intentionally or unintentionally, we may communicate to out children a definite set of ‘rules’ about prayer: what their bodies should do, what their words should say, and what content is acceptable. This set up implies to our children that we can succeed or fail at how we perform the act of praying. That’s a big pressure when the God of the universe is the audience!

(Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner, p63)

Don’t know about yours, but at the moment my 3 are in a bit of a routine when it comes to praying – one we have kind of ‘coached them’ into. Pretty much set length ‘shopping-list’ prayers bringing to God a good balance of their own needs and those of family & occasionally further afield. But it can feel rattled off, well rehearsed at times and at the moment T is opting out. So when I was reading these words of Rachel Turners stuck me. She’s right of course, in trying to ‘be good christian parents’ we have taught them a ‘correct’ template for prayer I suppose.  And there’s some good in that – it is a framework that they can always fall back on in times when praying is hard. But having a ‘correct’ way means our children are coming to talk to God from a very particular unconscious perspective – that God is a slot machine you have to have the correct change for?, that if you don’t see the answer you’re imagining from God that you didn’t pray it right?, that God is fearsome and only listens to perfect prayers?, or that he’s not interested in small talk with us just wanting to get the business done?

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None of those perspectives fit the way God reveals himself to us. He says ‘call me Father’, Jesus says when you talk to God say ‘Daddy…’! That’s intimate, and caring. That’s personal. The father child relationship is an everyday one – what I mean is that at it’s best (deliberately in bold!) it’s a relationship that gets involved in all aspects of our lives, it’s the type of relationship where life becomes an intertwined shared experience. Daddy and child. The child looks up to the Dad and hangs on his every word – the Daddy dotes on his child, treasuring every shared moment, every conversation no matter what its about.

“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?” (Matt 6:5 MSG)

Wanting children to have a safe place to encounter God is a right desire. My initial response to that desire, though, was to put myself between God and children. I was the safety gate. Since I saw this tendency in myself, I’ve changed the boundaries. I don’t want to be the safety gate between God and children. I want to be the steward – the one who guides a child into the presence of God and stands guard to protect their time and space as they interact. I want to be the one who walks with the child away from that encounter and helps him to process the way it changes his situation and life.

(Parenting children for a life of faith. Rachel Turner, p 66)

I don’t need to protect my children from God – he’s their loving Father, he knows and loves them better than I do! I don’t need to help my children to formulate ‘perfect’ prayers. I need to guide them into their Daddy’s presence, and model for them how all of life – the wiggles, giggles, moans, frustrations, worries and wonderings – is on the table when we chat with God.

I guess for us part of that process is practicing and modelling those kinds of relationships within the family home. Talking together about stuff; being a family that shares joys and struggles together, and talks about questions, dreams, ideas. Part of that will mean Andrew & I intentionally choosing very open ended questions and conversation starters – or we’ll just get a one word answer.

Communication with our family and friends is filled with half spoken thoughts, ponderings, funny stories and really deep sharing. We often speak from the heart about what is going on with us… In relationship we share the little things in life because, eventually, big things come along, and we need to know that the other person in that relationship cares about and can handle both.

(Parenting children for a life of faith, Rachel Turner, p69)

To help this begin to be a bit more intentional I have had some fun and made some conversation starter stones (a bit like my happy chatting lollipop sticks but very much open ended). I am hoping they will encourage us to do more talking about feelings and abstract things as a family, but I also hope they can be useful in prayer too. Choose a stone, read and let it be the beginning of a chat with God, or a picture or letter for God. They are made by cutting small shapes out of thin patterned paper, writing on a simple open question or the start of a sentence and then sticking them onto the stone with PVA glue. Then seal the paper with more PVA glue just over the top. I have deliberately kept mine very small, with teeny tiny writing – T especially loves finding tiny writing & working it out – and loves magnifying glasses!

 “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! … You’re worth more than a million canaries.” (Matt 10:29-31 MSG)

Also for us I think it means continuing intentional work about naming and recognising emotions in ourselves (we’re then planning to continue building on that self awareness towards recognising and acknowledging emotions in others).  Recognising (and so naming) emotions is something we usually learn by inference, but neither of my girls do their learning from inference, which means unravelling and naming physical sensations/tone of voice/body language/facial expressions intentionally together and then putting together a picture of each emotion as they experience it, and then how we might look for those clues in others – or slightly different clues – lets face it we don’t all present emotions in exactly the same way… goodness this could (probably will!) take years!!

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” 1 Pet 5:7 (NIV)

 

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peacemaking

I’ve been searching out some ideas and books to use to start conversations about peace as Remembrance Day approaches.

