Ten questions about prayer

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I’ve written before about praying in our family life… the ups and downs, the triumphs and perceived failures. Prayer is right in there at the heart of a life of faith, right there at the heart of what it is to live as a Christian. And it seems to me that, in our family at least, there are quite a number of questions about it that hang around in the background of the practical ways and opportunities that we use together to pray as a family. Sometimes it’s good to look the questions in the eye and ask myself – am I helping my children to learn about these? Am I giving them opportunities to gain experience that will help them find answers? Am I modelling and talking about prayer in ways that helps with these questions or that makes it all the more confusing?

  1. Why? Why do we pray? I think this goes hand in hand with ‘do I have to?’, and for me I see this question being mulled over, often unspoken, at bedtimes when we have an expectation of a habit of prayer before sleep. We have tried to pray with our children as an integral part of their bedtime routines since they were tiny. And we have certainly prayed for them at this part of the day since they were babies. Our children know that before sleep, we pray. And sometimes the pressure of that expectation actually forces this question – but why???, or do I have to???2016-03-03 10.19.20 The word ‘prayer’ is from middle English, adopted from the Anglo-Norman which in turn is from the Latin meaning ‘to earnestly beg’. But our word prayer is used to translate a number of Hebrew words, and also a number of Greek words in the Bible not just one. And they mean more than ‘beg’, there are words meaning worship, to represent someone to the judge, to bend towards, to bow, to hope and to trust. So am I making this rich breadth of meaning clear to my children if the word ‘prayer’ is my default way of inviting them to talk with God? If I long for my children to experience prayer as a scared space of connecting, talking, listening and being in God’s presence – as something worshipful and relational – then it would help them if I were to model all sorts of ways of praying, and talk about my own experience of coming close to God in prayer.
  2. Does prayer work? I ‘hear’ this question being wondered about when I sense them getting disheartened that they feel their prayers have ‘not been answered’ – or in other words they haven’t been given what they asked for. I think this question also ties in with knowing more and more what prayer is all about – that it is more than a wish list that we read out to God. I think it also plays into our growing understanding of who God is and his purposes. I want to say more often than I do ‘God is not a slot machine, prayer is not us putting in the coin’. front cover 3.pubI want to help my children pray boldly when they have requests for God and I want them to experience God always answering their prayers – and learning to look for those answers beyond their expectations. I wonder if I am sharing my experiences with them, am I telling my stories of answered prayer? I want them to know that God doesn’t always just say yes but he always listens, and always answers whether that’s with a yes, or a not now, or a no. This seems to be quite a tricky one for all of us to get our heads around so I’ve been busy writing a book to help explore this. It’s called ‘So many answers!’ & it will be available very soon! (I’m very excited!!)
  3. Who am I talking to when I pray? The other questions behind this might well be ‘who is God, is that the same as Father God?’, ‘who is Jesus?’, ‘is Jesus God?’, ‘who is the Holy Spirit?’. Am I ready for these questions? I wonder which parts of the Bible will help me to share with my children what Christians believe about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Could I turn to the story of creation where it talks about the Spirit hovering over the waters, and God is described as ‘us’, and then turn to the beginning of John and look at how the Word (Jesus) was there from the very beginning creating our world? Maybe I could draw a picture together with my children about when Jesus was baptized and he heard the Father’s voice, and saw the Spirit fall on him? Have my children heard prayers begun in different ways, addressing Father, Jesus, Lord, Creator God, Spirit…?
