The other night, my daughter’s bedtime slid backwards a few minutes because her glow stick bubble bath ran a little long. It is her favorite thing. We turn off the lights in the bathroom and let her imagination run wild. She played until the water got cold, and her fingers were tiny raisins. By the time I was finishing her second story, asking her what was special about her day, and preparing to say her prayers with her, sleepiness turned her into a tiny ball of hysterical giggles. I snuggled her and kissed her nose, letting her laughter rise up into my heart like champagne bubbles, treasuring every moment.
After a few minutes. I tried to get her to calm down so we could say her prayers, but even as I was explaining to her why she should stop giggling and close her eyes, I felt God tell me not to stop her laughter. That prayer wasn’t something He wanted her to learn was serious and stodgy all the time. That unwittingly, I was teaching her to only pray at certain times in certain mindsets. I pictured Jesus asking the disciples to let the little children come to him, as they were, not as the disciples thought they should be. I could almost hear God sadly telling me that her precious, infectious, baby laughter was music to His heart, too. I felt so convicted.
And woefully unprepared. How do I teach my daughter to pray? Certainly, quiet-folded-fingers prayers have a place, but what does God call us to do? 1 Thessalonians 5:17 reads, “Pray without ceasing.” Pray constantly. In every moment.
Wow. I think about this verse all the time, about what we’re supposed to do as followers of Christ, but how do I make that part of who we are as a family? How do I demonstrate my humble attempts at constant prayer? How do I put prayer in my parenting that doesn’t just involve pleas for my sanity?
I don’t want God to sit on a shelf like a dusty Bible no one reads, or be put away and only brought out during important times. I am a little new at doing that out loud, at portraying prayer in an obvious manner for my daughter. I have tried to make prayer something we do together several times a day. We have a good morning prayer that we do sleepy-eyed and fuzzy brained to thank God for another day to be alive, we focus our prayer on having the right heart for the day, on being obedient and open to God’s word. A focused morning prayer helps me remember my goal in parenting her for the day is to point her toward heaven, not Harvard as well as remind her to start listening to God’s voice for her life. We pray over lunch or over dinner and before bed, sometimes while we’re in the car. But to model a running dialogue with God is a little daunting. I’m not sure how to do that.
My daughter is three and very silly. Today she wore a play grocery basket on her head like a hat, but with her baby doll stuffed into it. I asked her what she was playing, and she said, “magic bunny hat.” How she walked around like that for 30 minutes with a straight face, I’ll never know, or why she didn’t use a stuffed bunny??? but I really don’t know how to teach her to pray all the time. The only thought I have is to model it. To pray out loud whenever the mood strikes, to be in an attitude of prayer while I’m having Bible study or even in the little things.
I’ve prayed over the laundry. A few months ago, there was a specific moment I felt called to pray. I had a whole load of my husband’s army uniforms which for the uninitiated includes the most horrible socks to fold. He had left the load in the dryer for days. It was aggravating me, and I felt God nudge me to fold it for him instead of grumble at him about it when he came home, but when I dragged myself to do it, I wasn’t being very joyful in my service. I summoned some joy and when my daughter came in to help, I told her we were going to pray and thank God for this laundry that meant that Daddy is home and not deployed again, thank you that his service is allowing me to be home and care for him and our child, thankful for our family, and thankful that God gave us a family to love by helping with the laundry.
It was a moment that felt right for a lot of reasons, not the least of which I got to model a great attitude of being a helpmate and joyful giver in front of my daughter, but also of how prayer can be eyes open, in the moment, and just conversational.
In fact, there have been a couple of times this year, I’ve caught her talking aloud to someone most definitely not visible, but I hear her call God or Jesus. Once she was sitting at the kitchen island holding up a tiny scrape. I asked her what she was doing. She replied, “I’m telling Jesus about my boo boo.” And I listened to her finish telling Jesus how she got the scrape and how her wonderful body would heal that scrape. She thanked him for her body and asked him to help her feel better. She chatted animatedly just as she would if she were talking to me.
Hmm, maybe I’m the one who is really learning how to pray.