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Peace is a tricky word, a big concept to pin down. I guess our first thought this week is to think of peace as time without conflict or war. But there can be a huge range of different experiences and quality of life even in times and places without war in this world. Can peace be fully expressed when there is still poverty, a huge gulf between the rich and the poor, injustice, inequality of respect and of opportunities, oppressive relationships and so on, and when our way of living brings harm to the environment and so also harm to others – and in all of this hurt and damage to our relationship with our Creator. Is there a fuller, deeper peace to long for, a wholeness for the world to talk about and dream of with my children?

Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (Amos 5:23-25 MSG)

 

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:5-7 NIV)

  • Meaningful Mama has put together a good starting place list of books about peace for children, from all sorts of cultural and religious backgrounds. Some of these will definitely promote discussion in our house.
  • Finding out about poppies, and about Remembrance Day: The British Legion has information about red poppies here, and the Quakers about white poppies here.
  • Yummy Mummy Club have some easy red poppy craft ideas.
  • Inner Child Fun have some lovely ideas for peace dove crafts, I especially wonder if the hand-print dove would start interesting discussions about how our hands, our actions can be peacemaking.
  • dove of peaceOne of the designs in my contemplative colouring book  ‘Angels Singing’  reflects on the verse from Isaiah about Jesus being the Prince of Peace, the bringer and establisher of peace. We used it in our school outreach today to create space for dreaming about peace, what it would look like, and round the edges we wrote our prayers and longings for the things we want to see healed and changed. One student rather poignantly added a poppy into the dove’s beak – wish I had taken a photo to show you!
  • We might try writing a prayer for peace together as a family using the letters of PEACE, or maybe writing a sentence for each of the senses ‘Peace looks like…’, ‘peace feels like…’ etc. and using them in prayer perhaps with a phrase like ‘Jesus help us be peacemakers’ to repeat together in between reading out the sentences.

 

 

 

 

No! I won’t go!

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No doubt about it, our life is muddly, messy, noisy, untidy, often draining, and requires a heap of hard work! Last week we had a week away together in York. We have stayed in the same holiday rent for a few visits now – things are so much easier when the basics are familiar and we can ‘quickly’ (for us) get into holiday-in-York routines.

Of course, even the best plans aren’t fool proof though, and of course there were hiccups – like forgetting to put T’s camp bed into the car and having to find a new one there. New may look exactly the same but feel completely different, and there was something about this camp bed that meant T fell out of it more than she managed to stay in! Ah well, our double seemed large enough to tuck her into every night.

 

Maybe in part because of the new bed the night before T woke on the Sunday adamant that she could not, would not go to church. We had talked about the church we always go to when we are there, we had remembered together what it looked like, what the services were like, and that last time I had gone out to a group with T so she hadn’t had to be on her own. But despite our best efforts she would not budge.

So everyone else got ready, and went off with Andrew and I stayed with T. Even as they were putting shoes on and chatting about what they might say if someone asked them if they wanted to go out to a youth group T was loudly determined, and anxious. So as the door shut I was clung to – needed for full on reassurance.

After tight squeezy cuddles to bring some calm and a renewed sense of safety we opted for colouring and a cuppa. I had packed the colouring book edition of the Mick Inkpen Bible stories so we got it out and read and chatted as we coloured in together. T was thrilled to be allowed to use my special pens, but I suspect even more thrilled to have my full attention.

What had begun as a challenging and quite frustrating morning – it’s not all that often I get to sit in church with Andrew, and I had been looking forward to it to be honest – began to feel like a very tiny oasis after the busyness of packing and getting away. In that short lived calm and conversation, pondering a Bible story together, I was gently reminded yet again of the truth of ‘God with us’ – in the muddle and the frustration. The true constant in life.

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The calm faded quicker than it had come and we negotiated to a different activity and eventually to a favourite film so I could finally get to the bathroom – after which of course B & A came back with Andrew and it was definitely that ‘lead up to lunchtime’ type of family time!

It was a needed reminder of God’s faithful presence, always ready- no matter what is going on. A family week away is definitely a chance to practice the habit of remembering and turning my attention to God’s presence in the muddle of everyday (and every night!)…

 

such a good idea

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It seemed such a good idea – pumpkin carving whilst talking together about how Jesus picks each one of us, cleans out all the yucky bits in our hearts, and fills us up with his light…

Sounded perfect in my head as I had run through it in my mind.

What could go wrong?!

 

Whether we just happened upon the wrong moment, or it was just never going to be a winner I don’t know… but it did not go to plan.

As we cut the lid and looked inside my gentle chatting was drowned out by expressions of disgust.

‘Yuck! It smells!’

 

 

The scraping and cutting out of the flesh inside which I had imagined to be a sensory treat turned instead into something that seemed horrifying to T. So disgusting she didn’t want to join in at all.