  4. Is God really listening? Is God really there? My children are logical, often literal in the way they make sense of their world. When we pray we don’t generally ‘see’ God there with us physically. He is different from us. It is mind-blowing and mysterious to think of God being close, ever-present, like us (we are in his image) yet so different (holy, eternal…), invisible yet we can talk together and be in his presence. It can be hard to accept the unseen, intangible is real. 20170212_114109Yet thankfully my logical, often literal children are very keen scientists! So I can use examples of other invisible-to-our-physical-eyes, intangible things we can experience that they have no problem believing are real – electricity, forces, dimensions, air, atoms, gravity… We see and experience the effects of these things despite not seeing them. In a similar way we see and experience the effects of God’s presence. Am I listening and watching for their experiences of God’s presence and naming it? Am I sharing testimony of things that inspire me in faith? Am I praying for their faith to increase, and for them to experience God’s presence in deeper ways?
  5. Does God ever speak back? How can we explore the many ways God seeks us out and speaks to us? The Bible stories, Moses, Saul/Paul, Samuel all come to mind to chat about. How am I facilitating my children broadening their experience through chatting with other Christians, hearing about their experiences and answered prayers; listening to how others have been guided by the whisper or the thundering voice of God, or by pictures and dreams.
  6. What am I allowed to pray about? Am I letting my children see me send urgent arrow prayers through the day; rejoice and praise; trust God with worries, difficult questions, heartache; are they able to join us in our ongoing intercessions? Am I still carving out opportunities to invite them into prayer at different times and circumstances? Have I, and do I clearly give permission to my children to talk to God about absolutely anything and everything?
  7. How can I choose the right words? or ‘is there a right way of praying?’, or ‘what happens if I get it wrong?’. 20171115_110630[1]When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray they were probably asking the same question. Jesus gave them an invitation which of course begins ‘Our Father…’ – an invitation to come close to the perfect loving Father who knows us better than we will ever know ourselves. Knowing who we come to, and realizing prayer is about relationship, family time means we can come without fear of failing to pray ‘right’. I wonder how many different ways of praying my children have been a part of? Have I been only using liturgical prayers, or only extempore prayer, do we actively encourage meditative prayer, imaginative Ignation prayer, sung prayers… are we getting a variety of experiences?
  8. When should I pray? I suppose I’m asking myself similar questions as I did for qu 6. What am I modelling for them in my own prayer life? do they see I have a prayer life? And am I prompting or enabling praying at all times and in all circumstances?
  9. Does God want me to pray? I want them to find out more about God’s delight in us coming into his ever-with-us presence when we pray, how he wants to speak to us about things beyond our imagination and expectations, and about how his love for us can be known in every single answer he gives us. How often am I praying for them to know God’s love for them deeper and deeper? How often am I speaking Father God’s love over them and into them? And, am I showing them that love in the way I parent?
  10. Does my prayer change anything? Won’t God do what he has already decided to do? C.S. Lewis said of prayer ‘it doesn’t change God, it changes me!’. Mother Teresa said ‘I used to believe prayer changes things. Now I know prayer changes us, and we change things.’ Exploring this question is so closely tied to exploring why we pray, and who we are talking to when we pray. And it touches on another mysterious paradox too, we are predestined yet have freedom to genuinely live our own way; God is sovereign yet he invites us to become part of his work in the world; God knows what is before us, and what will happen, he knows our prayers before we even think them but he longs for us to be part of it, he asks us to intercede for others, to talk to him. Am I ready to hear my children’s questions here, and acknowledge the paradox, and be alongside as they discover we can’t understand God fully or pin him down, but that we can know he invites us into his presence because it’s home, it’s where we find everything we need to truly thrive. Prayer changes us.

