Praying with Children

If you are going to pray with children you will need to have a sense of humor.  If you don’t have a sense of humor, get one. Children say and do the craziest things.  Get used to it. Don’t expect children to be little angels in prayer. Just living with children is chaotic.  We need to have faith that God is at work in their lives in ways we cannot see.

When I was a younger parent, I remember when people told my wife and me what wonderful children we had.  I thought to myself “If you only knew how chaotic my children are, you wouldn’t say that.” As parents coping with the daily challenges of children, we easily get discouraged and bogged down in the difficult moments.  Trust God. He is at work even when things seem most chaotic.  

Back in 1965, Robert Farrar Capon, an episcopal priest, wrote a wonderful book called Bed and Board: Plain Talk about Marriage.  The book includes a postscript called “Dinner At Our House,” in which he describes the conduct of his children at the dinner table after they had recited the table blessing.  He was hoping for a quiet, orderly Sunday dinner with his wife and family. But they were all talking. He lost his cool and shouted “Quiet! You are all on silence!” For a moment they quieted down.  But soon the oldest child was complaining that he didn’t want gravy on his rice. The third child said “no mushrooms.” The oldest daughter said she loves lamb, but not that much. He heard complaints “This piece is all fat,” and “I can’t eat that many carrots.” 

 “And the youngest knocks over a glass of milk. Down toward me it races like a flood across the land. I jump up, and back, but over the edge it pours and I am hit. Right trouser leg, below the knee. It is the third time this meal and the sixth or ninth or thousandth this day.  My largesse is as nothing compared to the cataract of milk she has produced in three short years. And my inventiveness small – she has spilled it backhand, forehand, sidearm and elbow first. She has upset glasses with her head, her feet, her shoulders and knees: her rump, her belly and the middle of her back.  And with endless variety of time and circumstance. Upon thick tablecloths yielding a white swamp which spreads ominously toward us all; or upon plastic tablecloths for a high velocity attack. (I can remember only one successful escape from milk spilled on plastic. I nearly broke the chair to do it.) And she has spilled it before, during and after meals, by commission and omission, and with enough broken glass to rival the divine scattering of the hoarfrost.” (Bed and Board, Simon and Schuster, 1965,pp. 166-168)  

I enjoy this because it helps to put family life in perspective with humor.  Especially when children are small, it is difficult to see them growing into the kind of people into which we hope to shape them.  Sometimes, just laughing at the absurdity of things is the best antidote.  

One of my friends is a pastor in Central Asia.  He and his wife had two very active little boys, ages, five and three.  When the family sat down to pray, the five year old was quite willing to be involved in the family worship time.  The three-year old sat for about a minute with them, after which he began running at high speed through the rooms of the house as if he were flying an airplane.  My friend said “We need to thank God for partial victories, no matter how small.” I agree. 

We should not judge ourselves to be failures if our children become restless and agitated when the family sits to pray.  Let the children participate in whatever way they are able.

Children seem to think of prayer as something like writing a list of presents they would like to receive from Santa Claus for Christmas.  They get confused between wishing and asking. Because they do not really know who God is, they don’t know who they are talking to. They will pray for family pets and for their stuffed animals.  

You don’t need to correct children when they say odd things in prayer.  What is important is that they hear you praying, hear you speaking to the God you know and love.  Your example will teach them everything they need to know.

Donald Marsden

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