I let her have a go at taking pictures for me, but even that got too much and pretty soon instead of us talking together calmly about how Jesus makes us clean on the inside I found myself trying to manage a volatile few minutes as T tried to take pictures of everyone and everything! She finished off by taking yet more incredible selfies, with each face more and more exaggerated. Of course when I had finished and washed my hands, we needed to put the phone down have a look at the pumpkin and decide how to carve it.

Let’s just say, I had to go and hunt for my phone! Then before carving I had to take a walk in the garden and find and cajole T back into the house.

When I finally got her in, she made an escape upstairs and I was left carving (‘cos I have to finish what I’ve started at this point). Hope you appreciate my efforts – I opted for an unusually optimistic slogan, which seemed bold given the circumstances. It will certainly be something to reflect on… and yes I’ve been told, holes in pumpkins ‘aren’t meant to be that big Mummy’ – I’ll do better (if there’s ever a) next time!

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waiting

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Last Sunday we helped lead our church’s very first ‘sense of space’ service – accessible worship space for families like ours, shaped by diff(dis)ability. We were so excited in the run up, happily busy with preparations and testing out of sensory bottles, coloured rice, sensory bin tables and writing lists and lists of ideas! We just wanted to do everything we could to begin well – to create a space that was safe, fun, interesting, sensory rich and God-filled, a place where families felt welcome and quickly at home.

Aptly we looked at the story of Simeon and Anna. Two who had been waiting at the temple for weeks, months, years, to see God’s promises come to pass.

How amazing it must have been to see an ordinary couple with a baby in their arms and for your heart to quicken as the Spirit let you recognize the one God was sending to fulfill all the promises his people have been waiting for! I can’t imagine the emotion of that very well… it’s huge, it’s intense, it’s electric. We tried to imagine him holding the baby and looking into Jesus’ face as he lets words of praise tumble out.

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“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[a] your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.” (Lk 2:29-32)

Waiting is something we’re not very good at really in this family. We’re not always that good at sensing timings and quite often waiting is basically a long string of ‘what’s the time?’; ‘How many more minutes?’; ‘Is it the time now?’; followed up by a whole load of ‘NOW!!!’. At the moment T’s ‘NOW!’ is all about an up and coming birthday, and party so we’ll be having this conversation for another couple of weeks or so!

Waiting can be emotionally exhausting (for everyone!). It’s an unknowing, a limbo time. Sometimes it’s emotionally exciting, intense and exhausting all rolled together. Other times, like a test at school, or a medical appointment it’s a wait filled with growing anxiety and stress at what’s to come that no amount of fidgets, relaxation techniques or sensory rooms can remove until the dreaded event comes and goes.

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(thanks Charlotte for the photo)

So what is it like ‘waiting’ for God?? In one sense we don’t have to wait in the same way as Simeon and Anna, Jesus has come, the Spirit is with us 24/7, to speak, comfort, lead, weep & laugh with us! In another sense though we do still talk about ‘waiting on God’, about stilling ourselves enough to become aware again of his presence with us in the everyday; about quietening ourselves enough to hear his voice whisper to us Spirit to spirit – no I don’t mean being outwardly, physically silent and still (though I do believe in miracles!!), I guess I mean being open and ready to recognize his presence and his words. That’s actually quite hard to explain and to model in a visual way to my littlies, but it’s something I want to – and to be honest sometimes it’s something they model to me as we remind each other he’s with us!

There’s also another kind of waiting for God of course, when we ask for something – either to be provided or to be fixed, changed or healed – when we say Amen and then wait for the answer… this kind of waiting for God is also a challenge sometimes. We have very fixed ideas about what answer we’re expecting, we have even maybe visualized that answer as we have been praying so we know exactly what we’re waiting for, hoping for and looking for. It’s difficult to accept that sometimes God’s answer is very different, it can be better than we’d hoped for but look different and be difficult to spot, hard to recognize. Sometimes it can be better than we’d been imagining but can seem to be the worst answer in the world – the ‘no’ or the ‘not now’ is very hard to accept, so hard that sometimes I don’t think we even realize that’s the answer we’re hearing loud and clear if only we were able to recognize it. (In fact because I know how difficult this is, there is a book coming!! watch this space)

At ‘sense of space’ we prayed together at the end by waiting – by giving ourselves a little breathing space to quieten our hearts and minds, and open them up to become aware that God was really with us. I filled a cup with the sand we’d been exploring in earlier and we watched and waited for God as the sand was poured slowly out. No words (you see miracles do happen!) until the final drop fell, and in the stillness the smallest in the room let out a slow ‘wow!’.

The Lord is here – his Spirit is with us!

Lift up your hearts – we lift them to the Lord!