 

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SOS!

Now what do you do when a good friend at church brings you a present – a bag of spare salt dough! Roll up your sleeves & dive in of course…

I’ve been pottering, in between everything else, putting together some ‘SOS adventure bags’ which I hope will eventually become a bit of a library of resources for families at church. SOS comes from the name of our church’s accessible service ‘sense of space’, but I love how it also means ‘help! rescue us!’ it seems incredibly apt on so many levels! Each bag is essentially (I hope) going to be an all age story sack with resources and ideas – with SEND in mind – for exploring a Bible story at home together.

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So far I have made a start with two very visual ones… Jonah, and Noah – both of course with plenty of scope for imaginative play ideas, colourful and sensory rich exploring experiences and good storytelling. Also both with really tough themes, God’s generous forgiveness (and our struggle with it), and God’s holiness and righteous judgement (and of course our struggle with it!).

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So I am now on the look out for just the right books to add to both of these, I’m thinking testimony/biography, short enough, inspiring and gutsy. I’ve also bought a prism which I need to make a little bag for – to explore rainbows and God’s promises. There are activities and website addresses to find out more in these too – which may need occasional updating but I love the idea of them being a rich & varied resource that will have something in to appeal to each member of a family (hopefully).

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Noah bag so far has: a rainbow dice with prayer ideas for each colour; a puzzle; an ark 7 animal playset; suggestions for imaginative play together to explore ‘rescue’; a lovely version of the story by Susie Poole; the prism with suggested activities; invitation to play a memory game to explore ‘remembered’; and hopefully a biography.

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Jonah bag so far has: story book (Lion childrens ‘my very first Bible stories’); a recipe for stained glass heart biscuits; British sign language signs to learn ‘I love you’, ‘sorry’; a big fish & a Jonah to play with, a sensory sand prayer tray in a tub – with prayer prompts in; a Topz diary (by CWR) looking at forgiveness – mine loved these in their tweens; a suggestion for play to explore hiding; a suggestion to measure things to explore how big God’s love might be; and a link to find out more about Ninevah and what we know about it from archaeology. And then a book for the grown ups to be decided!

So anyway, back to the salt dough… we rolled up our sleeves and dived in. My mind went straight to these bags. What about hanging decorations with a verse written across a few that can be hung in order and learnt? What about fish – they are not something I have a playset of – beautiful colourful, individual fish could make lovely tactile prayer prompts or be played with…

Then hands, and hearts. So many stories could be explored and experienced in a new way through these tactile shapes. So next out with the acrylic paints, and then the varnish and I can see the next couple of bags beginning to take shape.

Please, please comment with your ideas of things or activities, or good books I could potentially include in these bags…

Easter photo diary

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So sorry to have missed posting last Thursday, it has proved a very busy couple of weeks. So rather than missing another week, I’m hoping you won’t mind a post with more photos than words! (probably a welcome relief!!)

Last Thursday schools finished for the Easter break, and simultaneously Andrew’s parents arrived for the weekend and we all went to church to ‘help’ set up for Passover – it helps considerably to get there ahead of the crowds.

Passover itself went as smoothly as could be expected with a very tired T who didn’t really want to be there! The ramp up to the front of church was a useful escape place a couple of times, and we averted a meltdown by escaping to a corner to calm down. So thankful for the support of church family at these events – no tutting or staring, just acceptance! And wonderful friends who are able to coax T and distract her when I’m reaching the end of my patience…

Good Friday was a spacious, informal hands on experience at church. Thinking about Jesus’ hands and our own. It was meaningful, poignant as always to be exploring faith and reflecting together with all ages and abilities.

Followed by a family afternoon with all its usual ups and downs, finishing with popcorn & a film.

We survived Saturday!

Easter Sunday was an early start for Andrew, followed by a whole church family celebration with bacon butties which the rest of us joined for. Afterwards a lovely table full of guests and good food for lunch, then back to church for our accessible service in which we explored clues from the Easter story to find out what happened to Jesus & his friends.

Since then our visitors have travelled home, it has rained – a lot!- we have had lazy pj days with lots of TV, some gardening, some tidying, some window washing (I know, what came over me!), table sanding, sleepless nights and talk of revision, and of course chocolate eating!!

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DIY sensory scripture glitter frame

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I have been seeing a lot of pictures around that have an inspirational quote in the background and room for a heap of free flowing sequins and glitter in front. They’re great, quite mesmerizing. The sequins make a great soft sound as they move around, are quite responsive to your moving of the frame. And there’s the fun of covering the words and revealing them.

I began wondering about the idea of putting together one of my own (or maybe a few) where the words are from the Bible. It could be reflective, perhaps even meditative. So I chose a cheap box frame making sure it was the kind with a gap between the picture and the glass/perspex. I went for a soft green and then headed home pondering what words.

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Andrew suggested ‘my cup overflows’ from Psalm 23, imagining the glitter ‘overflowing’ from a cup as it moved around the frame, great idea so i grabbed my pens and paper and started to play with the words. Eventually ending up on warm primrose yellow paper, and put together in a design with words from Lamentations as well which began running through my mind as I drew.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lam 3:22 NIV)

In many translations this verse emphasizes the way that God’s mercy and love last forever, as the next verse goes on to spell out ‘they are new every morning, great is his faithfulness!’. But it is this particular translation that I must have learnt as a child, and I love the way it speaks of the power and strength of God’s love and mercies – they are gutsy, rescuing.

