First, let me admit that praying out loud is awkward. Even with my kid. Sometimes especially with my kid.
That’s because: (1) Communion with God is supposed to be authentic and my kid came equipped with an authenticity-detector. (2) God is spirit, which means talking to an invisible person. (3) I tell God everything that I tell myself, but I (mostly) censor what I say to other people. Every day, my nearly-four-year-old becomes less an offshoot of me and more another person.
I grew up in a home where I watched my parents rise early every day to pray alone. We also prayed together, going around the circle, and before meals and sleep. Personal and public prayer has always felt normal to me. Even more important: sometimes I have tried, but I cannot stop believing the underlying assumption that God eagerly waits to converse with me.
Here’s my take-away from this experience: If you believe in God, the best way to prove this to the authenticity-detectors in your home is to talk with God regularly and take his answers at face value, especially when you do not like them.
Now for how to start. Here are some suggestions in no particular order.
Pray regularly yourself. Does “Oh, God!” pop out of your mouth? Since you requested his attention anyway (awkward), you may as well add a thought: “Oh, God! That was scary.” Or even, “Oh, God! That !@# guy’s being a jerk. Make him stop.” Think of this as authenticity in prayer.
Popular author Anne Lamott suggests two simple, God-directed declarations “Help me, help me, help me.” And “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Stated aloud in conjunction with the related circumstance will provide your kids (and God) with sufficient clarity.
Say short “help-help” prayers with your kids when they express a concern. This is easier to do with little kids, like just before bed when they’re worrying about bad dreams. Little kids don’t notice social awkwardness yet. That’s why they run around naked.
However, it’s not impossible with children old enough to feel their nakedness. My mother’s method was to announce, “let’s pray about that,” just before she launched into the prayer itself. She asked other people politely if she could pray with them. Her children, she simply informed, presuming that the weirdness would fade, but that her love and God’s power to change things would not.
Sound too daunting? How about this?
My daughter is learning to make conversation. At supper we ask, “What was your best thing today? What was the worst?” Maybe after supper, one adult will say all the bests and worsts to God for the whole family. Maybe each person will take turns. Perhaps you’ll each write a two-word summary or draw a picture of your best/worst and then give the papers to God (burn, bury, shred, or pile up to read at the end of the year).
One of my college roommates and her kids decorate a shoebox at the beginning of November. When someone thinks of a thank-you, they write it on a slip of paper and put it in the box. On Thanksgiving, they read all the thank-yous to God.
Repeating memorized prayers, singing, or reading them together helps with the awkwardness, too. Then no one’s singled out.
Here are some other resource suggestions:
Edelschick, Tara. “Do It Anyway.” In What She Said. Cited 30 April 2012. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whatshesaid/2012/04/do-it-anyway/.
Edelschick, Tara. “Thank You, Sorry, Please.” In The Homeschool Chronicles: Reflections on Homeschooling, Parenting, and Life. Cited 30 April 2012. http://homeschool-chronicles.com/?p=312.
George, Denise. Teach Your Children to Pray. Scotland: Christian Focus, 2004.
Mayfield, Sue. Exploring Prayer. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2007.
Williamson, Nancy S. 52 Ways to Teach Children to Pray. Rainbow Publishers, 1999.
I should note that none of this is any more or less “successful” than other aspects of parenting. My daughter learned grace in preschool last year. Now she prays “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food and for each other,” in a perfect nasal, sing-song replication of those high-pulpit prayers that some people cite as their reasons for leaving the church.
What do you think? What makes it hard for you to talk to God with your kids? What suggestions do you have? What have you tried that has/hasn’t worked?