Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I often find praying out loud to be awkward and uncomfortable. I’m often unable to just “talk to God”, but am instead compelled to put on a performance, of sorts, for those around me. I feel pressure to use fancy words and grand phrases. I quickly pluck religious phrases out of the depths of my memory and drop them into my prayers, hoping to look like a “proper Christian” to those listening to me pray.
And I hate it.
I hate feeling like a hypocrite when I pray out loud. I hate that I can’t just “be me” and talk to God simply and vulnerably, like I do when I’m alone with Him.
I quickly came to the conclusion that this was NOT how I wanted prayer to be for my daughter, Clarke. I didn’t want to pass on a prayer life that was cold, calculated, and mechanical. In all of my research about parenting, the common thread is always “lead by example”. If I don’t want my daughter to feel awkward or fake when praying to God, I can’t be awkward or fake when praying to God. So this is an area of my life that I am actively trying to improve for the sake of my relationship with God and for the sake of my daughter’s relationship with God!
Here are some practices I have learned and am trying to implement into my parenting practices on prayer:
1) Emphasize “Talking to God”:
-try to make it clear that praying is talking to God and that it is a conversation with Someone we can’t see, but Who is very much present. It is not just a weird ritual where adults say fancy words prior to eating.
2) Pray Anytime, Anywhere:
-this one makes me feel the most awkward and sometimes feels forced/awkward… but I try to find opportunities to say quick audible prayers to God during everyday tasks (i.e. “Wow! What a beautiful day! Thank you God for such a sunshiney day!”, or “I’m getting frustrated. God, please help me to calm down and be patient!”). This is something that I have always actively done silently in my heart, but not something I’ve typically done verbally. While I might feel awkward doing this out loud, the hope is that my daughter will grow up with prayer being a normal part of every moment of every day–not something that is reserved for certain times/situations. We don’t even stop to fold our hands and close our eyes! We just let our prayers fly!
3) Speak Simply:
-I am trying to force myself to do away with fancy words and to just speak to God like I would to a friend. When I’m praising him, I let the big words come back into play, just as I would if I was writing a love letter to someone. But I still try to keep things simple so that a child can comprehend what’s being said.
4) Fill-in-the-Blank Prayer:
-While the most important ways to teach a child to pray is by your own example, there are still times where direct teaching should happen. Kids can often be shy or unsure what to pray about, so I would lead them in a fill-in-the-blank prayer.
Examples: “Jesus, thank you for _________________”
“God, I’m sorry that I _______________________”
“Father, Help me to be more __________________”
“Jesus, my favorite part about today was ___________________”
“God, I’m worried about/scared of _____________________”
5) Biblical “Blueprint”:
– Use the Bible to find examples of prayer and God’s responses! God doesn’t mind if you plagiarize a bit! Instead of just reading a Bible passage, pray it! Use a simpler translation (such as “The Message”) and speak it to God and pay attention to any time God responds. Also, have conversations with your kids as to what God is like and who He really is, based on what is revealed in the Bible. It’s going to be really difficult for someone to pray vulnerably and conversationally to a God they believe is always angry with them and ready to smack them down for their mistakes!! Help kids understand God’s personality and character. Help them to see His Grace and His Love, and this will help them approach Him boldly and authentically!
6) Keep a Record:
– This is one I, admittedly, haven’t started yet, but is next up on the list! Take the time to write down prayer requests and answers! Nothing is more exciting for a kid than seeing God answer prayer! I remember one incidence in my early childhood (I was 4 or 5 years old) where I was saying my bedtime prayers with my mom while my dad was working late. I prayed that my daddy would come home soon, because I missed him. No sooner did I say “Amen” than did I hear the front door being unlocked and my dad returning home!! I was so excited about my answer to prayer that I enthusiastically shared it with the whole church the following Sunday! It was such a simple thing—so easy for an adult to dismiss–but to Little Kid Me, it was a real personal miracle!
Prayer is a powerful, intimate part of our relationship with God! I want my outward prayer life to be as natural and as personal as my inner prayer life. I want my daughter to see me engaged in an ongoing conversation with the God I love, rather than seeing me put on a “Christian performance” for specific occasions. I hope you’ll find these steps as helpful as I have!
May God delight in the prayers of His Children!