Once I was happy with my design I then had a happy half hour with B sifting through our collections of little pots of sparkly, stick-on things in the craft box picking out gold, bronze and some little sea glass green beads. The frame needed some hot glue to seal the ‘box’ part against the perspex so the sequins can’t slip out, and again to seal the back once I was happy everything was in place. All that’s left to do is enjoy, and be reminded of the love and mercy that flow from God making my life full-to-overflowing, blessed. And that those very verses come from a book of lament, and a psalm about walking through the valley of the shadow of death needing God’s protection!

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Ideas for using the sensory scripture frame:

  • simply as a quiet reflection focal point, calm space to listen to what God is reminding you about.
  • as a memory verse, cover and uncover sections of the design (or whatever verse you have used) trying to say the whole of the verse each time.
  • with a design like mine that doesn’t have the full verse written out, use it as a starting place for going on a treasure hunt for the full verses together. find the words you do have and look them up. Read the verses before and after.
  • one of the verses I have used is picture language; think about the meaning of the metaphor. Get a cup and fill it to overflowing with water, rice or cereal. What happens when it overflows? Do we usually pour stuff into something until it overflows? When would we? Does that same kind of ‘overflowing’ process ever happen in our life? How could God ‘pour’ something into our life as if it were a cup that could overflow? And what would he pour in?

lent is nearly here

It hardly seems a minute since I managed to get Christmas decorations down and packed back away, and here we are, Lent begins next week!

So I’m taking the opportunity of blogging about such things as faith habits at home as my excuse to spend some time enjoying pinterest – should I say, researching – looking for the many great ideas out there that other families have tried.

(By the way I collect together the ideas I find about faith at home on my pinterest board)

Ideas that have caught my eye this year are:

How beautiful!!  It's a visual walk through the days of lent to Easter.

 

This visual walk through lent posted by ‘rhythm of the home’

I wondered if it could also be made together as a family throughout lent, taking turns to add a thumb print (or even a painty foot print) each day.

‘Catholic Icing’ have a printable lenten calendar that could be coloured in each day. A simple visual countdown is really helpful for breaking lent down into something that can be imagined, and the end can be ‘in sight’.

‘Flame Creative Kids’  has a whole list of wonderful, creative, prayer and thinking activities including this lovely stained glass window design.

 ‘GodVenture’ ‘s new book takes you through lent looking at the story of Lazarus with stickers, story, prayers.

‘Dunlap Love’ directs me to a way of doing a lenten tree – like a Jesse tree – and has some free printable ornaments to laminate and hang up each day as a Bible verse is read.

And also ‘Wee Little Miracles’ tells me how to go about making and using this beautiful spiral to the cross with cardboard, burlap and modelling clay. She is planning to take turns to place a stone into a ‘cup’ each day to mark the journey through lent.

 

 

I will also be posting weekly ideas, practical and crafty and with free printables inspired by my book ‘My Easter Egg Hunt’ which explores the meaning of Good Friday. They’ll be posted on my clearly nurturing publishing website.

There are so many lovely ideas for creating sacred space, and a pattern of prayer and Bible reading together through lent. Now the hard bit is deciding which we will try. I am imagining we will combine a reflective habit like one of these with some intentional blessing of others.

Maybe joining in with the 40 acts challenge or by collecting food for the local foodbank, or similar project adding some items every day as we pray (we have a project our church supports that works alongside asylum seekers and refugees, and there are others too who would welcome donations or things or of time).

Lent is a time to focus together with God, to reflect on our own faith and trust in him, and his beyond words grace poured over us. A time to look at the world around us again but with eyes heightened and alert, and with hearts stirred by prayer and renewed sense of purpose. (And my prayer is that in the middle of our unpredictable and rather complicated family life there will be a thread of all those hopes running through our lives together in the run up to celebrating Easter, because God is in our midst)

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