It might be a child dedication, a naming ceremony, or an infant baptism. New parents, perhaps adorned with a burp rag, parade to the front of the congregation with their precious babe-in-arms. Some combo of sibs, godparents, grandparents and family friends may join the parade. The proud family stands before God and the congregation, formally placing the baby and themselves in God’s service. Some theological traditions mark these moments as the start of a child’s faith journey, others believe their ritual act is a means of grace and a way to seal the child as a covenant member of the community.
It is the beginning of a story – both the child’s story, and the specific story being created within the family. These ceremonies are a way of aligning and submitting ourselves as a faith community with the Author of each of these stories: ‘Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Ps. 139:16)
Though a believing parent prays for his or her child for the rest of the parent’s life, and may from time to time have to heave off a bigger prayer again surrendering themselves and their child(ren) to God, usually in the midst of a crisis, it occurred to me that it might be a helpful thing for churches occasionally to use part of a service to allow moms and dads to rededicate themselves regularly to the parenting task. (And please, not on those oh-so-sentimental syrupy Mother’s or Father’s Day Sundays, either, for Pete’s sake.)
What might this look like? Here’s how I’d imagine a congregational leader might lead a prayer of parental re-consecration: :
Parents, whether your child is 2 days old or 72 years old, you are doing the hardest job there is on this planet. Please stand if you are a parent. The weight of your sacred responsibility can feel very heavy indeed, and your struggles, fears and failures press on that weight, requiring strength beyond what you can muster to carry it.
Look around you. Most of these people standing with you today have the same invisible weight on their shoulders. The joys of parenting are easy to share with others, but the temptation in our struggles is to isolate. Parents, you are not alone. Your battle is unique, but the struggle is universal. Many of us here may have dedicated our children to the Lord when they were infants. There is great value in coming together as a community to dedicate ourselves as parents to the task to which God has called each one of us.
Heavenly Father, we acknowledge that our children are gifts and a living heritage from you. (Extend hands in front, palms up) We received them with open hands and grateful hearts. We thank you for each one by name, and we are grateful for who they are and who they are becoming. We remember the sweetness of their first smile, and each first step that has taken place in their lives since that moment. We thank you for allowing us to have a front-row seat for so many of these childhood milestones and memories. We thank you for their lives, and for teaching us again and again that you love them perfectly, with their good and your glory always in your mind. Oh Lord, your love never fails our children, nor us, not for a single second.
(Close hands into fists.) And yet, so many of us standing here clench our fists around our past mistakes, present worries and fears of the future. Here I am, Father. Here we are.
What are we holding inside those balled-up fists, and within our troubled, divided hearts? Together we pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps. 139:23-24) Let’s take a few moments in silence to allow the Holy Spirit to respond to that prayer, surfacing in us those anxious thoughts and sins. (Allow some time in silence here.)
(Open hands, and raise them in surrender.) We can not save ourselves. We surrender to you, Father, who gave us your Son to rescue us, forgive us, and lead us to you. Your mercy endures forever.
(Move hands downward, again in a position of open receiving.) We receive your mercy, Lord. We are grateful for it. And from this posture of mercy, we surrender our children to you once again. They are yours. They always have been. Teach us how to love them in the same way you do.
Merciful Father, strengthen each one of these standing to do the parenting duty and joy to which you’ve called us – whether we are with our children, or are praying for them from a distance. Receive this promise from God’s beloved Son: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) It is in the name of the One who invites us to share his yoke that we ask all these things. Amen.
What do you think of this idea? Do you know of any congregations who pray for parents at some point during the year? What does that look like?