A friend recently asked me what prayers we use when praying with our three-year old at bedtime. She remembered the “Now I lay me down to sleep” classic and wanted to avoid it with her two-year old as the “if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take” line had always freaked her out when she was a girl. (And why wouldn’t it?) There’s now a less fatalistic version of that prayer out there, as I told her, but there are other options too.
We use a short, customized evening prayer with our son that’s routine enough for him to know what to expect and allows him to chime in, but malleable enough that we can add in specific components that may be pertinent for that day — phrases like “heal so-and-so who’s sick” or “please help (our son) become kinder to our dog.” Whatever may be relevant for that day. (We do a similar but shorter version with our pre-verbal 19-month old too.) We will likely teach him the Lord’s Prayer soon and incorporate that into our evening prayers too.
Our church held a useful training for parents of two-year-olds focused on the concept of blessing our children, which included background on the blessing concept, some suggested blessing verses from the Bible that could be spoken over our kids, and real-life examples for how blessings can be used and the impact they can have. My favorite verses suggested were Numbers 6:24-26, Ephesians 3:17-19, and Proverbs 3:5-6.(The suggestion was that parents insert the name of the child into the verse when speaking it over him/her to personalize it.) My husband and I will certainly incorporate this type of biblical blessing into our prayer times with our kids – likely once we have opportunity to read The Blessing by John Trent and Gary Smalley that we received during the training.
Equally or more important than the nightly prayer routine with our preschooler has been incorporation of small prayers throughout our day… when we’d pass a car accident, for example, or when searching for something we’d lost. When we first began intentionally doing this, when our son was a few months shy of 3 years old, he resisted it, saying “No, Mommy, don’t pray.” I realized that he was used to addressing God only at mealtimes and before bed. But the point is to actively live out the call to ‘pray continually’ and ‘with all kinds of requests‘ in daily family activities, demonstrating for our kids that all of life is prayer and God is present for and actively involved in the whole thing. It took a while for him to become familiar with the idea and to accept it – which showed me that I should have started sooner. I didn’t consciously decide not to, I just didn’t really think of it and was interacting with him as if he were still in an earlier developmental stage than he actually was. Now he loves to pray and is teaching his little sister to close with “Amens” as enthusiastic as his own.
I find the picture of Jesus sitting, with small children happily perched on his lap, that Matthew provides to be powerful and compelling. Amazing, when you stop to think of it, that we have a God who adores the littlest ones and enjoys nothing more than hanging out with them, enjoying them, and teaching them. It’s this image of the welcoming and interactive Jesus, getting down to their level and chatting casually, that I want to familiarize my kids with and usher into their day-to-day lives as practically as I can.
What does “practical” look like for you? What types of prayers do you use with your kids, either routinely or spontaneously? What are your goals for praying with them, and what successes have you seen?