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?
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)